North Fork woodworker Tom Barry must’ve seen some hidden wood carving potential in me that I was missing as I stood next to the other students in the toasty wooden hut and took notes as they began to work.
“Hang on,” he said to me. “I’ll get you a shavehorse.”
An employee from the Hallockville Museum Farm was confused. Would I be taking the two-hour class? Tom answered for me.
“He’s taking the class.”
Tom Barry is in charge of the old-fashioned woodworking classes held occasionally at the museum farm in Riverhead, where participants learn how to create chair parts, utensils, and tools — from the fresh log to completion.
On this frigid Saturday in January, there weren’t many takers. There was Tom of course, wearing a green Hallockville Museum Farm hat and a pair of glasses, his adult daughter, a man named Nick whose grandfather was a woodworker, and another man who carves woodens sculptures using chainsaws.
I was a bit out of my depth, to say the least.
We started by chopping the red maple wood, using traditional tools to break the logs apart cleanly. Then it was inside to the small hut, heated by a wooden oven, where Tom showed us the shavehorse, a wooden contraption that locks the wood parts in place using ones feet.
He handed me a long blade with two handles called a draw knife with a smile and a warning: don’t touch the sharp edge.
“It’ll cut, take it to the bone,” he said cheerfully, before demonstrating how to pull the draw knife along the wood towards your stomach to shave off pieces of wood.
The other students and I got to work, pulling the knife and cutting down our blocks to a roughly square shape. Then we took the corners of each off.
The idea was to make a chair part, a spindle or a post for the legs.
The others seemed to excel at their task. The chainsaw carver finished quickly and fashioned himself a spatula on the spot.
My post came out a little too thin; I had been greedy with my cuts, Tom told me.
But he was determined for me not to leave empty-handed.
“You always leave with something,” he joked. “Some people leave with a chair part. Other people leave with a toothpick.”
He took us to the spinning pole lathe, a wooden device made of rope and wood that spun the piece of wood when the foot petal was pressed, and let us each try it.
Society has forgotten what it was like to actually build things, he said. We use smartphones and computers, but few of us know how they work, let alone how they’re built.
“Making a chair is simple,” he said.
Woodworking with traditional tools is a way to get back in touch with the creative spirit Tom believes we’ve lost.
“It’s all about being creative,” he said.
Classes will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on Feb. 8, March 1 and March 15. For more information on the woodworking classes, visit hallockville.com or call (631) 298-5292