I am waiting for a flight back to London from Hungary after being totally absorbed in a different world for five days and am trying to type this up quickly while thoughts are fresh. There will be more in future posts, this will do for now.
Still at a very early stage on my journey into woodwork, for various reasons I have moved ahead in fits and starts, following multiple threads. Things have often happened in short intense bursts of productivity depending on the circumstances. Sometimes I have to engineer these circumstances by booking myself on a course or going off on some kind of journey. These past five days have been a typical example, although I have a feeling I will be able to keep the momentum gained up for a fair while longer than usual.
In this case Gyenes Tamás kindly gave me the chance to work with him at his home in Hungary on riven beech chests he is building, and allowed me an insight into his research work on the riven chests of the Pannonian basin. I think people already know about him, and if they don’t there is information on Peter Follansbee’s blog and of course Tamás’s own website. He is a master of his craft and has researched it widely and in great detail. I feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity and only hope I can provide an accurate impression of his work and outlook on life as a craftsperson.
Tamás eats, sleeps, and breathes his work, with his wife Ági supporting everything he does. Their beautiful home is a restored peasant house, with clay walls and floors, stacked full of craft work, including a lot of wooden chests and tools, old and new. Inside this house, and the surrounding sheds and workshop, Tamas splits, hews and drawknives green beech to make his trademark Palóc style chests. He also examines and restores old chests there as part of his ongoing research into the craft. Here is a beech chest partially deconstructed:
Pegs removed from the old chest.
Front and back removed, floor still in position.
The lid and front and back planks removed.
I worked on a miniature chest with Tamás’s help and at times he worked alone on a big chest allowing me to observe. The basic process for making a new chest are laid out in the following photos. One thing to bear in mind: there is no plane, no workbench, no marking gauge, no try square, no ruler used, only a little story stick with a few guide measurements. “By eye is good enough” seems to be one of his favourite phrases.
Agi giving it a good thump.
Working in tandem on the small chest.
The ideal size of shaving hops off the plank.
Footwork details for the drawhorse. Tamas had many tricks to optimise the gripping of workpieces on the horse.
Checking my work.
Edge shaving a chest leg.
Tamas’s enthusiasm for wood was infection. Every so often we stopped to admire shavings and take photos of them.
Delicate work at the hinge.
A master of this crazy difficult tool at work.
Grooving a side plank.
Trying to get to grips with difficult angles.
Starting a groove.
Checking the depth.
Finally all pegged together:
Enough photos. I am planning a second post attempting to convey the Gyenes’s outlook on life and their craft and culture. This is much harder to write and more important, so will likely take some time to put together coherently.
As for details on his research or specifics on the construction of the chests, I will leave that all for Tamás to describe in the future, so don’t ask me. If anyone is going to write about it in greater detail, it will be Tamás. For now I aim to go on faithfully practicing and researching the different green woodwork threads I am following, now including these riven chests. I will continue to reference, and let myself be guided by, the work of the craftspeople I most admire such as Tamás. Currently this equates to trying to finish two carved oak boxes and a chest, turning assorted products on the pole lathe from a massive load of green wood that was delivered last week, making some spoons to pretend I’m a spoon carver ahead of spoonfest, and now also forging a groover, making a new drawhorse, and starting on some Hungarian riven chests!