Archive for January 2017
How to Determine Casement Window HandingTuesday 31st January 2017
Casement windows are one of our most popular items of joinery, most are of "flush" design but many are "stormproof" style as well. One of the basic things we need to communicate between the the designer, craftsman and client is the handing of the casement. Thankfully it's very easy. First of all when discussing any item of joinery it is agreed we talk about it viewed from the outside of the dwelling, in the same way we read building plans or blueprints.
Then we apply a simple note to show the handing. The phrase that helps me understand how this works is "The arrow points to the hinge". You'll notice in the photos that two lines create a large triangle, it's apex is where you'll find the hinges. This should help you understand where your casement window handing. If you don't see arrow then you should assume the item is fixed or non opening.
Below you'll see a chart that's a shortcut on our casement window design system, it gives typical configurations of the most common windows although we regularly have to come up with an alternative as much of out work is unusual prototype work.
Using the codes on the chart I'll pick a few to further illustrate the point.
1A: Fixed Casement
6F: Left Hand Casement Fixed, Right Hand Casement Hung on the Right, Fanlight Hung on the top
13B: Left Hand Casement Hung on the Left, Two Central Casements Fixed, Right Hand Casement Hung on the Right.
I hope that illustrates well the handing of a casement window, if your're thinking of placing an order and are still unsure, never hesitate to ask!
Wassailing the Apple Tree!Friday 27th January 2017
Slightly off tangent but still about wood, (in the loosest sense possible) I thought I'd share something completely new to me, the West Country tradition of Wassailing. I regularly walk through the South Molton Community Woodland on the way to and from work, it's not a particularly old woodland but it's a nice resource and covers a significant area. I'd noticed some apple trees within the confines of the wood and thought no more about it, aside from seeing them develop and change as the year passes. I had no idea they'd require a Wassail! My son has been part of the South Molton Beavers for a while now and this year some members of the community came in to introduce them to Wassailing. It's centered around seeing off evil spirits and toasting the tree good health for the new year with the hope of a good crop of apples in the autumn. I will confess that I felt somewhat embarrassed that I knew nothing of this West Country tradition, being from a Devonian family, local to Devon for many hundreds of years. Evidence I suppose of how quickly our culture changes and how we soon loose touch with old traditions and customs. I do have some form when it comes to apples though, you can see me within the photo sequence of the film (dead center, large collar looking toward the fire) here.
The Wassailing event itself was not held on the twelfth night, but early in January which I actually found quite fitting. The idea of awakening is starting to become evident at that time of year, with the evenings just becoming ever so slightly shorter and the walk home less dark than the depths of late December. It was great to see Morris Dancing, and other customs still being practiced and praise must go to the people who put time aside to make these events happen and participate. I'd liked to of shared some photos but my phone is unable to capture good images in dark evening conditions however you should be able to notice the tree in the top photo sporting some decoration. If you see a Wassailing event local to you this year I'd recommend taking a look!
Protecting Wooden Window Frames - Stop the RotThursday 26th January 2017
This is a discussion, similar to my write up about "old wood". I want to talk about protecting wooden window frames, or any joinery for that matter, from the weather. Please be sure to treat these as my thoughts on the topic rather than a full technical guide. The reason I was prompted to write this was thanks to a recent window installation where old defective windows, beyond economic repair, were being replaced by some new windows that we had made. Firstly I was delighted to be commissioned to make some new windows, it's always a privilege that people ask us to make quality items that are sympathetic to their buildings. However I was saddened to see what was being thrown in our skip as the installation work progressed.
The stark reality is that any material will fail over time, wood, metal, plastic, they all have a life cycle. However, these windows we were removing could of easily lasted many more years with just a few simple steps. The key is to start on a good foundation, you'll notice from the photo above that there is no paint on the bottom of the casement, nor the edges of the casements that you can see below. This fist fatal flaw is at the heart of the problem. What I would want to see here is a full coating system and no bare timber exposed to the elements. Dry timber suitable for use by joiners will soak water up readily without coatings applied, this excess of moisture will then fester behind the painted faces and becoming a catalyst for rot. If that one step had been taken here I'd speculate another five years could of been drawn out from these windows.
