Avatar Woodworking: working with wood

My birthday present this year was a two-day workshop using traditional woodworking tools to turn some freshly cut logs into a beautifully finished stool, complete with a hand-carved saddle seat. Yesterday I had the first day of the workshop, which was enormously enjoyable and satisfying. I’m going back next week to finish my masterpiece.

I sustained a number of blisters while using an axe, making these the most manly injuries of my life.

Anyway, I thought you would enjoy learning about some of the traditional woodworking tools that I used to work the wood.

Froe

This is a long blunt metal blade on the bottom of a big stick. You place it on a log and then smash it with a huge wooden club. Several such macho whackings will force it through the log and split it in two. This is highly enjoyable. If hammering your froe isn’t sufficiently noisy you can cast it aside and use an axe and a metal lumphammer instead, which will cause everyone’s ears to ring.

Axe

This is a sharp thing on a stick and you’ve seen one before. By putting a bit of wood on a block, and holding on to it with one hand, you can swing the axe at alarming speed towards the wood, and your fingers, causing bits to splinter off in all directions. If you are the sort of sturdy gung-ho chap who runs a woodworking course, you will do this with unbelievable force and precision, turning a log into a chair leg in a matter of seconds. If you are me you will spend ten minutes ineffectually chipping away at it while giving yourself blisters.

Shaving horse

For obvious reasons the mention of this device terrified me, but once I had been coaxed back into the room I discovered that it is a wooden apparatus, sometimes called a woodland vice, that you sit on. By bracing your feet against a footplate, you pivot a bar down onto your piece of wood, holding it in place while leaving both hands free to tinker with it. The wood can be released, moved and held down again with great speed by using your legs. I much preferred this device to both normal vices and normal horses.

Drawblade

This item has a name in two parts. “Draw” refers to the action of pulling it towards you. It has two handles, so you can grip it in both hands, and you pull it forcefully towards your stomach. “Blade” refers to the fact that, mounted between the handles, is a foot-long very sharp blade which, as mentioned, you are pulling forcefully towards your stomach. You can use this to shave slices off a piece of wood, turning an ineffectually chipped-at log into something resembling a chair leg.

Spokeshave

Once you’ve drawn your drawblade enough, you will have a roughly shaped piece of wood. To finesse its shape you can use a spokeshave, which is a little bit of wood, big enough to grip in both hands, with a razorblade mounted in the bottom. You use it in the same way, but get a much finer slice, enabling precision smoothing. It can also be used across the end grain to produce a surface as smooth as if you’d spent all day sanding it. I achieved a state of zen mindfulness while using this tool.

Adze

These tools vary between terrifying and precise. The axe was, for me, at the terrifying end of the spectrum until I met the adze. It’s like an axe, but with a longer handle, and its blade is curved and at right angles to the handle. You use it to carve curved shapes out of a piece of wood, and you do this by standing on the wood with your legs apart and then swinging the adze, with as much speed and force as you can muster, between your legs. Ideally you will hack lumps out of the wood without damaging your shoes or removing your own toenails.


Also this week, I used a hand drill to put a one-inch drill bit through a solid piece of ash. Next week I will have my first encounter with a travisher, which I expect will be used for extensive amounts of travishing, and I will then form a mortise and tenon joint using means I cannot yet explain.

I will, assuming I am successful, allow you to sit on the stool, and I will repeat to you the story about getting blisters.

Avatar Award ceremony

Back in Bridlington, we invested significant amounts of money on the 2p machines in the arcades on the seafront. Ian and myself only walked away with angst and a lesson about the dangers of gambling, but Kev was quite successful, winning a whole range of worthless items.

But Kev is kind and charitable, so he gave me one of his prizes – a bright blue figurine of what might be a turtle, but might not, with one of its arms missing. This, he said, was to be presented to Kate, and photos were to be taken of the ceremony in which she was given this prestigious gift.

Months have gone by since then, while I waited for the perfect moment. But now the time is right. Earlier today, I approached Kate as she enjoyed some relaxing downtime to break the good news and officially award her this prize.

Read More: Award ceremony »

Avatar Another lost classic

You know what I’m like. Always losing things, and then finding them 14 or more years later.

First it was Big Day Out. Then my long-lost footstool turned up on eBay. (Have I told you about the footstool? Remind me and I’ll take you through it all in exhausting detail later.) Now something else has arrived.

Back in 2002, Al had just got a camera and we excitedly made a series of five admittedly mediocre films with the title “AlCam”. The most ambitious, and possibly least terrible, was AlCam 4, where our theme was “culture” and we attempted to cover art, fine dining, foreign travel and music, among other things.

The finished movie was transferred to Super 8 tape on the camcorder, and then all the files were deleted because they took up lots of space and in 2002 disk space was expensive. Then Al, er, misplaced the tape. I had big plans to put all the AlCam movies on DVD, and in 2003 I did just that. In order to get the movie into a digital format, I gave Al my copy of the film, which was on VHS. Al then also lost that.

The result was that AlCam 1, 2, 3 and 5 have all safely been stored on DVD ever since. AlCam 4 was never seen again.

Until, that is, Al started going through old tapes when he had a clear-out over Christmas, and sent me this picture from the little screen on his old camcorder.

In it, we see a youthful Al and Chris introducing AlCam4, complete with branded t-shirts, in front of a very hi-tech bluescreen background. It’s been found. And when I get the time, I’m going to put it on DVD. Not because anyone wants to watch it – I don’t particularly want to watch it. But because it’s been an unfinished project for 20 years and finishing things is important. Especially to me. I’ve had an empty DVD box on my shelf for two decades and I’m damned if I’m not going to take this opportunity to finish the job.

