Experiencing daily life with a woodworking apprentice at Lohr's School of Woodworking

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

We've Moved (virtually, not physically)!

Greetings avid woodworking readers,

Obviously, as a blog author, I fell off the map over the past few months and that is bad news. Bad job, Larissa, the internet needs you. What can I say? We've had furniture commissions and full woodworking classes and I can't be sorry about that! I can be sorry for letting the Chronicles of a Woodworking Apprentice blog lapse, however.

Never fear, I will never come to you without good news! We have started a new blog that is integrated into our website so it's easier for me (and Rob) to update regularly. It's all the same great, informative, picture-infused, witty, and awesome woodworking content. And, bonus, we have already been on top of it. We have vowed to update at least once a week at www.jdlohrschoolofwoodworking.com/blog and are already three weeks into keeping that promise.

I have adored my time here on Blogger updating as a woodworking apprentice for the past 3 years but, now I have graduated from apprenticehood and am hard at work making furniture, teaching classes, and just generally being busy being a real life woodworker! So, I had to call in reinforcements to reconstruct the blog to making it easier to update and to add in a second woodworker and author in Rob Spiece so we can keep things fresh and new.

So, moral of the story: I'm not gone, just relocated.

See ya over there,


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

New 2017 Practical Woodworking Course Dates Have Arrived!

To our alumni as well as our future students, a huge thank you is in order as we have officially SOLD OUT of all of our woodworking courses in 2016 already! It's only July, guys. What?! You guys are truly awesome.

As we typically don't publish course dates for the following year until September, we had no choice but to appease the masses and post them early this year. If you are a reader who has been thinking of coming to hang out in Schwenksville, PA for a week to learn all-things-woodworking with us, you'll get the first look at our course calendar for 2017. If you're already a JD Lohr School of Woodworking alumni, pass along the good word that 2017 is THE year to come learn all the awesome stuff you learned here with us in the past. We really do work hard to deliver an informational, hands-on, practical, safe, and super fun course for anyone interested in the craft.

For those of you who have completed Practical Woodworking and are eagerly awaiting the 2017 dates for Advanced Joinery and Veneer & Cabinetwork, just hang tight. We will be posting those dates in the near future but you'll be alerted via email a week prior so you can plan accordingly.

Seriously though, thank you to the wonderful world of woodworkers who has made our school and courses so amazingly fun, rewarding, and successful. We love teaching others the skills and knowledge we use every day to make our furniture.

P.S. Blog post about a standing desk project in-progress will be coming next week!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

We survived Chair Camp!

Once upon a time there was a little blog keeper that found herself too busy woodworking to keep up her blog about woodworking. Sorry folks for the delay but, I am back in action! To make my comeback as grand as possible, I find myself with no choice but to recap the absolutely stellar week we recently had at the Lenox Workshop's Windsor Chair Camp.

At holidays this year, Jeff was so generous to gift Rob, Eoin, and me a week with Joe Graham (the creator of the most beautiful windsor chairs the world has ever seen) learning how to make his unique and stunning Windsor chairs- a sort of woodworking continued education, if you will. The week fell in the middle of March and I think I am just now getting over the aches and pains my muscles felt from those 6 days. Although it was likely the most physically and mentally exhausting week I have ever experienced, every moment at chair camp was a learning opportunity and time spent with wonderful people - I am beyond thrilled to have had the chance to attend.

It all began with a white oak log. Well, actually for us, it all began with an 8 hour road trip from Schwenksville, PA to Jefferson, OH with a U-Haul trailer in tow that we hoped would be filled with successfully constructed chairs at the end of the week. After that, it all began with a log. Joe taught us how to use the rays in the end of a green log to start splitting it into usable chair parts. With some persuasion from sledge hammers, steel log-splitting wedges, axes, and wooden wedges the sucker split apart into 8 parts. Those 8 parts were then split along the tightest grain lengthwise and halved again to provide us with 8' lengths to start with for the continuous chair arm/back.
After laying out the shape and dimensions of the arm/back from a plywood template onto the lengths from the log, we took to the band saw. At the band saw, we ripped along our layout lines to establish a piece that was at least somewhat the size and shape it would finish at as well as remove the bark and sapwood. The still-rough shapes that came from the band sawing were then hand shaped more accurately (and I use the word "accurately" loosely here) with draw knives, spoke shaves, and hand planes.

