Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Special Wine Ceremony Box

Around a month ago I had a special occasion to celebrate. My youngest sister was married. It was a fun, free-spirited ceremony set in a outdoor pavilion set right near the banks of the Mississippi River. A beautiful setting and despite it falling on one of the hottest days of the year, I was more than happy to wrap up in a rented monkey suit to join the ceremony. Other than my much sought after attendance, I had one other reasonable contribution to the day. My sister had asked me to build a box for the Wine Ceremony.

Wine Ceremonies seem to be a trendy thing for couples to do in recent years, If you haven't heard here's how they work here's the basics (with plenty of variation between couples). The couple starts with a nice bottle of wine, and two letters sealed in envelopes and a wooden box. The letters are written by each, for the other and sealed unseen into envelopes. Then the letters and the wine are sealed into the box and every so often, every five year anniversary . . .every twenty-five year anniversary . . . the box gets opened, the wine is drank, the letters read, and the honeymoon is revisited.

It also can be used in case of emergency. Marriage problems begin, the box is opened, the wine consumed, the letters read, young love remembered, and the road to resolution begins.

I have built a few of these for clients and friends over the years, but this occasion called for something special. I determined instead of a carved box with a hinged lid I create something that lifted off entirely and was large enough to hold a bottle of wine, a pair of glasses, the letters, and a oversized can of beer (the groom's request).

I determined my sizing, and edge glued up the lid. Cut a molding around the perimeter with a complex molding plane. After digging into my library for a while I picked out the 17th century period carvings to use as inspiration. I mixed a frame and a center from two different pieces, but on paper they worked well together. I scratched in the layout lines with dividers and awl, following with a little line work with a "V" chisel.

The next step is to lay out the rest of the carving work with strikes from various gouges.

With the gouges stamped in it's working back into the pattern, back cutting into the design with those same sweeps.

I cut dovetails for the box sides and glued them up.

Once the glue dried, I planed and trued the box. Then marked a line and ran a saw separating 1 1/4" from the sides. This rim would connect to the bottom of the lid, acting as a cleat system to help maintain the large panels flatness over time. For the connection I used glue along the long grain and two pocket hole screws per side.

I wrapped a little mitered walnut strip along the bottom because the combo of red oak with a little walnut is pretty magical and finished the piece with Tru-oil and dark paste wax.

I machined up some brass rod as registration pins located in three of the four corners (to maintain the same orientation again and again) and installed two hasps on the sides. One for the bride to padlock, and one for the groom. Here is a shot of it set up before the ceremony kicked off. It turned out quite nice.

Congratulations Ben and Majel. Here's to a satisfying life together.

Ratione et Passionis

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Things You Become Good At.

Up to this point I've considered myself an expert in exactly Zero things to do with woodworking. Dabble - sure. Explore - of course. Question, push boundaries, and find new things to get in trouble doing - what else is there to do on a Wednesday night?

The only thing I would admit is it's possible I have more information on Medieval Furniture crammed into my head than any other person walking the planet at this time. I can't wait to finish the book and forget half of it. No, there is one workshop activity I have performed more than anyone I've ever spoken to. I am about to undergo the process again and with all the paperwork signed I cannot live in denial any longer.

I am packing up my shop and moving again.

The first workshop I documented. (There were two before this) Circa 2008 - a basement shop in Maine.
I had just completed this bench. 

Not far. Fourteen miles across town. It's a nicer home, big enough to house both my family and my in-laws as we enter the ranks of the multi-generational home trend. We had first looked into building new,, an I was hopeful for a ground floor shop space connected to the home HVAC. As the better of our options shook out I find myself moving from one 2 car garage to another. Even trade.

Though the new shop space is already insulated with finished walls. That will be a welcome improvement come the wintertime!