Once you've chosen to start with a proper coating system, covering all surfaces you'll need to maintain it. The phrase "a stitch in time saves nine" immediately comes to mind. With my wooden windows at home I work this into regular cleaning cycle, I tend to clean the windows twice a year and use this time to look for any issues. I make sure things open and close smoothly, wipe the weather seals and look for any defects in the paint and make anything good with some paint or stain as required I also lubricate hinges and hardware. These steps are a wise move on a window made from any material. You can also choose to have you windows made from a very durable species such as Accoya, selecting a highly durable timber means that should an area of coating break down and go unnoticed, or a maintenance task slip then there is that extra fail safe of rot resistance below the surface.
By regularly cleaning and maintaining you'll soon see how quickly the paint finish breaks down. I'm very skeptical of advice given by paint suppliers who can quote up to 10 year gaps between reapplication of finishes. Every situation is unique and dictated by factors such protective roof overhangs, orientation to the sun, local prevailing weather etc. As a very rough guide I would look to apply new paint coating at 5 years and stains at 3 years. If in doubt seek the advise of a professional. With these simple steps the life cycle of external joinery can be dramatically improved. We've offered a painting service for some time now and would strongly encourage clients to have their windows full coated before installation. The cost of applying coatings will need to be factored in at some point, so why not have that process completed in our workshops before we install? That way your windows can look like the photo at the top rather than prematurely find themselves in the skip!
Silvered and Weathered Oak - The Gamble of no CoatingsWednesday 25th January 2017
Welcome to the world of wood coatings, Russian Roulette style! We are regularly asked by clients if it would be possible to have a "natural" finish that lets the wood "silver down". The answer is yes you can, but it's a huge gamble. All we can do is try and make people aware of the pitfalls, having said that it can work well but here are some things to think about, first off the good bits. Aged oak especially, can look brilliant when weathered and bleached by UV light and can create tactile surfaces that are impossible to replicate using other materials. So if it's all about look and the feel of the joinery, your'e sorted. Now let's consider some of the things that could effect your bank balance after you've purchased your joinery.
Without appropriately coating your joinery it is normal to find the item will swell, especially here in Devon where the climate is pretty damp to say the least. This will mean doors and casements will jam and be difficult to operate. This can be resolved by us making a vist and easing the joinery so it works again, however each return trip will cost you as there is no way we can know how much any given piece of timber will swell or how long it will take to settle. So perhaps budget 6 hours of extra tradesman's wages on top of your quoted cost.
With the door is eased, when summer comes along it's possible the door will shrink and not touch weather seals as intended, you'll have to choose to accept a bit of a draught in summer and have none in winter. So if you like the snug fit of weather seals and smooth operating hardware the natural look might not be for you. Of course, none of that might happen but with no coatings applied anything can happen.
Silvering does not happen overnight and you might never see the patina you're looking for, especially if the joinery is on a sheltered Northern elevation. The example in these photos is on a South elevation and is a success as far as weathering goes. I have, however, seen joinery looking patchy and stripy. Often the lower area near the threshold can go black, the middle area can begin to silver and the higher area stay a brighter colour where it remains protected by the reveal or by a roof overhang.
If you have double glazed units the standard 5 year warranty will be void. The movement that happens naturally is likely to compromise the seat around the double glazed unit and lead to premature failure. I will stress this might not happen but you should be aware of it and budget for a new unit every three to four years.
The wood itself will also react differently, some sections seem extra tough and resistant to the elements others less so. Large fissures and defects can appear and even joints might want to come apart....or they might not....
