Back to the Workshop (roof):


A long summer’s cruising on the West Coast of Vancouver Island……..

…..was followed in September by workshop renovations to fix a chronic drip from the skylights:


This involved some quite extensive repairs to the roof deck…...


..…although fortunately the damage did not extend below the insulation to the lower decking or the rafters, so things could have been much trickier. In the end it needed some new 2x3 battens, new strapping and new sheathing in the top half.  The junction of the cedar shingle roof with the low-slope asphalt shingle shed-roof seems to have been the origin of the problem, along with the lack of vents in the upper portion which meant that there was no air movement to dry out any trapped moisture.

After replacing all the rotted wood, I re-shingled the roof with standard 3 tab shingles, closely following the manufacturer’s instructions for low-slope roofs:


(Note the next roof repair in the background. New cedar shingles next year.)

Last night saw the first heavy rainfall on the now uncovered shingles as well as the new (and hopefully improved) skylights. Not a drip to be seen… far. 



(Sorry about the inevitable and dreadful pun.)

For some reason I quite like working for the Anglican Church. So far on the island I’ve made a new altar and cross for St. Mary’s, a quite nice small table for St. Mark’s, and recently undertook a makeover of the altar at All Saints in Ganges, the central Anglican Church on the island.

A brief account of the altaration:

The old altar. Some of its problems: too long, too narrow, too heavy, very hard to move, has (not visible) 1980’s kitchen-grade fake oak arborite top as well as a nailed-on piece of ¼” oak ply back. The front and side panels are quite nice though.


Once in the shop (after a struggle; no-one ever sends sufficient lifting power, whether it’s for Grand Pianos or overweight altars)  the massive weight is explained. Hidden inside the quite decent outer panels is another complete altar. The inner altar is made of heavy fir, and has been built up to form a “foundation” for the three new panels. (N.B. There is another piece of church furniture in the background. Someone thought that I might find useful for the altar job.)

Injury Time


I’ve always felt a bit smug when I meet woodworkers who have damaged fingers and other bits and pieces with power tools: obviously my continued possession of ten fingers, ten toes, two eyes and good hearing is owed to a combination of my own skill, foresight and, of course, some special dispensation of good fortune.

No longer:


Underneath that workmanlike dressing  (thank you to Israel in the emergency room at Lady Minto Hospital) is a finger with a nasty chunk scooped out of the tip. 

How did it happen? I was using a small hand-held 45 degree trimmer to put a neat chamfer on J.G. Lawson’s new “Medium Large Finishing Press” when I stuck my finger into the carbide blade. This was surprisingly (or perhaps not surprisingly) easy to do, since a) I had removed the guard (and subsequently mislaid it), and b) was using too large a bit for the tool:

It’s quite obvious that however I hold the tool, some part of my hand is bound to curl around the plexiglass base and come into contact with that dangerous-looking metallic cutting edge on the red 45° router bit, especially since this is the first time I have used this tool in this way.

Finishing off the Mortar and Pestle, and Finally Grinding Some Leaves


For the pestle we tramped around the property and salvaged a branch from a dead Arbutus tree, and with a bit of trouble chain-sawed out a check-free section which was at least reasonably straight. This chunk went straight onto the lathe for turning. There’s not a lot to say about the turning process, which went easily enough after the initial out-of-balance vibrations quieted down as various protuberances were taken off:

Come to think of it, it’s actually rather a fearsome-looking object.


Settling down a bit…..


The basic shape is defined….


and refined…..

….so that after final wetting, drying, sanding and oiling it could be paired with its natural partner:


We are now ready to pound.

Esme and Svea collected bags of woad leaves which we dumped into the mortar, and rapidly reduced to a green sludge:

Mortar & Pestle #1 - re-sized

This was fun.

Woad balls #1 - resized

Finally, the finished product. (I think that we also added a little charcoal to the mix.):

Woad balls #2 - re-sized

Woad Balls, ready to be dried for future experiments and dyeing.

