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New England School of Architectural Woodworking
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Berkshire Woodworkers

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Greg, on left, and students on installation day.Each year the New England School of Architectural Woodworking (NESAW at www.nesaw.com) runs a five month cabinetmaking course. The purpose of the course is to prepare students for a rewarding career in the field of cabinetmaking. Over 90% of NESAW’s job-seeking graduates find employment at architectural woodworking shops across the United States.

The industry is in dire need of skilled craftspeople, due to the record number of retiring workers and the declining number of vocational programs aimed at cabinetmakers.

NESAW LogoSign up now. Classes begin January 5th and enrollment ends on January 10th. Visit the New England School of Architectural Woodworking for details.

 

NESAW’s program teaches the fundamentals of architectural woodworking and offers students the opportunity to work directly with members of the community to design, build, and install projects. This combination of skills-building and real-world experience makes NESAW’s graduates particularly attractive to employers, since it means a safer employee, less on-the-job training and a better understanding of the entire project lifecycle.

Greg installing a sink.Students who enter the program to improve their woodworking skills or start their own businesses also gain from this approach, as they better understand how to more efficiently design and build a quality product.

The New England School of Architectural Woodworking is owned and operated by Greg and Margaret Larson. I first met Greg in the fall of 2011 through introductions made by a former student of Greg’s and mine. I wrote about NESAW in my December 21st 2011, March 29th and June 11th 2012 Chiefwoodworker’s Newsletters.

Margaret serving cake at graduation celebration.That year I taught a SketchUp class for NESAW students. During this period Greg and I spoke at length about what students were learning and the time consuming aspects of custom cabinetmaking. Out of those discussions came CutList Bridge and later CabWriter. Greg and I have worked closely together ever since our first meeting and I have spent numerous hours at the NESAW shop with his students. Each year I teach a live SketchUp course to the students. I t is with this intimate knowledge that I highly recommend visiting the NESAW website if you are interested in a career in cabinetmaking. You will find no better program or more caring people than NESAW, Greg and Margaret.


Today I released two new versions of Ruby script tools; CutList Bridge 2.8 and Layers Management Tool 2.2. For download, installation and User’s Guide see SketchUp 2014–Tools Updated For SketchUp 2014 Compatibility.


MG_1940_thumb2

have written before about The Heartwood School, which is focused on homebuilding crafts, particularly timber framing. Heartwood resides in the town of Washington located in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. It is run by Will and Michele Beemer. The school offers a full range of home construction and woodworking courses – including a SketchUp course for timber framers. There is now several Build Your Own: courses including Country Windsor Chair, Woodworker’s Workbench, Shavehorse, Pole Lathe and Heirloom Dovetail Toolchest. ALso added is an Advanced SketchUp Pro: Layout course.

The Heartwood School’s course list and 2014 schedule is shown below. For a complete course description go to http://www.heartwoodschool.com/coursefr.html and in the table’s second column locate the course of interest and click the link. For further information or to register contact Michele Beemer at 413/623-6677, www.heartwoodschool.com or request@heartwoodschool.com.

Two Week Courses:

July 7 – 18 Comprehensive Housebuilding

 

One Week Workshops:

April 21 – 25 Fundamentals of Woodworking
April 28 – May 2 Cabinetmaking
May 5 – 9 Stairbuilding
May 12 – 16 Build Your Own: Shavehorse
May 19 – 23 Build Your Own: Country Windsor Chair
June 9 – 13 Build Your Own: Workbench
June 16 – 20 Timber Framing
June 23 – 27 Scribed Timber Framing – Using Natural Forms
July 21 – 25 Finish Carpentry
July 28 – Aug 1 Cruck Framing
Aug. 11 – 15 Carpentry for Women
Aug. 18 – 22 Converting Trees to Timber
Aug. 25 – 29 Timber Framing
Sept. 8 – 12 Compound Joinery for Timber Framers
Sept. 15 – 19 Build a Skin-on-Frame Canoe
Sept. 22 – 26 Carve a 17th century Oak Box – Peter Follansbee
Sept. 29 – Oct 3 Build Your Own: Pole Lathe
Sept. 29 – Oct 3 Build Your Own: Heirloom Dovetail Toolchest
Oct. 6 – 10 Stairbuilding
Oct. 13 – 17 Fundamentals of Woodworking
Oct. 20 – 24 Cabinetmaking

 

Other Workshops:

April 7 – 9 Timber Grading (3-day)
April 17 – 19 Tangent Handrailing (3-day)
May 29 – 31 Hip and Valley Roof Framing for Carpenters (3-day)
May 29 – 31 Build an Outdoor Earthen Bake Oven (3-day)
June 2 – 4 Eyebrow Dormers (3-day)
June 5 – 7 Intro to SketchUp for Timber Framers (3-day)
June 6 – 7 Concrete Countertops (2-day)
June 30 – July 2 Traditional Raising and Rigging (3-day)
Sept. 4 – 6 Timber Frame Design & Joinery Decisions (3-day)
Sept. 26 – 27 Advanced SketchUpPro: Layout (2–day)

I just released my June 11, 2012 Chiefwoodworker’s Newsletter. In it are a couple of graduation stories, appropriate for this time of year, a new SketchUp Ruby Script tool (beta release) and some modeling techniques. The Table of Contents is:

  1. Installation and Graduation Time at the New England School of Architectural Woodworking
  2. New England School of Architectural Woodworking Class Schedule
  3. Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking
  4. Lie-Nielsen – An Exceptional Quality, Made In America and Customer Conscious Company
  5. Jesse Moy Graduates
  6. CutList Bridge – an Export tool for Flexible Cut Lists with Special Features for Cabinetmakers
  7. SketchUp Home Construction Is Proceeding On Schedule

Check it out.

Some Days You Should Just Stay Out of the Shop!

Delta Motor PlateSaturday was a bad day in the shop. I was working on drawers for my cherry bedroom chests, cutting dadoes and rabbets, when the lights dimmed and the table saw came to a halt. A quick look uncovered a tripped breaker. I also smelled burning. That was late in the afternoon. I was depressed because I knew I had big problems, so I just left the shop without cleaning up. When I have problems like this, running from them is what I do. It’s either that or throw something.

Starter Winding Chared in Upper Right of PictureI got back in the shop around noon on Sunday. It took me 2 1/2 hours just to free my table saw from my built in cabinet and table top, and to free the motor from the Delta cabinet. I opened the motor up, praying non-stop as I did, that the problem was just a  $10 centrifugal starter switch.

Rotor Burned and Badly GroundWell, God didn’t listen to my prayers (I’m sure God is a she). You can see that from the photos. The starter winding is burned up and the stator and rotor are severely ground and burned. After a number of phone calls I located a motor company that sells and equivalent Delta 3HP motor – Delta doesn’t stock and sell the motor anymore. I had never heard of the company I located, Leeson Motors, but it is the only one I could find after a long internet search. Hopefully my new $560 motor will arrive on Friday so I can get back in the shop next week. I’ll keep you posted on my recovery.

Some days you should just stay out of the shop!

 


Headquarters In Warren,MEIf your experience is anything like mine you are tired of the companies that intentionally avoid human contact and feedback. I curse those telephone ladders that never lead to a human voice. When a human does answer you are speaking to someone who’s English is their second language and you have no hope of understanding them.

If you are lucky enough (some call it unfortunate enough) to make it through all that, and explain your problem with the company’s product, you are likely to be sorry you ever contacted them. You are treated to onerous procedures put in place to avoid correcting the situation. Some companies are honest enough to simply say “we don’t support our product with replacements” or “the problem is of your making and we can’t support you”.

LN's family of planes and accessories on display in the showroom.Not Lie-Nielsen. You see, Lie-Nielsen was somehow created from an old company mold; a mold I thought was broken and lost a long time ago. They talk to their customers, never fearing to meet them and listen to their feedback. In fact their factory is open to customer visits on most days (see my visit to the factory). They even have an annual Summer Open House where you can meet and talk with the entire staff including Tom Lie-Nielsen and family. And for a small fee you can enjoy a lobster bake dinner.

Not only does Lie-Nielsen talk to their customers, but they also surprise their customers with above-and-beyond support. I dropped my #5 Jack recently and broke my tote. I went to the Lie-Nielsen website to purchase a replacement. Disappointed not to see a replacement part I emailed the company. I want to share with you two emails, unedited; one that I sent to Lie-Nielsen and the return email.

To: toolworks@lie-nielsen.com
Sent: Wed 5/23/2012 5:23 PM
From: Joe Zeh [jpz@srww.com]
Subject: Jack Plane Tote

Hi,

 

I dropped my #5 Jack Plane and broke the tote. Fortunately I have a wooden floor in the shop and nothing else broke. Do you sell replacement totes?