My next shop space (4th) located in a 5x9 space at the bottom of the steps leading to an upstairs duplex.
No room for machines here. This was the launch of my hand tool odyssey. 
This new space will become the ninth space I've made sawdust in since I began playing around 2000. Over time I've become exceedingly good at packing up and moving things, even if doing it is something I'm not fond of.

The 5th shop space. This time in a steel shed on my parents land. Hot in the summer cold in the winter.
But a wonderful dedicated space I was grateful to have. 
I thought I'd try and shift my thinking about this move and treat it more like a celebration instead of a hateful slog. This might (hopefully) be the last time I have to fully document the preparations and relocation in a way I have never taken a chance to do before. Maybe sharing these tricks and insights will help someone else as they face their own workshop relocation program.

I count this space as 5 and a half. We were living in an downtown apartment building
and I turned half of our dining room space into a small shop. I maintained it alongside the
shop on my parents land, moving back and forth with the seasons.
My current shop space. Version 7.0. When I moved into this space I had promised
I was done moving shop forever, or at least a long time. except. . . 

I still have other posts and builds to catch up on here, but over the next month or so I will go through the steps of breaking down a well used space and opening up and setting around a functional new space. This will include some of my workbench relocation tips that will be put to the test. The newest challenge will be moving my new bench. twelve foot long, four inch thick top and frame beneath and probably weighing in somewhere around 500- 700 lbs.

I also anually moved things into a space in our small four season porch.
That makes this shop space number eight. 
Now, I'm off to packing again.

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, July 10, 2016

...Within Given Bounds

"The art of pattern design consists not in spreading yourself over a wide field, but expressing yourself within given bounds. 

The very strictness of such bounds is a challenge to invention. In the realm of applied design manufacture is an autocrat, and the machine is taskmaster. Let who CAN rebel against their authority. For those who cannot - and they are the great majority - revolt is futile. We are all of us, artists no less than the rest of the world, dependant upon manufacture; and those of the title who stand aloof from it give grounds for the accusation, commonly brought against artists, of being at best unpractical and wrong headed. Their sense of fairness is at fault, too, in blaming manufacture because it falls short of art, while they stand by and refuse a helping hand to the makers of things which will be made, and must be made, and made by machinery too, whether they like it or whether they do not. It rests with those who have some facility of design (their name is not legion) to come to the aid of manufacture, which, without the help from art, is given over to the ugliness which they deplore." 

- "Pattern Design"  by Lewis F. Day, 1903

Ratione et Passionis

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

I Am Project Mayhem And So Can You.

Several years ago, really when I was just beginning to get a sense of myself in the shop and learning new skills everyday, I sat at a table with a couple of big names in woodworking. They were teaching classes at a "The Woodworking Show" stop in Milwaukee. 

The person who asked me to sit and visit was kind and encouraging. He runs a woodworking school so that's only good business. 

The second, a legendary figure in writing about hand tool woodworking was pretty aloof. I wasn't in his radar. It felt a little rude, but it was ok. 

The third is a major figure in one of the bigger woodworking magazines. He was happy to talk to me, but he was also more than happy to shit all over any of my notions about hand tool woodworking and making any kind of living based around woodworking. At that point In my process I needed encouragement and guidance way more than cynicism and discomfiture I was handed. Reading between his lines it was obvious his view of woodworking was mostly reserved for old, retired, men.  
The man is hailed as an leading educator and that only makes the experience so much more disappointing. 

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to hang out and help Mike Seimsen teach a class that was exactly the opposite of my early encounter . . . well in Mike's own taciturn way. It was the continuation of the Baby Anarchist classes that Chris Schwarz started a year ago. It's subversive in all the ways I love. A low cost introduction to hand tool rehab, set up, and use focused on young energetic bodies. 

It reminds me of the book Fight Club, with Tyler Durden branching out to start new clubs in new cities until the movement grew larger than the energy of one man. 

When Chris retired from teaching it looked like this class would retire too, but Mike scheduled classes and continued the work, (with Chris's blessing and support). Watching the week long evolution of this group was inspiring. They have the tools, skill sets, and confidence it took me several years to find casting around on my own. I'm more than a little jealous. 

