January 2011 E-NEWSLETTER

Ladderback tutorial students work together to assemble a chair.

Winter 2011 Tutorials with Drew Langsner

These courses are limited to 4 students. The tuition includes project materials, meals and a private room. Specialized tools are provided for all of these courses. Drew Langsner is the instructor. Registration can be by phone (828 656 2280) or e-mail. Further details are at: countryworkshops.org

January 24-28: Rustic Windsor Chairmaking
- Full
February 7-11: Carving Bowls and Spoons - Full
February 21-25: Ladderback Chairmaking- 2 openings
March 7-11: Rustic Windsor Chairmaking
- Full
March 21-25: Make a Hearth Chair
- 2 openings
April 4-8: Rustic Windsor Chairmaking - 1 opening

Spring Weekend Tutorials

Limited to 4 students. These short courses are an excellent introduction to traditional woodworking and willow basketry. Tuition includes materials, your private room, meals and use of required specialty tools.

April 16-17: Bowl Carving (with Drew Langsner) - Full
April 30-May 1: Make a Windsor Stool (Drew Langsner)
May 14-15: Willow Basketry (Louise Langsner)

Summer Workshops with Guest Instructors

Class size averages 6-8 students. Tuition includes materials, room and meals, and use of specialty tools (except for Japanese Woodworking where tuning your tools is a major part of the course.)

June 6-11: Ladderback Chairmaking (Drew Langsner)
June 20-24: Make a 17th Century Carve Box (Peter Follansbee)
July 11-16: Japanese Woodworking (Carl Swensson)
August 1-6: Post-and-Rung Rocking Chair (Tom Donahey)
August 15-19: Carving Bowls and Spoons (Drew Langsner)
August 29-September 3: Coopering (Carl Swensson)

Riving Techniques

The shingle making workshop at Hida No Sato Folk Village. Photo by Doug Rautenkranz

The shingle maker steadies the bolt with one foot. Photo by Jim Bradshaw

Photo by Drew Langsner

The bolts can be pre-warmed making them more flexible. Probably this would be done in winter when the wood could be frozen. Note the low quality of these bolts ... perhaps for display purposes only. Photo by Doug Rautenkranz

Drew Langsner tries out the Japanese style riving brake. It will definitely be used in our workshops. Photo by Louise Langsner


Our December newsletter carried a story on Country Workshops' 2010 craft tour in Japan. One of our excursions was at Hida No Sato (Hida Folk Village) just outside of the alpine city of Takayama. This is an outdoors museum that has relocated and restored older traditional rural structures from the mountainous section of Gifu Prefecture. At two of the structures we were able to observe craftsmen at work -- a spoon carver, and a maker of riven roofing shingles. Both craftsmen employed some techniques that were unfamiliar and also very interesting.

Please excuse the very dark photos. The shingle maker was working in a building with very dim light, and we don't like taking flash pictures in this type of setting. The shingle maker used a froe and club that is basically the same as we have for chairmaking, coopering and (yes, even) shingles. Also, just like at Country Workshops, an electric chain saw was available. He was riving clear, straight-grain chestnut. The first thing that caught our attention was the riving brake. ("Brakes" are simple devices that hold wood in place while it is being worked, often by jamming.) The Hida shingle maker's brake is a short section of a beam lying on the floor. Several notches in varying widths are cut away from the top of the beam. The piece of wood being split -- called a "bolt" -- is set into the appropriate width notch and held steady with the shingle maker's foot. I was impressed with the rugged simplicity of the device, and the fact that it is very stable on the floor. Nice!

The froe is placed across the end-grain of one end of the bolt and struck with the wooden mallet. Usually, when we rive chair parts (including back slats, which are basically the same as shingles) we place the froe at the mid-section of the bolt end to make splits of uniform thickness. Once the froe is into the wood the perpendicular handle is levered towards oneself and the split continues to open up. If the froe is placed much off center the narrower piece tends to "run out" as the split develops. Sometimes we also do an off-center split in order to remove excess wood. The split in this case invariably gets narrower as it comes loose from the bolt.

The Hida shingle maker can split his bolts into 3 shingles in cases where splitting the bolt in halves would create overly thick boards. He starts splitting at a one-third division. Almost immediately the froe is removed and he begins a second split dividing the larger two-thirds section into equal segments. Then, almost immediately again, the froe is removed and replaced in the first split. He goes from one split to the other in small increments ending up with 3 evenly thicknessed shingles. Really cool!

Our third observation is that the bolts to be split into shingles were pre-warmed on a rack above a low burning charcoal fire. Warming the wood makes it more flexible and this makes controlling the splitting easier than if the wood was cold (or even frozen, if this was winter work).

In the chairmaking class that I taught in Japan at Gifu Academy we also used chestnut, a wood that is not nearly as stiff as the red or white oak that we use at Country Workshops. Red oak is much more "snappy" during riving, so Iím not sure if the splitting into thirdís technique will work. White oak is somewhere in the middle of the bendy scale.

We now have a Japanese style brake in our workshop at CW. So far it's been used for a few tests. It definitely works very well for stock from about 15-30 inches in length. For longer stuff, such as the rear posts of ladderback chairs or Windsor bows, our more conventional brake made from a forked tree section is still the most useful device. Weíll know more about the new/old Japanese brake after using it for our up-coming chairmaking classes.

Intern Tim Manney during Coopering workshop.


The Country Workshops summer internship provides an opportunity to attend classes in exchange for help between workshops. Duties include: preparation for workshops, general shop and ground maintenance, light construction, farm and garden work. A room and meals are included. The program runs from June through August. Contact us for details. We are now taking applications for the coming summer.


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Phone: 828 656 2280 (9 AM to 6 PM, Eastern time, any day)
Address: 990 Black Pine Ridge Rd.; Marshall, North Carolina 28753