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I blame Peter Follansbee for my ruined coif and cough. In the June 2009 issue of Popular Woodworking (on newsstands April 28), we have story from Peter on carving a 17th-century panel; I study 16th- and 17th-century drama, so I was immediately intrigued. “Hey! I can carve a panel chest like the ones in which itinerant Renaissance actors stored their costumes! How cool would that be?!”

Very.

But, to get started, I need a flitch of green oak. I don’t know about your Lowe’s and Home Depot, but our home centers don’t carry that kind of thing. Luckily, we’re not too far from Paint Lick, Ky., the home of our favorite bodger, Don Weber.

“Bodger” is the traditional term for an itinerant pole lathe turner, who traveled around with a spring-pole lathe and turned parts for stick-built chairs. After training on a lathe, Don spent some time moving from village to village in Wales, setting up shop outside of pubs to fix locals’ broken chairs and other items with turned parts. He still repairs chairs, but he also teaches classes in green wood woodworking (among other things), builds tables and chairs, is a blacksmith, timber-frame builder and much more (we’ll share more of his fascinating story in the future).

And, Don splits from whole logs the vast majority of the wood he uses. As he puts it, “I don’t visit the lumberyard; I visit the log yard.” While this may seem an esoteric pursuit in this day and age, there are good reasons for splitting your own lumber, even if you’re going to resaw it by machine. We captured the visit on video, so you can listen to Don explain why.

My panel carving adventure is, however, on hold. Don has the perfect log from which to split panels, but it’s sitting on the land he’s clearing for his new home, and on the day of our visit, that meant it was sitting in the rain in a mud hole. So, Don split a smaller log he had out behind his shop. I still got drenched, but at least there’s no video of me flat on my back in the mud, axe in hand.

, Megan Fitzpatrick


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  • Mike Flaim

    Don Weber is a class act. I was fortunate enough to attend one of his blacksmithing classes in Feb and am hoping to attend another one in May. Don is full of chair making and blacksmithing knowledge who definately needs to write a book!!

  • Charles

    That was neat. Interesting to see lumber quickly processed like that… quartered with pith removed in no time at all. Love watching these kinds of techniques.

    Would perhaps be very cool to follow Peter as he timber-frames his new home. Just check the weather first to ensure it’s a coif-friendly day before heading out… ;-]

  • John Griffin-Wiesner

    I’m looking forward to this Megan. I’m reading "Make A Chair From A Tree" right now, so this caught my eye.

  • David

    Megan – While there’s no doubt that green wood cuts easier with almost any food-powered blade (as well as a number of electron-powered ones), as a carver I can assure you that you don’t have to have green oak to carve. Dry red oak will carve fairly easily (at least compared to other hard woods like maple), and in some ways sawn stock is easier to carve, because there’s a definite grain direction to assist in not splitting out the wood ahead of your gouge.

    The two biggest issues with carving green wood is rust on your tools and drying the carving out after you’re done. The chips that come from green wood will flash-rust your carving tools in just a few minutes, so it’s necessary to keep them wiped down with oil while you’re carving. Once you’ve got the panel carved, it has to be constrained in some way to prevent excessive bowing and twisting – which it will do despite being riven perpendicular to the rings.

    One way to get around this is to carve your panels, but leave an inch or so around the periphery, then stack and sticker them as you would a lumber stack. Once mostly dry (about a couple of months indoors), you use a fillister plane to sink a rabbet around the outside. If done carefully and the panel’s not too bowed, the rabbet will be square and plumb, allowing you to mount the panel in a frame – the distortion to the carved surface from drying will not be noticeable.

  • Bjenk

    Megan, this is great stuff. We need more on Don Weber!

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