Thursday 30 August 2007

The perfect woodworking show

I am sitting in the lounge at Heathrow airport waiting for my flight home reflecting back on an amazing week in England. Where to begin!

A very good friend of mine, Mike Hancock, called me a year ago and asked if I would be interested in participating in an outdoor woodworking festival in southern England. One of the selling features was “camping”. Now I have done my fair share of camping in Northern Ontario… from weekend “car camping” adventures, to two week canoe trips in remote areas of Temagami. My only concern… England = rain. Mike was quick to add there was a “chef”…hmmmm an interesting twist on burnt spider dogs over the open fire.

I happily agreed.

Rob Cosman was also attending the show and we were able to coordinate our flights so we could travel together to and from Heathrow to the show. Much to my shock and amazement – customs was a snap… a 30 second adventure. We were picked up by David Thornton – a fantastic guy – thanks again David. We pulled up to the campsite and I immediately knew I was not in Kansas anymore… actually – I wasn’t even sure I was in England! The sun was shining, no humidity and it was hot.

After some unpacking and setting up, we went to the Classic Hand tool sleeping compound where we met “cheffie”. After a few introductions we were knee deep in “nibbles”. Prawns, onions and cheese on toothpicks, veggie platters and great English beer. Now this was camping!

The Festival of the tree” was held at the Westonbirt Arboretum – a 600 acre sanctuary for all things good in the world. Trees, trees and more trees. It was amazing! And here is what made this the best woodworking show on earth. It was about the “wood” part of woodworking... not the tools. That may sound strange for a tool maker to say – but it is the truth. Tools are just that – tools. What matters in the end is what we do with them. The focus of this show was what people do with wood. There were pole lathes, chainsaw sculptors, chip carvers, furniture makers, turners, basket weavers and everything in between. What they were celebrating (and showing) was what they had made – not how they had made it. Case in point; I was doing a demonstration on using handplanes, and this wonderful woman came up to the bench and started picking up some of the shavings and gently draping them over her arm. She collected a few and asked what I wanted for them. Thankfully I had the sense not to laugh and invited her to try a plane and make some more for herself. She was not the only person collecting shavings either. That happened at least 5 times. I finally asked someone what they wanted them for. She said she ironed them and sandwiched them between thin plastic and made bookmarks. Perfect.

The classic handtool booth was a great mixture of tools, demonstrating and participation. The focus was to let people try things and talk to people. Everything was on ground level and very accessible. Chris Pye was there carving a huge slab of English Elm. I often looked over to see someone from the crowd working on it. There were a few turners and they often invited people to try their hand at it. Mick from Clifton (Clico) was right beside me demonstrating handplanes and scrapers. There was a fantastic bow maker there from Austria – Martin Kellermair. He was hand making ancient bows… and he is also very skilled at using them. We hit it off quite well and are both planning on building ourselves bamboo fly fishing rods.

One of the highlights was “Sculptree” – a one week competition between 12 renouned sculptors. The theme this year was “This precious Earth”. They started on Monday and finished the following Monday – the last day of the show. They were auctioned off on Monday to raise money for “Tree aid”. One of the sculptures broke the previous record – selling for £10,500. Here are a few of the sculptures;

Saturday night was a night to remember. I am not at all athletic – but the masses convinced me to play football (soccer to us North Americans). It was the English against the world. The English were heavily populated with Hancocks – Mike, his cleat wearing wife Mary, their two skilled kids Alex and Billy, Mike’s brother Ben, nephew and a few other hard hitting Hancocks. The international team consisted of three Austrians, three French, a Swede and two Canadians – Rob and myself. At the beginning of the match I confessed to a few people that I had never played football. There was an alarmed pause… but they let me in anyway. It was a riot. We had the perfect “pitch” between two very long tents – so despite our attempts – the ball stayed in play bouncing off the walls. We scored the first goal but the Brits quickly tied it up. We switched to a 5 minute sudden death match which ended in much huffing and puffing and a tie game. So we went to penalty kicks. England won by one goal. We returned back to the compound to Pimms, prawns and salmon steaks. Does it get any better than this?

