Woodworking for bulldozer work: A good trade
One of my summer/fall projects is to build a post & beam shed to store lumber and cord wood. I wanted to place it to the right of my shop, creating a small courtyard between the shed and house.
There was a bank where I wanted to build the shed, so I grabbed a shovel to see if I could move it back a few feet. It didn’t take very long to realize, like much of the land in CT, it was pretty much solid rock. When a neighbor stopped by one day he offered to bring over his four wheel drive tractor to dig it out a bit. Seeing the ledge, he said he had a back-up plan of bringing his bulldozer over if the tractor couldn’t break it up. I was pretty excited about that idea.
The next weekend he went to work at it with the tractor and bulldozer duo. He even helped me cut down a tree and dug the root ball out to allow a little more space for the shed. When the job was done I tried to pay him for the work, but he refused. He just asked if I could take a look at an antique baby sleigh he had rescued from a collapsing barn a few years ago. He said he would be happy to call it even if I could repair it for him.
I do love a good trade (thanks again Ron!). Ron liked the sleigh repair so much, he’s thinking of taking the restoration one step further and having an Amish friend re-upholster the seat. I’m one step closer to the shed project getting under way. Next, I’ll build a retaining wall with all the rocks we dug out of the bank, and then on to the fun part – cutting those timber frame joints!
Here's my neighbor Ron going to work on the bank. My friend Justin was also over that day, helping to grab any rocks that could later be used for a retaining wall. The pile of beams behind the tractor will be re-cut for the timber frame shed.
The bulldozer was just the right size to move around the tight space, but make quick work of removing the ledge, as well as popping out a stump.
This was an impressive balancing act on Ron's part. He levered the stump against the bank to get the bucket under it, and then pivoted the stump around until the roots locked into the bucket.
This is the little sleigh before repair. From what I found online, these are pretty rare. Photos of similar sleighs dated this one around the late 1800's.
This was the main problem spot. The sides had been repaired in the past, but needed something with more strength. There was a vertical mortise and tenon joint that was being pulled apart from the weight of the handle at the back.
The solution I came up with was to steam bend a piece of white oak around the sides and back. I used a piece of a white oak floor board from about the same age as the sled (late 1800's) to match the white oak handle.
I traced the shape of the back onto a piece of press board to start making the bending form.
The completed bending form.
This is the steam bending set-up. An electric burner, a modified tea kettle and some plastic pipe. The oak strip was about 5/8" thick by 3/4" inches tall by 5' long. I left it in for about an hour after the steam got going.
Here's a shot of the wood being bent around the form. A tip Rollie Johnson told me about was to steam two pieces of wood and use one to support the other as you bend them around the form. It worked great! I had a few small cracks on the supporting piece but the inner "good" piece was perfect. (Thanks Rollie!)
The pieces locked in place on the bending form and stayed put. I added clamps anyway, and left it in the form for several hours to cool down.
The finished sleigh. I drilled and screwed the bent oak to the sleigh from the interior. If upholstery is added, the screws will all be hidden. I wiped on two coats of satin poly and let time darken the oak to match, rather than stain.
The bent oak wraps around the back for support and mimmicks the curve of the runners.