At some point I’ll catch up on the dyeing aspect of things, and ask Esme how it all worked out. In some mysterious way the green will be become blue…..more later.

Dyeing Craft lll: Carving


We completed this project in the heat of the summer; it seems more than a little odd to be writing about it today:

(This was just the first day of three highly unusual consecutive snow days. The power was mostly out over the weekend, and is still on and off again as the snow continues and broken trees and branches contact the overhead lines.) 

Back to sunnier days: while Esme tended the charcoal fires, I set up another length of fir log, plugged in the Makita angle grinder with a chainsaw-toothed carving disc attached, and began:

Image 2

If possible I wanted to go down about 18” into the log, tapering the bowl to about half the starting diameter by the time the bottom was reached.  Whether this was possible remained to be seen, given the size of the grinder and the amount of room needed to firmly hold and control the tool. The working position was also hard on my back, so I rather thought that it would be better to work with the log positioned horizontally. In this case the log could perhaps be slowly rolled from side to side in a way which imitates the normal action of a bowl-turning lathe—other than that the work-piece would be moving from side to side while it rotated.

Dyeing Craft II: Burning.


To continue the tale of Making The Mortar: Esmé and I decided to try methods two and three (Carving and Burning); and also that we would proceed simultaneously - Esmé burning and me carving with the grinder/chainsaw tool. 

First I made a small hollow dish in the top of the log, and we laid a small fire of paper, twigs, cedar slivers and charcoal briquettes. (Incidentally, this all took place last summer, so we had to be very aware of fire season….) 

Note the garden-hose. 


It’s slow work, but the charcoal fire is working its way downwards; unfortunately, it’s also working its way outwards. Esmé is keeping this tendency under control with regular applications of potters’ clay; adhesion is a problem and the fire creeps under the fragile brittle layer of dried clay.


However, it does work, and a useful depth is being achieved. If only there were some way of maintaining the clay layer intact.


Esmé applying more clay.

Unfortunately, we didn’t progress much further than this. I’m a bit hazy about the exact sequence of events, but on subsequent burnings the fire got over-hot and burned its way through the side of the log. This was discovered at night, when someone glanced out of a window and saw glowing coals over near the studio, where no fire should have been. Other than this, the method was quite feasible, although it did require constant attention. It was not safe to allow the fire to burn at night, it had to be extinguished every evening, and re-lit in the morning, which made things very slow. The clay was moderately successful in limiting the spread of the fire, but there was room for improvement; we didn’t try the water-glass, but I’m guessing that it would be easier to apply than the clay. Perhaps a combination of layers?

Dyeing Craft


Our friend Esmé creates gardens: many of the plants that she grows she uses for making fabric dyes. She has been researching natural dyeing since the mid 90’s, whilst living in South-East Asia, India, Bangladesh and Singapore. She now lives and gardens on Saltspring, cultivating dye plants that grow in our unique Gulf Islands’ climate, and her website can be found here.


The vital pigments & dyes can be extracted from the plants in a number of ways, and in the case of woad (Isatis Tinctoria ) and Indigo, it’s necessary to pound the leaves in order to break down the fibre and release the pigments; this can be done in a mortar and pestle, if you have one which is large enough………..  

Esmé recalled seeing dyers in SE Asia using tall mortars made of logs, and we found some photographs on-line, which were African, and had nothing to do with dye-making:


……but the tool would serve very well.

