BEREA, Ky. (March 18, 2005) – When Welsh woodworker Don Weber came to Paint Lick, Kentucky, he brought a collection of hand tools, experience and knowledge about how to construct furniture using traditional British techniques. On Friday, March 25, from 10:30 am – 3:30 pm, Weber will show visitors at the Kentucky Artisan Center how to turn wood using a 12th Century spring pole lathe.
Don Weber refers to himself as a Bodger – a 19th century British term for a “highly skilled itinerant wood-turner.” Bodgers worked in the beech woods cutting timber and converting it fresh cut, or “green,” into chair legs using a pole lathe, an ancient and very simple tool that uses the spring of a bent sapling to help run it. Their equipment was so easy to move and set up that it was easier to go to the timber and work it there, than to transport it to a workshop. Bodgers sold their completed chair legs to furniture factories to be married with other chair parts made in the workshop.
When Weber’s family immigrated to the United States in 1969, Weber stayed in Wales, and at age sixteen, apprenticed to an uncle who ran a joiner’s shop. Three years later Weber came to the U.S. and made a living restoring and rebuilding Windsor furniture in New Mexico. In 1979, he began to research the old way of turning on the spring pole lathe. Returning to England, Weber tracked down William Dean, younger brother of Alec and Owen Dean, the last of Britain’s Bodgers – the old-time woodland spring pole turners who produced turned parts for the chair industry around High Wycombe. Weber has been working on the spring pole lathe ever since.
Returning to the states, Weber began making English and Welsh style Windsor chairs, focusing on “green woodworking” techniques. His first visit to Kentucky was the result of an invitation by well-known woodturner Rude Osolnik, who met Weber during a workshop in Los Angeles. Osolnik invited Weber to demonstrate the spring pole lathe at the Berea Craft Fair where he met Berea chairmaker Brian Boggs. Weber eventually moved to Kentucky in 1998, purchasing the Calico and Brown Grocery in Paint Lick. Here he set up a studio and school for traditional technology as well as furniture making.
As a chairmaker, Weber works with wood from the log instead of the lumberyard, using hand tools such as a beetle, (a large, iron-bound mallet), wedges, and a froe. The froe is a traditional “L” shaped tool for splitting – or riving – green wood. There are no power tools in his studio, only hand tools such as the shaving horse, draw knife, block planer, side axe, jack plane, and hand drill among many others.
Weber’s interest in early technology has also brought him into the realm of blacksmithing and toolmaking, enabling him to reproduce the tools and machinery used by early craftsmen. He has worked on International projects in British Columbia, Honduras and Africa, using traditional technology as an “appropriate technology.” Working in developing and economically depressed areas, Weber sets up projects using local materials and talent to create cottage industries with other craftsmen using non-electric traditional tools and methods. Weber also works in regional schools to keep the knowledge of these old woodworking traditions alive. He is a member of the Association of Pole Lathe Turners, the American Artist Blacksmith Association, and the Timber Framers Guild. Weber has appeared twice on PBS’s “The WoodWright’s Shop” with Roy Underhill. He is a regular contributing writer for trade publications including Popular Woodworking Magazine which has an article by Weber entitled “Traveling Toolbox” in its April, 2005 edition.
Works by Don Weber are regularly available at the Kentucky Artisan Center. The Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea is located just off Interstate 75 at exit 77 (Berea). The Center’s exhibits, shopping, and travel information areas are all open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and the café from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Admission is free. The Center currently features works by more than 470 artisans from all across the Commonwealth. For more information call 859-985-5448 or visit the Center’s web site at www.kentuckyartisancenter.ky.gov
The Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea is an agency in the Commerce Cabinet of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
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