A huge part of chair camp for me was setting aside my need to make things smooth and square. As it turns out, green lumber isn't going to be smooth or square; Especially when the end goal of the piece is curved, rounded, and shaped by eye. It was an adjustment and, as I said, every moment was a learning opportunity (and a complete 180? from the realm of woodworking that we practice around here).

[I just want to take a moment to recognize the level of physical exertion we have put forth already. At this point, it's something like 10am on day one. We just split logs, held 8' lengths of wet oak level as we pulled them through saws, and shaped with draw knives. Just sayin'. Chair making is no joke.]

Speaking of physical exertion- steam bending. Yep, that's a job that calls on all of your upper body muscles to be at attention.
We stuck our 8' long arm/back pieces into Joe's homemade steam box to cook for 45-60 minutes before we yanked them out and wrapped them around a shaping jig that Joe has perfected over the past couple of decades, I'm sure. Starting with the center of the top aligned with that of the jig, we pulled on the ends to form the top curve of the chair. When that was locked in, we twisted the arms inward and then curved them down toward the ground at an almost-90? angle. After the entire thing was locked into the jig with wedges, we wiped the sweat from our brow and let the damn things sit for 4 days to retain shape as they dried.

While the steam bent arm/backs sat quietly in the background, we tended to other things, like shaping. A lot of shaping. So much shaping. Back splats, spindles for under the arms, stretchers for between the legs, and the legs themselves all needed shaping. The blanks of each respective part were cut on the band saw to be just that, rough blanks. So, we broke out the spoke shaves and card scrapers and went to town for what seemed like weeks.

We were in and out of shaving horses and vices like it was second nature. I will say that this type of hand work is somewhat soothing and allows for a great atmosphere to chat with your fellow chair-makers while burying yourself in some impressive shavings piles. There is just something satisfying about watching your rough, square-ish piece of wood slowly become round and smooth and something you like looking at.

"What about the chair seat," you say? What about the seat, indeed. Have you ever heard of an adze? Because I hadn't. And, I'm still not sure that we're friends (me and the adze, that is). Swinging the scoop-shaped axe at just the right angle to chop into the cherry seat blank was nearly impossible for me to perfect. I understood the idea and the physics behind it as I watched Joe demonstrate the technique with ease, but it was a whole other ballgame when I picked it up myself.I'd take 3 swings and need a 5 minutes break.

One of the unique, and insanely comfortable, elements of Joe's chair designs is the hollowed and shaped seat. So, although grueling for those of us that don't do it every day, it was the fastest way to clear out a lot of material relatively quickly to achieve that awesome seat shape. The good news is that no one slammed their shins with an adze and, better yet, everyone found themselves with a lovely, hollowed seat that we then used angle grinders to more carefully shape. I will mention though that there is reason I have no photographs of any of the Lohr kids chopping seats with adze- we didn't want any documentation of the tears.

But then, things started to come together. Seats were shaped, legs had been shaped and attached, the curved stretchers were attached between the legs, back splats had been tenoned and shaped, and arm spindles had been fit and shaped. The splats and spindles were tenoned using a plug-cutting style drill bit to cut them to the proper size at the ends. I know I skipped a lot of process detail in here but, there is really only so much I can write about shaping by hand before people start closing this browser window. Also, let's be real, I took this class and learned a whole lot but am in no way qualified to teach anyone how to make one of these in grand detail.

With the center back splat in place for a height and alignment guide, the arm/back was put into place and was clamped and banded there while we drilled holes through the arms and down at the appropriate angle into the seat to accept the spindles and remaining back splats. This is the point in the week when the anxiety begins to lift and Joe starts to tell you that you're doing a good job. When it starts to look like a chair, the pride outweighs the sleep deprivation and muscle aches.