Assuming that we had a section of log (not hard to find), how could we make something similar? (The difficulty is clearly with the mortar, and not the pestle.) Three possible solutions came to mind:


After three and a half years, it's time to brighten up this website. I never really liked the funeral-service grey-on-black theme, since it was hard to read. (Anything other than black on white for text is a nuisance, so why indulge?) The previous banner image was chosen only on the basis of its shape, and was fuzzy in the first place; like a lot of other older images it originated from a scanned print. Also the subject was not one of my favourite pieces of furniture. It came from a period when I was beguiled by decorative inlays, but never really asked myself why, for example, legs really needed to have stringing lines of black ebony, inset with burl arbutus. Art-deco without the art. 
Prices needed adjusting; they haven't increased in three years, although some were too high anyway, notably the standing press, which is now a snip at $4000.00 (although it does have inlaid drawers). PayPal, although in all ways excellent, does charge a commission which until now I have simply ignored; wood has of course increased in price, as has brass.
More editorial work needs to be done; when I made this website, my impulse was to throw everything into it. A lot of the photographs were of pieces which I only somewhat liked, and in some cases quite disliked. Moreover the photographs themselves were sometimes wretched. These will be weeded out in the coming while.

"Well, back to the old drawing board"


This is (reportedly) a genuine Australian aboriginal boomerang from the 19th.c. It has a broken tip, because the owner's son likes to throw it. I am to repair the tip, and also make a replica so that the original can be preserved. The replica can be played with.

(Ignore the Indian-Head spinners. Another project.)

It took a while to get around to making the replica, but I gave it some thought. The original was clearly made from either a curved root or branch, with the grain running continuously through the bend. I thought that an epoxied lamination would be just as strong, perhaps stronger. My real concern was how to reproduce the aerodynamic form of this rather roughly carved primitive artefact.

First step: make a laminating form and cut some strips of suitable hardwood - in this case from a short plank of Jatoba that was hanging around with nothing better to do:


Then a trial lay-up without glue:


And after a weekend spent at a Scottish Country Dance workshop


it's all glued up and ready to shape. Dead easy, mate no worries! Tree roots, indeed!

Skittles and Beer

Spring, a week away, is almost here. The shop only occasionally really needs a fire in the stove, the door can be left open, although in the interminable rain the skylight still leaks and makes a small dark puddle on the floor. Daffodils are about to bloom in the tubs outside, the pond is full, and the tree-frogs are rehearsing for their spring concert: altogether a good time to be at work.

And work to do there is:  E. & Y.'s pair of bookshelves is finally well under way (more later), S.'s teak has been ordered  (at nearly 30.00 per board foot) for two bedside tables for her teak bed which have been gestating since 2010. Two days ago an apparently firm order arrived for another lying press as well as other tools - so that is encouraging. (The lying press I made and shipped before Christmas made it to New York, but not without some unwelcome attention en route from Homeland Security, causing some minor damage. Despite securing the top with well-marked Phillips head screws (no Robertsons S. of the border), one box appears to have been opened with a wrecking bar. I may be wrong though, and await photographs.)



Three weeks hath December (rather fewer, in fact) and three weeks hath January, and then it's Bloody February again; with a hey-ho, the wind and the rain.

I was very pleased to get all my book-binding equipment orders finished, crated and sent off before Christmas. All of them seem to have arrived at their destinations.

The assembled lying-press, ready to ship.


Testing the plough.

We had Edward home for a week after New Year's, which meant a possible opportunity to work on the bass, which has been an ongoing project for some years now. Its last appearance in this jourrnal was in June of 2011, when we made the six ribs (bouts). Since then the ribs have been gathering dust here and there in the shop, waiting for an opportunity to work with Ed (who lives in London) and glue them together to make a recognisable beginning to an new instrument.

A short account of January's progress:

We didn't have a lot of time together - there's a good deal to fit into a short visit - but we hauled out the construction form and the laminated ribs. We found that more had been done on the corner blocks than I remembered; even the neck block had been cut and shaped, and temporarily screwed to the form; there was no end block, but a decent enough piece of spruce had been saved for just this purpose. Ed worked on the final shaping of the corner blocks, checking that their curved surfaces were fair, and that the ribs fitted as closely as possible. He also made the end block, and we were then ready to begin gluing the ribs into place.