I would like to see these classes multiply and find more teachers and venues. A Project Woodworking Mayhem spread across the country. Hell, I'd love the chance to teach one myself. 

Mike is going to continue teaching the class, he's already finished a second session and I believe has another scheduled for the fall. If you are interested or find or hear someone who is, clue them in. I know these classes are also in need of donations of both tools and money to help them survive. Drop Mike an email and ask what he needs to continue. 

Ratione et Passionis

Thursday, June 30, 2016


Sometimes I just have the need to go back to something fundamental and precise.

Often that means I spend a few days making wooden squares. This time around I was inspired by a conversation with a newer woodworker to make some dovetail gauges. He was asking if he really needed to spend big money on a bespoke precision dovetail marker decked out with shiny chrome and pinstripes to cut a "proper" joint.

No, I said, you don't even need a formal dovetail saw. I showed him how to go about setting an angle on a bevel gauge and told him about making wooden markers. (I also told him often the angles don't matter but that's subversive to "The Rules")

Because of that conversation I found myself making a set of markers for my three most common used angles. I already had a 1:6 slope I rarely used, but it was more about the making and the meditation than anything. I finished two sets, one for my own occasional use and one to give away when I run into him again.

After these photos I splashed a little Danish Oil on them and set them aside to dry. Now, back to work on paying jobs.

Ratione et Passionis

Friday, June 3, 2016

When The Trees Begin To Bear Fruit . . .

Growing as an artisan. It's a process. An amalgamation of your personal tastes, your abilities, and your experiences into tiny ingots of production. The sum of all you absorb becomes your own distillation. Over time you develop a "voice."

The sentence I wrote on the original build of this blog (seven years ago!) summed up my hopes at the time:

"I am a woodworker and writer exploring and honing both crafts through this blog. Follow along as I discover myself in words and sawdust, moving along the path towards finding the methods of work that are best for me."

I'd decided it was time in my life to get serious about two things I wanted to improve on; woodworking and writing. This blog is the vehicle for that growth. The goal of writing is to develop this elusive thing called "Your Voice" a term that encapsulates your grammar patterns, word choice, and penchant for words or alliteration.

I would say that developing your woodworking "voice" is important as an craftsman or artisan. Its up for debate, but I would say a voice, in the modern context, is more than the marks you leave behind when fabricating as I discussed HERE. I would say your voice comes in with design decisions and the finished result of a piece.

In the wash of period piece project plans, measured drawings it can be difficult to find something that feels like it comes more from inside you than outside.

If I look back, I started to find my voice with this piece.

This is the tool rack I built to celebrate moving to my current shop. The design comes from Chris and Popular Woodworking, but I played with it making the sides to match a moulding profile, carving the front bar in a 17th century style and then playing with dyes and paint to achieve a unique, kind of antiqued look.

Forward a while and I cooked up my take on the Underhill nail cabinet:

My first foray into parquetry and veneering. I was starting to light onto something that drives me and feels like my own thing.

Aesthetic wise I live with my feet planted soundly in two diverse worlds that are hard to reconcile. On one side I love, and always have loved, simple vernacular forms of furniture, sometimes called country furniture, similar to what's explored by Chris in the Anarchist Design Book. But the other side of my heart is wound up in the perversely ornate features that are the calling card of high end work. Marquetry. Boulework, Parquetry. Decorative bandings. Ornamental turnings, Carving, Rosemaling, Kolrosing. Inlay. Fretwork. Gilding. The list continues on.

I spent some time hanging out with the Studley Tool Chest and Workbench a year ago and man did that infect me with need to explore detail and precision.

This is a progress shot of my latest experiment. A boarded chest lined on the inside with papers I woodblock printed

On the outside milk painted except for an area on the front I chose to experiment with grain painting. On some period pieces the grain painting tries to closely simulate, or mimic a different, more expensive wood, (painting poplar to look like mahogany) but some of the outliers take the opportunity to really swing for the fences.