When all the holes were drilled, final sanding and shaping happened quickly and frantically as the big moment(s) approached. The glue up. The most stressful-yet-rewarding part of any woodworking project. ::deep sigh::

Spindles and splats were glued into the seat first but not long after, the continuous arm was carefully pounded onto the top. We'd step back 7-10 paces to eye up the symmetry of the curve and the height of the arms before we'd run back to the chair to take another wail on the area that needed a slight adjustment.

The last task was to chop a kerf into the top of each round tenon that popped through the top of the continuous arm and hammer some walnut wedges down into them to lock the suckers into place (whilst adding a nice touch of contrast). And eventually, we all had chairs. Real, glued, functioning, beautiful Graham-style Windsor chairs.

Some of us got fancy and decided to add some rockers. And those of us who didn't might now be a little bit jealous that they didn't jump on that opportunity. But the art of testing the placement of the curved rockers with reference to your center of gravity in the chair was a wonder to learn and watch.

And as soon as it started, it was over. I could write a book summarizing my gratitude to Joe and Barbara for everything they did for us while we invaded their lives, meals, and home for a week. Joe for teaching us everything he had spent his adult life perfecting while simultaneously dealing with all of our questions/complaints/pointless banter, Barbara for feeding us some of the most delicious food I have ever had, Jeff for sending us on this learning-and-growing adventure, and Ted for being a perfect fourth member to our 'class'. I guess I am also personally grateful to Rob and Eoin for being sort-of okay co-workers sometimes.

Thanks to everyone who had a hand in making chair camp happen for the Lohr Woodworking Studio fellas and me! We are better chair-makers, woodworkers, teachers, students, and overall people because of it.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year!

As we close out 2015, we are grateful to all of the commissioned pieces we've been honored to create, all of the students we've had the pleasure of teaching, and all of the co-workers, alumni, friends, and family that make our daily lives as wonderful as they are. We are lucky to work doing what we love and we are eager for a new year of doing more of it!

As a last toast to the year 2015, I'll be a lady of fewer words that normal and use this chance to take a glance back at some of the wooden pieces that have been completed this year at the Lohr Woodworking Studio.

First and foremost, we made ourselves a fancy new roadside sign.

"Griffin": The English Brown Oak Burl dining table

"Buried Treasure": The black walnut coffee table (with 20 year old captured walnut)

Larissa's Red Oak Toy Box

[There are more finished projects, I don't have photos of them yet so check back in the new year for updates on those guys.]

Cheers to another year of being part of the best work team the world has ever known. Bring it on, 2016! The Lohr Woodworking crew is ready for ya.

Happy New Year, folks

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Greatest Curly Maple & Walnut Cabinet You'll Ever See

Once upon a time (more specifically a couple of months ago), Rob got a call from a fellow who had stumbled upon some photos of his Maple Burl Cabinet and wanted one for his own home in California. No problemo Walter, we're on it!

Back in my first weeks as an apprentice at the Lohr Woodworking shop, the guys and I took a trip down the road to a cemetery that had a fallen maple tree. We brought along our collection of chainsaws and the Alaskan chainsaw mill and turned that fallen tree into an assortment of insanely figured slabs. Perfectly timed, here we find ourselves three years later with the maple slabs perfectly dried, kilned, and ready for use. The colors, curly figure, and grain patterns found inside that maple log were truly breathtaking and could not be better used that to be showcased as solid wood door and cabinet panels for generations to come.

After deciding which portions of the book-match pair of slabs would serve as door panels, side panels, and the cabinet's top respectively, the slabs were cut down and milled. In order to maintain the book-matching aesthetic throughout the piece, we left the boards as thick as possible and Rob resawed the pieces destined for door and side panels so that they could be opened and presented as [nearly] mirror images of one another.

