Restoring things the old fashioned way

In the Norwegian coastal city of Bergen, there is a historic portion of the harbour known as Bryggen. Bergen was established as a centre of trade in the 12th century.  In 1350 the Hanseatic League (a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds) established a “Hanseatic Office” in Bergen. Bryggen is medieval in origin, with the buildings providing living quarters, offices, and storage for trades, particularly in stockfish. Bryggen has been destroyed by fires over the centuries, and has been rebuilt every time using the same plan and building techniques.

Bryggen was declared a UNESCO World heritage Site in 1979. Many of the buildings in this vintage complex of 62 buildings are slowly sinking into the ground, at the rate of 8mm per year, which makes from some interesting architectural lines. The houses are built using traditional log construction, and galleries with column and beam construction with horizontal wooden panel cladding.

Cross-section of the building being restored.

The buildings are slowly being restored, but one of the conditions of this process is that traditional handcraft techniques are used, and only the same tools can be used as those used when Bryggen was rebuilt after the city fire of 1702.

Work progressing on the ground floor (the restoration is open for viewing)

The wall construction is quite interesting. Both inner and some of the outer walls seem to be constructed of planks, of varying heights. The inner wall plans seem to be joined together using a Swedish style cope. The outer walls use a Scandinavian notch (or Norway notch), with the wall elements likely additionally held together with wooden pins.

New construction interior walls vs. historic outer walls



Natural borers

These are the types of holes one never wants to see in wood… made by those natural wood borers – woodworms. It’s incredible how round the holes are.

Need some tools? Sunday is Tools-of-the-Trades

Looking for some tools for your workshop? The fall edition of one of the best tool shows in Canada is nearly upon us! This Sunday, it is time for the fall “Tools of the Trades” at the Pickering Recreation Complex: October 1st – 10am to 3pm. Whatever you are looking for, there is something for everyone, from wooden moulding planes to whole sets of metal planes. Stanley, British Record, Millers Falls they’re all there. There is no better collection of vintage tools available anywhere in Ontario or Quebec.

If you’re heading along for the first time – a couple of tips. If you see something you like, buy it quickly. In 5 minutes it may be gone. I learned this the hard way once or twice. I have picked up a few good bargains over the years… last spring a large frame saw for $55, and another time, a series of four wooden clamps for about $10 a piece. Secondly, don’t haggle too much. If a No.5 Millers Falls is marked at $70, then don’t offer $40. Remember the time and energy it takes to find these tools. Lastly, old tools can easily be restored. Don’t let a Swedish E.A.Berg chisel encrusted with rust for $7 stop you. Rust can be removed, and edges can be sharpened.


Making rust

Rust is ubiquitous.

So about six weeks ago, I submerged a steel plane blade into a jar of tap water, about half way up the blade. I then sealed the jar loosely. The idea is to see how rust forms on the blade – both the submerged and exposed halves. The blade was rust free to begin with. This follows on from some experiments I ran a few years ago.

Blade in the water.

The rust that formed on the submerged portion of the blade coated the blade in a bright orange precipitate, which settled on the bottom of the jar. Removing the blade from the water revealed  two distinct regions.

Lower (left) and upper (right) sides of the blade at the end of the rusting process.

Above the water, the steel was subject to atmospheric corrosion, using the condensing moisture from within the jar, and oxygen. The rust likely ran deeper than that of the  submerged steel. This rust is brown rust, which tends to form in an environment with high oxygen and low moisture content. There are also elements of red rust in places where the condensate accumulates. On the top of the blade there is a spot of flash rust.

The upper portion of the blade exposed to humid air – it is dominated by brown rust, with some spots of yellow (flash) rust.

In the grooves at the back of the plane blade, condensation from the jar has accumulated in the grooves, causing what is likely red rust.

Red rust forming in the grooves of the plane blade.

On the submerged portion of the blade, where there is only dissolved oxygen, immersive corrosion occurs forming yellow rust. This results in a yellow precipitate which continually sinks to the bottom of the jar.

Rust after one day of drying and just after removal from water.

After the corrosion has been cleaned off, and the blade dried, the submerged portion of the blade is now darkened (Fe3O4).

The blade after cleaning off the rust.

rust by colour

  • Black rust – Iron(II) oxide – Fe3O4   limited O
    Rust forms in a low-oxygen environment, e.g. underwater
  • Brown rust – Oxide Fe2O3  (high O, low H2O)
    Rust is atmospheric, and forms in high oxygen and low moisture environments (e.g. humid air)
  • Yellow rust – Iron oxide-hydroxide FeO(OH)H2O  (high H2O)
    Rust forms from constant exposure to high moisture, e.g. submerged in water
  • Red rust – hydrated oxide Fe2O3.H2) (high O, high H2O)
    Rust forms due to constant exposure to oxygen and water exposure

For anyone who wants to read more, there is an interesting book titled “Rust: The Longest War”  by Jonathan Waldman. I haven’t read it, but it looks interesting.


