This Spring I decided to have a quieter summer, a chance to spend more time with my Family, so no bookings were taken for any of my usual Summer shows, and it felt good to know I wouldn’t be spending the next few months on the road. Then an email from the States arrived inviting me to Maine to teach a course and put on an axe making demonstration at Lie Nielsen Toolworks. I went over with my daughter Jenn for the first two weeks in July. I would have put a blog post up about this but when we got home we promptly lost the memory card with all our photos on. We realised that a lot of what I had done had been duplicated, I forged an axe with Roy Underhill and images of that popped up all over the internet, but there were a lot of images that I thought would never been seen again so I was so pleased when the card finally turned up a few days ago.
I spent most of my time working in this shop when I was at Lie Nielsen- these two guys, referred to by everyone as the Georges were great, George Stevens on the right and Old (!) George on the left. This was the prototyping workshop, not production and was filled with wonderful old machines, lots of cast iron, hand cranks and exposed pulleys and gears. They were extremely welcoming and helpful, I was concerned as to how they would respond to me turning up and making lots of noise and mess in their workshop. Old George helped me with some cutting and welding and at first was a bit bemused by my seeming inability to measure anything – ‘ I need 10, or 12 at about…. this long ( wave of my hands)’ but after a week took in in his stride.
Another slightly stilted photo of me, this time with Peter Galbert, behind us is the smoking detritus of a Lobster bake, lobsters and clams steamed in seaweed over charcoal. A fabulous evening at the open house put on by Tom Lie Nielsen, more about that in another post. It was so informative meeting Peter, we talked tools and bevel angles and immediately clicked; it was great to speak to someone with the same mindset as to how tools work. When I finally got back into my workshop I applied some of the theory that he had described in the use of his Travisher to a Drawknifelike design I have been toying with for the last two years, I had to re-vist my A- Level physics and draw out forces diagrams but all was clear and a couple of bends with the Oxy Propane torch and the tool was transformed. And yet it flies directly in the face of what we discussed about Drawknife theory in Maine! I got a copy of his book Chairmaker’s Notebook and I highly recommend it, doubt I will ever make a chair, but now want to.
A couple of weeks after we returned I had another email from Deneb at Lie Nielsen. They needed, at pretty short notice, tooling for courses that Peter Follansbee and Jogge Sundqvist were teaching. These orders will take a lot of time, but it seemed churlish to refuse, I have met Jogge a few times and know that he uses my tools, and Peter has been very vocal in his praise for my work and was keen to have my gouges, twca cams and adzes for his bowl carving course, all these tools are handled. I make all my handles from green wood and it has been nice to spend some time in my workshop with clean hands.
I have a good stock pile of straight green ash and although it would be quicker to buy in copy lathe turned handles that is not the way I want to work. It also gives me a chance to use my tools in a production setting which tells me a lot about edge holding and handle design and comfort. By chance I had lent most of my tools to a friend and the only axe I had was the one pictured, it was kept really for historical reasons as my designs have moved on from this early example, but I was really pleased to get re acquainted with it. I would normally let them dry naturally before a final fit and finish, but time is extremely short and currently the micro wave is working at hard as I type this; every two minutes the machine pings and my youngest shouts out ‘Dad! Dinners ready!’ in a few weeks she might tire of this joke, but currently it is still fresh.
In light of this and other commitments I have- A course at Barns, a run of three shows in September and a Family holiday squeezed in I have taken the decision to shut my online shop for a while, it is no secret that I have difficulty keeping up with stock at the best of times but having a completely empty shop or turning up to shows with no stock to sell makes no sense at all. I have, I suppose technically left it open so you can view what is on it but have reduced the stock levels to zero, I did also put all the prices to zero to make it obvious that no purchase could be made but the site then said ‘ This item is free!’ so I reset everything to £999 as a further deterrent to people trying to make a purchase. On a positive note not having the shop open has brought home to us just how much time is spent packing and answering emails. Hopefully I plan on using this time to put up some more blog posts: My trip to the States, some thoughts on my current working practices and ethics, and plans for the future, including axes and adzes.