MAY 2009 NEWSLETTER

DVDs from the Country Workshops Store.
From the Country Workshops Store

TRADITIONAL CRAFT DOCUMENTARIES

Text and photos by Drew Langsner
We have long been aware that many of our class participants and store customers are unaware that Country Workshops is a Non-profit Education Organization. Among the achievements that we are particularly proud of are the production of two video documentaries recording the work and methods of two extraordinary master craftsmen. In both cases, the programs were developed as a partnership with our long-time friend Rick Mastelli. (In 1982 Rick wrote a cover story about Country Workshops’ ladderback chairmaking classes for “Fine Woodworking.” Rick also started the video department at The Taunton Press.)

Swiss Cooperage: Two Days in the Workshop of Ruedi Kohler

My initiation into traditional woodworking took place in the Swiss Alps in 1972. While traveling in rural parts of Europe, Louise and I met Ruedi Kohler, a master cooper (maker of wooden buckets
and other staved containers) who was then 71. I was particularly intrigued with the craft and the Kufermeister was obviously a very special person. The result was a summer-long apprenticeship (approximately the same amount of time that was traditional for this craft -- but the apprenticeship was during winter.) My career as a woodworker and founder of Country Workshops springs directly from that experience.

Coopered bucket by Ruedi Kohler.
In the mid-80’s Kohler was still busy working full-time as a cooper at his remote alpine Chalet home and workshop. By this time the other old coopers had passed away; I was very aware that Ruedi was the last master of this particular form of coopering. It also happened that the style is among the most evolved, elaborate and challenging form of what is technically known as ‘single bottom’ coopering, the making of various tubs, buckets and other open end staved containers. I realized that it was a rare opportunity to record a video documentary of a master craftsman who would not be working much longer. I contacted Rick Mastelli and asked if he would be interested in working on the proposed project. He agreed.

In 1988 Ruedi was 87. That fall Rick and I flew to Zurich, Switzerland with 5 large cases (of what was then considered to be portable) video equipment. From there we took a series of trains to the remote village of Oey-Diemtigen in the Bernese Alps. A taxi took us to Ruedi’s home where we started setting up the lighting, recording deck, sound system and other equipment. We lodged at the home of another extraordinary woodworker, Armin Erb, who I later wrote about for one of the old black and white issues of “Fine Woodworking.” Because we didn’t speak a common language, I arranged to have Annette Wyttenbach (a Swiss friend from previous visits) on “the set” as our translator.

Ruedi was so highly skilled (and fast) that we often had to ask him repeat steps in the process. At the end of the second recording day Ruedi asked me about the rather strange little object that we clipped to his shirt before each session. He had not realized that it was a radio microphone.

The full Country Workshops DVD story




Summer/Fall Class Schedule
We are currently accepting registrations for summer workshops and fall tutorials. Summer workshops bring in notable guest instructors and average 8 students. Fall tutorials are taught by Drew and are limited to 4 students. As always, there are no add-on charges. Tuition includes materials, accommodations and meals. Specialty tools are provided for all classes (exception – Japanese woodworking, where tool preparation is a major part of the course.)

You can read more about each course by following these links:

June 8-12: Toolmaking for Woodworkers (Hans Karlsson) – Full
June 22-27: Ladderback Chairmaking (Drew Langsner) – 2 openings
July 6-10: Carving Bowls and Spoons (Drew Langsner)
July 20-25: Japanese Woodworking (Carl Swensson)
August 3-8: Post-and-Rung Rocking Chair (Tom Donahey)
August 17-21: 17th Century Joinery (Peter Follansbee) - Full
October 19-23: Rustic Windsor Chairmaking  (Drew Langsner)  – 3 Openings
November 2-6: Windsor Chairmaking (Drew Langsner) – 3 Openings
November 16-20: Ladderback Chairmaking (Drew Langsner) – 1 Opening


One More Contribution From our Newsletter Mailbox:

The newsletter article about harvesting hickory inner bark (bast) resulted in another interesting e-mail, this one from Ron Tocknell in England.

WILLOW BAST

Hi Drew,

I read your piece on using hickory bast for woven chair seats. Hickory is not in abundance in the UK. I've often harvested willow bast but never thought of using it for a chair seat. In fact, I've never used it for a permanent structure and I don't know if it would stand the test of time.

Willow bast is incredibly easy to harvest at this time of the year. If you can get a straight pole about six inches in diameter, you can usually peel the whole pole with a single cut along its length. I usually make a start of separating the bark at one end of the cut by prying it open with a knife. Then I use a sharp stick to form a narrow wedge to force under the bark and pry the whole 'hide' off in one go. The bast comes away with the bark.

To separate the bark from the bast, I cut it into strips the width I want and lay it bast-side down on the face of a tree stump. Holding it taught, I pull one end down over the stump and feed the other end through, keeping it taught. The bast takes a sharp, right-angle bend easily as its very supple but the bark, being less supple, splits away as it's pulled through.

More on willow bast
Mastering endgrain continued

Shortly after sending out the April Newsletter with a section on working endgrain we received an interesting e-mail. Here it is, with minor editing and a few comments in square brackets […]

MY TRICKS FOR ENDGRAIN
By Miles Mibeck

Violin by Miles Mibeck.
I handcraft violins. On a violin the inside of the peg box is predominantly endgrain, the neck root heel that fits into the neck mortise is also endgrain, and the sound post is endgrain on both ends. Also, the fingerboards are made of dense ebony. The ends of the fingerboard must be completely flat to accept the nut. The nut and the saddle of a violin are endgrain. Consequently, I have many tips you did not mention.

The problem with endgrain is that the fibers split apart at the end of a cut. If you chamfer the edge to your final height with a sharp chisel first, and then shape the surface towards the relief cut, it won’t split out. Now the endgrain can be worked with a [low angle] block plane or sharp chisel without tear out because you have no free standing fibers to break.

The block plane must be set for the finest, thinnest, almost no-shaving cut you can make. The adjustable throat should be set very close. I start by testing the blade setting on a practice piece and take only dust.


More endgrain tips from Miles

CONTACT US

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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