How the time has passed!

It’s been a really, really long time since we’ve posted anything to this blog. I’m hopping to change that once again as things are getting interesting again in our lives (at least for us) and we are slowly finding more time to do a variety of things.

AVL 16 shaft dobby loomMostly I (Tracey, your most frequent poster) will be doing a few more articles on weaving, including my exploits into the use of my new (old) 16 shaft AVL Dobby loom. This is not a computerised dobby, but a peg system (I’ll talk more about this later) and weaves a width of about 36″ happily (although it’s about 40″ wide full width). I’m really really loving this loom, loving it like I never have loved a loom before (and remember I now have a large Ashford Rigid Heddle and a 4 shaft countermarch). The Rigid heddle is back in use, currently it’s warped up to teach a friend of mine to weave, but I’m starting to get interested in weaving on it myself once again. However, I’m thinking that I might purchase a small folding loom around 12″ wide and leave the larger rigid heddle for friends to learn on.

The other wonderful treat that came along with my gorgeous new loom was the visiting instructor in the form of the equally wonderful Karuna. It has been invaluable to have Karuna come and visit with me on a few mornings, going through how to setup the loom, warp on a “teething” warp as she called it and weaving through half a dozen or so weave structures. I’ll go over this experiment in more detail in a later post too.

In other related exciting news, we are about to embark on a 10 week holiday to the USA, primarily New York and North Carolina. Craig will be attending a bunch of woodworking classes and also going along to the American Woodworkers Conference in Ohio (is it Kentucky?). I will be attending a week long class at the John C Campbell Folk School on 18th century household textiles which I’m really excited about. I could probably spend a good half of the year attending full-time classes at the folk school by the look of their class list. So hopefully this trip will also trigger some other amazing posts full of colour and interest 😉

Until then, happy crafting.

Hand Tool Woodworking Resources

Woodworking without using power tools at all is still regarded as being a little against the grain, and despite the resurgence in the popularity of woodwork in recent years, many of the most popular magazines and blogs (particularly Fine Woodworking Magazine), still stress the use of machines. That doesn’t mean these aren’t great resources, but sometimes it’s nice to read about other hand tool workers, to help remind us that we aren’t totally crazy. So, here’s a list of my favourite online resources. Whether you use hand tools exclusively or not, if you enjoy woodwork, you’re going to love these links.

Roy UnderhillRoy Underhill

There’s a reason we call him St. Roy. Roy Underhill has been the champion of hand tools woodwork for more than 30 years, which is how long his show “The Woodwright’s Shop” on PBS (in the USA) has been running. You can watch the last few years of this online, and every episode is well worth it. Roy’s books are also excellent, and his latest book is probably my favourite woodwork book at the moment. Watching the Woodwright’s Shop isn’t just great for the interesting skills that it teaches, it’s great because Roy makes hand tool work fun.

St. Roy’s Website:

Logan Cabinet ShoppeLogan Cabinet Shoppe

Bob Rozaieski runs this great site detailing his hand tool woodworking exploits. Go subscribe to his blog, and his podcast. In particular, his video podcast is proving do be one of the best resources around for getting into hand tool woodworking from scratch. After getting inspired by watching a few episodes of the Woodwright’s Shop, go watch Bob’s videos to get yourself started with the details.

Logan Cabinet Shoppe:

Note: To subscribe to the podcast in itunes, open one of the episodes in it’s embedded video player, click on the little “packman” icon, and click on the subscribe tab. Or, just search for it in the itunes store.

Dan KlauderDan’s Shop

Another must-read blogger, Dan has been providing detailed explanation and pictures of his hand tool woodwork for quite some time. There’s a huge backlog of interesting stuff to read there, including good descriptions of the sets of tools used to build each project. In particular, you want to start with “the whole story in three pictures”.

Dan’s Woodshop Blog:

The Village CarpenterThe Village Carpenter

Kari Holtman doesn’t use hand tools exclusively, but she uses them a lot, and seems to be coming over to the dark side even more of late. Her blog is always detailed, well photographed, and inspirational. Again, reading back through the articles is well worth it.

The Village Carpenter Blog:

Building a Workbench

If you’re not a woodworker, then you may think that a workbench is just about the roughest bit of carpentry which one might undertake. After all, it’s not furniture for the house, so it doesn’t need to be pretty. A woodworking workbench, however, is much more than just a big heavy table with a vice bolted on. Both historical and modern woodworking benches are typically fairly complex works of precise joinery. This is because a workbench isn’t just a table, it’s more correctly viewed as a tool. A workbench, of any design, typically has a number of unique features in the way that it enables you hold wood while you work on it. Historical examples of workbenches differ greatly depending on particular woodworking trade, a chairmaker has a different bench to a cabinetmaker, for example, and also depending on the nationality and the tool technology of the period.