My personal opinion is that allowing wood to weather is something that works best with large wooden structures such as green oak framing. With joinery it can work but I would limit it to a focal point, like the door shown in these photos. But do bear in mind you might have to part with a great deal of money after you have commissioned the piece to remedy any number of issues. Would I take this approach? When you consider the example in the photos that was a success then I would. The three centered arch feature on the door shown seems somehow more robust with the weathering and the scale of the item also reacts well to the silver surfaces. But I would do it in an informed way, knowing that there are pitfalls and it might be a costly process.
Glazed Gable Frames - When the View Trumps the JoineryTuesday 24th January 2017
When you are responsible for part of a project it's quite normal to focus on that one thing. Making sure the detail is right, workmanship good and mouldings clean. Sometimes however, what we make can be at best a compliment to the broader project, or even perhaps go unnoticed. You'll see from the stunning photo above this project is one such situation. With Devon's rural setting many of the unused barns have been converted and this trend continues. These barns have excellent potential to connect the outside world to the everyday goings on at home. Simple glazed gable frames work brilliantly to achieve this.
On this particular project our joinery fits in between structural steels. I must admit, as much as I like to use wood extensively I do like when steel has been used to create the supporting structure. It gives us lots of good fixings and as you'll notice from the photo above the steel is easily concealed within some simple cover sections. One of the most difficult issues on this kind of work is the glazing. The glass often has to provide high levels of insulation while also providing protection from falling through it, this also influences the cost! The bigger the glazed area the more dramatic the view but sadly the cost becomes more dramatic too!
We have moved to glazing our gable frames internally, that is to say the glazing beads are on the inside. Our motivation here was making the long term maintenance easier. Double glazing will not last forever, sometimes there can even be an issue where a double glazed unit can fail prematurely. Having the glass inserted from inside the building means the heavy lifting can often be done more easily from the internal floor level. I'm not totally wedded to this approach for all jobs but in this case it proved effective. Just seeing the amount of scaffolding required for building work means if that if it's future use can be reduced, so much the better.
The scaffolding was being dismantled as I was taking these photos, I hope to share some better photos once it's intrusive structure is gone so you can enjoy more of the stunning views of the Devon countryside!
Garden Tool Sharpening ServiceFriday 20th January 2017
Although we're not a horticultural business, one of the items I sharpen the most for our customers is Garden Tools. The sharpening service we offer is mixed between a third party saw doctor and what we can do in house. Gardening tools and woodworking hand tools are easily done in house, therefore allowing a quick turnaround. I normally sharpen the tools myself, it can be a welcome relief from the computer screen and surveys! Just before lunch today I sharpened an edging knife, 2x telescopic bypass loppers, standard loppers, garden shears and secateurs. Typically is works out at around £4.00 per tool.
We don't typically offer a postal service as the cost can become prohibitively high, although if you can't get help and you're not close to South Molton, send us an email and we can advise you of postage costs. You can find our contact details here. Although we don't sell gardening supplies, Mole Valley Farmers, our close neighbors on the Pathfields Business Park do, potentially making a journey to see us worthwhile, even if you don't need our woodworking services.
Please plan to be without your tools for at least 3 days, sometimes this might be longer if I'm of on holiday (I should be so lucky) and also bear in mind we are not open at the weekends.
Large Shoulder Plane - The Joiner's FriendTuesday 17th January 2017
The large shoulder plane is not an essential when first starting out, but as your experience grows and projects become more varied this tool becomes very helpful indeed. In woodworking terms the shoulder plane seems a recent development. I'd speculate its only been in serious use for about 175 years. It has one very specific task, to refine the shoulders of tenons. It can be used for other tasks but if you mistake it for a rebate plane you'll be very disappointed. Sticking a rebate is best suited to something like a Record 078, wooden filister plane or basic wooden rebate plane. However a rebate can be refined with a shoulder plane, it's just not designed to do that.
In the photo above you can see how the plane sits on the length of the tenon, using the tenon as a reference surface. The plane is then introduced to the shoulder, this is the upstanding section of the joint. Fine cuts are then taken to get an accurate fit. Being honest, a shoulder plane should be avoided if at all possible, joints should be cut right first time. For most work this is always possible. However when work has large shoulders, typically found on stairs or doors with diminished styles and is also of a customised nature, sometimes a joints needs a little extra help.
