The Anne of All Trades Blog: Furniture Making
I got an email recently that made me realize that while I've been running around like a crazy person trying to start a business, finish writing my book, run my farm and keep my family alive, I haven't been doing a great job of keeping all my audiences apprised of some of the key "behind the scenes" things that might seem relevant, especially those following along specifically for the handtool woodworking and fine furniture building. For those that don't want to read this entire post, here's the quick answer: I don't do fine woodworking/handtool projects in the summer. Between the farm and my traveling teaching schedule, I simply don't get the shop time and focus required for large scale, complicated projects like that. My woodworking mentor, Frank (who is 97 by the way), has always told me that in Seattle, if the sun is shining, we stay out of the shop. I take full advantage of every sunny day we get to do construction projects around the farm, work in my enormous vegetable garden, snuggle my animals, cook outdoors, can, and preserve our harvests so we can eat well through the winter. Summer is also the time for nightly bonfires and long chats with friends and family. Mandolin playing in the sunshine, and trying to fit a huge mountain of work in the in between times.
If you'd like to know more about my business, and how things have changed for me over the past few months, check out this interview on the Made For Profit Podcast https://madeforprofit.com/episode55/
Some fun summer highlights thus far:
- Teaching handtool basics at Port Townsend School of Woodworking
- Buying my dream project truck, a 1953 Chevy 3100
- Working the Lie-Nielsen Toolworks Open House
- Assisting Ashley Harwood with her week-long turning intensive at the Center For Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine
- Building a tiny house on the farm with my best friend April for my mom, who has always dreamed of living in a tiny house.
- Cultivating our four season garden
- Building an outdoor kitchen (pictures to come)
So for those who are here just for the handtools, stick around, they'll be back for a few really fun projects this winter- another windsor chair, a dining table, another hanging cabinet, and more. For those expecting ONLY handtools, this is a gentle reminder that my handle is Anne of ALL trades for a reason- you can expect snippets of huge range of stuff on my channels, from the restoration of my 1953 Chevy farm truck, building my metal shop, working with the animals, processing the alpaca fiber, expanding the garden, continuing the restoration process on the farm, expanding my blacksmithing efforts, woodshop adventures and outfitting the rest of the tiny house.
This past week, I put the finishing touches on my new shop build just in the nick of time for a visit from one of my longtime woodworking heroes, Marc Spagnuolo, of Wood Whisperer fame. His book, Hybrid Woodworking, was one of the first, most influential books on woodworking I've read to date, joining Chris Schwarz's Anarchist's Toolchest at the top of my favorites list. His YouTube channel and Guild Projects have been inspiring and instructing burgeoning woodworkers since 2006.
A few months ago, when Marc asked me to design a project to teach in his Guild, I jumped at the chance. The timeline of the project definitely lit a fire under my tushie, because I needed to have a fully functional shop in order to build a fully functional project on a short timeline, so the days the past few weeks have been long and the sleep short as I worked feverishly with my good friend Nick Piloto to get my new shop to a useable state. Of course ever the procrastinator, I was still cleaning the house in my JAMMIES when Marc arrived to my house two hours earlier than expected last Friday. Of course, every girl dreams of meeting one of her heroes in an unshowered, unkempt, jammied state, so that was definitely ideal. Marc instantly calmed my jittery nerves, however, and after he graciously allowed me time to clean up a bit, we got right to work filming and building the writing desk I'd designed (read- jotted some notes on a napkin) for our four day build-off. In between camera takes, there were a lot of laughs, a lot of good conversations, a lot of hard work and thankfully, only a few mistakes, all of which were easily fixable and fantastic teaching moments to boot, and we ended up with a truly beautiful Mid-century Modern Style Writing Desk.
The joinery is rock solid, the shape closely follows the wood grain, and I've got a fancy new desk to sit at while I finish writing my book, edit videos, and answer the 500 emails I need to catch up on in between springtime farm work. Stay tuned for a build-a-long blog post with the desk, a shop tour, and more in the upcoming week. If you haven't already, hit the subscribe button so you can be sure to stay up to date.
I'm really excited to be working with Marc Spagnuolo, the Wood Whisperer to create in-depth content for his online woodworking guild. If you've been following me or my blog for a while, you may remember an oak writing desk I built with my good friend Jonathan at Homestead Heritage in Waco, Texas. Since I will be modifying and expanding the original design for the desk over the next couple of months and documenting the process for the Guild, I thought I'd share the original article I wrote about the experience building the chest at Homestead Heritage for F&C magazine. Click here to read the whole article.