 

Joe…..

 

From: Lie-Nielsen Toolworks [mailto:toolworks@lie-nielsen.com]
Sent: Thursday, May 24, 2012 2:41 PM
To: jpz@srww.com
Subject: RE: Jack Plane Tote

Good afternoon, Joe.

I am sorry to hear about your No. 5!  Fortunately in situations like this, we can supply you with a replacement handle at no charge.  I’ll have one sent out to your address today.

Thank you,
Kirsten

Kirsten Lie-Nielsen
Lie-Nielsen Toolworks
1-800-327-2520
www.lie-nielsen.com

The Lie-Nielsen No. 4 Bronze Bedrock Smooth PlaneLie-Nielsen didn’t simply replace my broken tote, which I freely admitted was due to my mishandling, but look at who replied, and note the cheerful and helpful voice of that reply. OK, Lie-Nielsen is not a multi-billion dollar corporation, and so you might argue that a multi-billion dollar corporation can’t afford to do these things. To that I would ask you to compare this customer’s response to Lie-Nielson in this situation to the same customer’s response to a new Grizzly G0586 8" Jointer. It is in a company’s best interest to support its customers – its peril when they don’t.

I have bought many Lie-Nielsen hand tools- and even a bench – over the years. Their trademark exceptional quality has always been present in those tools. When I told my wife about this situation she replied “Unfortunately, people need to understand that they have to buy, and pay for, quality up front instead of expecting a free replacement part for a plane they get at Wal-Mart.”.  It’s true. If you buy an object based on lowest cost you will replace it numerous times over your lifetime. On the other hand, you can buy a Lie-Nielsen plane, have it for life, and pass it on to your children and them theirs. Quality is always the best, and cheapest, investment.

A group of No 4 ½ Irons and Scrub Planes ready to be packaged and shipped.As I said, I have been buying Lie-Nielsen tools for some time and will continue to look first at Lie-Nielsen when again in the market. Not just because of their exceptional quality and customer consciousness, but they are Made-In-America. This is not a political site and never will be. But I sure wish our leaders would figure out what Tom Lie-Nielsen knows; it is in this country’s best interest to make real, physical things.

Lie-Nielsen, you have my respect and my business.


CVSW Logo

Do you live in the Eastern States? Are you a woodworker looking for something new and exciting to do for the weekend? Well visit the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking and their 11th Annual Open House.

This one is shaping up to be the best ever. All the info is below. As always – there will be student displays exhibiting some of their most excellent work. The student work gallery has gotten better and better each year – and this year promises to be their best.

If you are interested in Woodworking, Furniture making, Woodturning, Blacksmithing, old tools, Guitar making or just having a good time then you need to come.

Check out the superb work of CVSW students and talk to demonstrators and school instructors.

If old tools are your thing then you are in luck. There will be at least six antique tool dealers there for the day.

The whole idea of the event is to get a bunch of people who are interested in woodworking together and have a good time!

A partial list of demonstrators/ exhibitors is below:

  • Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking student work gallery
  • Lie-Nielsen Toolworks
  • Central Ct Woodturners
  • Mystic Woodcarvers
  • Fine Woodworking Magazine
  • US Guitars
  • Matt Bickford 18th Century Molding Planes
  • Walt Scadden Blacksmithing and Carbon Fiber work
  • Tico Vogt – Chute boards
  • Jeff Noden – Adjusta bench
  • Greg Massicotte – Behlen finishing products
  • Bill Rittner – custom handplane knobs & totes
  • Joe Zeh- Sketch Up instructor
  • Ct Historical society
  • CVSW Instructors
                Bob Van Dyke, Will Neptune, Mickey Callahan, Walt Scadden

 

The open house is Saturday, September 10, 9am – 3pm- Rain or Shine! For directions see http://www.schoolofwoodworking.com/contact-and-directions.html.

If you haven’t noticed yours truly will be there demonstrating Google’s free SketchUp 3D drawing application, which has become a must tool for woodworkers who design their own furniture. Stop by and say hello. We can talk SketchUp, shop or anything woodworking related. Hope to see you there.

If you are interested in CVSW classes the entire fall schedule is posted and can be seen at www.schoolofwoodworking.com.
There are some great classes coming up.