Lucky for present-day us, past us had done most of the work for the carcase a couple of years ahead of schedule. In the early stages of designing our third-level advanced woodworking course, Jeff and Rob were contemplating making the project of the course a variation of this particular cabinet.

Fun fact- On my very first day here, I was put to work cutting and fitting some of the joinery for this carcase I was the 'perfect guinea pig' for the prospective course project. Can you tell by my bizarre saw-holding technique that I had never done any woodworking before that day? But, check out those sweet carcase pieces! I had nothing to do with those, that was all Rob, but I did do a stellar job butchering some tenons in 2012.

Ultimately, we designed the third-level course to focus on veneer cabinetwork but, all my hard work (completed in an anxious, I-have-no-idea-what-I-am-doing, first-day-jitters mindset) came in handy three years later. With just a few tenons to fit, a few plows to cut, and a rail or two to shape with a curve, we were off and running and ready for panels. The entire carcase is made of solid black walnut and held together with mortise and tenon joinery. There are plows cut along the inside edges to accept the maple panels.

The rest of the cabinet came together in small, intricate stages. I went to work to cut gains for the pivot (aka center) hinges into the carcase and the doors. When those were done, I hung the doors and fussed with them until they presented an even reveal. For those that have never hung doors before, just know that it's an adventure every time. [Shameless plug: Watch Rob's Craftsy class to learn more about our strategy for doors and cabinetry]

Rob took on the Greene-and-Greene style breadboard end table top. The electric figured maple top is ensured a lifetime of flatness because of its end pieces of a perpendicular grain direction, elongated screw slots to attach it securely while allowing for wood movement, button-style plugs for traditional Arts & Crafts functional detail, and signature Lohr-style spline insert to accent the tongue and groove joinery. 

We both tackled the bottom board and shelf bits as they needed to fit just right into the carcase as well as include tongues that extended through the mortises in the side rails of the cabinet. When they were fitted, we cut notches through the tusk tenons that extended outside the cabinet so that we could wedge pins down into them and lock the shelf and bottom boards into place. The cabinet is designed with knock-down construction for easy movability, therefore the pins were doing what they implied in holding the whole piece together.

With a burned-in brand to the bottom, she was ready for finishing! All the parts of the cabinet were treated with BLO, left to dry thoroughly for a week, and then a clear coat finish was applied. The breadboard top was coated with five coats of Waterlox to provide a durable surface able to be used and abused as furniture should. The cabinet was sprayed with lacquer to provide an even, not-too-shiny, protective coat to the base and it's inside shelving.

And as soon as it started, it was done. We spend some time taking some photos of the piece before we were off to the packing and shipping center to send her to her forever home. A huge thanks to Walter for commissioning us to craft this stunning cabinet for you! We hope you enjoy owning it as much as we enjoyed making it. An equally as huge thank you to Rob for designing such a sweet cabinet and letting me help you make it.

We have lots more commissions coming up the pipeline so keep your eyes out for new blog posts throughout the winter! Now, I'm off to Florida because it's cold here. But seriously, don't expect a new blog post in the next week because I'll be soaking up the sun.

Happy Holidays from me & the entire (3 whole people) Lohr Woodworking team!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Behind the Scenes: Larissa wrote an article for Woodcraft Magazine

A few months ago, Jeff forwarded me an email from the deputy editor at Woodcraft Magazine that read, "I hear Larissa is the real deal. If she's interested in doing an article with us, please have her get in touch with me." WHAT? "The real deal"? Am I the real deal? Really? Who knew. Of course I was interested! A sufficient degree of nervous, but definitely interested.

After sending over a few projects I had made in the recent past, it was decided that I'd write about my hand mirrors. I was extra excited about this decision because unique hand mirrors were the first projects I made during my apprenticeship that were actually purchased (and are currently used at the wonderful Salon Nova). Combined with my love of freehand routing, the monogrammed hand mirror article was born, and now it's printed in the 2015 holiday issue of the magazine!

