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The Woodworking Shop at Boeing’s Red Barn Part 2: Hand Tools and Flying Machines

Boeing’s Red Barn at the Museum of Flight in Seattle Washington

Saturday I traveled to the Museum of Flight in Seattle with my wife and daughter. I detailed the antique power tools and history of the Red Barn in Part 1. At the dawn of aviation airplanes were made of wood, canvas, and wire by very skilled craftsman working to strict tolerances. The Red Barn is full of power tools, and this post continues the story describing the hand tools and some of the finished projects. It’s a great shop with wooden floors, wooden ceilings, and lots of windows.

Red Barn Exterior2

The Antique Hand Tools at Boeing’s Red Barn

The first hand tool anyone needs can’t be held in the hand at all. It’s a good bench. There were plenty of benches in the space with the original tops, but the bases were replicas. The benches didn’t seem to have vises, bench dog holes, or tool trays. These were work surfaces, and not really proper benches for a jointer or cabinet maker.

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Here’s one of the benches, with my wife and daughter in front of it. This was one of the few benches we could get close to, so many things were behind barriers.

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Another bench notice the bolt on the front edge. All these tools were unfortunately fastened down, or that chisel would have walked out with me. Those old miter saws have been popular lately. Clearly a replacement base on this bench.

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Close up of the saw, I’m pretty sure this is the same saw that is in the background of this picture on the Woodworking Magazine Blog.

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Here’s a picture showing the contents of a toolbox at the shop. Again, everything tacked down and can’t be removed from the box. I may build this box some day, but on a bigger scale and with some more purpose-built storage. Part of me wonders if these tools were really used in the barn, or if it’s just a random collection from a flea market.

The Boeing Model C

The plaque at the entrance of the Barn states that this workshop is where 56 of the the Boeing Model C’s were built. From the Boeing website:

The Model C two-place training seaplane was the first “all-Boeing” design and the company’s first financial success.

A total of 56 C-type trainers were built. Fifty-five used twin pontoons. The Model C-1F had a single main pontoon and small auxiliary floats under each wing and was powered by a Curtiss OX-5 engine.

The Navy bought 51 of the Model C trainers, including the C-1F, and the Army bought two landplane versions with side-by-side seating, designated the EA.

The final Model C was built for William Boeing and called the C-700 (the last Navy plane had been Navy serial number 699). Boeing and Eddie Hubbard flew the C-700 on the first international mail delivery from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to Seattle, Wash., on March 3, 1919.

Every Plane Needs a Propeller

Wooden props start out going through the standard power stock preparation steps on the power tools: joint a face, joint an edge, plane the faces parallel and to a uniform thickness, then rip to width. The square and flat boards are then laminated together to create propeller stock. The stock is then cut in the shape of a propeller, but it won’t provide much thrust until it is shaped.

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After cutting to shape on the band saw, the propeller is starting to take shape but the complex curves need to be done by hand and perfectly balanced.

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A series of cuts into the face of the propeller help the worker add the proper shape to the blades.  Here’s a propeller in progress. There wasn’t detail in how the material was removed down to the cuts but I imagine a mallet and chisel was used, followed by some planing and scraping. Behind and to the left you can see a partial wooden airframe. If you don’t balance the the prop correctly, it will pull itself apart and destroy the engine.

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Every workshop needs sawhorses, but these were used as barrier, keeping me from getting close to the Model C airframe.

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Every shop needs saw horses. These were really just setup as barriers keeping me away from the frame.

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And here’s the airframe. Primarily constructed of wood with some steel (no armor) and steel cable to tension the lightweight frame.

Furniture and Flying Machines

These men didn’t build furniture, they built flying machines with simple power and hand tools. During World War I they work protected by armed guards. They helped build an industry and change the world, but I’m not sure they knew it at the time. I imagine a shop with very little machine noise; just the sound of planes whistling through wood, the occasional mallet strike, and friendly chatter between coworkers – focused on the work at hand.

Modern woodworkers focus on furniture and design, these men focused on engineering and the newly discovered laws of flight. After this tour I’m more interested in machines made of wood, if you are aware of contemporary woodworkers building machines from wood (or mixed materials), please post a link in your comment.

