Archive for the ‘Student Life’ Category

Touching the past

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Now *this* is what I had in mind when I thought about heritage conservation.

We’ve just had a historic finishes with instructor Walter Furlan at Willowbank.  And that class largely revolved around Walter’s biggest interest, which is window restoration.

During this class, I tackled repairing a sash from a 200 year old wood window!

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This window was constructed from old, first growth lumber – the quality of which just can’t be matched in this day and age.  And the joinery was so finely done, that the joints were still a ‘furniture fit’ (a secure pressure-fit, with no glues or fasteners), two centuries after it was made.

It’s humbling to lay your hands on something like this, and an absolute privilege to be able to do work on it.

Thanks so much for the opportunity Walter!

Bricks & mortar

Monday, March 4th, 2013

More masonry classes at Willowbank.  This time bricks & mortar with instructor Carol Jackson.

A good portion of this class was learning about different kinds of mortar, and the importance of choosing the right one!

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Willowbank really does have a very nice, comprehensive program when it comes to masonry.  They cover everything from geology class with Bob Watson (learning types of stone, and how to identify them), to the lime burn / discussing the lime cycle, to stone carving, quarrying, dry stone walling, now bricks and mortar, and even plaster class.

This stone stuff is beginning to seem almost as important as metal ;-)

But it’s all very interesting, and the subjects all relate well to each other.  I think I like masonry – and masons. They’re not only nice (all of them that I’ve met) but are also some very talented craftspeople too.


Monday, February 11th, 2013

We recently had a very enjoyable course on stained glass at Willowbank, with instructor John Wilcox of Vitreous Glassworks.

John was an excellent instructor, who has worked on some really amazing projects.

I find glass to be a challenging material to work with, especially cutting some of the textured or opalescent glass, but am happy with the results of my first project.  I hope to put this small window in the gable end of my workshop next summer.




Stone – Part 1

Monday, February 4th, 2013

We recently had our introductory stone carving class at Willowbank with instructor John Laundry.

The block pictured below is sandstone with a battered margin.  The rest of the surface was ‘sparrow pecked’.  Everything was done my hand with punches and chisels.


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I think I see some more tool making in my near future.  I really enjoyed working with stone, and think I may have to forge myself a complete set of stone carving chisels.  Looking forward to our next (longer) carving session at the end of the school term.  This is certainly a craft I’d like to explore further.

Ruthven Park

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Today our class went on a field trip to Ruthven Park, in Cayuga, Ontario.

Ruthven is a large country estate built between 1845 – 1847 for the Thompson family.  It’s largely believed that it was constructed by the same master builder as Willowbank, John Latshaw.  However, there are no records from the building of Ruthven to confirm this – only later verbal accounts.

In any case, the two mansions have much in common.

Unlike Willowbank (which changed ownership numerous times), Ruthven remained in the Thompson family for five generations; from its construction in 1845, right up until 1995.  It is now a National Historic Site and a museum, operated by a land trust.  The mansion is maintained in it’s 1995 condition – exactly the way the family left it.



One thing I really liked about Ruthven, is the number of outbuildings that still exist.  It really gave you the impression of a ‘country estate’ – or at least as I imagine them.  Willowbank always appears a bit lonely to me, sitting all alone on top of a big hill.  The complex of buildings at Ruthven adds something to the atmosphere of the place.



Now, I don’t know if the two estates were both built by John Latshaw or not.  I suppose someone more familiar with his work could find clues to help determine that.  But if he did, then either the Thompsons had far more money to spend on their house than the Hamiltons did – or Latshaw really upped his game with Ruthven!  The interior is stunning.



I have a fairly vivid imagination, but have a hard time picturing Willowbank looking quite as good as this.  Perhaps that’s not fair to Willowbank.  I’m sure it was very grand in its day.  But when you see that spiral staircase at Ruthven, going all the way up to what would be the attic at Willowbank – and then having that skylight – its fantastic!

I will have to go back to Ruthven at some point, when I have more time, to explore the house in more detail.  I’ll also have to take a better camera.  The camera on the iPhone isn’t bad, but its not stellar.  I found a lot of very interesting things during our tour… I happen to have a bit of a military background (I was an officer in the reserves); and the Thompson family were prominent in the local Militia.  The museum holds a wonderful collection of the their military ‘stuff’.  I was very interested in their collection of WWI artifacts.


tf-img-117One of the most surprising things I saw in the house, was a set of Colours.  The Regimental Colours (shown in the photo) was framed, and on the wall to one side of the formal front entry.  There is apparently also the matching King’s Colours – however it was out for some conservation work.