In the photo above I've shown two types of shaving, a very thick and heavy cut and a very fine. Unless the shoulder is very bad a fine setting should be all you need. As the plane is working across end grain the shoulder often needs support in the shape of a support piece or the shoulder has to be worked from both sides to prevent break out.
You'll notice the shoulder plane I use is the Record 073, sadly no longer in production, I obtained mine via ebay. It is a wonderful piece of industrial design, it lacks some of the flair and comfort of the Victorian era Infill planes from makers such as spires, but it's comfortable enough and is easy to adjust. Fortunately the plane has been copied by the excellent American tool maker Lie-Nielsen. If you do choose the Lie-Nielsen option do consider replacing the standard cutting iron for a Ray Iles version is 01 steel. The other shoulder plane in the photo is the well made Veritas which belongs to one of our joiners. For me, searching for a Record 073 is still worth the effort.
Making Stairs - Part 2Wednesday 11th January 2017
Back in mid December I started a write up on our stair making process. I had hoped to share more of the process but that'll be for another day! The project is now at the stage of fitting the winders, these are the kite shaped steps we walk up when the stairs turn a corner. Although the straight flights can be machine cut with a minimum of hand finishing we cut and prepare the winders individually. The setting our rod we draw helps us a lot, and gets the tread and riser cut close to where it needs to be. We then cut, trim and plane with a combination of hand and power tools to get the fit just right. It's this aspect of the job that perhaps gives the most satisfaction. When we use machines to help us and relive the burden of some tasks, we still must fully understand how the project comes together, how traditional joints are formed and getting the right quality. However when we do that using hand tools and more direct processes it becomes even more satisfying to see the project develop
Tomorrow we'll be dismantling the stairs, carefully applying reference marks and numbers to the components and giving a final finish. Arises will be removed and the stairs made ready for collection, our client is aiming for collection at the end of the month. I will say how pleased I am that the client had such good piece of mind to plan their work so well, there is nothing worse than unreasonable pressure when working hard to make things come together properly. Tomorrow I'll show you three examples of the same traditional hand tool that we still find incredibly useful for traditional stair building.
Tidy Workshop - Happy WorkshopTuesday 10th January 2017
This post will seem hugely dull and boring but it is important, and I hope people will see how maintaining the basics of good practice are of great value. Making time to maintain a clean and tidy working environment can sometimes seem a burden, especially when working on projects with pressures that we are all familiar with. In addition, creative types and people working with their hands seem perhaps the worst culprits. I'll hold my hands up and confess to being untidy. Fortunately knowing you have a problem helps you deal with it. The photo above is an example of when an area has become to unacceptably unkempt. Our machine shop had become dirty, rouge items of scrap had begun to settle in areas and various things were not in their place. Typically it takes a week to go from tidy to untidy.
A good tidy up takes about 3 hours, the floor is vacuumed, waste removed and things put back in their place. The photo below represents a good working environment, post clean up. One of the things I enjoy about this process is it creates a desire to be very open about showing current and potential clients around. From my own experience, being able to see your commissioned projects progressed or just witnessing other projects move through is very reassuring. It also created pride in our environment and I'm sure that attitude rubs off on our projects too.
Old Wood - Old Pine vs New PineMonday 9th January 2017
Before I even start trying to negotiate this topic I warn you, my thoughts and observations are just those. Please don't use this blog post as a way to make decisions, however if you do have experiences similar to mine then do drop me a line!
With that out the way I'll try and negotiate a topic that has occupied my mind and I think I have a understanding of why Joiner's have said "the old softwood was much better" and why I've seen so may premature failures of softwood on my site surveys. When the term Softwood, Pine or Deal is used by Joiner's in Great Britain it almost always means Pinus Sylvestris. A true giant of useful timbers, suited to floor joist or furniture. Please find out more on the incredible Pegs & 'Tails blog and you can watch it being dealt with in the sawmill the same way as much Pinus Sylvestris was during the 1800's.
