Sunday, February 15, 2009

OK, this really is me, down in the McKennawerks planing one of the poles for the dog cart. And yes, I really do dress like that in the shop when I'm working on period items (and wear the hat most of the rest of the time as well). The shirt is fustian..."as per Angus MacBride's illustrations in the Osprey Elites' on The English Civil War, gussetted in the neck and underarm, with 4" falling band collar and wood buttons." I picked up at Pennsic from Sykes Sutlery. I'm trying to get it that 'lived in-worked in' look. The hat was purchased from Mistress Nicola de Bracton at an "SCA garage sale."

So I went out this afternoon (weaseled out of sheetrock taping--I hate taping sheetrock) and cut a small tree to experiment with for the poles. It was dying anyway, because late last summer the electric co. sprayed herbicide on it and several others. Ticked me off, bigtime. While they weren't on my lot, they were on common land next to it, and they were both waaay too short, and at the edge of the RoW, to ever threaten the power lines. Also it was covered with honeysuckle, which was also murdered. I admit honeysuckle is a weed and rank growing, but the flowers were pretty, and I like the way they smell. I hate Buckeye Rural Electric Co-op. Bastards.

Anyway, the clump of trees is dying and unsightly, so down they'll come--may as well serve a better cause than firewood. They're not oaks, though. I'm guessing from the bark and wood grain/color they're ash, which is common around here. I never really paid attention to their leaves, just regarded them as oversize trellis for the honeysuckle. This will work out well for the poles. I hauled it down to the shop and cut a length about nine feet long and a tad over 3" dia. at the base. The wider piece left over from the base will be a practice run for spokes, though I'm still planning on oak for those.

I started off by removing the bark which peeled off easily in long strips (a clue to its being ash). Then I set it in the B&D workmate. Most of the time the workmate is a catchall for odds and ends, but for working long stock, especially irregular stock, it's the bee's knees (Do bees even have knees? If so, why are they considered so exemplary?).

I then used the drawknife to flatten one side of the pole.

Let's talk about drawknives for a minute.

A good, sharp drawknife is a joy to use. However, a good drawknife is hard to find. There are plenty of cheap, crappy knockoffs from overseas, but one made with good quality steel is neither cheap nor easy to find. If you're a frequenter of flea markets keep your eyes peeled for old ones, which can sometimes be had cheap. This one was an xmas gift from my in-laws, and was not a flea market find--I hate to think what they must have paid for it, bless 'em. It's perfectly balanced, holds an edge like a dream, and the handles are (as Goldilocks would say) juuuust right.

But you have to be careful with them. My brother was using one once and he slipped: now he's my half brother! Ba-dum-bum. OK, that's an old Roy Underhill joke presented here as an homage.

The drawknife is the perfect tool for beginning the shaping on a piece of tree. Planes and jointers are great once you've shaved a side flat, but nothin' beats a drawknife, a good eye, and a steady hand for this part of the job.

Once a narrow flat surface was obtained running the length of the piece I drove a small finish nail in the center of the growth rings at each end and stretched a string between them. The pole isn't straight, so I'm using the natural curves of the piece to make it easier when I steam bend it to final shape. I marked a line with a sharpie along the length so I can judge where to plane off more wood.

Here you can see the line at the wide end of the pole. Metal calipers are massively useful for shaving wood to the right dimension. I set the jaws to about 1/2 the desired width at the base, and marked down the pole to either side of the centerline. Some places I needed to do a lot of shaving, others not so much.

Once one side was as close to what I wanted as drawing and planing would get it (allowing for the anticipated shrinkage, of course) I ran the pole through the jointer/planer to make the sides parallel. I then ran one of the perpendicular sides across the jointer to get a reference perpendicular edge. The pole is intended to be about 1 1/8" thick and 2.5" wide for about the first 3 feet where the bed will be, then taper to about 7/8" or 3/4" x 1" at the other end.

At this point I have one pole rough cut and ready for steam bending. Here you can see the natural bend at the front end of the pole compared to a straight edge. I'm going to exaggerate this bend when I steam it.

Tomorrow I'll get the other pole set up and make the jig for clamping the poles to shape after bending, and put together a steaming box.

This is a very rough idea of the final shape I'm shooting for.


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