Student's Shop Made RisersA student wrote me asking how he could make a SketchUp model that realistically represented a project he built in the shop. The project is a lampshade constructed of four L shaped risers and horizontal stretchers.

In the shop he started with four risers, each glued up to produce the L shape. He tied two sets of the risers together with a stretcher. The results are in the picture at left.

The student didn’t share his thoughts behind his question with me, so what follows is my interpretation of what he may have been thinking.

He may have wondered why the left and right sides of the L were not 90° to the sides. Being curious he may then have produced a SketchUp model, perhaps to answer his question. The SketchUp model produced desirable results as seen below right. Clearly all the side are right angles. He wondered why the difference and asked if I could produce a model that represented “reality” – i.e. the shop version.

Student's SketchUp ModelThe simple answer as to why these models are different is that he built the shop model and the SketchUp model differently. The shop model started with glue ups at right angles and roughly 1” on a side and 3/8” thick. He then made a compound cut to allow the risers to tilt inward in both the x and y direction.

The problem is that when you tilt the risers in both direction and then tie them together with a stretcher, which itself is tilted inward, you force the other side to point inward. Further, when you cut the L shape with a compound angle you produce a cross section that is not rectangular, but rather parallelogram in shape. You can see this nicely in the photo thanks to the glue lines. Click on the photo to enlarge it and look at the pieces joined together to form the L.

So why did the SketchUp model look so nice and provide the desirable results? The answer is found in a quote from the email he sent me.

SketchUp Model:  To make the vertical risers – drew the bottom (L-shape) as a horizontal plane, drew a second "L" and moved it up and out, and then connected the corners.

He essentially made the assumption that a compound cut would produce a cross section with right angles, that is, rectangular in shape. He then produced the cross section he wanted and copied it at a higher elevation and shifted it inward in both x and y direction. Finally he connected the corresponding corners to form risers. A detailed inspection of the resulting riser would reveal that the angle between the outside faces would have to be greater than 90°; not by much. In fact little enough to deceive the eye.

I constructed a riser using this right angle assumption just as the student did. It was 1” wide on the outside faces, 20” high and tilted in 3” in x and y. The angle between the outside faces I measured to be approximately 91.3°.

Chiefwoodworker's SketchUp Model Of Shop ImageI then constructed a SketchUp model using the shop model approach. That is, I started out with L shaped risers that was all right angles. Then I used slicing planes to cut the top and bottom just as you would do with a compound miter saw. Then I rotated the risers in the x and y direction to align the compound cuts with the ground plane (red/green plane) and achieved the desired tilt. The resulting picture is at left.

This model is tilted a lot to demonstrate what happens. The only reason this model does not look exactly like the shop picture above is because I did not tie riser sets together with stretchers and force the front and back faces to align. If I had the side faces would be angled in even more. You can download this model and convince yourself that the risers are in fact constructed from right angle stock and compound mitered at the ends.

Compound miters, or more generally, faces that are at angles to two planes, are a difficult problem for most people starting out with SketchUp to master. If you have taken my beginner’s and intermediate SketchUp courses you have heard me talk about slicing planes. This problem begs two questions: how do you create the correct compound slicing plane to achieve the desired splay and what angles do you set your table saw, or compound miter saw for when cutting them. I will answer the first question in the attached video below. The second question is the subject of a subsequent post. Stay tuned.

A Related Tutorial Video – Drawing Tapered & Splayed Legs

Drawing Tapered & Splayed Legs is a related tutorial video you may also be interested in.

Viewing The Video

You can view Drawing Compound Miter Faces In SketchUp by pressing the play icon below or by downloading it to your system.

The video file is mp4. It can be viewed with most video players including QuickTime and Media Player. If you have a default, or user specified, file association for .mp4 you may have to delete it or use a download manager to download this file. Otherwise the associated application may be invoked and file streaming will prevail over downloading. There are numerous free download managers on the internet. Be careful, and do some research to locate one that is not loaded with spyware or viruses.

If you are on a PC platform running Windows OS and have Internet Explorer or Firefox you don’t have to change file association or use a downloader. Simply right click on the link(s) below and choose Save Link As. When Explorer opens choose a destination folder and select Save.

To download Drawing Compound Miter Faces In SketchUp or paste

http://www.srww.com/downloads/blog_posts/Drawing%20Compound%20Miter%20Faces%20In%20SketchUp/Drawing_Compound_Miter_Faces_In_SketchUp.mp4

into your download manager.

