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steve folkers

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since Dec 14, 2014
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Recent posts by steve folkers


And since we had no power nor even money for batteries (most of the time) for radio or tape decks, we read The Complete Sherlock Holmes out loud, by kerosene lamp.  
1 month ago

Dave Burton wrote:I recently finished reading The One-Straw Revolution by Msanobu Fukuoka, and I also started and finished Holy Cows and Hog Heaven by Joel Salatin.

I am now reading The Road Back to Nature by Masanobu Fukuoka. Right now, I think it is just quite interesting from the prefaces how much Masanobu Fukuoka has grown and developed since he wrote The One-Straw Revolution.

When we first moved to the Ozarks in 1973, and soon thereafter, several books helped shape our thinking about self-reliance and sustainable agriculture.  One was One Straw Revolution, going out as a hardbound Christmas present this year, along with Larry Korn's biography, One Straw Revolutionary.  We actually grew tiny amounts of wheat, all the way to bread, once or twice.  (Lodging was a major problem.)  So Gene Logsdon's Small-Scale Grain Raising was also inspirational.  And Ruth Stout, the Nearings, and Jethro Kloss.  And the few glances I managed through someone else's Farmers of Forty Centuries, which I reread a few years ago.  (Now I try to pick up every blade of grass we track in and dutifully get it into the compost bucket and back into the garden soil.)  I don't remember what started us on "French Intensive Gardening", or on companion planting, but both were a huge part of life.  Most often, though, the struggle was to create any topsoil at all, much less double dig it.

And parallel to these were the broader cultural inspirations:  Seven Arrows, Black Elk Speaks, Ishi, Last of His Tribe,  and other First Nations books, including two from my father's boyhood, Manabozho and Stories the Iroquois Tell Their Children.  Also inspiration from Japan: a book of Hiroshige prints, and Harold Henderson's Introduction to Haiku.  And soaking up local Ozark history, from the library, from neighbors, and from the river.  And National Geographic.
1 month ago
Just finishing Blue Remembered Earth, hard sci-fi by a 16-year astrophysicist for the European Space Agency, and great Welsh writer, Alastair Reynolds.  First book in a trilogy about the first interstellar voyages (of course I read book 2 first, and don't have book 3), the science point of which is that the stars are vastly far away, we will probably never get much faster than 50% of lightspeed, it will take many years to accelerate to that, and therefore "ships" will have to be essentially planets  (hollowed asteroids, spun for gravity) where generations of people live out their whole lives without getting there yet.  There is not much about growing food aboard these (that was in the 2nd one), but a lot about actually taking care of practical business while living in space.  And the whole series is set in a completely inhabited, space-faring solar system, a century after the "Resource and Relocation Crisis", which Reynolds is confident we will get a grip on ourselves and honorably deal with.

Up next:  Death of a Swagman, Arthur Upfield's 1945 "Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte  mystery".  I ran across one of these a decade or two ago and loved it.  "Bony" is a half-Aboriginal detective in (1930s?) Australia.  I met an Aussie who said it was a TV show in B&W days.

1 month ago
    I'm a retired homesteader/naturalist/craftsperson in north-central Arkansas, out of woodwork to sell, but I have a self-published chapbook, American Haiku, Too, with 246 of my haiku, an introduction covering the technicalities of the form, and illustrated with my own drawings.
     I also have another 48 page chapbook, Iron Roads West, "a haiku-prose journal of an Amtrak & hostels circumnavigation of the western 2/3 of the US"; haibun from a wonderful trip we took some years ago.
     These are $12 each, shipping in US included.  If interested, send me a PM.  
2 months ago

denise ra wrote:Are you coopers making a living at this craft?


I'm not.  (Back gave out.)  But I did for ten years or so, under special circumstances.  There ARE a very few doing so, mostly either as historical re-enactors (subsidized to do so; the product is not what pays) or special use (movie props, etc., at enormous prices).  My buckets ran a good $200, at $7/hour.  (That is, including retail markup, from wholesale production from the trees.)  I therefore finally accumulated an inventory of them, because they mostly did NOT sell.  I made a living demonstrating how to do it, and mostly whittled spoons and bowls for actual sales.

But the history of the economics is fascinating.  This kind of bucket (and churn and tub) coopering came over from the British Isles, where like in most of western Europe, it had developed from an ancient farm craft into a village and town shop profession, called small coopering or white (dairy) coopering, providing household woodenware.  But it came over here at the very time the industrial revolution was putting the bucket coopers over there out of work, mostly stamped metal buckets from the 1820s on.  Yet, reverted to a farm craft, it lingered on here through the 1800s, and in some places like the Ozarks, up past WWII.  Part of this was tradition-- I want a cedar water bucket on my porch like Mom and Dad had, and Grandpa had...  But some was the paradox of poverty, left over from before there were stores full of stuff to buy or jobs paying money to buy them with.  This is one of those things you can't afford to pay someone else to do for you in today's economy).  You do it yourself because you can't afford to buy it, or because you want it and that's the only way to get it, or because you like doing things from absolute scratch.  But it all amounts to being outside the cash economy, out in the Great Economy (Wes Jackson's phrase, popularized by Wendell Berry) of people and trees and reality.  Back in the 1800s, Ozarkers were making cedar buckets because they were mostly subsistence farmers outside the cash economy until the railroads came in, which was later than the rest of the US.

Barrel coopering, on the other hand, has always been economically viable, with the three qualifications that doing it by hand crashed after enough machinery was perfected (about 1875), that the wooden barrel market shrank dramatically after glass, then stainless steel replaced uses not reliant on breathability and oak aging (about 1950), and that it then expanded again with the gourmet micro-winery and micro-distillery boom (around 200).  Here in Arkansas a distillery in Little Rock was the salvation of a cooperage in Hot Springs that uses machinery installed in 1909.  But that's factory economics.

                                                                                          --Steve Folkers
5 months ago
    P.S.  Try Drew Langsner, Country Woodcraft, Rodale Press, 1978.  Chapter 6 is Shaving Horses.  And my roundwood confusion was the distinction my circles made between roundwood (using still-round pieces of tree trunks and branches) and green wood (cutting, splitting, shaving, hewing, carving etc. fresh cut pieces of trees while the material is still much softer), which is what I was doing as much as possible.  Carve the cheese, then season it into concrete.  This was traditional all over the world, especially for poor country folks.  But it requires knowing how the different tree species, and different dimensions and orientations of them, shrink and crack.  E.g., mulberry is exactly what you want to carve green, because it hardens to a rock, and is pretty tough (and pretty).  But like most woods it will crack badly if you include those little rings of center grain, and your horse will eventually split down the middle, so you'd need a big log and split a slab off the side.  And then those bigger quarter rings of grain will make the board cup as it shrinks.  Assuming we're talking about Red Mulberry.  Paper Mulberry is much faster growing, softer, weaker, easier to peel (and make paper out of the bast), lighter in weight, and smaller growing.  But once one enters this addictive world of working local trees in the green state, one discovers an infinite and literally growing bunch of materials, and uses for them, and methods of working them that are in the most direct contact possible with nature, and have the lowest possible footprint.

                                                                   Steve Folkers

(Judith Browning's husband)
10 months ago
    In my experience, definitely the first design over the second, though I've used both.
    The ratio of the fulcrum-to-treadle length to the fulcrum-to-jaw length is surprisingly important: too little leverage won't hold the work, and too much can easily crush it.  2:1 is about right, I think.
    And Dustin is right about the ergonomics of the deck (work surface) angle.  I tend to think in terms of my elbows-- You want a straight pull from your elbows down along your forearms, wrists, hands, drawknife, and the wood you're shaving.  Myself, I preferred pulling somewhat more horizontally than the horses with that deck-swivels-from-end design allow.  (I've used them, too.)  So once I found my ideal (shallower) angle, I usually fixed the deck up permanently on two bevel-edged two-bys of different heights.
    But if it's your first horse, and you need to go from a plan, I'd say stick to the plan.  So I don't understand the mention of a roundwood body.  There are traditional plans for "making a horse from a tree," usually involving chopping a humungous mortise through a log for a single-post treadle to pivot through.  (This used to be called "German style", as distinguished from "English style" two-poster treadles like your plan has, but in reality all countries have used both.)  But they are way more work and way heavier, for people with way more time than money.  Adding a wider board seat is good, though, as one's butt-comfort is wider than the space between one's knees.  (Sit astraddle a 2x6 before building your horse.)  But not sliding-- you are pushing the treadle away from your seat.
    The compound angle legs are difficult but best, if you can do them.  (And you need the bevel gauge.)  The through-mortised peg legs are not as simple as they seem, though.  They need to be completely seasoned (dry throughout) or they'll shrink and loosen.  And probably will loosen with time, anyway.  (One reason they are "horses" is loose legs make you gallop across the floor.)  Therefore, any legs like that, I always split out quarters from much bigger wood and shaved them roughly round (I already had a horse) and seasoned them well before fitting.  And any forced-fit or later wobble may tend to split your bench, so be sure to have at least that 6" overhang at the end.  Ideally, also a bench board of a less splittable wood.
    I don't want to rain on your parade with quibbles. I'd like you to make your first horse and use it.  Then improve and customize your second one, and third and fourth.    

