Tuesday, November 1, 2011

College of the Redwoods Fine Furniture: Week 10 and 11

I wish I could say that the lack of writing was due to all the work I'm getting done on my project. I am spending a lot of time with it, but sometimes it seems like I'm moving forward slowly. Sometimes I move backwards. I can't believe that it has already been 11 weeks!

Week nine was an exercise in mistakes. I forgot to account for one of the angles in the compound angle on my leg, that caused some problems with the mortises I put in on the XY machine. After debating for a little while I decided to plug the mortises and drill them again. Soon after the eight plugs and eight new mortises I'm cutting a taper into the legs, moving right along... until I run the legs over the joiner and take it down right into one of my mortises. Basically I now have a hole where I don't want one. Well good thing I'm good at plugging mortises. Only four plugs and four new mortises to drill this time.

Dan Wacker Setting up the XY Machine for his chair.

I still find myself looking ahead. Though I'm enjoying the work my hands are doing I can easily get frustrated when I make a mistake, or when I think I'm going to slow. I forget that I'm learning, that working slow is ok, that making mistakes is part of the learning. The balance of fine craftsmanship with the curve of learning something new is hard to find sometimes.

Some satisfying planing.
Some nice shavings.

The first project was completed this past week. Carlos' bench is beautiful and crafted very well. Congratulations Carlos, and nice work!

Carlos' bench.

Carlos and his son Kevin.

A drawing exercise by Adam.

In addition to our lectures on various woodworking techniques, Laura has been teaching some drawing techniques as well. They've been great lessons, and are going to be a big help with designing pieces in the future.

Laura conducting a drawing class.

An exercise by Natch.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

College of The Redwoods Fine Furniture: Week 9

 I spent Monday rethinking my jig for boring out the mortises in my bench legs. It wasn’t really complicated, but amazingly took up most of the day. I guess I am working slower with my recent handicap. I brought the thickness of my legs down a bit in order to remove a bit of sap-wood and then re-did my jig based on the new dimensions. That Carpenters song, Rainy Days and Mondays was stuck in my head all day.

Johnny and Tom hard at work.

  Since I won’t have my full grip strength back for a little while yet, on Tuesday Laura gave me the go ahead to use the XY machine for my mortises. Dan Wacker showed me how to set all the various stops on it and after a fair amount of setup I was ready to cut my mortises. Well, the machine was ready. I was feeling a bit anxious to be cutting into my “real” wood, my walnut. This isn’t a mock up anymore, if I made my jig wrong or if I set the stops a little off there’s no going back. Despite the ease of using the XY machine and the fact that I don’t smoke, I felt like I needed a cigarette after making those 8 mortises.

Mollie working the Oliver bandsaw.

    On Wednesday I found that compound angles are directly correlated to compound headaches. Man this is confusing. I need my mortises to run parallel to my bench top for maximum strength, I need the legs to sit in a particular order so as the grain graphics feel and look right. I need each leg to sit of 10 degrees parallel to the bench and also 7.5 degrees perpendicular to the bench. And the feet of the legs must be parallel to their tops. None of that actually makes sense to me either, and after looking at trigonometry equations for five seconds I understood why David told me I was doing it wrong. This isn’t math; it’s woodworking. It’s about the wood, seeing what looks right, not calculating it.

Derek demonstrating proper homage before using his Japanese dovetail saw.

  On Thursday I’m in front of the table saw most of the morning. After about 17 trial and error cuts I know how to get the compound angles in the legs. Make cut 1 with blue tape up, turn the leg 180 degrees and then either rotate in or out depending on where it’s supposed to sit on the bench. Don’t ask me why that worked. I have no idea, it just did.

 David brought in a cabinet made by Krenov on Friday. It was inspiring to hear more stories of the man who many of us are indebted to for helping to find our way into woodworking. It was even more inspiring to see and handle his work.            

A James Krenov cabinet.

For a few weeks I’ve been telling myself I need to stop and take some time to reflect upon what I’m doing and how I’m being affected by it. It’s clear I’m learning and my skills are improving, ever so slowly. But how am I outside of the shop being affected by what I do in the shop?