To answer Kev’s next question in advance… no, Al still hasn’t found “An Evening with Kev and Chris”, now missing in action since 2003. Sorry.

Avatar McIver ‘in the know’ newsletter – 2021

Dear all,

Gosh darn it another year has already passed. Where did the time go? What was I doing with my life? If you already knew the answers to these questions then there would be no point in this newsletter. Let me gladly waltz you through the BEST news from the family from the last twelve months.

Jeff, you remember Jeff right? The boxer? He had the biggest bout of his life in February. He was up against Cornwaller “Duck fat” Turner, a man so tall if you asked him for directions he could already see where you were trying to get to. I had a few nagging doubts yet thankfully Jeff took him out in the third round with the old 2-10-4. That would never had worked had he not wore him down with the 8-8-2 and a vicious 1-5-9 to the gut, ouch! I’d hate to be on the receiving end of that. Despite what his sister will tell you, I taught him that.

Uncle Tupperware finally returned from his travels in Vietnam in May. The family hadn’t seen him since mama c-word last made her gingerbread soul soup. He brought with him marvellous tales of lofty mountains, inner wisdom and getting tanked with a bunch of monks for eight weeks.

Cousin Plip-plop was released from prison as July turned to August and then forgot about August so it went back for a second round of July. She had used her time wisely and emerged not only as a free woman but also dragging three diplomas in feminist science studies and a hat made of time. I tried to get her to make one for me alas it was too late as she could stay for a few days before starting a job in Hollywood. I predict big things for her before we see her again.

Little Billy joined the circus because, as we all know, he is the sturdiest stilt walker we know. He is quite the prodigy if you ask me. At that age all I could do was scratch myself and tell jokes about kangeroos whereas Billy can juggle up to eight grapefruit, hang mice from his ears and perform tricks on a unicycle. When they see his piece de resistance, you remember, throwing up into the air and catching it back in his mouth, they will drop their trousers in gasp and awe.

Reuben (or Rude-Boi Throckers as he is known round these parts) finally passed his Pope exam and was crowned grand high Pope of Russia for the next four seasons. We had our fingers crossed for Minsk and thankfully we were not disappointed, with Rome and Doncaster as his (fairly predictable and pretty obvious, I know) second and third choices. On his first day of the job he blessed a crowd of thorns, created three new words and shouted scorn at a cloud until it watered a village’s crops.

Me? Well, there’s not much to tell. I can’t really compete with everyone else’s news. I opened a packet of custard powder, tried a new flavour of crisps, taught a dolphin about feelings, lived in a mushroom for a week, polished some cheeses, stretched some weasels, ate far too much shoe polish and watched two sailors arguing about figs. I know, I know, I should really get out more. I promise I’ll have more to tell next year.

All the best

Ian

Avatar Culture in the workplace

Flushed with success at my recent foray into workplace safety, I decided to take more steps to improve the lives of my colleagues.

I noticed a long time ago that one of the bathrooms I regularly use at work has a small A5-sized frame with a glass front that faces you as you enter. I assume it was out there to hold notices from our facilities department – maybe a sign saying “we clean these toilets regularly” or “if you’re unhappy with the state of this bathroom you should see some of the others on this floor”. But as far as I know, it’s always been empty, possibly for years.

What this frame needs is a picture, and I have just the thing. I printed one out and stuck it in the frame. Now, instead of a joyless beige bathroom, toilet-bound staff members are greeted with the sight of one of the world’s finest artworks, placed there by me to lift their soul.

I don’t know how many of them have noticed it yet, but they are very welcome.

Avatar House

There will, I expect, be more posts from me on this subject in the near future, because it has become a very large part of my life. But for now, it is probably enough to say that getting yourself a house is an enormous process that takes up a lot of your time and energy, and has far reaching consequences for the whole of your life. It is difficult and tiring.

On the other hand, though, it’s one of the best things ever, and it has made us this happy.

Normal service will resume in February. In the meantime, if you need me, I’ll be trying to find something in a box that is under three other boxes at the back of a room full of boxes.

Avatar Underneath my car 2

It’s almost two years since we all joined hands and took an emotional journey underneath my car. Two years of laughter, tears and general wear and tear. Two years of usage in all weathers.

There has, naturally, been a clamour from people of all nationalities and faiths to know what’s become of the underside of my vehicle in the intervening time. And who am I to stand in their way? So a couple of weeks ago, I returned my car to the same garage who made the first weird video and asked them for a full service.

Service completed, another weird video of the underside of my car was duly texted to my phone, and I have spent an afternoon trying to download it from a website that has been very specifically and cleverly designed to prevent videos being downloaded. I then set it to stupid music.

Here we are then. Join me once more as we go… underneath my car one more time.

Underneath Chris’s Car 2020 FAQ

Q. The tread depth looks a bit low on the front tyres, is that OK?

A. Yes, I know. But they have at least another half a year on them so it’s fine. I’ll get them sorted later.

Q. Why was there no Underneath My Car video in late 2019/early 2020?

A. I don’t know. My car had a service but they didn’t make me a video. I was genuinely a bit disappointed about it.

Q. How did the MOT go? This was its first MOT wasn’t it?

A. Yes it was. You’ll be pleased to know that my car passed with flying colours.

Thank you.