Full Screen Viewing

You may find it easier to view the video in full screen mode. Start the video before selecting this mode. To enter full screen mode click the little screen icon at the bottom of the video player. When in full screen view hold your cursor near the bottom of the screen to access the video player’s controls. Exit full screen mode with the Esc key. Sit back, relax and enjoy the show!


SketchUp model of the Bedside Table showing the beveled top.One of my Beginner’s SketchUp students, upon finishing the course, decided to build the Bedside Table I used as the learning vehicle in the video series. He wrote and asked for advice on a safe way to cut the top’s bevels. I thought this might be of general interest. So here is one of many approaches; and it is a safe one.

Click on the picture at left to enlarge it. You will notice that the table top is 3/4” thick, begins to bevel on all sides 1/4” down from the top. The bevel is 2” wide. This works out to about 14 degrees. The table top is 18 1/2” by 23” with the grain running in the long dimension.

I chose to cut the bevels on my table saw and clean them up with a hand plane. Finishing them with a hand plane is particularly necessary with cherry because it burns so easily. More on that in a moment.

Beveling fixture with table top clamped in place.

To cut the bevels on a table saw you need to set the blade for 14 degrees (you can’t set it for 76 degrees) and hold the top in a vertical plane as you cut. The fixture at right is simple and safe. It is made from scrap plywood. The important features are: the vertical and horizontal members must be perpendicular; the horizontal member must be the same width along its length; the vertical member should be tall enough to support the size table top you intend to cut; and the length of the horizontal and vertical members must be a little longer than the width or depth of the table top you intend to bevel. When assembling it keep the vertical member in front of the horizontal member to provide a perfectly flat front plane. Make the braces large enough to firmly support the members and also allow you to use them as handle to push the fixture along.

Saw balade set to 14 degrees. Stiffener & zero clearance insert removed.

Notice in the picture at left that I have set the saw blade for 14 degrees. (You can gauge 14 degrees with your eyes, right?) Also notice I had to remove the blade stiffener  to get enough height on the blade, and my zero clearance insert. The clamps I used here I used for expediency sake. If this were a real cut on a real top I would have used Bessey Tradesmen’s Bar Clamps. They have two advantages. First they are stronger and clamp tighter. Second, they have clearance and allow you to reach further in from the edge. This is important, because all tops bow slightly, however slight. You may not notice it, but as you will see in a moment even an unnoticeable bow will show up as a curved bevel. Get you clamps as close to the blade as safely possible; dry run a pass past the blade to be sure they will clear it.

Safely pushing the fixture and top past the saw blade.Set the fence so that the bevel begins 1/4” down from the top face (the top face is the surface that is against the fixture). With you hands on the supports hold the fixture up against the fence and slide the top through the blade. Be sure to keep your arm high and to the support side of the vertical member. Push the fixture and the top all the way through. DO NOT try to pull the fixture back! Turn the saw off and set up for the next cut. The piece I am cutting here is scrap plywood. I couldn’t waste precious cherry on an demonstrationWinking smile But if it were cherry I would try to push it through as fast as safely possible to avoid burning. However, it is almost impossible to avoid all burning, and the saw blade leaves machine marks too. So get out you trusty block plan or smoother and clean it up.

Finished bevel on scrap plywood.

Remember my comment about good clamps and keeping them tight and as close to the blade as is safe? Look at the finished  bevel at left. This piece of plywood was quite flat but still produced a curved looking bevel. Fear not. It looks worse than it actually is, largely due to the parallel lines of a plywood cross section. It makes the curve look worse than is real. And your real piece will have curvy grain or end grain and it tend to hide the curve. Still, pay attention getting the clamping right, and pay particular attention to making sure any clamps you use clear the blade.

An alternate fixture that doesn't require tilting the saw blade.If you are going to do a lot of beveled tops, all of the same angle, you might want to consider a fixture which is itself beveled, such as that shown right. The advantage here is that you don’t have to tilt the saw blade, remove the stiffener and the zero clearance insert. Nor do you have to recalibrate your saw blade to 90 degrees when you are done. The disadvantage with this fixture is that the angle is fixed. But I am sure you could design a mechanism that would be adjustable.