         I’ve found myself looking to the “next”; the next step, the next cut, the next project. Almost everything I’ve done in the shop has been centered in the idea of a finished piece of furniture, my finished bench. This is something I’ve experienced in climbing too, always moving in my mind to the next move, to the next pitch, and with that movement the focus rests on the top, the summit, the end. Summits, fine pieces of furniture- they’re great things, but being a woodworker or being a climber does not happen in that passing moment of completion. It is happening in every breath before that. I want to be more present in the movement of my plane, not the step I’m trying to move on from. What is the value of my work if I am always trying to move away from what it is that I’m doing? The movements, the feelings, and the thoughts that come from this craft are what have drawn me to it. It would be a great loss to always look past them, even those moments of frustration or dismay. It’s those moments of challenge that make the process that much more worthy, that make room for growth as an aspiring woodworker. I hope in this next week I won’t be thinking so much of completing tasks, but of being present in them.

"Comrades of the [shop]! I call upon you to bear me witness. When have we felt ourselves happy men?"
                                                                                           Anotione de Saint-Exupery
                                                                                                     Wind, Sand and Stars

Johnny being present in his dovetails.

The pieces to my piece as they are now.

College of The Redwoods Fine Furniture: Week 8

I'm trying to catch up with a late post here. I feel like I've been trying to play catch up after a pretty dang slow week 8. I was feeling pretty good Monday morning, glad I hadn't gone to the Hardly Strictly festival in San Francisco and worn myself out, and generally looking forward to getting a lot done in the coming days. I spent most of the day working on a jig for boring out my mortises in the legs for my bench. There was a bit of head scratching in trying to configure the thing with the martises having a 7.5 degree tilt and so that I could duplicate the cut 8 times.

The shop here is ran with very safe guidelines and principles, and the machines are maintained to high standards by the skilled hands of David Welter. David does a great job communicating with us the ins and outs of what we're using and is always happy to help figure out how to do a tricky cuts. There is alway the wild card of operator error, and  unfortunately on Monday afternoon while working on my mortises I did a little boring on my left index finger as well. No fault of anyones but myself and the jig I'd put together. I spent a few hours at the ER with the good company of Chris Lesser getting stitched up. More than anything I was pretty dang pissed off that I messed up. I've always felt I stay aware of what I'm doing, but now I'm even doubly aware. Have respect for those machines!

A big bandage for only five stitches.
Five days later, healing up pretty well.
The rest of the week passed pretty slowly. I couldn't do much with my hand for a few days. I sharpened all my tools, practiced some dovetails and walked around looking at everyone else's projects. There are some cool things being put together.

Post beach nap time.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

College of The Redwoods Fine Furniture: Week 7

I'm back to my bench first thing Monday morning.  More and more people are cutting into the wood for their projects. Some four-letter words have been bouncing around in the machine room after one cut or another.  After looking at several boards of walnut and wearing my shoulder sore planing on them to see what was hidden beneath all the oxidization I’ve finally decided on a board. Behind all the other boards of walnut in the back corner of the wood room, there is one board that I’d overlooked, one mammoth piece of walnut, 3 inches thick and 7 feet tall. I could get my box, my bench top, and maybe my legs out of this one piece. I get David Welters blessing and am cutting it down with a bow saw minutes later. My next four months will be committed this piece of wood. Heck, that’s longer than most of my romances.

My Piece of Walnut.
After cutting it into a more manageable size.
Now that I’m committed to a piece of wood it’s time to really cut into it. After cutting it down with the bow saw it’s time to resaw it and see what the grain is doing in there. I’m going to cut the wood along its length horizontally and split the section of wood for my bench top from the section used for the box. I wonder what the wood is doing there, inches under its surface. What does it look like? There is neither a bandsaw nor a jointer in the shop big enough for my board at 16 inches wide. So it’s off to Brian Newells shop with Laura to use his massive 24-inch jointer and his 36-inch Oliver bandsaw. It takes an eternal 15 minutes to ever so slowly resaw it on the bandsaw. And then it’s there, the colors and grain that will make up my bench. It’s a different board than I thought. And it is beautiful too.

Wednesday. I woke up at 2 am thinking about the grain graphics of my wood. I have a feeling that this kind of thing is going to happen more and more. My board sits on my bench, split into 4 pieces. A bench top, box carcass, and legs. I don’t know what to do with it now. I do know, I just don’t know that I’m ready to start running it through all the blades. There’s no going back. I’m living in apprehension of my next cut.

