Friday, July 26, 2013

Woodcraft Magazine comes to visit!

What an exciting week it has been here at the shop! Woodcraft Magazine was here making the Lohr Woodworking staff feel like a bit more like rock stars for two days.

Jim, the Editor-in-Chief at Woodcraft Magazine, contacted Jeff in April to inquire about his Lohr-design Morris Chairs. What he proposed was a a cover project in which the designer and builder would get a short bio and a full article detailing the "how to" steps to building the chair. The plans for the chair would be shared with readers and used beyond just the article in the form of downloads, paper plans, and so on. They would come to our shop and photograph the steps, tools, and techniques as he constructed one of his chairs and it's ottoman.

Jeff was willing to share his design and plans with the world so, he accepted the Woodcraft Magazine article offer but, he requested that his second-in-command, Rob, take the reigns as front man/producer. Rob had been doing an impressive amount of preparation, planning, organizing (and, of course, wardrobe selection) in the weeks leading to this one so, I have been anxious to see it all unfold; And, unfold it did!

Tuesday morning, the shop was graced with the presence of Jim (the Editor-in-Chief) and Chad (the Art Director) from Woodcraft. In charge of the article photography was Donna Chiarelli and her assistant, Tom. What a tremendous team they formed! They were here for two days and managed to fully document a chair construction that takes around 100 hours to complete. Everyone had such a pleasant attitude and the shop was filled with structure, professionalism, genuine interest, and even some jokes and smiles to add to the ambiance. It was incredibly impressive to watch all five cooks in the kitchen working so harmoniously to exchange ideas and tactics to best encompass the visual and written process for readers.
The idea was to capture the "mysteries or more challenging steps of the process" in photograph form so that readers could have a clearer idea of what to do on their own. Rob worked closely with Jim to create a photo script to encapsulate the chair creation process.

From what I saw, Rob was a natural magazine article star. Being surrounded by lights and cameras seemed to be second nature as he showed the magazine world how to make a killer Morris Chair one step at a time.
Eoin was kind enough to snap all these photos of the photo shoots that took place on Monday and Tuesday but, to learn how to make a JD Lohr Morris Chair and see the front angle of the cover photo (as well as the Morris Chair in it's entirety), you'll need to invest in September's issue of Woodcraft Magazine!

The staff of Lohr Woodworking thank Woodcraft Magazine, Jim, Chad, Donna, and Tom for their hard word and such a wonderful opportunity. As I mentioned, this week was enormously enjoyable and appreciated. We are a small operation here but, Jeff and Rob's work is astounding so we are always grateful to those who acknowledge and share the beauty of the furniture.

Make sure to keep an eye out for Rob's magazine cover debut in a couple of months! And, bonus, learn how to make a Lohr Morris Chair for yourself!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My First Trip to Hearne Hardwoods

Since day one of working at the shop, I have heard nothing but praise, excited description, and anecdotes from my fellow Lohr Woodworking staff members about Hearne Hardwoods. After 8 months of building positive, high expectations, I finally got the chance to take my first trip out to Oxford, PA to see it for myself.

Spoiler Alert: I was not disappointed

It all began as a live edge, burl slab shopping mission for a recently commissioned project. Because they are credited as being "one of the largest specialty lumberyards in the world," Hearne Hardwood was the destination for such a purchase. Beyond that, Jeff and Rick Hearne have a friendship dating back to years when I was learning my multiplication tables so, it was just as much a trip to visit an old friend.

The part of the mission to find the perfect material for the project was successfully completed. A selection of incredible slabs that matched the guidelines for our project awaited us in one of the massive hangars that are loaded with collections of stacked and dried material. I can't even begin to tell you how extensive their selection is. The project we were shopping for had specific requirements and, the very patient, Ed let us move all the slabs around, inspect their twists/curves, and photograph every possible book match pair. We settled on the beauties you see pictured. By lunchtime, we loaded up the truck with two beautiful live edge, Big Leaf Maple burl slabs! But, alas, our trip did not end here! The rest of the day was composed of a continuation of the most magical woodworking-related adventures I've had to date.

First, I saw the most massive band saw mill that man has ever created. Although the previous statement may be slightly apprentice-naivety induced exaggeration, it is a 67" vertical band saw mill and, as you can see, it's huge.

