Shaker or Gothic?

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Everything made by Tom Green !

With a few days spare between projects I have been looking ahead to the summer where I shall be exhibiting at some Rural Shows in the East of England. I earn my living as a wheelwright, a maker of wooden wheels, and that’s what I will be primarily concentrating on. However in an effort to broaden my appeal I shall be featuring some of the other wooden items I make including my latest project.

Which brings me nicely to the latest item to emerge from my workshop, a rocking chair. Over the years I have made a number of rocking chairs including a double rocking bench for outside, and the common theme or style is the American Shaker style. I rather appreciate the elegant simple lines, and having studied a number of books on the subject I have come to understand the simplicity of design is matched with a ruthless efficiency designed to maximise the raw materials and reduce labour costs.

As a wheelwright I build the rims of my wooden wheels in sections, cutting them out of a solid plank, therefore when I was looking to make the rockers in the past I cut them out of a solid plank. The shaker method is too steam a straight piece of wood into shape, Cutting a straight piece  is much faster than shaping a curve, and by steaming it into shape you reduce considerably your waste material. So for this project out came my steam box for the rockers, the back posts, and the curved back sections.

For this project I have used Beech wood, an excellent wood for furniture and steaming, but if I am honest its not the most exciting grain pattern to look at, therefore a perfect opportunity to try Black Polish something I have had waiting on the shelf for the right project to come along.

The end result as you can see from the picture is rather smart but it could be suggested has strayed away from Shaker towards Gothic, or as my dearly beloved suggested a “Nervous Goth” ( shaky gothic).

So what do you think Shaker or Gothic?

 

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How wide is your Bum?

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Shaker rocking chair – under construction in our workshop

I am a great fan of the shaker style of furniture. Its very elegant furniture, cleverly designed to maximise the strength of interlocking thin timbers to create a piece which is lightweight and yet strong. It could also be argued that the shaker designers were true ecologists making maximum use of these thin sustainable timbers, shaping the individual pieces with steam to bend them into shape rather than cutting the shape out of a solid timber which considerably reduces the waste.

So a perfect project on a cold day in an unheated workshop as it allows me to get out the steam box, to bend some wood., something I am always amazed when I do it as I never quite believe it will work. If you look at the picture above you will see I have bent the rear uprights, and there are a few extra components that have been bent but not yet fitted.

Which brings me to my problem. The design which is based on original shaker design from the 1800s when I suspect body shapes were different. The seat tapers from front to back. The measurement at the front is 20 inches (500mm) tapering back to 16 inches ( 400mm) at the rear, and its only when you see this in reality do you realise how tight this is.  I have then changed the design to incorporate shapely arm rests which cuts an extra 50mm out of the available room so it all becomes a bit tight at the back.

What I need is a representative sample of body measurement’s to work with, but there is a limit to how many I have access to in order to measure. Basically its me.

Therefore I would ask as many of you who feel kind enough to help an old man out. I need to know how wide the average bottom is. The easy way to work this out is for you to sit on flat surface and then put a solid object either side of your bum, then stand up and measure the distance between the objects.

With that information do I need:

A – 16inches (400mm)

B – 18 inches (450mm)

C – – 20 inches (500mm)

D – more than 20 inches

 

 

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Did I get my Doctorate?

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The before. What does it end up like?

In an earlier post I recounted a tale that on a visit to the south coast I came across a “Chair Doctors” a term I hadn’t seen or heard of for ages. Its not quite as good as  a “sagger makers bottom Knocker”, which was a real job in the china clay industry in about 1700, but I like it and its a position I can aspire to.

I have looked and there doesn’t seem to be a formal training scheme, so  how does one become a Chair Doctor? Do you start of as a student Doctor, and hope one day to make it too Junior doctor, and eventually the lofty heights of consultant. Maybe its time to start the London School of Chair Doctors, I  shall appoint myself principal, finally I shall be an academic- My mother would have been so proud, “at last he gets a proper job”.

In my real job as a wheelwright there is with the assistance of the Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights the re emergence of a formal training scheme. Something sadly absent for many years. But formal training has to be augmented with practical experience and I was told when I set out to make carriage wheels you cant consider yourself a wheelwright until you have made 50 wheels, until then your just practicing. It took me a while to get to that number. If we apply that logic to being a Chair Doctor it should be  easier as there are a lot more chairs about than carriages. But conversely you are more likely to have a wheel repaired than a chair, you can pop out a replace a chair, a carriage is slightly harder.

However applying the wheelwrights logic I must therefore have gained my Doctorate. I have made / repaired/ refurbished over 50 chairs. I am no longer an apprentice its time to move up to becoming a master chair doctor.

I therefore present for your consideration my masterpiece, the Victorian balloon back rocking chair above. This has been stripped, polished and caned, a sentence I didn’t think I would ever write.

If you agree I am worthy then I look forward now to henceforth being addressed as Doctor Green, and should I ever get invited to parties, drunken revellers will now tell me their medical problems in complete confidence (that I have no idea what they are going on about. My medical knowledge like my father before me consists of – Lemsip max strength cures everything).

best wishes

Dr Green

rocker2

 

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New Handbags!

 

I have never been very good a keeping a secret, having completed a project I want to be able to show my nearest and dearest, but for my latest video I have had to keep quiet for nearly two months – unheard off.