All in a Day's Work


A pleasant day: breakfast in Ganges with J. and friends to start, then a successful design change to the lying-press plough and a decent afternoon's progress on a German-style finishing press with a removable pin plate for tying-up (a new design variation).

Barb's was crowded (at 10.30 a.m.) with mostly middle aged and older brunchers, confirming that Saltspring has an unreasonably large population of leisured retirees, affluent enough to be eating out on a Tuesday morning, and in no hurry to be elsewhere. Wooster-like, I pronged a moody forkful of scrambled egg, and thought of French aristocrats c. 1760 or so, and had a brief vision of a guillotine set up in Centennial Park, just between the band-shell and the playground. No guilt, but a feeling that this state of affairs really cannot last. Then we drove home in our new-to-us Honda Element (what else?), and I went back to "work". (Work is one of those words that becomes increasingly unreal the longer you stare at it; it also starts to rhyme with "dork", which is a whole other weirdness. Why doesn't "dork" rhyme with "dirk"?)

Making a New Lying Press

A slightly random collection of photos following the construction of a new beech lying press, tub and plough.

Hyphens, Humiliation and Craftsmanship.

 From Fowler's "Modern English Usage" O.U.P. 1926.

"HYPHENS.  The chaos prevailing among writers or printers or both regarding the use of hyphens is discreditable to English Education. Since it sufficiently proves by its existence that neither the importance of proper hyphening nor the way to set about it is commonly known, this article may well begin with a dozen examples, all taken faithfully from newspapers, in which the wrong use or wrong non-use of hyphens makes the words, if strictly interpreted, mean something different from what the writers intended.

It is no adequate answer to such criticism to say that actual misunderstanding is unlikely; to have to depend upon one's employer's readiness to take the will for the deed is surely a humiliation that no decent craftsman should be willing to put up with……."

Advice Column

I had an enquiry recently about the unfairness of the difference between what a craftsperson would like to be able to charge for their 'one of a kind' creations, taking all their time, materials, creative energy &c. &c. into account, and what they might actually expect to receive in the real world of a small business. It can particularly galling to some to see their immaculate joinery (no screws!), exotic materials and elegant designs apparently worth about the same as (or less than)  a run-of-the-mill piece of reno work - perhaps with a couple of new windows, a bit of drywalling, a new outlet or two and maybe a new carpet.

I was tempted to reply as follows:

I'd say that the feeling that one is not being adequately rewarded (in $$) for one's work is fairly universal among studio/art furniture makers, certainly in the earlier stages of a newly established business. Woodworking talent is a not-very-hard-to-acquire skill, (design talent is another matter, and hard to measure), so there's always competition for commissions.  Custom-made studio furniture is a luxury - I don't think that I've ever made a dining table for someone who didn't already own a perfectly serviceable table. 

Back in the shop. (Briefly)


J. and I came back from our two month summer sail on N.'s birthday (August 29th) and I was eager to get back into the shop - but not before undertaking a little property maintenance and winter preparation.  Addi came over from Vancouver and piled all the house firewood into the woodshed. (There's a much smaller pile still to stack down near the shop, if anyone happens to pass by.) We're fortunate in the younger generation. Firewood stacking has a rural attraction for urbanites, and is comfortably limited in scope - unlike, say, clearing and uprooting the invading Salmonberry bushes along the southern borders. And it's in a good cause - keeping the agèd P.'s warm through the winter.