In the second, third and fourth pictures above you can easily see that my cabinet saw is right tilting, that is the blade tilts to the right. I have to move my fence to the left side, which means I also have to change the side the fence attaches to the locking mechanism. Not a problem if you have a Biesemeyer fence. Also, the left side of the blade has a short table which limits the horizontal member’s width. Another reason for building the fixture with a built in angle. That would avoid the fence changes and I could then work on the right side of the blade where the table is wide. The fixture itself doesn’t care which side of the blade it is used on. If your saw tilts left you have no such problems. If it tilts right, like mine, I highly recommend the fixture with the built in angle.

I started out by claiming this to be a safe approach to beveling a top. It is, provided you follow normal shop safety procedures. If you don’t then there is no approach that is safe. This fixture keeps you hands and arms a safe distance from the saw blade. Each cut simply requires turning the top and re-clamping. Safe beveling!


Will Beemer demonstrating the locking dovetail prop.I discovered the Heartwood School while attending the recent NWA Saratoga Woodworkers Showcase and wrote about it in my April 3, 2011 Chiefwoodworker’s Newsletter. All I knew about the school at that time is what I had seen at the show and read on its website. I sent the owner, Will Beemer, a copy of my newsletter and he wrote back inviting me to an active class. I took Will up on his invitation and visited Heartwood School on June 23, a damp and rainy Thursday.

Background

Shaping a tenon's seat with a spokeshave.Located in Washington, MA in the Berkshire mountains, Heartwood is run by Will and Michele Beemer. For the past 34 years Heartwood has been teaching students to design and build their own homes, mostly in timber frame construction.

Will has an extensive background in home design and construction, as well as teaching design and construction. He has taught at Cornell, Palomar College in San Diego and Colorado State University. He has written for Fine Homebuilding, Joiner’s Quarterly, Wood Design & Building, and Timber Framing. Michele is office manager, provides lunches for the students, is an on-site instructor and an author.

The first timber frame built by students houses the cafeteria, classroom, shop & library.Heartwood has a full range of courses in design and construction that run from April through October. Courses include energy efficiency techniques, fundamentals of woodworking, traditional cabinetmaking, building a workbench for woodworking, converting trees to timber and much more. They even teach SketchUp for timber frame designs.

My Visit

Checking the cut of an Eastern style tenon saw.Using my GPS I managed to find a small sign on a wooded road in Washington, MA. It said simply – Heartwood. I turned onto a paved and winding drive, which turned to a dirt drive that broke out into a clearing. The view reminded me of a childhood campground. Nestled in the woods to my left was a timber frame building with a sign over the door, once again announcing I had arrived at Heartwood. To my right were two long tents, open on all sides, like the tents used for a country fair. Under the tents, and protected from the rain, were eighteen students, an instructor and owner Will Beemer; all busily working away on 7” x 7” timber frame beams.

Tents set up to provide shelter from the rain.Trucks and cars were scattered everywhere, randomly parked under trees and I saw no defined parking area. As I sat there looking for a place to park my truck Will approached, introduced himself and welcomed me to Heartwood. He gave me a quick orientation introducing me to students, staff and showed me the shop, classrooms, library and kitchen. The latter rooms all resided in the timber frame building, which was the first building the students constructed when the school was opened in 1978. Will and Michele were not the owners at the time, though Will was an instructor. In 1985 they purchased Heartwood and have owned and operated it since.

"Get out of here with that camera so I can work!"Heartwood’s business model is simple and elegant. It brings together property owners who desire a timber frame home, barn, shop or other structure with students who wish to learn timber framing. Sometimes the owner and student are one in the same.

Everyone is busy but there is no panic. The raising is tomorrow.The first half of the business model is an owner who contracts with Heartwood to design, mill and erect a timber frame for about $30 a square foot. This includes frame only; finish materials, pre and post construction are the responsibility of the owner. If the owner’s site is more than 1.5 hours from Heartwood, trucking and other costs may be extra. Timber frame materials are rough cut Eastern White Pine, un-planed. Since Heartwood is a school for woodworkers and all work is done by the students, the owner must accept occasional constructions flaws, though Heartwood does its best to hide such mistakes. From my observation I doubt this is ever a real problem. The work I saw was top notch.

Now, that's a chisel!The second half of the business model is students. They come from all sorts of backgrounds and experience levels. Some have never held a woodworking tool before or never made a wood joint. Some are experienced woodworkers but who have no experience in timber framing. Many are hobbyists who want to build their own timber frame and attend the school to learn how. Still other are professional woodworkers or construction professionals who want to expand theirs skills and trade. I counted two women wielding chisel and mallet in this class of eighteen students.