There comes a point in every fathers life when he has to accept that his daughters have grown up, no longer shy teenagers, but have instead blossomed into sophisticated elegant women, who at some point in the future may need to choose my care home so I better keep on their good side.

So this Christmas I decided to make them both matching whilst at the same time individually unique handbags. Not possible I hear you cry. Well have a look at the video and see how I got on. Part one is on line now. Part two follows tomorrow.

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I always wanted to be a doctor!

 

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Shaker Bench with Woven Rush seat by Heritage Craft

20 years ago I started buying wrecked chairs at country auctions, and attempting to do them up, fully intending to then to put them back into auction, and undoubtedly make a fortune,  but they became family favourites. We still have the first Victorian armchair I ever reupholstered and I was nearly shown the door when I recently suggested we could replace it. The fact I was intending to replace it with one I had made from scratch was ignored.

We still use everyday the set of 18c ladder back dining chairs I purchased years ago for just £10, albeit having been re polished and with now woven seats, as we also use the nursing chair with the rewoven split cane back, which my dearly beloved still maintains is the worlds most comfortable chair ( in the dining room) in Norfolk.

Through all this time I keep coming back to shaker style chairs, and have made several including rocking chairs, and whilst I love the style, and the craftsmanship of the turned wood I have never been a great fan of the “Shaker tape” woven seats, much preferring English rush woven seats. With a few days between projects and a delivery of rush cord I decided to make a shaker bench with a woven rush seat.

Starting with a plank of cherry wood, one of a couple I purchased a while ago, it was rapidly cut and turned to size on the lathe, and I thought I was doing well to do that in a morning. Subsequently I was reading a book on shaker chairs where it tells of the work rate of some of the old time craftsmen, working with a pole lathe they would turn 300 pieces in a day, albeit they were identical parts that’s still an incredible work ethic.

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part completed stool frames

For the top I was trying a new material Rush cord, which I had been warned was a challenging material to work with, and whilst it had its moments, the end result was so much better than the alternatives, and I think will become my material of choice for seats in the future.

Now for my next challenge I have been asked to restore a Victorian rocking chair for a customer, back to its former glory with a woven split cane seat and back. On a recent trip through the countryside I came across a “Chair Doctor” a term I had forgotten but if I can manage to bring this one back to life I might just get my doctorate!

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The before. What does it end up like?

 

 

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Why Bother Making it?

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Now  I don’t claim to be a blacksmith, my primary skill is as a wheelwright, so I have a Blacksmith’s forge to support that, enabling me to make all manner of little parts and pieces. For example today I needed to make some handmade nails used to hold a steel tyre in place on a carriage wheel. Usually I can get away with modern ones but in this instance I needed to match some existing nails, so out came the forge. It took over an hour to make 8 nails so not something I could make a living at. but then there is a vital blacksmith tool I don’t have which would have cut the time substantially.

I recently visited a Christmas market and came across a stall selling coat hooks, in the form of , four coat hooks screwed to a piece of recycled wood, which rather caught my eye. As the forge was lit I thought I would have a go and make some.

The first one, on the left made from a piece of 16mm solid steel, it took over an hour of solid hammering, at the end of which I was left exhausted. For the one on the right I saw the error of my ways and went for 12mm solid steel, easier to hammer.

I know which one I prefer. Which do you prefer, the left or the right?

The real question you have to ask is why bother trying to make one when you can buy cheap ones for £3 ea and good ones for £10?  Do I really need to answer….

best wishes

Tom

 

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What would you tell a 15 Year old?

I have been asked to talk to a group of 15 year old students as part of a series of talks on the subject of careers. They are looking for someone to give an alternative view to the “You must go to university and get a degree” message.

My point of view will be that the Job for life has now gone, and I suspect the full time job with workers rights is under threat certainly for those with less qualifications. However a degree whilst desirable is not necessary, but you will need some other form of qualification. Further gaining those qualifications is only a stepping stone now more than ever before there is a need for life long learning, as technologies change, and new industries emerge to replace those that decline.

For example the motor trade which in the past has consumed so many school leavers, with driverless cars on the  horizon is due to collapse. Cleverer people than me have set out the future, no longer will we own cars, but instead will just hail one when we need them, therefore car show rooms wont exist getting rid of salesmen at a stroke, Mechanics will still exist but they are more likely to be electricians. Body shops will decline as there will be less accidents, as will paint sprayers and so the list goes on. We wont need car parks, as they will be fewer cars and those that there are wont be parked up for long hours whilst we go about our daily business.

The same can be said for so many other traditional industries. I spoke to someone the other day who was the first person to have their hip replaced by robot. If they can replace a hip then a robot to cut your hair is easy.

Its not all doom there will always be a motor trade, there will always be people who hold out, and as some one who as a wheelwright earns his crust from those seeking to preserve a long gone form of transport I will encourage them. However there are approx. 30 wheelwrights in the country, I suspect about 1000 worldwide that’s not great prospects when it comes to paying a mortgage, which is why most wheelwrights don’t work at it full time.

My premise will therefore be – take the long view, and keep looking ahead. Whichever job you start with is not the one you will finish with, its a series of stepping stones.

I heard on the Radio the other day there are three vital key skills for getting a job and progressing in employment.

  1. Get there early
  2. Work Hard
  3. Make tea

As an ex employer I would consider that to be excellent advice.

So what advice would you give a 15 year old now?

Tom

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