And then there were the people at the show. What a fantastic bunch. It never ceases to amaze me - how people who work wood are the kindest, most generous honest people I have ever met. I had a chance to catch up with some old friends and made many, many new ones. Philly and Tony (aka Waka) from the UK woodworking forum stopped in for a few hours. We had a great time playing with planes and messing about. Philly has a few more photos posted here. I also had a chance to catch up with my friend Greg and his lovely wife. I first met Greg at one of the small David Stanley auctions two years ago and we have been in touch ever since. I met a few other planemakers as well. Christopher is an instrument maker and had a sweet little violin plane in his pocket.

On the last morning, Cheffie went into his tent and emerged in a suit and tie – a sharp reminder that our utopian camping trip was coming to a close. We all returned to our cars and parted company.

I bet you thought this was it… Ha! Tuesday morning we left for West Dean College. Mike had taken me here two years ago so I was quite excited to visit again. West Dean is one of those places you never forget – it is picture post card perfect – in every way. A 6,000 acre estate in south-east England, sheep in the front yard (a perfect football pitch we noted), magnificent trees everywhere, stunning architecture and courses offered in everything from woodworking, to painting, glass work, instrument making to pottery, to gardening. We arrived at the end of their Chili festival. I was thinking cool, a chili festival – must have been a fun little show. We then found out there were 15,000 visitors to the chili festival! Next up is “Totally Tomato” – if only my relatives in Leamington Ontario knew! We were given a wonderful tour of the classrooms and facilities – the workshops, the gallerys and the grounds. At lunch, we were joined by Mike Podmaniczky – one of the program tutors in the conservation of furniture department. And once again – the woodworking world shrunk a little bit more. Mike is from Maine… and is friends with Thomas Lie-Nielsen and Mark Swanson. There was an immediate connection there and after lunch we were given a great tour of the furniture restoration department. I wish I had another lifetime to pursue all these things!

From there we went back to Heathrow to wait for our flights home. All was not lost though – on the last night in England, I managed to have that first glorious pint of Guinness.

And to close, a few quick tips and helpful hints if you travel in England;

- a “jumper” is a warm long sleeve article of clothing – nothing to be alarmed about
- “spotted dick” is a food - it does not require medical attention
- having a pint on an incline can be more problematic than you might think
- there are 4 variations on Pimms – a great summer evening drink
- lamb prepared over an open fire is a religious experience
- having a chef while camping fully compensates for air filled mattresses
- it is possible to sleep through a tree that explodes at 5 am


Blogger Unknown said...

Your enthusiasm is infectious! I was at the festival on the Saturday and was inspired by both the creativity on show but also by your presentation. After hearing your talk and grabbing a few minutes with Phil i am determined to create my own wood planes. I'm glad you had an anjoyable stay here and I hope to see you next year! Cheers Stuart James

14 September 2007 at 16:15  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Konrad made a superb job in defense with the soccer. Frankly for someone who had never played before he did a good job. Bit of a Harold Russell in my view.

21 September 2007 at 04:33  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Stuart,

Very pleased to hear you enjoyed the show and that it has inspired you to try your hand at making a plane or two. Fee free to send me an email and ask questions.

See you next year!

21 September 2007 at 06:21  
Blogger Konrad said...

When I returned home - our kids were pleasantly shocked to hear of my football adventures. I am now somewhat committed to playing every night it seems. They are going to be easy on me though, and let me rest once the snow comes:)


21 September 2007 at 06:24  

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Sunday 12 August 2007

12" Jackson Cochrane Jointer restoration

Several people have asked if I could post some restoration photos of my jointer (aka my aircraft carrier).