Finished work ready to load on the trailer.Sometimes a class is held without a contracted owner. In that case a modest sized timber frame is crafted on speculation, though finding a buyer never seems to be a problem. The class I visited was building a studio for a contracted owner. Raising day was Friday, June 24th, the day after my visit. But there didn’t seem to be any schedule pressures, nervousness or frenzied activity. All seemed to be in control. There was a large stack of completed beams and the work-in-progress seemed near completion.

I believe this is a hand cut brace.My brother-in-law designed and built his own timber frame home and barn from hand hewn timbers. So I am familiar with the excitement of raising that these students had to look forward to. As I am writing this article on the 24th I am looking out the window at the rain coming down. Par for the course in the trades and a good lesson for the students.

Lots of mortises are needed for a timber frame construction.My primary interest in woodworking is furniture crafting. The interest I share with these students, however, is hand tools and joinery. The dovetails, mortise and tenons I use in my joinery are not all that different from those used in timber framing with the exception of size (I will post a follow-on article on one unique and interesting joint used by these students). Most of the joinery these students use are cut by hand with a combination of handsaw, chisel, mallet, spokeshave and drawknife. To be sure, those joints are larger than one would use in a furniture shop, but they are used in very similar ways.

How's that for a mortise bit?In my shop I use a power mortiser and I was surprised to see the timber framer’s equivalent sometimes used by the students. It is driven by electric motor and plunges in to the timber much like a plunge router would. However, instead of a square chisel and drill bit, the cutting blade is three – stacked side by side – chain saws. The beams used are 7” x 7” and the tenons are 1 ½” thick. So I suspect the chains are designed to be 1 ½” in width when stacked, and long tenons are formed with Looks like instruction on how to use the power mortiser.repeated plunges, though I failed to ask about this. A fence can be adjusted to place the tenon the appropriate distance in from the edge of the timber. It appeared to me that the “blade” could be plunged a little more than eight inches for a through mortise, or adjusted less deep for a stopped mortise.

The dovetailed tenon half of the locked mortise and tenon joint.Most of the mortises I saw were hand cut with a mallet and chisel. A couple of students were being instructed in the use of the power mortiser. So this may have been the one signal that the scheduled raising was requiring the use of more rapid methods, though once again I failed to enquire about this.

Friendly conversation over Michele's lunchtime meal.I was struck by the accuracy and smoothness of finish of the hand cut joints. Obviously not the kind of finish you would find in hand crafted furniture, but still I found myself needing to wipe my hand across the joints and marvel at the smoothness. I picked up a few tools and checked out the sharpness and found myself approving what my hand felt. As I studied the joinery I could see the light pencil lines that provided guidance for hand cuts. All in all I could relate to the work of the students and I even had a feeling of wanting to join in. That’s when Will came out of the timber frame building and yelled “Lunch”.

Lunchtime at Heartwood

Michele at work in her kitchen talking to the students.When Will invited me to visit he said I should plan to arrive at noon and join he and the students for lunch. I had read about Michele’s fine cooking on the Heartwood website and I was eager to sample the food. My eagerness was aided by the fact that I was just plain hungry. Hunger is a feeling I get if I spend too much time watching others hard at work. So I joined the rush to the dining room.

A 1 personpower drill press. Notice the dual crank.Dining at Heartwood is cafeteria style and all the food is home cooked. I had a soup, sandwich and crab salad. If you are a New Englander there are three chowders of choice: clam, seafood and corn. I love all three and I thoroughly enjoyed Michele’s corn chowder and crab salad.

Over lunch I talked to several students I The classroom is on the second floor across from the library.sat near. One was from a town not far from where I was born and raised and we shared news of that area. I learned that students stayed in B & Bs, hotels, friends homes or even commuted to Heartwood. Those I talked to came from all over New England and New York, though I suspect Heartwood draws from a much wider area as well.

The comfortable portion of the library. There are additional bookshelves out of view.After lunch I took more pictures, including the shop, library and classroom. The library has a wonderful collection of books on timber framing, general construction techniques, drawing, energy efficiency and many other home building related topics. If I go back to Heartwood I would like to spend some time in this library and get some titles for my own collection.

I said my goodbyes and thanked Will and Michele for the visit and lunch. I left feeling I had visited a woodworking school I could really enjoy and learn from. And I left with more questions than I had answers. So one day I hope to go back and talk with Will in more depth – and of course have another lunch.