There may be some legs in there somewhere...
Thursday and Welter stops by for some honey roasted peanuts at my bench. It’s my secret strategy to keep snacks out. I get more bench visits. While pouring out some peanuts Welter asks me how I think through tenons will work with my piece. Damn. I was pretty set on them, but I’ll think hard about them now. I cut a leg out too. Not going to work. Back to the wood room to get another board that's more riff sawn and straight grained.

Darrick looking into some wood.
Friday and I’m getting Welter’s blessing on another board and then into the machine room to cut it up with the jigsaw. My bench is looking a bit overwhelmed with all this walnut. And I’m doing loose tenons. Welter was right (no surprise there), the through tenons don’t seem like they work with my piece. And when it came down to it I wanted to do them for the sake of them, not for what they would add to my bench.

Hank getting a bath with V8 after meeting a skunk.
 The rest of the afternoon and Saturday I’m working up jigs for the mortises on my legs and bench. The overall concepts and purposes of joinery stay the same, but how it’s achieved is different for every piece. I’m going from moments of “oh shit” to “ah ha!” and “oh…okay.” 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

College of The Redwoods Fine Furniture: Week 6

 I can't believe that I've been here for six weeks, that of the past 42 days 35 of them have been spent inside the wood-shop, on the machines and at my bench. Time moves differently here. For me it is not measured so much in hours or days, in the hands of a clock, but in the movement of my hand. The building of a plane or the cutting of some dovetails each marks a passing moment. Then it all begins to meld together and I only know Sundays simply because I am not in the shop. This morning I woke to the sound of bandsaws and tablesaws in my mind. Dreaming again.

Shorts day at the shop.
Everyone's getting into their projects now. Drawing, making cardboard mock ups. Changing the height of this or the thickness of that. Thinking about wood other than poplar, that wood that lends itself so humbly for our learning. Darrick has been living in the wood room recently, only coming out for air when there is a board he'd like to look at in a different light and to take a few shavings off in order to discover what there might be in the wood. Teak, Madrone, Bay Laurel, Cuban Mahagony, Walnut, Oak, Maple, I could go on and on. I think Darrick has seen them all in the shape of his handsome wall cabinet. And some are already cutting into their wood, finding things they did not expect; a beautiful grain pattern, or a bunch of insect holes. Roger's finding some of his apple was already host to something else before he got to it. He'll make it work though.

Adam Vorath, from NYC( by way of Iowa and Florida...)

I spent the first few days of the week alternating between sketching, flipping through design books and past students projects, and coming up with a mock up. I've found out I'm quite taken with modern Scandinavian design. I'm also surprised to find myself mocking up not a cabinet, but a bench of sorts. I thought that I would definitely be working on a wall cabinet for scotch or tea this first semester. I think I'll be using walnut.

Various stages of my mock up.
Don't worry mom, we're not getting too picky with the wood. See? We still build stuff from pallet board on Sundays.I feel a bit like Antoine de Saint-Exupery before his first flight as a mail carrier. I've learned what I need to take off, but there is a great unknown before me, an unknown filled with legends of past students work much like the legends of mountains and storms that towered in Exupery's mind before he took off on a rainy night. "The magic of the craft has opened for me a world in which I shall confront, within two hours, the black dragons and the crowned crests of a coma of blue lightnings, and when night has fallen I, delivered, shall read my course in the stars." 

Don't worry mom, we're not getting too picky with the wood. See? We still build stuff from free pallet boards in our spare time on Sundays.

Chase working in a "looser" manner than in class.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

College of The Redwoods Fine Furniture: Week 5

Week 5

The week started out with some unusual excitement. Wacker was out behind the shop steam bending in the typical Fort Bragg fog when a man in full fatigues toting an assault rifle rambled up out of the ravine and then beckoned for Wacker. There was a brief moment of panic as Wacker debated between running before he realized it was a SWAT team member, and not the murderer they’ve been looking around for. The rest of the afternoon we had a SWAT team patrolling the land east of the shop. Wacker didn’t go back to his steam bending.

SWAT team members looking for the bad guy.
The main exercise of the week was coopering, or putting a curve into a board. There are various ways to achieve a subtle curve in a board; one of them involves cutting the board into several staves with a slight angle on each surface and then jointing them back together. There was some minor trepidation as we realized this was like jointing the Prefect Board, only on angles and five or so times. Surprisingly the exercise went pretty smoothly for the class. Once the boards were glued up the sharp angles were taken out with our newly made coopering planes.