The gentleman running the mill sits in a booth and controls the machine as it moves the log around, rolling it this way and that way until it's positioned perfectly. Then, the log is wheeled through the band saw blade like butter through a warm knife. It was incredible.
Next, we were given a tour of the house. Although we were warned of it's status as a "construction zone", it was still more beautiful than I can put into words. So kindly escorted by Brian Hearne and Ric Allison, we were led upstairs to meet this beauty; A Ric Allison sofa nearly complete and as stunning as they come. Behind it, stands a banister with Allison-crafted spindles. I can't even wrap my brain around how objects so breathtaking are made yet but, like Jeff's work, they serve as one hell of an inspiration.
Above the living room hovers a catwalk that sits gracefully atop the ceiling beams. An equally-as-beautiful staircase led the way to the catwalk that curved it's way toward a bedroom. The lighting, the ceilings, the walls, the floors; everything about this house was just astounding.

As I had the chance to sit and chat with the man-in-charge, Rick Hearne, as well as Ric Allison and, of course, Jeff Lohr over lunch, I felt surrounded by sheer woodworking genius. As I ingested my chicken ceasar wrap, I listened to these inspirational men just chat over lunch. What was so humbling though, was that they are so kind, personable, and dare I say 'normal'. The idea that such beautiful art and master knowledge of the craft can come from the hands and minds of these gentlemen makes the intimidating woodworking world in front of me seem so comfortable and accessible. Needless to say, my motivation is on an exponential incline.
Then, it was onto the offices. Naturally, every desk in the place has a gorgeous live edge top and a flawless base to match. Every corner as something wooden to admire. Upstairs, we found a George Nakashima table surrounded by seven matching chairs. I had to be reminded that although this a piece of sought-after art, it is also a piece of furniture and furniture is meant to be sat on, eaten off of, and used in a functional way. Let me tell you, that chair is the most comfortable sitting apparatus I have had the pleasure of sitting in (and I have crashed a few quality beanbag chairs in my day). Full disclosure: Even with my huge stature and whopping 113 lbs, I still sat and stood very slowly and carefully as I was self-convinced I would ruin something.

It seemed as though everything I saw throughout my visit was more incredible than the last. It was truly an honor to meet the Rick, Brian, Ric, and all the Hearne Hardwoods staff. I am happy to have snagged this photo with Rick in the office beneath the head of a deer that his son took down with his bare hands in self defense. That statement alone should be some insight into the level of awesome my day reached on Monday. I had built up some high expectations from the flattering words of my co-workers but, my expectations of Hearne Hardwoods were met and exceeded.

I want to thank everyone that took part in my first trip and was so kind to me. My interest, passion, excitement, and inspiration for woodworking continues to grow daily because of people and places like this. I can only hope that in the near future I will get the chance to take a another trip out to this woodworking paradise tucked into the hills of some Pennsylvania Amish country.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Practice Woodworking: July (heatwave) Edition

The summer of 2013 is filled to the brim with woodworking classes here at the Lohr School of Woodworking. Tomorrow will close out another Practical Woodworking course.

I must first commend our current practical woods students for being so brave and willing as they have managed to show up with smiles and motivated attitudes despite this unbearable north east heatwave. I am a Floridian girl and even I am dyin' from these temperatures so, good job guys, your dedication is admirable!

Jeff, Doug, Terry, Susan, Bill, Cate, Paul, Dan, Gwen, John, and Vince have done a wonderfully impressive job this week learning, listening, and executing new woodworking techniques. Furthermore, they have really become one as a class as they work together to implement their newly absorbed woodworking procedures! Each of them started the week with three rough, FAS, red oak boards and, today all eleven workbenches are graced with nearly completed hall tables.

We have been lucky enough to have the week to get to know the students and today is the day that they get the chance to add details that make their tables unique to them. I love to watch the creativity and personality shine through the pieces as they quickly approach completion.

Throughout the week, students see demos covering every concept, machine, tool, technique, strategy, and jig design we can cram into the week. Although the weather has been rather warm, we did stick to the status quo of making the messiest, dustiest tasks into outdoor activities. Here, Rob is demonstrating how to use the router sled/table. In this demo, he explains the jig's assembly, design, and use. As we use it as a method for milling one face of a board too wide to fit through the jointer or planer, it is safe for you to assume that the router throws a lot of dust and chips around as it levels the face's surface. Luckily, in the summertime, the mimosa tree is in full bloom so we were able to teach, learn, and mill board faces under the shade of a beautiful and delicious-smelling tree.
The latest and greatest addition to the shop was fueled by Jeff's efforts to contribute as little was we can to the ever-growing landfills. As we are located on the farm with it's own functioning ecosystem and work with all natural, earth-grown wood, we do our best to make environmentally-friendly decisions with our trash and material reuse.

