Monthly Archives: July 2010

A Father’s Joy

I am reporting today on a conversation that warmed the cockles of a father’s heart.  I was driving to school with my son Michael one recent morning. (This summer he is studying journalism at nearby Philips Exeter Academy with Pulitzer Prize NY Times reporter Ralph Blumenthal.) Out of the blue he asked if I would teach him to work wood. I’m sure it seems strange that I have not already taught him to be a woodworker. Afterall, he grew up coming to the shop everyday after school to study until his mother and I were done working. 

However, I have never tried to impose my interests on him.  I have always wanted him to be his own man and to find himself. My strategy  has worked pretty well. He is a good kid with a long line of successes packed into his 17 years. I don’t need for Michael to follow in my footsteps. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t want him to work wood.  In fact, I have longed for him to join me in the shop.  I told him I would be delighted to work with him and teach him. 

He explained that he had looked at all the tools on the walls and realized he did not know what they were used for, or how they worked. I observed that countless woodworking tools have ended up on the market because the generations who inherited them did not know what they were or how they worked.  It sounds morbid, but I did tell him that someday I would be gone and if he does not learn what I know from me, he will most likely end up auctioning everything off.  

Michael made a chair when he was 12 years old. He took the class with his cousin and godfather Robert,  and gave his chair to his grandmother as her 80th birthday present. I told him if he wanted to repeat the experience I would put him into any chair class that interested him.  He explained that by Wednesday of his class he could not absorb any more information. I told him not to feel badly, every adult who takes the class has the same experience. He asked instead to spend weekend time in the shop; one-on-one. He hasn’t brought up the subject since that morning, and I won’t.  I’ll let it percolate, and if he is truly interested, he will raise the matter again.  Meanwhile, I have my fingers crossed. 

I of course, had another thought in mind. Michael has formed a rock band that practices at our house every week. Two of the musicians are tall and strong.  If Michael was spending a lot of time at the shop, perhaps I could get their young, strong backs to help out once and a while.            

 By the way, I mentioned here earlier that Michael had served as a congressional page.   The local newspaper just ran a front page story about him and his experiences. Check it out. Tell me, do I look too proud?  

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July 12 Sack Back

             I regularly get phone calls and emails that go something like this, “I live in Ohio (or some other state) and it’s such a log way to New Hampshire, I can’t get there to take a chair class.”  I never have any sympathy. This week is good example of why I am so hard-hearted. Kim Dongil is a student in the class that we are currently teaching.  Dongil is from Seoul, Korea. Think how far he travelled to get here to take a chair class. His home is about as far away as you can get on this planet from New Hampshire. Perhaps the guys who come here fron new Zealand and Australia actually travel the greatest distance. However, Dongil is one of the reasons the old “I can’t come to a class because I’m from …..” doesn’t cut the mustard.

            Dongil has a PhD in economics and teaches at the university level.  His goal is to make more chairs and I am curious as to what species of trees he will find in Korea that substitute for the species we use. I did a Google search and came up with some candidates for him.  I’ll keep you posted.

            This class also has Freddie Dudak as a student. Freddie is noteworthy because he is only eleven years old. In fact, he is barely 11 years old, his birthday being in May. The previous youngest boy to take a class was my son Michael who made a chair when he was twelve.  So, Freddie sets a new record and in doing so blows the old one out of the water. Freddie’s father Sir Freddie Dudak accompanied him, but the youngster is doing his own work. In fact, he has put a few older guys to shame and they regret being on the same bench as this talented 11 year-old.  Freddie is taking the class very seriously.  He never fools around or gets distracted.  Every demonstration he sits up front with his notebook and takes copious notes. His father tells me Freddie is planning on exhibiting his chair in a local fair this August.

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            Here’s  a story a lot of chairmaker wish would happen to them.  The email tells the whole tale and I have nothing to add. “This week I received the mother of all chair orders. The historic site near buy has ordered 100 chairs to be completed this year under a facilities grant. Over the past several years I have already made about 50 or so for them and this will complete the restoration of the building. The chairs are a simple four spindle rod back with a box stretcher and quite plain turnings except for the rings. The originals (which they still have a few of) were made nearby around 1830. I had anticipated being able to cut back this year when the deposit check arrived in the mail. I have nightmares thinking about the 1400 turnings required. Thanks to Oneway I have a very quiet and smooth running lathe that is a joy to turn on. So, it is a little less painful. As you know I have been blessed with some considerable orders over the years, but I am sure this will be my last big Rodeo!! Hope all is well with you and your family. John Robinson.”  Eat your hearts out. 

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A lot of you have changed your email addresses lately.  If my monthly eLetter is returned I have no choice but to delete your name, as I have no way to get hold of you to ask for your new address. If you did not recently receive the July issue about the Gluck Brothers Chair Manufacturers ink blotter, you need to send me you new address.