The first "thank you" in this blog entry goes to the editor/photographer/fellow woodworker/cool guy, Paul Anthony. Paul has worked with Jeff on various articles and shot photographs of finished pieces in the past so he's been around our shop a time or seven. I am so grateful to him for being my guide through my uncharted territory in article-writing. I am especially grateful to him for being an experienced woodworker himself, so all the seemingly abstract techniques and tools I was trying (and failing) to explain over the phone and via email made sense.

After weeks of emails, drafts, phone calls, problem-solving, sample pieces, tool testing, and shot lists, Paul came to shoot the photos you see in the article. I had all my props ready (that's right, kids, there was a shot list and props- things were legit) and we commandeered the shop for the day to document the entire process I use to make the mirrors. I've never felt so famous whilst covering myself in sawdust and using loud machinery.

It's amazing how an experience like this really makes you dissect a process that you don't think too much about as you're working through it yourself for the twentieth time. All of a sudden I am hyper aware of the easiest and most efficient way to organize my procedure so that readers can follow along and repeat it themselves at home.

You'll have to head to a Woodcraft store or a Barnes & Noble to get the detailed step by step how-to of how to make a monogrammed hand mirror but, here's a little behind the scenes. I made three finished mirrors for the article out of walnut, cherry, and birdseye maple to show color variations and how the engraved lettering appears on each. Like most wooden creations, they start as boards with lots of chalked-out ideas scribbled onto them. The article mostly highlights how I hand cut the lettering free hand using a plunge router (because some of us can't afford a CNC machine AND there is something personal about hand cutting a personalized gift like these).

Fun Fact #1: The very first monogrammed hand mirror I ever made was a wedding gift for my best friend of 20 years. I had cut lettering for signs and made hand mirrors as separate projects in the past but, that was the first time I fused the ideas.

Fun Fact #2: The JLS initials you'll see featured in the mirror in article are my sister's initials. Paul & I decided on them because they include a very straight-angled letter, a curvy letter, and a letter that is both. The bonus is that I can use the prop mirror as a gift for my sister- Merry Christmas, Jess!

Writing this article was surreal in that I was consistently excited and proud to be contributing to the national woodworking world in a small way. The ladies and gentlemen at Woodcraft Magazine are the best of the best and we're all grateful that they provide a publication that teaches and informs hobbyists and professionals alike. I am especially grateful that they offered me the chance to contribute! I love my job and I am excited at every chance I have to share it with anyone who will read/listen/watch.

My last, but certainly not least, "thank you" goes to the ever-famous Jeffry Lohr. Without Jeff to teach me this craft from the ground up, I could never have found myself in the pages of a magazine teaching my skills to others. For your patience, wisdom, resources, understanding, and motivation, I thank you wholeheartedly, Jeff. Let's be honest, the world would be a far lesser place for us and humanity as a whole without Lohr Woodworking Studio and the JD Lohr School of Woodworking.

If you want to make a monogrammed hand mirror of your own, now you can! In the article, I broke down the process into steps that you can follow in your shop. All you really need is a plunge router, a v-cutting bit, a means to trace some letters, standard shaping/sanding tools, and some patience. What a perfect holiday gift, right?

If you want me to make a mirror for you, get in line. Just kidding! But, you can look at a few I've made here and/or shoot me an email.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Recap: Long's Park Art & Craft Festival 2015

Long time, no see! Which is entirely my fault and I appreciate your willingness to read my sporadic updates.

The last time I took a seat in the blogging chair (which in reality is a wooden stool at a work bench in the middle of the shop) was a couple of months ago as we finished up "Buried Treasure" and before our big annual trip to Long's Park Art & Craft Festival in Lancaster, PA. Labor Day weekend the one time a year we break down and load up all of the immensely heavy speculation furniture pieces we have into a horse trailer and set it up under a tent in a beautiful park for the world to see/sit/touch/buy. Care to hear about it? Cool, because I'm going to tell you about it.