After reading two books on workbench design, numerous blog posts and magazine articles, I settled on making a copy of a bench built by popular woodworking magazine editor Bob Lang.

This weekend, I’ve just finished constructing the base of the bench, ready for the top to be bolted on.

Workbench Base

Workbench Base

The base is made from recycled Rimu, from an old house frame. I dressed the timber by machine, but the rest of the joinery was done by hand, making this my first big project to be performed largely with handtools. I’ve improved immensely at simple tasks like sawing a straight line, and using a shoulder plane. I heartily recommend the experience of creating fine joinery with hand tools.

The bench itself, even without a top at present, is magnificent. The first workbench I ever built was rough recycled timber held together entirely with bolts. The timbers were massive and strong, the bolts tight and plentiful, and the workbench rocked.

Tracey leaned a hand against this new workbench base, and said “holy crap”. It’s quite startling to touch because you seem to unconsciously expect a tiny amount of give or movement when you push a table or piece of woodwork. This bench doesn’t move. It sits there like the original immovable object. This feeling of solidity comes not just from it’s great weight, but also from the huge mechanical strength of the joinery. The dovetails, and wedged through-tennons are shaped to resist the slight twisting and flexing that normally occurs when two bits of wood are joined. 

Joinery Close-up

Joinery Close-up


The bench top will be coming up soon, and to get a nice reliably flat surface to compare my hand planing skills against, I’ll unashamedly be making heavy use of machines to make it.

Shaker Village

Craig just shared a link with me that I wanted to pass on. It’s a Flickr slideshow of a Shaker style village at Pleasant Hill, in America. There are some stunning photos depicting a very simple country lifestyle with some fantastic shots of people making brooms, showing spinning wheels and also weaving. Gorgeous woodwork throughout. 


Crafting Update

Among all the gardening and income earning, there has also been a little crafting or at least crafting prep, going on.


For a few weeks I’ve been designing and warping up my 4-shaft loom to weave a small blanket using all 4 shafts for the design (meep). It’s taken me a while simply to get the warp on and off my warping board in a couple of bouts using methods from Peggy Osterkamps books. I’ve now reached the stage where the warps are spread out on a raddle attached to the back of my loom. I’m hoping that today I might feel up to actually winding the warp onto the loom and start threading the headles *fingers crossed*

(the red, blue & pink bands are hair ties holding the threads into their 1/2″ slots on the raddle. There are 4 threads per slot. 2 lease sticks hold the cross and a 3rd is inserted into the end loops.



Now that the winter rains have passed, Craig has been able to get easy access to the big shed down the back and he’s spent a bit of time recently getting it all set up for hand tool work. I still haven’t gone down in person to see it but it looks fantastic from the photos (makes me jealous, can I kick him out and turn it into a weaving studio do you think *grin*).

His main woodworking project of late has been to build 2 work benches. One for himself and one for the Earthsong shed. I’m not sure if this is the workbench or the metal working bench he and Kain are building so that they can build a wind turbine.


And I think I’ve caught up on just about everything that is going on around here right now.

Working wood by hand

Like Tracey, I’m supposed to write articles on this blog too, and because I’ve done this so very infrequently, I suspect that we might have amassed a following of readers interested in fibre crafts who might be a little surprised to hear me suddenly talking about the crafts that I do around the homestead, such as working with wood, leather and metal.

I’ve been working with wood for a little while, and I think Tracey has shown off some photos of some of our more useful pieces (like our bed, our shelves, etc). I’ve amassed a few large pieces of woodworking machinery, and a bunch of other useful power tools, all of which are used at the workshop at Earthsong eco-neighbourhood when I go over there. Being at the new homestead however, with a big empty shed (in the middle of a muddy paddock) has made me rethink whether I want to work wood with machines.

Like many professions, woodworking was changed dramatically before the industrial revolution. Before the advent of woodworking machinery, most woodworking trades were fairly localised. You might expect your larger local town to have a cabinet maker’s shop where the master cabinet maker and his apprentices produced much of the local furniture. Other specialised woodworking shop trades also included the chairmaker, cooper (makes barrels), wainwright (makes wagons) and wheelwright (makes wagon wheels), and outside of the shop you would also find carpenters, bodgers and lumberjacks.

With the invention of steam and then coal powered woodworking machinery it became cheeper to produce many wooden items in large factories which could afford the capital outlay that the machinery required. Many woodworkers had to find a slot in a fairly industrialised process and perform much more repetitive tasks than they were used to. Perhaps those with the most freedom to create original designs were those in the new profession of “patternmaker”, who made wooden patterns to be used to create moulds for the creation of smelted metal items. While perhaps quite a creative profession, the end result wasn’t a piece of woodwork at all, and this might have been rather disheartening.