The Woodworking Shop at Boeing’s Red Barn Part 1: Power Tools

The Museum of Flight in Seattle Washington

Today I traveled to the Museum of Flight in Seattle with my wife and daughter. Although I’ve lived in Seattle my entire life, and I can count at least three relatives that have worked at Boeing, and I have at least three relatives that were aviators during World War II, I’ve never been.

The fact that I hadn’t been to the museum yet was pretty shameful, so I fixed that today. And I’m glad I did.

The Museum is located just South of Seattle at the Boeing airfield and has a ton of military and commercial aircraft from the dawn of flight to today, including vehicles from the space program. Airplanes old and new, large and small are stationed inside and outside for you to explore and some times touch. Many planes actually hang from the ceiling, and today there was an active duty Navy patrol plane in the parking lot and the crew was giving tours. They have a mockup of the Destiny module of the International Space Station, and are working on getting a Space Shuttle. It’s a top-notch museum that is affiliated with the Smithsonian, when you come to Seattle you definitely need to visit.

But that’s not what this blog post is about, because this is a woodworking blog.

The Boeing Red Barn

At the dawn of aviation airplanes were made of wood, canvas, and wire by very skilled craftsman working to strict tolerances. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Museum of Flight feature the original Boeing workshop known as the Red Barn. It’s well restored and although the entrance is adjoined to the main museum when you walk in the sweet smell of wood helps you transition back in time to 1909 when the workshop first opened.

Red Barn Exterior2

Natural light floods into the building through plenty of tall windows, and the wood inside imparts a glow that every woodworker would appreciate. The building has been expertly restored and maintained, including a tool area that includes some of the original tools that were used by Boeing employees decades ago to build not only a company, but an industry. Dear Santa, please bring me that woodshop for Christmas.

The Antique Power Tools at Boeing’s Red Barn

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From right to left, you can see a bandsaw, jointer, the motor, a man working at a planer, and then a table saw in the corner.

The tools are powered by the 6hp Fairbanks Morse engine to my left which turns the shaft on the ceiling, and the tools connect to the shaft with belts. The shop must still work at times (probably for demonstrations) because there is a red emergency stop button near the engine, and it’s a new install. The tools are definitely big iron, and besides the lack of electric motors and safety guards they are the same ones you’d find in my shop.

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This bandsaw can definitely handle material with those big 36 inch diameter wheels. Notice that the wheels and backside of the blade are not enclosed, but it’s essentially the same saw we use today. The wheels are not cast iron, but most everything else is.

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Next to the bandsaw is a Perine Machinery Company Jointer. The signs in front of the tools were a little inaccurate, but I they usually listed the tool manufacturer. I hope when this guy worked around all those tools, pulleys, and whizzing belts he didn’t wear clothes that were so loose fitting. I like the hat and dress shoes though.

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The Fay Planer here has had some repairs, there’s a plywood piece to keep the belt from riding off a pulley, and a weld repairing the cutter head assembly. Fay planers are still available on eBay for sale. Again, note the exposed pulleys, belts, and gears. This is a 24 inch model so it has plenty of capacity, about twice the capacity of my lunchbox planer.

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The manufacturer of this table saw is not identified, and it’s clear that this saw was used for ripping and not cross-cuts. There is no miter slot or miter gauge, and the table is long and narrow. Although the sign lists this as a 12 inch table saw, I’m not sure that’s a 12 inch blade.

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The last power tool in the display is this lathe, which is really two separate pieces (headstock and tailstock) on a very stout bench. The manufacturer isn’t identified here, but I believe many of the tools were made locally. In a search I found that Perine Machinery (makers of the jointer) was likely local and could have made the lathe and other tools. This guy really should use a tool rest.

More to Come

Keep checking back to see the hand tools that were used in the shop, as well as some of the parts the shop produced and how they produced them.

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by the role of woodworking during a museum visit? Have you been to a boat building museum, or seen a cooper at work? Share that experience by leaving a comment.