I’ve written before about the parallels I’ve found between different handcraft traditions, and the particular familiy resonance that baking holds for me. Dr Moss surprised me this year by booking me onto another baking class for my birthday, this time a full day viennoissorie course at Loaf. This is the first time I’d ventured down to Loaf, but the quality of the bread they bake and sell means that it will be far from my last trip. There must be something in the air in Stirchley which encourages traditional handcrafts. Loaf were at the forefront of encouraging a community and rejuvenating what was previously a very tired stretch of the Pershore Road. JoJo Wood moved in a few doors down when she established Pathcarvers, and suddenly there is a hub of creative endeavour in an unlikely location. One of the things I love about living in Birmingham is the rich history of ingenuity and industry – in the nineteenth century Birmingham was the city of a thousand trades, and the plethora of traditional and independent crafts taking place around the city currently speaks to that same work ethic and passion to make.
Laminating the dough
The class itself was fantastic. A full day provides an opportunity to deep dive into technique and approach each stage of a bake in real detail. For the uninitiated, Viennoissorie is the use of laminated and enriched doughs, and the day involved baking croissant, pain au raison, pain au chocolate, brioche, and hot cross buns. Yes, breakfast the next day was very enjoyable ( I do wonder if this was Rachel’s motivation for booking me on the class?)! I’d wanted to bake hot cross buns for a long time, as one of the stories I remember most vividly from my grandfather’s bakehouse was that they would be so tired of making tens of thousands of hot cross buns at Easter that every year, the last hot cross bun baked at Easter was placed on a nail and left there for the next twelve months.
Things are about to get messy – folding in the fruit for the hot cross buns
If kneading dough is similar to planing timber by hand, then preparing laminated dough and assembling viennoissorie is joinery for bakers. There is plenty of opportunity to work the dough by hand, and to develop an understanding of your material as you prepare it, which continues as you assemble and fill the pastries. This is a type of baking I’d not previously tried, and I had assumed that laminated doughs would be fiendishly difficult. I shouldn’t have been concerned, as instructors Neil and Martha were incredibly knowledgeable and patient, and broke each stage into easily understood instructions and tips. The class was well paced, so that we were never rushed, and had plenty of time to experiment and work through the different tasks, but also that no one was left waiting for the next instructions. Our hard labour was rewarded by seeing trays of freshly baked pastries come out of the oven. we were also well catered for during the day, with plenty of Loaf’s own freshly bread provided for pre-class breakfast and lunch.
Hot cross buns
The class concluded with a tour of Loaf’s bakery, and the opportunity to see how a bustling professional bakery is set up was fascinating. If yo uare in the Birmingham area and want to learn some new baking skills, then Loaf comes highly recommended. I will definitely be returning for future classes!
Holdfasts have been central to the way I have worked over the past four years, and they are a critical workholding strategy for the Roubo bench. A hefty bench, such as my oak Roubo build, deserves a big hefty holdfast. The distintive holdfasts detailed in With All the Precision Possible are much larger than many modern designs, and I wanted something which would fit the overbuilt vibe of the bench. Specifically, I wanted a Crucible Tool holdfast, or one of Peter Ross’ amazing full scale “Roubo” holdfasts.
Unfortunately Crucible do not ship internationally, but a tip-off over Instagram led me to Hyvlar – a Swedish tool seller who stock Crucible tools and are happy to ship across Europe. My Crucible holdfast arrived today, and while I do not yet have any 1″ diameter holes to test it in, it appears to be an impressive tool. The design is very similar to the engravings in Roubo’s manuscript, and the large size and rough cast texture will complement the oak bench nicely. Of course, none of that matters unless the holdfast can steady workpieces, but everything I have heard from folk who use these holdfasts is that they hold like the dickens. I’m looking forward to putting this holdfast through its paces, and will report back once the Roubo bench is in use.
I’ll be keeping my current 3/4″ holdfast, and may well bore a 3/4″ diameter hole in each of my saw benches to assist with holding stock in place.
Last weekend we took a trip to North Shields to see some very close friends. Travel has many benefits, but as I’ve written about previously, staying in holiday cottages often provides the opportunity to get up close and personal with vernacular furniture. This trip was no exception, and I was delighted to find in the lounge of our delightful flat (which was only meters from the beach) an old dovetailed chest. Now, I can’t resist the opportunity to spend some time looking at utility dovetails and this chest was intriguing. It was a touch smaller than my Anarchist’s Tool Chest, but both chests share design DNA. And while the execution was one the utilitarian side, it was clearly built by someone who understood furniture making and woodmovement in particular.
So what caught my eye on this chest? The dovetails are an obvious space to start. They were irregularly spaced, and while some were very gappy, there were also a number of splits radiating from the corners of the chest which suggest that some of the joinery was over tight. Nonetheless, the chest felt very solid, which goes to show that a dovetail does not have to win any beauty contests to be stout. The dovetails were almost certainly cut by hand, as the baseline was still clearly visible on several corners. Whoever built the chest had also used beading to protect the fragile edge below the lid. Tearout and tool marks were also present on the external and internal surfaces.
The lid was comprised of two pieces, which had been joined with tongue and grooves. Opening the lid revealed two rectangular patches on the inside face, where the wood had retained its original colour. Those patches (which crossed the two boards) were pierced at each end with a hole, and this suggests that battens had been screwed or nailed across the lid to prevent warping. The end of one dovetail in the carcase also showed that the sides of the chest had been built out of tongue and grooved boards.
The corners had also been reinforced with metal plating, although some edges of the plates had been folded over, so I am not sure how robust the reinforcement was. Interestingly, some effort had been taken to clock the screws when installing the hardware.
The chest was full of records and casset tapes, and I was interested to find a fixed till at oneend which appeared to be original, and which contained two drawers.
All in all, this was a lovely example of a “user” piece of furniture, and one which has plenty of life left in it.
Part 2 of the Roubo bench build is now in print, as issue 286 of Furniture & Cabinetmaking is now in stores. Also included is the next instalment of Derek Jones‘ series on box making, and a piece by Skelton Saws.