Of roofs and eavestroughs

Europeans know how to build houses. Some of the structures we build in North America, are loosely termed houses, but are essentially garbage. You would think we would take some of the lessons learned over the last thousand odd years of building houses in places that are cold, and wet, and adapt them to our Canadian climes? But no. Thats why we use crappy asphalt roofs. Environmentally unfriendly, transient roof coverings, but inexpensive I guess. Many roofs in Europe are made of metal, or some form of clay tile. Using these roofs means that the lifespan of a roof can be somewhere between 50-75 years.  Now someone will say these roofs aren’t suited to the cold – but really that’s a hard argument to make. Glazed clay tiled roofs can be found all over Norway, which doesn’t exactly have a “warm” climate. In higher altitude regions of Norway, I noticed many ski-lodges, and cottages used traditional turn roofs, which likely have excellent insultating properties. Besides which many of these roofs are far more impermeable to rain. The other issue is the type of eavestroughs, which always seem flimsy here, made of aluminum as they are, and largely incapable of handling large rain storms.

House in Oslo with a black-enameled ceramic tile roof.




Musings on quality woodworking books…

A recent post on the Lost Art Press blog, discussed an individual who was lamenting the fact that LAP did not provide “a more affordable paperback version” of their books. First of all, publishing books to the quality of LAP’s woodworking books is not exactly a lightweight venture. There are many facets to publishing a book, and there are very few publishers that publish books to the quality of LAP.  Some people seem to forget it costs money to publish a book, and printing and distributing a book may be the least of the cost. People think they are buying the paper text, but in reality there are many expenses – from buying publishing rights, to editing, illustration, and marketing costs. And knowledge, you are also paying for somebody’s time and effort to write the book, which isn’t exactly a trivial process.

Consider the book, The Anarchist’s Design Book. This 456 page hardcover sells for US$47.00. That’s less than 10¢ per page, which is shockingly good value.  Now I can fully understand why LAP don’t publish paperback books – from a cost perspective, it doesn’t make sense to undertake two printing processes. There are also definite benefits to hardcover binding – they are more durable,  the paper is usually of better quality (it is usually acid-free), and they are better from a usability viewpoint. Paperbacks most often don’t lie flat on a flat surface – hardcovers do. So what do you do with a paperback – bend the spine? (shock-horror!). The thick cover of a hardcover also helps protect the book. All-round, hardcovers are better for long-term use. It’s the same reasons most cookbooks are hardcover – a nice protective cover, and the ability to lay flat on the kitchen counter-top. Less easily damaged.

Wow! Hardcovers lay flat!

There is also the fact that Lost Art Press is a business, and they have to generate income for themselves, and their authors. It seems that their mantra is quality, and they are one of a few publishers who care deeply about the books they produce. Are the books they publish collector’s books? The answer could be either yes or no, depending how you sit on the fence. They are collectors in the same way that a Sauer & Steiner infill plane could be bought and put on a shelf. But why? Tools are made to be used, and books are made to be read. The discontented individual goes on to say “Books, in order to be truly useful to a learner, should be marked, highlighted, bent, etc. A book is meant to be used up.” What, used up like a roll of toilet paper?  I almost find it sacrilege to deface a book in this manner. Bending pages? Why not use a post-it note to mark a page? These aren’t textbooks where one has to use a highlighter. I cringe every time I see someone bend a paperback book so much its spine snaps, or fold over the corner of a page. Use a bookmark, it’s not rocket science. Want to mark up a book? Plenty of room in the margins – use a B pencil.

One of the last comments made was, “Educators make knowledge more readily affordable.” Has the individual ever seen the price of books in education? A few years back I wrote a textbook on introductory programming. The textbook sold on campus for C$110 (for a paperback, and my royalty was 10% of the $60 wholesale price, or $6. per book). Textbooks are a bad example of making knowledge more affordable, because they are overpriced, and exist in a captive market, i.e. students often *have* to buy them, and hence both publishers and university bookshops make $$$, and authors make very little.

Lost Art Press cares about how and where their books are made. There are however people who will always complain that good quality things cost too much, and ask “Couldn’t you make it a bit cheaper?”. Why should they? Why should any company compromise its principles. Wouldn’t you prefer to pay for a quality locally made product, that employs people is small communities?

If more people took this approach it would likely make the world a better place to live in.


Last, but not least – the bottom deck step

Since I put on the aluminum decking umpteen years ago, the deck has lacked a permanent bottom step. I didn’t exactly know how to tackle it – whether to add a series of stones, a floating step, or some sort of hybrid. Well, sometimes the best solutions just take time. As I have faced the front of the deck in 5/4″ Ipe, I  thought that Ipe should be used for the top of the steps. For the base I decided to form two piers out of concrete, bridged by two 4×4 cedar cross beams.

The concrete? –  6000psi concrete (Sakrete). Overkill? yes, but it produces a nice and tough finish, that is fibre-reinforced, and resistant to freeze-thaw cycling. So I built a plywood mold that has two insets for the 4×4 cedar joists to joint the two piers. Between the two insets is an island with an embedded ¾” copper pipe, used to join the two cedar bridge pieces to the pier. The piers are 11½” cubed.

To join the 4×4 cedar joists to the pier, I used a ½” stainless steel threaded rod.

Adding the 4×4 cedar cross beams :

Now the Ipe will go on top, bolted into the cedar cross beams.

The bottom three inches are below the pavers, but at 70 lbs (32kg) a piece, these piers are not going anywhere.