In the photo above I have a piece of sash window style made during the Regency Period (1795 - 1837 time of design influence). As a rough guess I'd say the tree started growing anytime between 1550 & 1650. This section of wood would of been worked on by Joiner's in a context similar to that found in the Joiners workshop at Forty Hill. Now hopefully I've gone some way to defining that the section of wood I have is "old" and would be regarded as "good stuff". I think perhaps the main reason Joiners have affection for the old timber is it seemed to last so well when used in external situations such as windows and doors and resisted insects attack and mould when used internally. Nothing would destroy a local reputation or break the heart of the craftsman faster than things rotting or failing within only a few years.
I wondered why it was the older timber lasted so well? Well here are my observations. Just as with any other timber, the immature wood or sapwood is much less durable than the heartwood. Pinus Sylvestris is a tricky beast to detect the sapwood. The easiest way is for the wood to of hung around for a while, when this happens the heart darkens to a rich brown colour while the sapwood stay bright and straw coloured. This can be seen clearly above. In a busy, fast moving industry that was post WW2 joinery production I think much less heartwood was used, often because the wood was freshly planed and cut and you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference. I think this was one of the contributory factors of the much faster rate of rot and failure rate.
The other major factor was paint. Paint is now very different to it's early variants found on original, period joinery. Old paint was linseed oil based, in itself a fantastic paint but nearly all early paints have heavy metals such as highly poisonous lead oxide within. Therefore there is a durable and flexible coating, loaded with poison! That's a pretty good way to prolong the life of wood. Clearly lead had to be removed from paints but I think it is perhaps only now we only truly understand the issues around this choice, and again, as with the higher volume of sapwood post WW2 we're starting to see a picture emerging. We can still add "poison" to wood in the form of preservative but for health reasons I prefer to use a durable timber or an innovative wood such as Accoya
The last issue is the higher levels of humidity that can be found in homes. With homes sealed tight, warm damp air naturally hit's the coldest areas and condensates. Even with double or triple glazing this can still happen on the glass. This damp is perfect to create festering rot issues!
So for me softwood is still great for internal projects because many woods, such as beech, sycamore or ash are perishable when used outside but perform just fine in the dry. It's also still a joy to work and yields to the tools with ease. However because I'd need to remove so much sapwood from softwood to use it externally it would become very costly. If you want to use a softwood consider Accoya, it's not perfect, nothing is, but broadly speaking it is the "good stuff"
Hardwood Gate - Fitted & FinishedFriday 6th January 2017
You might of noticed a higher frequency in blog posts recently. Much of this is due to the realisation that what has become familiar to me for the 20 years and for the business for 80 years, might also be interesting to others looking for inspiration. And although self praise is no praise at all it's been good to reflect on what we're doing and feel some pride in the results of our efforts. This simple project would typically be something I would've overlooked to share, our minds would naturally be drawn to the next project and a humble garden gate seemed nothing worth talking about.
However this simple item has a few interesting aspects. The gate is made in the same way we would make a "framed, ledged & braced" ("FLB" in trade jargon) door. It uses mortise and tenon joinery secured by glue and wedges, a reliable and traditional method of construction that has proven successful in work of this type for hundreds of years. The "braced" part of the construction can be seen clearly in the photo below. The braces work by preventing the door or gate dropping at the nose and must always point up and away from the hinge side. Clearly if they did not the brace would have not effect on the stability of the door
The boarding in tongued and grooved together with a plain V joint applied. The V joint emphasises where the tongue and joint meet, drawing the eye away from any discrepancy. This is also often done by applying a scratch bead. On external work we always allow a slight gap between each board, our inclement Devon weather tends to lead to swelling, without that gap the boards will turn the door into a barrel or at worse even force the door styles right off the door.
