The next installment in my episode by episode, wise cracking review of the greatest television show ever…
“We’ve got a double header this time!”
After a two episode field trip its back to the workshop, and to make up for lost time Roy’s treating us to two projects: a pitchfork and a dough bowl. What do the two have in common? My guesses include they can both give you splinters, they both resemble a giant’s place setting, and either of them would make a great gift for an Amish neighbor. But as Roy points out, they can both be made from a single piece of wood. Not literally a single piece of wood, mind you, but out of two single pieces of wood. One single piece of wood for each, that is. It couldn’t be simpler.
“Our first task is to go from this piece here (a long piece of hickory) to this completed fork.” Many kinds of wood will make a serviceable fork, but straight grain is essential for strength while using it to eat giant salads. Roy reminds us that we can determine the straightness of a tree’s grain by examining the bark. It’s a much better idea than cutting down a few dozen old oaks and choosing the best one.
It’s almost a little comical to watch Roy try to wrestle a seven foot tree on his shaving horse. I’m not sure which is skinnier, him or the hickory. Of course a man that can walk into the woods, point to a tree and declare “I’m turning you into a rake” isn’t one to be trifled with, and I’m certainly not making fun! If you don’t have a shaving horse, or like me your belly gets in the way of the drawknife, you can still do this project using a bench vise.
When he made the rake a couple of episodes back he wouldn’t give us the exact dimensions because ”We don’t all have to make these the same”. But this time he not only gives the dimensions of the rake, but he does so in cubits! The tine length is 3/5 of a cubit, and the entire “business end” makes up the rest of the cubit. As you know, a cubit is 1/300th the length of Noah’s ark, or the distance from a man’s elbow to his wrist. Roy’s cubit may be longer than mine, so my project might come out looking more like a pitch-spork, but that’s not important. What is important is the width of your piece; it must be a half inch for each tine, and about ¾” thick. You shape the end of your piece accordingly, then bore four holes through the side. He’ll show us the purpose of those holes after he saws and separates the three tines. Patience, my fellow woodwrights, patience.
We’ve often seen Roy’s potbellied stove in the background, but now we see it in action. With some stove pipe he’s fashioned a steaming contraption. “You have to give it about an hour’s worth of steam for every inch of thickness.” That means 45 minutes to steam our rake.
In the meantime, Roy’ll show us how to make that dough bowl. “It’s very difficult to do this work in gum”, which is pretty handy because I have no idea where to get a gumwood log, and like everything so far in the Woodwright’s Shop, it takes a log and an ax to make a dough bowl.
Starting us out with some cross grain scoring cuts to prevent splitting, Roy makes quick work of his’ logs innards. “I’m not going to cut myself this time.” An admirable goal, but we all know Roy Undrehill is willing to sacrifice a finger or two if it means teaching us to make a dough bowl! Perhaps the reason he can say he won’t cut his fingers is because he’s about to pick up a bowl adze, kneel with the log between his knees and start chopping toward his legs. A trained adze-wright can do this without losing a knee cap, and we know Roy knows his way around an adze. Just “adze” him! (You know, like “ask him”…) He even shows how to make one from a garden hoe. All you need is a really, really hot fire and some oven mits.
“It doesn’t take too terribly long to get this smoothed… you do the insides first and then you chop off the bottom to meet it.” Tapping on the bottom and listening to the sound is a good way to guestimate the wood’s thickness before you chop too far, leaving a hole in the bottom and depriving some old widow woman of her new dough bowl. A spoke shave is used to put the final surface on the outside, while a scorp or large gouge is used on the inside. Of course, if you have an elephant shaped spoke shave, like Roy made, you can do it in style! “It’s just persistence, you just keep on until you get it where you want….I always, when I make these, end up leaving the score marks still in there because it might as well look like it was hand done, and I get so tired of working on them.” It seems even Roy Underhill grows weary of a tedious project from time to time.
“Well let’s see how our pitch fork is doing now!” I thought he said it would take 45 minutes, but after ten minutes it’s flexible enough. He’s made a bending jig out of some shingles and wood rods, which not only spreads the tines but gives the rake head itself the complex curve it requires. “You want to over bend so it can spring back to some extent.” This is an important principal in any steam bending project, as is patience. Standing your rake next to you while you take a hot shower isn’t going to cut it. Steam bending means waiting for the wood to become pliable, and waiting even longer for it to keep the new shape. He leaves his rake in the jig for about a week, which seems a lot faster on television, as he removes another one from its jig and begins fitting support rods through those holes we drilled earlier.
“I’ve got about a minute left, I’d like to show you one more article made out of one piece of wood… I was wondering when I was going to get a chance to show this to you…” He lifts a giant log up onto the bench with amazing ease. I knew young Roy was wiry, but I never knew he possessed such super strength! Turns out he’s not Mr. Universe after all, though I still wouldn’t want to arm wrestle him. The secret to his log lift is that the insides were removed and the side hinged to make a chest for the bootleggers among us. A bit of Underhill humor, and the perfect note on which to end this episode.
I’m going through the entire 30+ year run of The Woodwright Shop to create the ultimate guide to the series. It’ll be as fun to read as his show is to watch, so don’t miss a single one! Check out the archive at Stumpynubs.com!
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