It was with relief, excitement and perhaps some nervousness that the lecture and exercise phase of the class ended with coopering. A few of us celebrated by burning our Sows Ears cabinets at the Elephant on Friday.  Hours upon hours of work put to flames and turned to ashes. It’s not so much for the physicality of things that I think most of us are working. It’s to learn and to do. The value of the work put into my Sows Ear will carry me into future pieces, and into myself as I learn both new skills and how to work well. I do hope the products of my efforts will be pleasing to the eye, but I hope more for pleasantness within me as I move forward in woodworking.

My Sows Ear Cabinet in the flames.
With the end of the lecture phase various people started moving forward on their projects, designing, putting up cardboard mock-ups, and piecing together fir as they began the process of figuring out what they’d like to make and how to execute it. To see the pieces of furniture that have come from classes before ours is daunting while fully knowing we too will be attempting such fine things with our hands, and surprising that despite ourselves we will actually create such fine things.

Anton working on a mock up.

Poster in the bar, the Golden West.

I have yet to come to what I’d like to make, but its presence is felt in my mind. In the still, unfilled, moments of the day, before I fall asleep or just as I’m waking up I find my thoughts moving over cabinets and such, shaping their size and moving drawers here and there. I think these thoughts used to fall on girls and mountains, but there is not much of either in Fort Bragg, so it’s thoughts of furniture.

Monday, September 12, 2011

College of The Redwoods Fine Furniture: Week 4

The short week following Labor Day went by just as fast and as slow as the previous weeks. And by a short week, I mean most of us in the class had a few hours on Monday when we did not go into the shop. I was bummed to not end up in Yosemite for a couple of days. For now my climbing fix will have to be crumbly beach rock. I’ve taped a Obata dyed woodblock of El Cap in my tool cabinet to try and keep me pysched to stay in some sort of climbing shape while I work in wood here.
El Capitan and Chisels. Normally the two don't mix. 
I worked on my frame and panel, glued up my sows ear cabinet, had some time practicing more dovetails and learned ordering new woodworking tools is just like ordering new climbing equipment. Someone else opens your box, and at least five people have ogled your new tool before you get to it, and then you get to hear everyone’s opinion on push vs. pull saws. I’m taking to marking my tools in the same way I mark my climbing gear. I’m not worried about anyone taking anything, but working in the shop is like climbing at Indian Creek. There’s about fifteen three-inch Starrett squares floating around the shop and I inevitably leave mine here or there and there’s high potential for something to move around. It’s like letting Marc or Ben “help” you sort your rack. Better count your Attaches, number twos and runners. So tomorrow my squares get a dot of red nail polish, and my pencils get marked with “XXX”.

My jointing plane and some stiles to a frame and panel.
I also learned that when Budlong says you could make something a little bit bigger, he’s probably thinking in 32nds, or 64ths, not eighths. This guy can see that you’ve got a gap less than a 128th from ten feet away. A 16th is the difference between having to grind your new plane iron to fit or not, and one paring too much with your chisel ruins your nice dovetail fit. Budlong sees it all, and almost before you do it.

Steam Bending for Dan Wackers mock up.
So despite the comparison of Fort Bragg to prison by Adam, there are other things going on from time to time other than just woodworking. There’s been a pretty intense Volleyball rivalry between the east and west side of the shop, and I’m happy to say the east side is leading the match. I’m on the east side. I guess though that is just like prison blocks out in the yard…

Anton post Volleyball.

Friday nights are the weekly Elephant, a gathering of students past and present, other woodworkers, beer and food. This week Jim Watkins, a student from last years summer class came in with coolers of beer and food for both the Elephant and for our house.  And a rice cooker. Generosity is an understatement. Last year Jim very well saved Chase’s and I’s life by making us stay with him at his house after he saw where we were staying. The Wildwood campground is a place where social services won’t go without an escort and the police wont go without backup. The bars and stars fly from fifth wheels surrounded by pallet board fences and there were far less teeth than there should have been. We spent this past Saturday night and Sunday having a blast hanging out with Jim, talking wood and furniture.

Hank and I head to the beach every so often. He needs to get some energy out since he can’t jump the fence and run all over town any more. Chasing seagulls seems to be second to cats.

Hank Chasing a Seagull.
Hank post beach nap.