For those who may not have a military background, Colours are extremely important flags, which are presented to a military unit by the Monarch.  When they are retired from service, they are usually ‘deposited’ or ‘laid-up’ in a church or court house.  It is almost unheard of for them to be given to a senior officer for his personal collection.

It would have been an extraordinary honour, and a sign of the utmost respect by the soldiers of the Regiment.



As a blacksmith, I also enjoyed looking at the wide array of metalwork in this beautiful old house.  Again, a return visit is in order at some point, so that I can catalog some of it.



Saturday, December 15th, 2012

It seems that if you really get caught up in blacksmithing, sooner or later you’ll be called upon to either teach or do demonstrations.  I’ve just had my first experience teaching my fellow Willowbank classmates.

I had acted as a teaching assistant to Lloyd during the first forge session at school.  And quite a few of the others in my class were very interested in doing more (our formal session was only a couple of days – and very, very introductory).  So I offered to let anyone who was interested, come and do some more smithing at my home workshop during the winter break.  I had several groups come out for a day, two at a time, to work in my shop.

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This was fun.  I’d say it wasn’t so much teaching, as coaching.  But I think everyone who came out learned something new and useful.  They all left with a variety of finished projects in their hands.

I’m still a student myself (and suppose I always will be); but it seems I’ve learned quite a bit since this adventure first began.  Certainly enough to talk people through their first projects.

Working on your own is far more productive – but sharing the craft with others is nice too.  I hope to do more of this in the future.

A thousand words

Monday, November 19th, 2012

… Or perhaps just take a picture?

We’ve been taking a course on photography at school.  Its all very interesting stuff.  The instructor, in addition to being an accomplished professional photographer, is also one of those urban-explorer types.  He’s been showing us some excellent photographs he has taken of some very cool places.

I don’t think I’ll ever have the artistic ‘eye’ for taking pictures that one would mistake for being a professionals – but I still think I got something out of it.  Hopefully my photography will improve as a result.

One thing is for sure, I’ve got to start carrying a camera around with me, instead of just my iPhone.


Photo of my class, taken by Jonathan Castillino (our photography instructor)

As you can see from this group photo, its far better than anything I could take.  My class mates and I all agreed, this is one of the best group photos any of us had been in … we thought it would make a great album cover.

Friends, fire & metal

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

A couple of my friends from school have been helping me re-shingle the roof on my house.  One of them had been asking me about my gas forge.  And so, after cleaning up tools and such after a day of roofing, we decided to fire it up so they could try their hand at some smithing.


Good times!  We’ll definitely have to do more of this type of thing.


Ahh, finally – blacksmithing!

Friday, November 9th, 2012

I think, perhaps, some of them finally understand…

tf-img-097My poor class mates, have had to hear me drone on and on about blacksmithing on too many occasions.  But only one of them had ever smacked at hot metal before, so I don’t think any of the others could appreciate my enthusiasm.  That is until yesterday and today.  We’ve just had two days of Intro to Architectural Metals and a basic blacksmithing course.

As someone with a bit of experience (not to mention having extra equipment to loan the school), I had the privilege of assisting our instructor, Lloyd Johnston, for the two day blacksmithing course.

Overall, I’m very happy.  The course was very time-constrained, and so the other students only got a taste of coal smoke – but we’ll be having more later in the year.  A number of them seem really pumped, and have asked if they can do some extra-cirricular smithing with me in the meantime.

The instructor, Lloyd, was fantastic, and I learned a lot from him in a short time span.  I hope he’ll be the one the school brings back in the spring for our next session.  Two days was far too short.

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Timber framing

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Two days is nowhere near enough time to explore the art of timber framing – but it’s enough to know that I’m hooked!  I can’t wait until we have an extended session of it next year.


One of my class mates apparently has quite a bit of experience doing this.  I may have to recruit his help, and build that new smithy in the spring.  I also see some tool-making in my near future.  The ‘tools of the trade’ for timber framing are wonderful – large framing chisels, slicks, etc.  The tools the instructors brought were all very well made, and of high quality (read, “imported” and “expensive”!).

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Of course, as an aspiring blacksmith I’m obliged to make my own… Actually, I think that could be a rewarding add-on part of this schooling for me.  As I’m exposed to these different, sometimes obscure trades, I’ll have to try making some of their specialized tools.