The week before the show was spent collecting all of our unsold speculation pieces into the shop for a mock-up of what we wanted to the booth to look like. When you have so many large pieces paired with the aim to make a tent that's cozy and inviting (instead of intimidating), it's good measure to do the rearranging and 'hmm, maybe try that over there' dance while we have the time and space in the shop. Amongst other things, we were taking along the big live edge walnut table sofaour two live edge walnut desks, and the Morris chairs and so we wanted to create a living room environment you couldn't resist taking a seat in even if it was located in a tent in the middle of a public park. When the furniture placement was decided, everything was dusted and detailed, broken down into it's smaller parts, wrapped up, and packed into the trailer, truck, and cars. The biggest and heaviest pieces were stacked onto a big cart tetris-style and pulled into the trailer with a block and tackle pulley system. Then it was onto days of gathering all the last minute boring stuff- price tags, box of cleaning supplies, tool boxes, business cards, overhead lighting, signs and posters, a lot of zip ties, etc.

Upon a bright and early arrival to Long's Park on Thursday, we rolled the cart out of the trailer and begin the unloading process. Thanks to Tents For Rent, our necessarily enormous tent was set up and ready to go so we just had to unwrap and assemble everything we had brought. It's the finer details that tend to take the longest- hanging lights, unwrapping moving blankets, attaching the price tags, assembling the 'Apprentice's Corner', and doing the final polishing. All in all though, I'd say (with the gracious help of my dear friend Abby and one of our stellar alumni Jimmy) we did a good job setting up a rockin' tent. Before we pull down the sides of the tent and tuck the furniture in for the night before show day #1, we all crack a beer and cheers to the hope of good weather, big crowds, fun times, and lots of sales!

The weekend was not only fun, but also a success for the Lohr Woodworking Studio. "Buried Treasure", the live edge walnut coffee table with a twenty year old walnut captured in the crotch of the slab, was sold before we even wrapped it up to bring it to the park. One of our alumni called up and bought it as a wedding present for his son before the public got the chance. Thanks, Dan! Beyond that, we said goodbye while the Bowmans said hello to Jeff's brown oak burl cocktail table which was made from what small bits remain of the infamous all-burl oak log that came to us from the UK to make "Resurrection" and "Frontier". Rob's ghost/ambrosia maple coffee table found it's forever home with a favorite loyal Lohr School of Woodworking alumni, Rob & his wife Deb (although I think it's safe to say the decision to snag the table was all hers). I even managed to sell a few smaller pieces from my Apprentice's Corner!

When the weekend wrapped, we were most excited at the lack of rain that was coming down. Last year we found ourselves in the midst of a monsoon as we tried desperately to protect and pack all the wood furniture. An event like that will make you appreciate a sunny Sunday more than you can imagine. Anyway, it's amazing how much more quickly packing up must be than unpacking. The show closes it's doors at 5pm on Sunday and it's always a personal goal to hit the road before it's completely dark. We count ourselves damn lucky to have the kind of amazing and kindhearted students we do because Jimmy & John traveled more than a few miles with smiles to help us and Eoin pack everything up in record time. Thanks fellas, you are truly the best!

There are few things better than a weekend spent among fellow artists, craftsmen, admirers, and shoppers in an open air, late summer park setting. It's always such a treat to get to talk with so many new and different people from all over the country. I am especially grateful to have the chance to step into such a creative and motivated world at such a young age and being so new to the game. I am beyond lucky to have fallen into the arms of Lohr Woodworking and it's weekends like this I'm proudest to show the world what these gents have taught me and what wonderful things we do together.

A HUGE thank you to the organizers of the Long's Park Art & Craft Festival, the festival goers, the fellow artists, and especially the people who fell in love with our work enough to take it home with them. Cheers to the end of a beautiful summer and the start of a cool autumn. Keep your eyes open for upcoming posts on several projects we have starting up for this winter!

[Inside Scoop: There's a desk, a veneer cabinet, a Woodcraft Magazine article, and maybe even the start of a new show room in the works for winter- and that's just the beginning!]