Lie Nielsen No. 4 Bronze Bench Plane

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Visit to Brian Boggs Chairmaker in Berea, Kentucky

Last weekend I was visiting a friend of mine in Lexington, Kentucky. While there I asked him if he know how far it was to Berea, Kentucky, the town where woodworkers Brian Boggs and Kelly Mehler have their shops. As luck would have it, Berea is less than an hour away, and after doing a little research, it seemed like it was worth the trip.

Berea is a little town that seems to be centered around a small college called Berea College. A pamphlet I received at the local tourist information center said that all of the students are on scholarship and don't pay any tuition. In lieu of tuition they work making and selling crafts. The town also has many other small stores selling handmade crafts. One of particular interest was a handmade blown glass store. The store has a person working blowing glass right in the store. That makes woodworking look very easy by comparison, wood doesn't melt, drip, crack or cool in a matter of seconds. Enough about Berea.

After purchasing and enjoying the Lie Nielsen Boggs Spokeshave I thought I would stop in to see what was going on in Brian Boggs' shop. His shop is a small building in an industrial area of town. Keep in mind Berea is quite small because this industrial area happens to be a stones throw from one of the tourist centers.

Upon arriving I was glad to see the open sign on the door. Upon getting to the door I turned the handle. It was locked. Luckily Brian was inside and opened it up. Almost without hesitation he said, "Do you want to see the shop?" I have a feeling I'm not the first woodworker to stop in with the primary purpose of seeing him and his shop.

I was with my wife and friend. They stayed in the showroom while Brian took me on a tour. The first stop was his monster-size 15 hp bandsaw. Before I could even say, "what on earth do you do with a 15 hp bandsaw" he told me that he was considering a 25 hp model. After a few comments about my own bandsaw he asked me why kind of saw I had. While I'm sure he was only being polite, in the presence of his 15 hp bandsawasaurus I felt like my 14 inch Jet bandsaw was just some kid-size plastic saw that comes with the little plastic hammer and screwdriver.

The next stop on the tour was his drying room. There I saw what I believed to be chair parts drying on some type of rack that he designed. I suspect it was meant to keep the shape of the parts while drying. He also had a few other sealed compartments that he used for drying.

The next room had a very large jointer, an overhead router and another bandsaw. While I have a jointer, router and a bandsaw, his look nothing like mine. First, his jointer is at least 12" wide and heavy as a dozen of my jointers. He said that is was produced in the 1920's. Tools must have been made well back then to last almost 100 years. He also said that it could take off 1/2 inch at a time. I'll have to take his word on that. The overhead router is very interesting, he uses metal and wood jigs to cut precision pieces with that tool. The bandsaw in this room has a smaller blade but the saw seemed about as large as his 15 hp model in the room. Like the other bandsaw, it bears little resemblance to my bandsaw.

The last room in the shop we stopped at was the front of the shop by his gallery. The front area appears to be the hand tools area. His collection of Lie Nielsen planes and spokeshaves would make any hand tool aficionado jealous.

After sitting in one of his rockers you can really appreciate all of the skill that goes into making one of his chairs. The next time I stop by Berea I'm going to bring a fistful of dollars so I can get one of his fanback rockers. While they are not cheap, when compared to the mass produced junk available in the stores, a chair like that is a good investment that will last a lifetime.


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