Sometimes I have to remember that a workshop is a tool like any other - only bigger, and there are a couple of major problems down by the road. The lean-to roof leaks around the two big skylights, and has done so for some years. Not often, it's true, but reliably; not much, but enough to ruin a newly finished table-top, or an upholstered chair, or to rust tools. Secondly, the pretty shingled roof that is visible in the shop photo on the home-page has grown a small meadow of spongy green moss on its lower section, where the pitch artfully (and foolishly) decreases. I should have followed J.'s advice and cleaned off the moss years ago, but it was  picturesque, and people will stop and take pictures. But I didn't, and underneath the lovely green are rotting shingles. Corruption at the heart.

nEw gEar(s)


A new package arrived from sRam - one hundred and fifty bits and pieces, perhaps to be made into a new pArt (what's all this lowercase/uppercase stuff??) (Not counting the little plastic packages at nine o'clock. They appear to contain hundreds of little bushings and links. Perhaps they are the individual bits of a bike chain.

The following components look intriguing. Oh, and everything comes in sets of four, except for one odd black and white sprocket at  ten o'clock.


Past Imperfect


I had to leave little post-it notes around the shop to remind me to NOT laminate the eighth strip when clamping up the three posts. Before the final strip could be glued on, a 1/2" x 3/8" channel had to be routed in the back for the wire. To forget this would almost be a category III error. No recovery possible, cut up for firewood and burn. Perhaps a cable could be stapled to the outside as a sort of fuck-you gesture to the ocd woodworking crowd, but I'm a bit that way myself. I'd find myself  anxiously centering the cable and making a jig to get the staples exactly aligned. I know I have move on, but not yet, not yet.

Anyway, the tapered strips were laminated, removed from the form, and I had three nicely curved lamp standards with a slightly humpy back surface on the lower straight section. Since I had in fact remembered not to glue up the final strip, I was able to simply run the whole thing over the jointer, rout the back, and glue on the final strip, which nicely covered up the resolved problem. (The "humpiness" was owing to an unevenness in the prepared 2x6 pine board used to plane the taper on the strips (see previous post). Obviously a better method of planing a long and varying taper has to be found other that hopefully nudging the depth of cut wheel on the thicknesser.)

"Five thousand double-Gloucester cheeses at fourpence-halfpenny each......"


The previous post showed the making of a bending form for three standard (or floor) lamps; since the shape of the upright gradually tapers in both width and thickness (like the table legs on which it is modelled) some thought was called for. Tapering the width is simple enough — just saw the shape from the finished lamination — but the taper in the thickness cannot be sawn. Well actually it can, but it would look singularly horrible at the points where the saw cut crosses the glue lines at a shallow angle. The answer is to taper the individual strips that make up the lamination; when glued together the total taper will be the sum of the tapers of the individual strips. 

Before this could be done, I needed to know how many strips would be required; the maximum thickness of an individual strip will be that which can be bent around the form without breaking. (Something less than this probably a good idea, given that wood is an inconsistent sort of thing; also the actual task of laying up the stack of laminations is made a good deal harder with overly springy (springful?) strips. A merely moderate pressure needed to force one strip around a sharpish bend becomes a serious test of upper body strength when multiplied by eight.) In this case I decided on a maximum thickness of just over 0.25", with each  consisting of eight strips.

New Work-in-Progress, and an Old Friend has its Picture Taken.


The Cycloidoscope is on its way, though I've no idea where to, if anywhere. Velo Village arrives on Saltspring next week, with 400 bicycles and riders taking their very own BC Ferry from Swartz Bay to Fulford Harbour on Saturday 23 June, followed by a mass ride to Ganges;  the associated Art show and Auction ("pART), sponsored by SRAM, will take place in Ganges from June 20th to the 24th.

Howard Fry's photos of the Cycloidoscope can be seen here, along with his pictures of all the other works that will be on display next week.

For the last couple of weeks I've been working on three lamps for S.B. We've been talking about these for a year or two —  can it be so long?  — and their time has come. Like the teak and concrete table I made for her and H. in 2010, and the subsequent teak bed, the initial design has been hers, its form often suggested by some unrelated object or detail that has caught her eye. In the case of the teak/concrete table it was the chimney cap of her house. For the lamp (all three are of the same design) the origin was the legs of two small occasional tables, possibly Edwardian, in a slightly Egyptian style: