I am Wisconsin to learn and share. We have a had a brief break from canoe building work to get ready for the bowl turning course I am teaching at North House Folk School. We visited Jarrod’s friend Mike to borrow his well equipped blacksmith workshop and to forge a bunch of tools for the students to use. I’ll be teaching forging tools during the three day course too but we wanted to have some tools ready for folk when they arrived. Here Jarrod is feeding the carbon steel bars into the forge.The heavy drawing out was done under the power hammer, I don’t get to play with these often and I love them.We had a great production line going with 15 tools in the fire and Jarrod and I taking turns on the power hammer then refining the form on the anvil.final touches.A bunch of rough forged tools. After grinding we turned the hooks.The tools are then quenched in oil this is hardening, it makes them very hard but brittle. The next step is tempering which is heating them to around 250 degrees in a domestic oven, it makes them a little softer but tougher so they won’t break in use. We were pleased with the tools, in a quick test they seemed to be cutting the local birch and perfectly.
Next job was to fell a couple of trees to make bowls from. Jarrod uses primarily the local birch but all around I was seeing aspen growing in dense stands, it grows from suckers so when a woodland is felled the roots produce thousands of young genetically identical trees. They are very beautiful and also look perfect bowl turning wood, they grow like telegraph poles with no side branches and little taper. The poplar family can be a little fluffy to turn and difficult to get a clean cut across the end grain but I was keen to try it. We cut a blank and with the sharp new tools it cut really well. So first we felled a birch, this is a tree which Jarrod stripped bark from 10 years ago, how wonderful to use the same tree again for a different craft 10 years later.next we took an aspen so the students will experience two different timbers.Whilst we were at Mike’s blacksmith workshop I was excited to see an old barn. I had been spotting these beautiful barns on various farms and wondering what the roof structure looked like inside.What greeted us inside was a real eye opener and tremendously inspiring. The barns are all around 100 years old, you could buy plans for them at the time and they are apparently widespread in Wisconsin. The area was primarily dairy farms and the ground floor housed the cows and the loft space the hay for winter feed. The winters are long so a lot of winter feed is needed per cow. So how did they create such a huge open span? Here is Mike and Jojo inside the huge barn, it was a beautiful structure, at a glance it felt like being inside a giant barrel or an upturned boat.
What was really inspiring though was that the whole thing was built from 1″ thick boards without any complex joints, they were simply nailed together.The main trusses are 3″ thick, the arch is strong but has nothing to stop racking, that is the whole structure moving across diagonally, that is what the diagonal struts are for, again they are simply 1″ boards nailed on.
Here is a close up of a truss, they don’t even use 4″ nails they are little 2 1/2″ jobs, I could imagine a bunch of farm workers banging one of these together in a couple of months, it really is incredibly simple and yet it has stood for 100 years in tough weather. This design is filed away and I have no doubt will inspire some structure building back home. I am immediately thinking about the canvas covered structure I use when out at shows with my pole lathe.