Monthly Archives: July 2011

Waldorf and Statler

 The July 11 sack back class is underway. The class is unusual in that six of the students attended together as a group. The core of the group is father/son Rich Bruno, Sr. and Rich Bruno, Jr. and their friend Hugh Quigley. The three have taken several classes together. In fact, they are repeating sack back. Hugh brought a friend Tim Albright with him. Rich and Rich brought Rich, Jr.’s 15 year old son Simon and a friend, Neale Moore.

The senior members of the group, Rich, Sr. and Hugh are old friends. They jab and poke at each other the way only old buddies can. The class dubbed them Waldorf and Statler after the two old buck muppets; the ones who sit in the private theater box and  joke and snipe at everything. A lot of the joking between the two guys dates to the only class Rich and Rich took unaccompanied by Hugh. During that class, the father and son came up with an innovation that earned them induction into the Chairmaker Hall of Fame. Their innovation is named The Wealthy Bear. (A wealthy bear is a rich bruno. Get it?)

BTW, it is worth pointing out that in spite of all the classes Rich, Rich, and Hugh have taken, 15 year old Simon was the first one in this class to complete his spindles.

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File this one under Duh. Major league baseball has been troubled by broken bats. Quoting from an Associated Press story that you can read in its entirety at Faced with an epidemic of dangerous broken bats in 2008, Major League Baseball turned to the U.S. Forest Service for help in solving the problem. And who knows wood better than the Forest Service?  I don’t know. Maybe woodworkers?

Anyway, the story continues, Since the broken-bat issue reached its peak in the middle of the ’08 season, the overall number of broken bats has remained relatively steady. But Kretschmann (from the Forest Service) has tracked an approximately 50 percent reduction in the most dangerous type of broken bat, where a piece or pieces of the bat literally come flying off the handle after contact with the ball. Kretschmann calls it a “multiple-piece failure.” Others in the game call it just plain dangerous. “They’re flying into stands with the jagged edge sticking out, they’re flying into the ground all over the field,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said.

So, MLB turned to the experts who went to work finding solutions. After sorting through thousands of broken bats — including nearly every bat that broke in the second half of the 2008 season — Kretschmann and colleagues at Harvard and the University of Massachusetts Lowell identified issues that made bats more prone to shattering. They determined research showed that bats made of particularly low-density varieties of maple instead of ash are more prone to multiple-piece failures.

And they found the problem.  Kretschmann said the main issue with bats that break into multiple pieces is the so-called “slope of grain” in the wood. Ideally, a bat would be made so the grain runs perfectly straight along the length of the bat. But if it’s off by more than three degrees from parallel, the bat can lose about 20 percent of its strength and Kretschmann found himself examining bats that were off by 10 degrees or more.

In other words, all this brain power figured out that maple is not as shock resistant as ash and grain runout weakens wood. These are two things well known to every chairmaker. It’s stuff we teach in sack back. It’s why we are so fussy about how we get our wood, and why we jump through so many hoops. That each wood species has its own propoerties is why we don’t make chairs of a single wood. We actually choose wood for its properties and engineer the chair around those properties – springy, flexible oak for the back; stiff maple for the legs; and soft, compressible pine for the seat. I have another hint for MBL. You want to get nice straight grain with no runout? Rive the turning stock for your bats. I wonder how much they will pay the experts to figure out that technique?

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We’ve all had days like this one described in a recent email from Dave Rossano.

“I hope your sumer has been going well. My wife has gone to Ireland with the kids for a 3 week vacation; so having this time to myself I decided to catch up on some chair work. I had been putting off the work now that the fishing season is in full swing and the bass  have filled into all the bays. Legging up my Nantucket fan back everything went smoothly and I proceeded to drilling the holes for the H. I got halfway through the first hole and the battery died. So, I tried the second battery. Dead.

“Great. Charging up a battery, I went to mow the lawn. I came back  and it was  still charging. So, I called a friend to borrow his drill. I biked over to his house and biked home. I set up to continue my work, but his battery was dead. His second battery was also  dead. Now I have 2 drills and 4 dead batteries and half of 1 hole. My first dead battery is still charging  but I grab it anyway and go for it. The rest of the legging up went smoothly, but when I was wedging the leg tenons the wedges all crumpled as I drove them. So, this took twice as long. I was finally finished and  wiping glue from the tip of my chisel when a mosquito started to fly around my face. Exasperated and agitated I swung wildly at the bug forgetting I was still holding a chisel. After a close shave I put my chisel down and went fishing.

“But nothing beats a good day chair making.”

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