I heard about a "large jointer" being advertised in our local paper - the Kitchener-Waterloo Record. So I called the number expecting to hear either it was sold, it was junk or it was $10,000. I was not expecting a retired German dentist selling his only woodworking tool - a 100 year old, 12" jointer! I made an appointment for the next morning and stopped at the bank on the way to withdrawl a respectable deposit. The jointer lived in the basement of his dentist office... and that is all that was in the basement. It was General green and quite filthy, but when he fired it up - it purred. A very good sign. I quickly noted it was also single phase - another plus. He haphazardly grabbed a massive piece of cedar and hogged off 1/4" - the beast did not even flinch.


A friend of ours has a landscaping business, so I called him to see if I could borrow his services, Bobcat and trailer. After a bit of work, we were backing it up into my shop. It took 4 of us to swing one end around into position. Our best guess was 1600lbs.

As I started cleaning - the green paint was coming off quite easily - almost on its own. So I grabbed a claw scraper and worked a little more aggressively. There was black japanning underneath and I knew this was going to be a full restoration. I removed the antiquidated magnetic starter (which my electrician John assured me would still work), a few other starters and switches, and began stripping the whole thing clean.

The first parts to come off were the infeed and outfeed tables. This was easier said than done. My uber strong neighbour Dan helped me remove them. It was a this point I realized this was a really special machine. Unlike most turn of the century jointers, this one did not have a single large dovetailed key that the infeed and outfeed traveled up and down on. This one had 4 - one in each corner of the tables! Not only that - but the tables were mounted to a carriage which slid on two dovetails in the main casting.

Here is a shot of the carriage partially pulled out. The bright rails on the main base casting are machined dovetails. The two faucet style handles on the right are used to lock this carriage in place. You can also see the 4 angled ramps that adjust the height of the tables.

Here is another view of the carriage with the height adjustment wheel in place as well as a shot of the upside down table.

The cutter head was the next part to come off. This was a little more work than I expected. I called my friend Terry who is great with bearings and old machines. He was a great teacher and very patient. We used varsol to clean everything so we could see what we were up against. The bearings were huge. I took them to Canada Bearing to see if they were still usable. The guy at the desk started twitching when he saw them. He asked if they were for sale and how many I had. I said I had 4 and they were not for sale. He asked if he could hold one - with a voice that reminded me of my mom asking to hold Riley for the first time. He held it to his ear and just spun it around. I think I saw his hands quiver. He said they were perfect and handed me a tube of specialty grease to re-pack them with.

The other interesting thing is the cutter head is milled from a single piece of steel. I was not expecting this either.

Once I had everything apart, cleaned and moving smoothly, I decided to keep working on the rest of the green paint. Once I started working near the lettering, I noticed some gold flecks on the inside of the green paint.

Some gold model paint and dry brushing later - it was looking pretty good.

The only real repair I had to do was to the fence. It is held in place by two long faucet style posts. These pass through elongated slots in the base of the fence and thread into one of three sets of tapped holes in the outfeed table. This allows the fence to be positioned at a skew - a nice touch for challenging woods.

I added three threaded eyes to stabilize the actual fence to the base. They are marked with the white arrow. Two are tapped and threaded into the fence and the third passes through a conveniently located hole in the base. There is a pin that passes through the eyeholes and allows everything to pivot. The two nuts on either side of the single threaded eye lock it in place (like a 112 scraper plane). There are 4 original pins that connect the base to the fence. I had all of these enlarged and new pins made. Between the 4 new pins and the threaded eyes - the new fence works perfectly.

There are a few other features to this machine that are worth noting. The base is a tripod - eliminating the need for leveling. Much to my amazement - the infeed and outfeed tables are out of flat by about .001" in a few spots... pretty incredible for a 100 year old machine.

All in all it took about a week to restore it to its current condition. It is a fantastic working machine and great bit of local history. I have since found out it was made 2 blocks from our house - and some of the Cochrane's lived on our street up until 20 years ago.


Blogger Unknown said...

