Friday Woodworkers copyright Hugh Harris 1988.

Episode 1 (and my first attempt at writing).

We are already into the third week of the academic year and I have only just started this journal. This year there are four Davids, two Jims, 2 Hughs (one myself), only one Myrtle, Victoria, Violet, John, Peter and a few others. This year there are no mothers with kids at school, and only one with kids just finished school and started work, but all in all it looks a happy crew once again. I miss several of my old friends who came last year, but I look forward to getting to know the newcomers.

Myrtle is making a saw-sharpening horse. We discuss at length and in a slightly bickering way the ins and outs of it and David Woody Allan ( as opposed to other Davids) says we should be married! Myrtle is 78 and I am 49 and younger than her son. Anyway, I know what he means. We do get on welt.

Vi has done her usual thing of bringing in several pieces of dismantled furniture, pronouncing them to be oak when they are in fact allsorts, and asking if it is possible to make a stool from them. It is, too. However, I wish one of the pieces wasn't one of our workshop bench-hooks. Luckily, we have too many. Now, Vi doesn t like to be too responsible for her own mistakes, so she asks me " Now, how are we going to do this?" To which my reply is invariably something like "how do you want to?", and so on until out of sheer exhaustion and the need to attend to someone else I give in and design it for her. I move on.

The new chaps (all three Davids, I believe) can't quite decide what to do. They are not yet used to the idea that I will not set them little joints to do unless unless they ask me to. Sometimes people do, but they soon get fed up with it and decide to make something. These boys ( all about 60) decide the compromise is to all make the same thing, and it will be a toybox for the grandchildren. I`m glad to say they have no fancy ideas about dovetails at this stage, and all agree on the very simplest of hinged-lid boxes built in shopfitter fashion out of ply, and properly finished. These can be most satisfactory, and I congratulate them on their wisdom. I give them bits of paper, pencils and a measuring tape, explain that ply sheet comes in certain standard sizes that might affect the exact dimensions of their box, and leave them to it.On my rounds I notice out of the corner of my eye that the others are already helping them to feel at home, finding things for them, and so on.

Hugh (82, if a day) decides he wants to try making that over- rated old chestnut, the secret mitre dovetail. He doesn't want to have it as part of something. He just wants to make one. I find him a piece of offcut, explain the joint, make a sketch of his first move:

(illustration 0002)

I tell him I think he will regret it (luckily he has a fine sense of humour) and move on. Hugh is one of those people who finds it difficult to saw at an angle across a piece of wood without leaning the saw over as well, so this particular joint should tax him more than any other. Before I've got very far he attracts my attention because (as is quite common with such people-it does not mean that they are in any way stupid) he is finding it difficult to see how my three-dimensional drawing could be made in wood. I offer to cut one for him so that he will have a pattern for the other.

Victoria is making a shelf on legs for the pottery next door out of an old floorboard. They want to put unfired plates on it. I point out that if the plates are going to dry on it they will cause it to curl and thus the plates will get distorted, but no, it is for already dried stuff. It will look like this:

(illustration 0003)

She asks me what is the best way of drilling holes in the corners so that the blocks, which are like this:

(Illustration 0004)

can be removed and put back on without being badly ill- positioned. I conclude that short of jigging up in some very elaborate way (for 4 holes!) it is down to very careful measuring and drilling. '`Does it matter?" I ask.


Oh well.

I move on.

Vi has blunted a couple of planes getting varnish off some of her "oak", and, knowing that she is not happy about her sharpening ability despite many lessons, I ask her to leave them out for me so that they will not be left in the cupboard blunt for someone else to grapple with. Often people do not know that the reason they are finding it difficult is that the plane is blunt or needs setting (or both). She is a nice lady, Vi, and I wish she had a little more confidence. However, I gather she is an absolute whizz in the garden.

David Woody Allan brought in a child's chair last year. It had been in the garden and fallen to pieces, and the rush seat had rotted. However, it had belonged to his children, and he is very fond of it, so we (or rather he, with my instruction) did the best restoration we could. He searched all over for the natural string to reseat it with, and eventually found some at (Dryad?). I showed him how the seating is put in and he is now doing that. It looks surprisingly good. He is chatting away as usual. That`s one of the things I like about this group. They're not just making and fixing things. They're using it as a social occasion. Myrtle asks me what height she should put the 2 pinch-bolts on her sharpening-horse:

(illustration. 0005)

I point out that the further up the two uprights the more leverage they will have to grip the saw, but that the limit was that they must be far enough down to allow the widest saw she would ever want to sharpen to go in. Point taken. There is not enough thread on the bolts, so I find her a couple of toy wheels I have made and not used. They are 3/4" thick, and just the thing:

(ill. 0006)

Frank is quietly getting on with something. He'll ask for help when he wants it. He's into design, and is happy to spend long periods of time working out the best way of doing something. This, incidentally, is often the quickest way in the long run. You sit about apparently doing nothing, and then suddenly get up and get stuck in and the job is done in no time. What, then, have you been doing? Quite possibly, almost without being conscious of it, you have taken yourself right through the making process, noting the possible pitfalls, and the best order of operations to avoid obstructing yourself, or doing jobs twice, worked out how things will best be made to fit, and then started. Next time , you may well do the same thing, but even better. There is always a better way.

Myrtle wants to know the best height for the footrail on her thing. Again, the same considerations come in. The higher it is, the more leverage, but if it is too high you can't get your foot on it. She's only about 4 feet tall, so there are some limitations here.


Myrtle, Hugh and Victoria are staying for the afternoon session, so we have a nice quiet one and a half hours lunch in the workshop together. I go out 2 salad rolls and Myrtle gives me a cup of coffee. I read the paper and then either harass or charm the three of them by playing my saxophone. Luckily, I like all the old tunes like Buddy Can you spare a Dime and Summertime, and it seems to please. Hugh used to play the banjo, and I would love to hear it, but I don't suppose I ever will.