The ironmongery on this door is ultra simple but effective. The hinges start life as galvanized "hooks & bands" which we then paint black. We've found that factory painted hinges don't resist the elements well and although our approach adds time and a bit of extra cost it seems well worth it. The heavy duty ring latch works brilliantly, however we can not economically find galvanized versions of this design so we encourage our clients to periodically wipe them down with oil to prevent rust.
All in all this type of project might cost more than some solutions but if maintained it'll outlast most other solutions and look a good deal better in the process!
Winder Stairs - Installation PhotosWednesday 4th January 2017
Although I have some info on one flight of stairs already here's a quick look at another flight that is currently being installed. It's constructed from modest materials, paint grade softwood with plywood risers, but once carpeted and painted it'll still be attractive and functional. Even though you can buy a flight of stairs that are made to a "standard" size from Builder's Merchants it is unusual that these offering work in bespoke projects or old housing stock. Having the ability to plan and make exactly what's required and install it allows us to meet the needs of most projects. Although this is a basic flight it was good fun to plan as after the winder turn there is a landing area and as always space seems rather tight! I sometimes wonder if architects and builders do this out of spite (joking of course) :).
Nearly all of our stairs are made using the traditional "housed and wedged" construction that has proved successful for hundreds of years. We also use thicker treads than any "off the shelf" stairs I'm aware of. A full 25mm thick tread makes for a much stronger and robust construction and reduces the chances of squeaks. You might also notice how the lower post is set back from the first step, with that first step having a radius to it's edge known as a "bullnose" step. In a domestic setting this creates a nice flow when stepping onto the stairs. When the balustrade is fitted I'll add a few more photos.
Oak Dresser - Reflecting on a Past Project.Tuesday 3rd January 2017
I don't really plan a Blog post, they are normally plucked from my nebular musings on woodworking and joinery, or something I see or hear that piques my interest. The catalyst for this post was uncovering some photos during a garage clear out at home. The two photos are of an oak dresser I made some 10 years ago for a local client. For something I made in my mid 20's I was pleased to reflect some 10 years later and feel pleased that I had captured a good concept of a vernacular style dresser with a strong 19th Century country influence.
Dressers were a common piece of furniture but are less prevalent now due to the widespread adoption of fitted kitchens and such. However if there is room in the home they still offer a versatile solution to both display and store items. I have no formal training in designing furniture, thankfully when creating vernacular style pieces this can be quite useful. This "design" was pretty much down to years of mental osmosis, taking an interest in the word around me, rather than relying of fine designs or a fixed principle. Working in this way ensures you'll likely never find anything quite the same as you make yourself.
There is normally something odd to be found in a design like this. What drew my eye was what I had done to the plinth, instead of a flat plinth with a modest moulding on the top it was in two pieces. My reasons were the uneven floors of the house. The second piece is a non load bearing trim I applied which was fitted to floor to prevent a dust trap. The only disappointment in the design for me was that I had chosen to fit an adjustable bookcase strip. Not a big issue but on reflection a few oak pegs and a few holes would of created a much more pleasing look. Although I prefer fixed shelves the reality is most clients change what is on display and sadly it's a compromise that is made to prevent frustration in the future. It would be interesting to see how the wood has mellowed as clearly there are some strong colour variations. However on a piece like this it does not upset me at all and I also like the dark and contrasting wooden knobs too.
Most often these days dressers can be found second hand or from a generic modern furniture warehouse, with that in mind it's all the more pleasing to think I had the chance to make something like this in a world of diminishing opportunity for such work. If these photos of old photos of a vernacular/country dresser have interested your either to make yourself or to commission, then I recommend a few things. If you can track down a copy of "English Country Furniture" by David Knell please do so. It's narrative, examples and details give a rich flavour of the vernacular style like no other. Also, make a visit to some Antique shops or auction house, photograph, sketch and look and plenty of stuff. And lastly try not to conform to fixed ideas, the joy of this style is the variation not the standardisation!