I love it. Thanks for posting. I just picked up my first real jointer--the 6" Ridgid and that was tough to move--so I cannot imagine moving that beast.

As someone that enjoys restoration, here is a link to a very good read on an old 16" jointer--

Thanks for sharing!

12 August 2007 at 22:20  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Chris,

Glad you liked it and thanks for the link.

I have to admit I am a bit of a scardy-cat when it comes to big machines. Restoring one accomplishes several things. First, it gives me insight into how it works – allowing me to use it much more efficiently. I also learn what is working well, and what to modify to improve it. Perhaps most importantly – restoring a machine de-mystifies it – and takes away a great deal of the initial fear.


12 August 2007 at 22:51  
Blogger Unknown said...

Beautiful job restoring the jointer! It's so nice to see old gear restored to original working condition. You lucked out on this one. Original japanning under all that green paint, cool. I like the design of the table adjustments. Large chunky castings with real precision in the mating surfaces. Good pics as uusual. I bet you are on the lookout for an equally massive old thickness planer...

cheers, Jay

13 August 2007 at 13:58  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Jay,

Actually... I already have the thickness planer:) A General No. 130 from Quebec. The best little thicknesser I have ever used, hands down! I have found several larger thickness planers... but unless I upgrade the jointer to a 16", the bandsaw to something with a 16" resaw... there isn't much point in a wider thicknesser. Besides... A&M is only 10 min. from my door and they have a 19" jointer:)


13 August 2007 at 14:13  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderful looking machine.. Thanks for the write-up! Is there any indication of there ever being a guard over the cutterhead? Do you have any plans to add one?

20 September 2007 at 10:19  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Adam,

Glad you liked the article. There are a few spare threaded holes near where a guard would go. I do plan on adding one - just need to find some time. If any one has any suggestions - please feel free to comment!


20 September 2007 at 10:28  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great job on the jointer. A few years ago I bought a 16" Preston Jointer for $300 at a (defunct) mine auction. I had it delivered on a flatbed tow truck and it took four of us to manhandle it through the shop door. Unfortunately it's three phase direct drive. I bought a new motor but haven't been able to find the time to get it humming yet. It takes up a LOT of potential lumber storage space but I'll never get rid of it!

12 March 2008 at 19:55  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Mike,

You found a better deal than I did on the Preston! 16"... holy smokes, that is awesome! I am quite attached to my jointer and cannot imagine getting rid of it. The only thing that would tempt me would be a larger capacity machine. Are you going to use a magnetic switch for it? I would suggest it as would your insurance company.

Good luck with the restoration.

14 March 2008 at 07:54  
Anonymous Lachlan said...


Great to see the article. i have a feeling that I may someday want to ask you some more specific questions. I bought almost the same machine form a furniture shop in Toronto in 2003ish. Mine may be a bit newer or older (probably newer). The Name "Jackson Cochrane" was not in the casting but rather a nameplate on the side of the jointer. The paint was grey and the Bearings were an oil filled "babit" bearing as I have been led to believe. Mine has an arm for a wooden blade guard that had a spring on it.

When I bought it, the jointer had been used as a glue up bench for, probably, the previous 20 years. I had both tables machined, striped and repainted it , Replaced the oil with sealed bearings And made up a motor mount for the 3hp Single phase motor. (the Original motor was a three phase floor mounted open ventilated and completely illegal motor).

Unfortunately I do not have a properly functioning, heated shop an thus my poor jointer is rusting up again. I have never had it running and am now inspired to try to get it cleaned up and try to get my shop fixed up next year so that I may be able to do my own work at home.

The one thing that I haven't tried to tune up is the raising assembly. I think I will try to tune it up next year.

Thanks for the inspiration.


19 November 2009 at 18:58  
Blogger Konrad said...

Hi Lachlan,

You are most welcome for the write up - I hope there is some valuable information in there for you. Feel free to ask any further questions when you get to that stage.


19 November 2009 at 19:02  

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