2020 has been a most peculiar year and we have all been affected in different ways. While I would probably have preferred things to have continued as ‘normal’, there are many things that have occurred this year that I would never wish to have missed. We had our daughters staying at home during Lockdown #1, which would never have happened otherwise; my wife and I made a wonderful tour of England in late July (we popped into Scotland for 24 hours); and I had time to develop two brand new tools (more below) and make new chairs that I hope will prove popular. However, many courses have had to be cancelled and that has been frustrating for me and my students and I hope that courses will be able to resume properly before too long.
In the meantime, I wish you happy and healthy holidays and a much better 2021!
19 December 2020
It has been a difficult year for courses. Everything was cancelled in Lockdown #1. I ran a small course for two people in July and then started again at the end of August with a couple of stool courses. September and October were relatively normal, keeping numbers down to 5 per course and I closed down again in November. I have just cancelled my January courses.
I am most grateful to everyone who has had their course cancelled, for their understanding and for mainly transferring to courses in the future.
Let us hope that the vaccines will allow us to return to ‘normal’ before too long!
This has been a lifesaver for my business this year. Travishers and spokeshaves have been flowing out of the doors at a good rate all year, presumably as people have spent more time in their workshops.
I found a local firm which was able to take my simple pencil drawings on squared paper and turn them into digital models and then make the first production model. After a few small tweaks, I turned to my usual machining company to make the first production runs.
I chose to use Delrin and brass, as in my Deluxe travisher, for ease of machining and for their looks! Apart from having to use the stiffer Naval brass in place of ‘regular’ brass, it all went well.
Since then I have been promoting them on Instagram and have sold a very encouraging number up to now.
Both tools have a scraper blade held in place with a wedge, making it easy to remove them for sharpening and for resetting. There are two videos on my website showing the process of sharpening and setting up.
Having hollowed a seat with a travisher, there is still quite a lot of cleanup work in order to achieve a finished surface. A cabinet scraper, followed by plenty of sanding has been the norm until now, but the traviscraper has almost eliminated the need for sanding!
The traviscraper gives the user complete control over where to scrape. It works along the grain and can be skewed to take slicing cuts across end grain (at the sides of the seat, if the grain is running across the seat). It makes forming a crisp transition between the hollow and the spindle platform very easy to create.
The finished surface has a slightly tooled texture that can be felt, but not seen. About 30 seconds with 240 grit abrasive is all that is required before applying a finish!
In addition to the top of the seat, the traviscraper is brilliant for cleaning up the underside. If you have been on a course, you will know that I liked to use a travisher or scrub plane across the grain. This leaves quite a rough surface. However the traviscraper, along the grain, gives texture and a cleanup. It’s slightly slower, but so satisfying!
When I started to develop the traviscraper, it seemed a good idea to make a straight version – the spokescraper. I had seen something like this years ago, but not recently. I wasn’t not sure quite how much use this tool would be, but the more I use it in the workshop, the more versatile I find it is.
It is now one of my key tools, complementing the small spokeshave particularly. I use it when roughing out spindles; for sizing the tops of spindles; cleaning up bows and the front of seats; smoothing the outsides of seats; and finally smoothing the spindle platform on top of the seat!
The secret to the use of both tools is to put the front of the brass nose in contact with the wood and then rotate the tool back, until the blade also touches the surface. This is then the ideal orientation for use and slow steady pushes produce the best results!
Since the November lockdown, I have been grateful to have received a couple of commissions to keep me out of mischief!
I have just completed a settee and am also working on 4 comb back armchairs in oak and chestnut. I am now waiting for seat wood so that I can complete this set.
Although I have been making new chairs over the last couple of years to keep the courses fresh, it has been fun to work on chairs that I am familiar with.
New Chair for Courses
I have made a number of new chairs over this past year, but the one I am most pleased with is a Desk/Dining chair. It took three goes to get it how I wanted and the biggest challenge was getting the crest right.
I will take this chair to shows during next year to gauge public reaction, but I hope to be able to offer it for a course in autumn 2021. I am also working on a side chair to match and hope to start version 2 in the next few days!
Do let me know if you are interested in making the armchair!
Having not attended a show for a year now, I am looking forward to seeing everyone again!
These are the shows that I hope to exhibit at in the first 8 months:
Craft in Focus at Wisley Gardens 29 April to 3 May
Sussex Guild at Borde Hill 19-20 June
Sussex Guild at Pashley Manor Gardens 28-30 August
Instagram and Videos
Some of you will know that I am quite keen on Instagram 😉! I enjoy the community there and it is also great for bringing in business. Over the last six weeks I have had a major push to increase the number of my followers and this has now reached almost 23,000! In the middle of the year I had plateaued at around 15K, so this is a useful boost.
Steam bending videos are always popular on Instagram and my best yet has now been watched 640,000 times. The same video has been ‘liked’ over 10,000 times and saved 2,300 times.
If you are not into social media, then this will be of little interest, but I love the fact that everything can be measured. It becomes a ‘game’ as well as being a great business tool. Whatever happens, I will find it hard to ever beat these numbers!
If you are interested, do have a look at my recent posts here via my website:
Desk for Caitlin
My younger daughter Caitlin moved into a new flat in London in October. She and her boyfriend needed desks, as they would be working from home, and I made a pair of temporary ones using a sheet of MDF, Windsor style legs and off-the-shelf drawers that could be attached underneath the top. These worked well, but were practical rather than fine pieces of furniture!
I don’t do conventional flat and square woodwork, so I enlisted the help of my friend Roger Smith to make a proper one for her birthday. Roger is a fine cabinet maker and lives locally, so I knew it was going to be good! I made the leg assemblies and he did the rest.
The whole desk is English ash and the top is 45 mm thick. The drawer uses soft-close Blüm runners.
The key to my design was to make the piece easy to disassemble completely for transport. There is a hex key on a magnet, beside the drawer, which can be used to remove the leg assemblies, back stretcher and the drawer. All these pieces are held in place with bolts into threaded inserts. Not conventional, but very practical!