Click here to read my article in Furniture and Cabinetmaking Magazine about a weekend workbench featuring my favorite knockdown joint, the Tusk joint. This was one of my favorite builds to date, because it was a project with one of my favorite instructors at Pratt. Steve brings a whole lot of laughter and knowledge into the shop, and I love designing projects and building with him.
I'm super excited to announce that I've been asked to start contributing to Marc Spagnuolo's Wood Whisperer Guild. The plans for my first guild project are on pre-sale now. This is an expansion of the Oak Writing Desk project I built with Jonathan Schwennessen at Homestead Heritage in Texas for Furniture and Cabinet Making Magazine Issue 248 last year. Click here to view and purchase: https://thewoodwhispererguild.com/product/writing-desk/ Marc will be flying up to the farm to document our first video plan project together, and it promises to be a fantastic time and a wonderful build. I'm really excited to share in an in-depth, detailed, well-documented manner more about the projects I take on.
Building a Windsor-style rocking chair with Greg Pennington at Pennington Windsor Chairs was, to date, my favorite woodworking project. It opened up a new, very physical, very engaging side of woodworking I hadn’t before experienced. I loved using a wedge and sledge hammer to split the tree. Not only did it make me feel strong, it also helped me to better understand how wood works and how to get the most strength possible out of a single piece of wood.
Making a chair is, I think for most woodworkers, a major benchmark for progression in their craft. Having seen the Patriot, and being quite comfortable in the realms of square furniture, I really had no intention of ever making a chair. It seemed like it was a whole other skill and toolset than I currently possessed, and I am always wary of casting my net too widely and bringing no genuine knowledge or practiced skill to a craft. As they say, a jack of all trades is a master of none! That is- until I was offered the chance to take a class with some of my dearest friends in the shop of renown chairmaking instructor Greg Pennington.
For me, woodwork has always been motivated far more by relationship than by finished projects. I’ve found the best way to get to know people deeply is by joining them doing something they truly love. My journey as a woodworker started at my grandfather’s workbench. He was a pretty quiet guy most of the time, but he came alive in his woodworking shop. I loved my grandpa, and spending time with him meant spending time pulling and straightening nails, sweeping sweet cedar shavings off his shop floor, or just watching him work. After my grandfather’s passing, when I was twelve my love for woodworking was re-awakened just a six years ago as a way to spend time hanging out at my sister’s house and getting to know my new brother-in-law as he taught me about using handtools to build furniture. Woodworking then became the connection point for another precious older gentleman, 97 years young, who would go on to become an adopted grandpa of sorts and mentor me further. Then I found the maker community on Instagram, which opened up a whole other world of deep frienships with other folks passionate about making things with their hands. I met leather workers, farmers, musicians and blacksmiths, and my desire to see their eyes light up when talking about something they truly loved led me to start tinkering in those crafts as well.
I mention all this because yes, I built a chair, and yes, sitting and rocking in a chair I quite literally found within a tree stump in just a matter of weeks with a few handtools feels pretty awesome, but far more awesome was spending a week learning from a master. Greg loves what he does, and his eyes sparkle when he talks about every step and technique that bring an heirloom quality chair out of a fallen oak tree. The week I spent in Nashville at Greg’s school was quite literally one of the best weeks of my life. Greg was an incredibly patient and skilled instructor. We worked hard with our hands, we talked about everything under the sun, we drank beer, and we laughed until our ribs were sore. And, at the end of it all, somehow, I’d become a better woodworker with a greater understanding of how wood works, and I got to bring home a chair.
This project involved a lot of firsts for me, first time using a shavehorse for it’s intended purpose, which was especially helpful a few weeks later when it came time to build several for the woodworking school I work at. It was my first time riving wood, and I learned about how to predict and correct for grain runout. I learned how to properly use a spokeshave, how to be braver when roughing out stock because it results in so much LESS work later, how to turn square stock into an octagon and then round, and how to drill compound angles with space lasers. I got way more creative with securing round stock in vises designed to hold square stock, I learned how to make and use wedges effectively, and I confirmed that the sanding and finishing process of a chair is just as miserable and loathsome a task with chairmaking as it is with every other woodworking I’ve done in the past.
One thing I really liked about chairmaking is how many of the tools can be made with some rudimentary knowledge of blacksmithing. So, of course, as is always the case for me, In completing this project, I somehow added about fifteen others to the “someday” list, so look for those in the coming months and weeks.
Check out my new YouTube video on my chairmaking experience by clicking below!
**Photos in this article are by Fell Merwin, and by Melissa Morrison**
My video on sharpening curved blades is now live on YouTube! If you've got any questions, comments, or suggestions for other videos let me know in the comments below!