Heartwood Update

I'm guessing this is a vertical support post with both mortise and tenon joinery.I spoke to Michele on Friday late. She and the class had just returned from the raising. All went well and the class finished the raising early afternoon. Though it rained in my area the rain held off at the building site. The raising marked the end of the class. Eighteen students were going home newly proficient in timber framing. It doesn’t get much better than that.


Susan Fiske, ProprietorI am fortunate to own 5o acres of forested land and live in an area where I can fell trees and hire local sawyers to cut them into rough lumber. That is how I get much of what I use in my shop. However, that strategy limits me to local species and generally narrow and four quarter stock. When I need other species, exotic species or larger stock I first call Sue to see if she has what I need, and she usually does. When crafting fine furniture, as important as woodworkers skills are to its final results, is the quality of the wood he/she uses. For this reason it is important to have a source you can trust and whose products are of the highest quality. That is why I turn to Forest Products Associates. That and the personality known as Sue.

Bolivian rosewood, waiting to be graded and shelved.Forest Products Associates has been a family owned business for over 60 years, located on the outskirts of Greenfield, Massachusetts. Founded by Lee Fisk, today it is run by Susan Fiske. Sue lost her mom a few years back and her dad remarried. He now lives in Texas and is not active in the business. Sue’s clientele ranks in the four thousand range and growing. Her customers range from hobbyists like me to professional cabinet makers, contractors and architects.

Shelving for Graded Lumber accessible on the first and second floor.When I first started buying lumber from Sue she had four or five sheds, though one was the primary shed. I believe one or two may have been used for drying lumber. The sheds with dried lumber were open to the weather, protected only by a slanted roof, sides and back. The office was a small, cramped trailer with two wooden steps. Climbing the steps and opening the door at the same time took a little skill. The office fit about two people; Sue and a customer.

The fork lift always stands ready to access a pallet of lumber not yet graded.In the winter it was a colds days task just to sort through lumber for a project; a task I never looked forward to. On these January days even the office seemed large and cozy. I have no idea how Sue made it through those entire days of winter, day after day, and remained cheerful and helpful whenever a customer arrived. Sue always has a smile on her face and is willing to spend as much time as you wish. Her knowledge of wood is endless and I have often picked her brain about its characteristics.

Lumber Not Yet Graded and ShelvedSeveral years back Sue built the current shed. This one is huge, closed in, concrete floor and well organized storage shelves. Shortly after it was completed a storm reduced a third of it to rubble. So Sue did what she usually does; she smiled and rebuilt it – but even better. It now has a spacious and comfortable front office. She is very proud of the sign that hangs over its door with the name of her business, and the little sign that announces Office. I suspect the door is seldom closed.

Ash Billets - Want to make your own baseball bat?Sue is one of those rare business people who really want the customer to be happy with her product and she maintains a quality control level also rare in business today. On many occasions she has helped me sort for the lumber I needed.

Sometimes she would steer me away from certain board(s) based on my description of the piece I was building. She would say “there is nothing wrong with that board, but if you are going to use it on the front of that hutch we can find you better grain patterns” or something of the kind.

Curved live edge slabs. Those directly in front are apple. Those behind are cherry.Sue's OfficeI live about one hour from Forest Products Associates, so I always call Sue first to see if she has what I need. She carries a cell phone at all times and is always available. Sometimes the lumber I want is still on a palette and not yet graded. She has always offered to have it open for me by the next day, and if necessary grade it for me as I select it.

8/4 black walnut slab with beautiful feather figure. These days, because her dad has moved and is no longer active in the business, Sue’s responsibilities have grown and she has hired staff to help. She needs to spend more time in the office or on maintenance projects. So when you call you may get a staff person, but rest assured they will be every bit as helpful as Sue. And you can always find Sue somewhere there, and she is always willing to talk and brighten your day.

Four quarter purple heart. First number is Bd Ft and lasst is length.Sue’s products have grown over the years both in size and variety. She now has a much larger variety of exotics and large pieces for custom tables. She also has larger inventory of wider and thicker stock. Her business has grown in spite of the economic downturn.

For more information on Forest Products Associates, check out their web site: http://www.forestproductsassociates.com/index.html. If you live near or within reasonable driving distance of Greenfield, MA you will find Forest Products Associates a reliable, quality supplier of rough cut hardwood. Check them out. Give Sue a call or stop in.

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