Thursday, April 12, 2012

Teaching How To Do By Doing

The Warwick Historical Society is entering a new era in educating the public about the community’s past. This new education offering consists in part of the hands-on variety with classes in how do things like they were once done. The rationale for doing this type of programming, beyond educating people about the past,is that some of this stuff is not only aesthetically pleasing but making something yourself is a bit empowering. And a little bit of self empowerment is good these days as we wrestle with the product of things that seem so far from our own control.

For me, when talking about the concept of learning by doing or experiencing first hand a course in blacksmithing comes to mind. There was a time a little over three years ago when I knew practically nothing about blacksmithing; I had seen the occasional living history blacksmithing scenario at a museum, but unless you’ve actually lit a coal fire, heated a piece of metal to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit, and beaten it with a heavy hammer into another shape than what it started out to be, you really haven’t experienced it.

The concept is quite simple, but the skills required to do it only evolve after countless repetition. I can make just about anything if I set my mind to it, but it may take me a long time and some failed attempts as a result of overheating my metal too many times to accomplish the task. I have seen guys, and gals, put the required time in and do a whole lot better than I can do in a short time, but the important thing is we can do it for ourselves. We can make that set of strap hinges to hang a door or the hook and eye to latch it once we’ve hung it, and at that moment we have that rare connection with our American brothers of yore; we’ve made it ourselves from scratch just like the Village Blacksmith under the chestnut tree of Longfellow's famous verse would have or even like Paul Revere of a "Call to arms" fame would have hammered out a silver teapot while at his day job.

In starting on the road to this type of traditional arts and skills programming for the organization we get to connect with a whole new demographic comprised of those who really get a charge out of doing stuff themselves or, at least, if given the opportunity through a program orchestrated by us they will rise to the occasion.

Probably, the most exciting new offerings of the Historical Society will be a class in post and beam barn construction. This hands-on workshop class will give the participant the opportunity to work with rough cut lumber and work exclusively with hand tools, and perhaps make a few tools for the purpose of building a barn in the process. We will build together an 18' x 28' barn!

This tentative project begins actually with the felling of trees; this will be solely a watch and learn experience. The Historical Society tentatively plans to be the host location for a safety class in tree felling. Unfortunately, disease is now steadily killing the white ash tree population. There are seven victims targeted for felling behind Baird’s Tavern and the Hasbrouck Carriage House in Warwick's Village. Once felled the trees will be sawed into boards, stacked and dried for a year’s time at another location. The lumber will be used for interior work at a later date.

A foundation will be constructed outside the Village on nearby farmland for the follow-up project---building the wooden barn structure. Students will partake in the construction of sill work and frame composed of rough cut cedar and hemlock, including 8 x 8s, 4 x 4s and 2x4s. The framework for a roof will be constructed using similar lumber sawn for the purpose; the framing will all be sheathed with 2 x 6s. The side sheathing will be traditional board and batten. 2 x 2 battens will be sawn offsite. Conventional 8p, 10p and spikes will be used as fasteners. Used windows and doors will be used in the construction.

The last part of the construction will include further processing of wood materials. The tentative choice of roofing will be hand split cedar shingles. Students will create the shingles using a froe , wooden mallet and shaving horse.

Stay tuned for the project's realization.

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