I posted this photo on social media a few days ago and had someone comment my work made them think I'd glued on some distressed leather . . . If I can make you think it's anything other than layers of pigmented shellac, lacquer, and oil paint, I guess I'm winning.

Is it a little over the top in it's free form?
Absolutely. Do you need to stretch out that far to reach for something? I think yes.

One of the best lines of advice I ever received in art class was the teacher telling me to push a piece I was working on until I ruined it. If I wasn't walking the tightrope of turning my hard work into trash I wasn't doing it justice. There's a nature to that experimentation and boundary pushing that is missing in most woodworking instruction I see and read.

You look at the pieces I've created here and you think I'm becoming all about paint and artificial color, but then you'd be missing another piece I've made that I'm very proud of:

What's next? Where does woodworking go now that Studio Furniture has become blase? We've moved through celebrating form through Shaker and Danish Modern, celebrating joinery through Arts and Crafts, and celebrating wood itself through Nakashima, Krenov, and Maloof. Where does the experiment take us collectively now?

I think I can see my personal string of breadcrumbs leading me home through the woods, I can see parts of it anyway. Where does your trail lead you?

Or will you spend your shop time hunting other people's trails, building and finishing pieces from books and magazines in just the way they tell you?

That trail is a place to start from and learn from, I will admit fully I still have many, many lessons to learn as they cross my path so use the trails cut by others to your advantage. Just don't choose them as a place to live your creative life from.

As the man says . . . "Disobey Me!"

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, May 15, 2016

It Becomes Part Of Your Story.

A few treasured mementos from the Studley Exhibit. The work apron I wore in costume and a small pocket "tchotchke" with embellishments cast directly from the molds of details from the cabinet. 
There are events in your life where time plays one of it temporal tricks on you. It seems to stretch and thin in a way that both speeds up and yet manages to burn details into your memory.

Without getting too spiritual, I've always believed that phenomenon occurs when you are standing in exactly the right place you're supposed to be. These events can be either obviously significant or weirdly benign, but the connection to your life's story exists. 

It happened playing in a forest near a campground with my cousin Mark. It happened the day I got into my first serious fist fight in sixth grade. Sledding down a hill in Bemidji Minnesota in fourth grade. A foot race with my little brother on a family vacation. The day I married my wife and the way the sun shined through the stained glass windows of the church during the ceremony. The hours leading up to and during the very different births of each my three daughters. Standing in an operating room, watching smoke start to roll out of the back of the anesthesia machine, and having the wherewithal to unplug the electrical cord and avert disaster while others panicked. My first car accident (my fault). Being an overrated teenage asshole to my father as he tried his best to understand and deal with my overly-complicated psyche. Getting kicked out of a theology class for arguing with a nun about whether or no I was going to keep my shoes on. (I was not raised Catholic, I just ended up in a Catholic school for a while. Long story.) 

Good, bad, bitter and sweet, the moments write your story. 

Roughly a year ago I added a whole weekend of those moments to my life. Being a part of the H.O. Studley exhibit has become one of the solid cores to who I am as a craftsman. The cabinet and the workbench and the company of Don Williams and the rest of the crew. I don't have words, and that's not usually a problem for me. 

To this day I will still read someone on social media say something dismissive about the lone surviving works of a distinctive master and I will sit back an wonder. Some folks just aren't meant to understand I guess. I wish I could develop my experience into a virus that could infect them with the same understanding I've come to find. 

Then I realize I just have to be proud of the fact that I do get it, and there are other people who are smarter than me, who I respect and look up to, who get it too. 

It's a rare thing, standing witness to greatness. A year ago I was allowed to punch one of the stamps on my card. Afterwards you can't just walk away, you carry it with you always. 

Thank you Don. I can never say it enough. 


This photo courtesy of Narayan Nayar