                                              Steve Folkers
                                (Judith Browning's husband)
10 months ago

David Wood wrote:For anyone interested in doing a coopering course in Victoria, Rundell and Rundell in Kyneton host a course led by George Smithwick who's a 6th generation cooper, a nice bloke and a patient and excellent instructor. Even an inexperienced woodworker like me successfully made a bucket that held water! With, it should be said, a fair bit of help from George.

Here's a link with some photos:

David, thank you for pictures of a good bucket class. Some of his horses and tools look just like mine! And I covet his bick iron. And thank you especially for the link at the end to a 26 minute video (a 1981 episode of a BBC show on handmaking things) on an Irish cooper making churns in regional styles. (Ireland has at least five styles.) I recognized Ned Gavin right off from an article I have, a chapter out of the book Irish Traditional Crafts. At first I thought the pictures in the article might even be stills from the show, because he's making the same County Mayo type churn, but no, he has his coat off throughout, and instead of white cats, there's a little white dog. A note I put in the margin reminds me of an Irishman I met who grew up in County Clare, who remembered tinkers coming around in the spring and fall to do repairs, including replacing damaged hazel hoops on churns with tin, probably in the 1950s.
4 years ago
Here's some more shots of my old croze. Ignore the shape of the body-I was copying an old one. Make it fit your hands.
I used sycamore, oak and walnut. the old one was buckeye and laurel.
4 years ago

Mike Patterson wrote:Thank you, Judith, for all this great information and wonderful pictures!

I'm trying to track down a curved drawknife and am having somewhat of a hard time finding a good source. Would your husband (or anyone else) have any recommendations for where to buy one or a good manufacturer to look out for? I don't mind paying a higher price for good quality. I'd prefer to find a good used antique one somewhere, but might be a bit more lost as to knowing wether or not it's any good.

I've found that flexcut makes a small drawknife that's apparently flexible, which maybe would work? Didn't see anything on Lee Valley's website. Lie-Nielsen has a somewhat expensive one that says it's curved, but doesn't look to be curved..

Thanks again for all your quality posts!


You seem to have the major woodworker's tool sites ( if you also have Woodcraft and Traditional Woodworker). I can only add that I suppose that by "curved" you mean a barrel cooper's hollow knife, presumably still available from more specialized cooper's tool suppliers, at astronomical prices. I don't use one (although I have inshaves for bowls, etc.); I use a 4" scorp on buckets and churns and a 1 1/2" one on smaller stuff. I do tubs so rarely it hasn't been a problem. (I do the hollowing of the inside of the staves after setting up, or raising, the vessel, instead of hollowing staves individually beforehand as barrels are done.)

See Alex Stewart in The Foxfire Book 3 for making your own croze. The old French word croze just means cross, because the tool is basically a specialized marking gauge, a stick through a board (looking like a cross from the side),adjustable and held by a wedge. The cutting tooth on a bucket croze is usually a piece of an old file, burnt to un-harden, with saw teeth filed into it. (A barrel croze has two knife blades and a "hawk" raker.) Router or croze, whatever you use, the important thing is to get a clean edge to the groove, without chatter or rip-outs that would leak. Usually this means going around and around, a lot of careful little cuts, instead of one big oops.
4 years ago