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A Miserable Job


            Don and I stumbled into a miserable job last Thursday; one that should have taken us twenty minutes, but instead lasted all day. We have a DeWalt 13 inch planer. It gets most of its use during classes when students plane red oak stock into chair parts.  Because it  planes mostly narrow pieces of unseasoned wood, it continues to work well, even after the cutters have become too dull for other jobs.

            I discovered the blades were dull when I tried to plane some wood for a project slated for a magazine article. In my mind, this was no problem. Swapping the cutters is a quick job and on this machine — very easy. In no time, I had the top off the machine and had exposed the cutter head.  Each cutter is secured in place by a cover. A row of eight equally spaced screws secures the cover and cutter to the head, and creates even holding power.  I locked the head in position and placed the Allen wrench in the first screw. It wouldn’t budge.

            I tried the next and had same problem. I was actually twisting the wrench without being able to loosen the screw. I tried all eight screws on the first cutter cover. Not a one would budge. I was growing concerned. I wondered if it was possible the screws were left handed and I had forgotten this detail. I tried turning a couple clockwise, but with no success.

            Next, I turned the cutter head and tried the screws on the second face. Again, no luck.  Every one of eight screws was frozen. I turned the head to the third face. Same thing. By now, I was frustrated and perplexed. I heated the screws with a propane torch and sprayed them with penetrating oil. Still, no go. I repeated both steps. Nope. Same as before.

            Eventually, I called Don away from gluing seat blanks to consult with me. I also wanted a witness. I didn’t think anyone would believe  that I couldn’t change the blades on such a simple machine. Don tried and he too was unable to loosen a single screw. We took a break and when we got back I tried again. The first screw made an audible snap as it moved. Joyfully, I withdrew it and put it in the parts tray inside planer’s housing. I worked my way along the first blade cover and managed (with some effort) to loosen and remove all eight screws. I turned the cutter head and accomplished the same on the second side.

            I turned the head again to bring up the third side. I was able to loosen all but four screws. In the process, the Allen wrench cammed out of two of them, striping the hexagonal holes. I asked Don to try his luck. He applied so much torque he twisted the Allen wrench almost 90 degrees without loosening the other screws.

            After some kibitzing we decided to give the four screws a long and intense application of heat and a dash more of penetrating oil. Nope. That didn’t work. We concluded we had to attempt an Easy Out. With two stripped hexagonal holes, we didn’t have much choice anyway. We tried to drill pilot holes into the tops of the screws, but dulled bit after bit. I can’t imagine the screws were hardened, but they sure chewed up a lot of bits without us ever  making much of a hole.

            We gave up on the Easy Out and decided on a new tack. We would grind off the screw heads. This would allow us to remove the cover and replace the cutter. However, that would leave us with only four screws securing the third blade. I would have no choice but to hope that four screws would be sufficient. Don dug out the Dremel and mounted the grinder bit in it. The Dremel did grind away the screw head. However, the grinder attachment disappeared faster than the screw. I kept repeating to Don, “I’m glad you’re here to witness this. ‘Cause no one would believe this story. This is the longest change of blades in history.”

            Being chairmakers, Don and subscribe to the “get a bigger hammer” school of thought. If drill bits and the Dremel couldn’t cut  those screws, it was time to break out the cold chisel. After several whacks I looked at the results. I wasn’t making any progress on the screw, but the chisel was getting chewed up. I half expected Alan Funt to jump out and say, “Smile. You’re on Candid Camera.”

            I tried the chisel again with Don watching. The screw moved under the blow. “It moved,” I yelled. “I saw it move.” Don watched more closely as I took another hit. Sure enough. It moved again. Don grabbed a pair of pliers and with  little effort,  extracted the screw. I moved onto the next.  It took a bit of hammering, but sure enough, it let go too. The same happened with the third.

            One last screw was all that stood between us and completing this blasted job. You guessed it. This one was the granddaddy of them all. To top it off, we were in the machine room without air conditioning and it was now the heat of the day. Sweat was dripping off our faces. We tried heating the screw again and applying a liberal dose of penetrating oil. Our persistence finally paid off. After chiseling around the head from every position that would give me some purchase, the screw finally moved.  Don and I crowed in victory – man over machine. The blasted thing had not beaten us.

            After removing the cutter covers we examined them.  They are protected with a thick black paint, or perhaps japanning. However, under the screw heads was bare metal. I’m wondering if the finish had adhered the screws to the cover, because the threads were as clean as a whistle. Also, once a screw moved, it withdrew easily. Any way, Don and I swabbed each hole with oil before we reassembled. That process took the predictable 20 minutes.

            So, there is our story. A day to loosen 24 screws, and 20 minutes to change the blades.  Remind me to tell you someday about getting the bevel gear with a broken tooth off our monster, cast iron Taiwanese thickness planer.


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