A fancy new water cooler will limit the number of plastic water bottles we go through here at the shop (especially in the height of the summer). The idea is to have one reusable bottle for each student/staff to last the week instead of 2-5 throwaway bottles per person per day. Perk number one of this handy machine: the water is always ice cold without having to restock the refrigerator. So, welcome to the shop, new water cooler. We look forward to your convenience and ice-cold hydration services.
All in all, last week was yet another wonderful week spent with ambitious and motivated aspiring woodworkers. We were pleased to host the eleven of you and hope to see you return to the shop in the future!

Another week begins here at Lohr Woodworking so look out for an update or two about our next summer adventures.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Last week at the saw mill...

Despite the presence of full-on summer climates, we spent a good portion of the past few weeks outside at our saw mill. We were finally able to make some room on the drying stacks by loading the kiln so, we finished making slabs of the beautiful logs Steve (the man in charge at Shreiner Tree Care) donated to us!

When it comes to milling here at Lohr Woodworking, some logs are easier to cut than others. Our band saw mill has it's size limitations so, for the narrower logs, the process is relatively quick and dirty. After rolling the logs onto the mill, we need to decide how we want the boards to be shaped along their live edges. In most cases, when we mill the logs ourselves, we have no intention of milling the edges to be straight; they will likely be left in their natural, live edge form so we want the shapes to be as interesting as possible.
After we position the log how it needs to lay to provide the most appealing and interesting live edge shaped boards, we use wedges (and in some cases a car jack) to hold it in place to can cut a flat face. Because it is far safer to cut the log with a flat surface sitting on the mill's base, once the flat face is cut, we flip the log over and cut the boards from the opposite side.

Here, I am cutting an 8-quarter slab. The band saw blade spins horizontally as we manually push it through the log. Even for a clearly incredibly muscular girl such as myself, pushing this mill is far from effortless.
Now, what happens when we find ourselves with a log whose diameter is longer than what our band saw mill can cut? Well, we break out the Alaskan chainsaw mill of course!

First, we need to halve the log so that we have the largest flat surface we can get for the straight cutting guide of the chainsaw mill to ride on. Before that flat surface exists though, we need to make an exterior flat surface in order to make a straight cut to halve the log. To do this, we attach a long straight, milled board to the top of the log. We attach it by leveling the board as it sits atop the log, then screw a small square of plywood to the ends of the log with it's edge flush with the level board. From there, we screw another small piece of wood to the plywood, make it flush to the level board as well, and screw through that piece into the level board. This way, the board is firmly held into a level and secure position as we use it to guide the chainsaw.
Then, out comes the Alaskan chainsaw. As I have written about before, this monster of a machine is composed of two chainsaw motors attached by a 6-ft long bar and chain. The straight cutting guide is an adjustable frame that allows the long bar to remain straight and level as it cuts through the log.

Here, you can see Jeff and Rob making the first cut to one of the logs. The guide rides flat along the level board we attached and as the cut is made, small wedges are pushed into the cut so that the weight of the upper portion of the log doesn't weigh too heavily on the chainsaw blade.
Eventually, the log is halved and we break out ol' Trixie the tractor to move the upper half. We place the half up on lifts so that we can easily get to the bottom when we need to lift and move it again.

This is one of the best parts of woodworking; being the first person to see the inside of a tree. The plant has spent years and years growing it's annual rings and keeping them sealed and hidden under it's newer layers and bark. When the half is lifted, the grain patterns and colors are revealed to the human eye for the first time.

From there, we use the large, freshly cut, flat surfaces as the level face for the chainsaw guide to ride on for the remaining slab cuts. The guide is easily adjusted to cut any board thickness we want.

And, by the end of last week, we have stacks of brand new live edge slabs! The slabs are temporarily stacked on saw horses with equally-sized sticks placed in between to prevent warping and allowing air to pass between the slabs so both sides can dry at the same pace.

In this photo, you can see the white, waxy substance applied to the ends and along the figure of the slabs. We use a coating called Anchorseal to seal the ends of the slabs to prevent checks from developing/growing through the drying process. The sealant also helps protect the interesting figure from any cracking or splitting it might do while the slabs dry.

Now, these slabs will find themselves on the drying stacks for a year per every inch of thickness. From there, they will make their way into the solar kiln for a couple more weeks. And, some day in the distant future, they will become part of some  one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture to carry on their legacy.