It seems easy to argue that woodworking was a more pleasant and interesting job before these changes, a point which was the core of the Luddite movement for example, but it’s much harder to argue whether it was also better for those who weren’t woodworkers. We are now used to being able to afford new pieces of furniture for the lowest prices in history, say a day’s wages, rather than a month’s wages. This is great for the buyer, but the furniture that we buy often seems to last about five years before it ends up in the tip. We think of antique’s as something for collectors, but another way to look at an “antique” is simple a piece of furniture capable of lasting several hundred years. If we build a piece of furniture of similar quality and timeless beauty now, then it is just as precious.

Some of these thoughts came together for me when I wanted a video demonstration by Robby Pedersen from RVP-1875, a master cabinetmaker who works with the tools and techniques available to woodworkers in Iowa, USA, in 1875.

Dovetail join at RVP-1875

In particular it’s interesting to see the difference between Robby’s style of work, which is fun and lighthearted, but shows a strong commitment to creative work and beautiful pieces that last, however is most strongly shaped by the need to work fast enough to create furniture that people can actually afford. Every other video on modern hand tools use that I have seen is about working slowly and pedantically to achieve a greater level of perfection than even machines can provide. I’m a pedantic guy, and I love perfection, but there are other reasons for using hand tools too. One is simply that it’s more pleasant to work that way.

Here’s the video over at woodworking online. Tracey enjoyed watching it too, not because she’s a woodworker, but because she’s a history buff and likes watching a funny guy in victorian era clothes doing his thing.

For more info, see

Plate storage and drying rack

So drying your dishes with a hand towel is actually unhygienic, and putting the dishes away after washing them is just too much work 😉 so in the spirit of hygiene and time saving, Craig and I spent 2 days in the workshed building a plate storage and drying rack. It also stores chopping boards and placemats. The intentions is (was) to build a shelf extending out from it with a bar to hang our cast iron cooking pans on.

Plate Rack Beautiful no?

Spinning and a new Lazy Kate

My un-tensioned lazy kate just wasn’t cutting the mustard and I could evenly tension it so Craig made me a new one *grin* (and yes I know I’m spoilt).

As you can see from these pics, the tension works the same as for the spinning wheel with a spring and a tensioning nob:

You can see my second and third finished bobbins of yarn in these pics too. For my fourth attempt, Rochana and I split some roving she had dyed prior to yesterdays fun:

Such gorgeous ocean colouring – keeps reminding me of mermaid hair.

 Still some work to do on getting an even thread but I think I’ve come a long way. I’m planning to use the “Navajo” plying technique to turn this single ply into a 3-ply. I watched the following video today and had a quick attempt and it was so easy. I’ll do a practice run on an entire bobbin of my second spinning attempt before trying it with this small bobbin of ocean.


Bed Craig and I have finally finished our bed and slept in it for the first time last night. Craig’s still a little worried about the strength of some parts of it so there will be future adjustments to be made, but we have a bed! We’ve been sleeping with our mattress on our wooden floor boards for a year and it feels so wonderful to finally have a bed upstairs, and even more so because we made it ourselves. As I’ve mentioned, the bed was made from recycled Rimu. The timber itself was once part of the old farmhouse here in Earthsong. The final touch was the oiling, we used 3 coats of Danish oil, whipping with a cloth after the first and second coats and then with 600 grit wet/dry sandpaper. I did a final sanding with the 600 grit paper after the last coat had dried. This gave the bed a really smooth finish and removed some of the glossy look (which we didn’t like). The wood itself did something I hadn’t expected, and that was that some pieces have turned out a darker colour to the rest. I’m very pleased this has happened as I adore wooden furniture with a variation in wood and colour.Made bed

Eco-Day 2008

We went along to the Waitakerie Eco-Day yesterday, it was a small event compared with Melbourne’s Sustainability Expo but we enjoyed ourselves. We had some really delicious ice cream and samosa’s (sp?) and I had a great deal of fun playing with my camera. The highlight of the day I think though was the Pole Lathe we discovered.

Pole Lathe

John from the eco-village near Koanga Gardens was demonstrating how to use the pole lathe. It’s fantastic, works really well and requires no power source except your own treadle power (like a spinning wheel). The items in the foreground are all made on this lathe and we watched him quickly turn a lump of green tree stump into a chair leg and another into drum beater (for an Irish drum). We now have plans on making one ourselves. John runs workshops on how to use and make one (at the end of the day you go home with the finished product) which might be interesting, Craig is keen to just give it a go ourselves, so we will see what happens and what the result is.

Other then that things have been a little slow round these parts. The bed is still coming a long well, the head is currently sitting in the lounge room. All the bits except for the slats have been sanded and connected so it’s really a matter of oiling and making the slats. I’m hoping we might actually get around to this during the week so that come the weekend, we will have a beautiful new bed to sleep on.