Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tunnel Vision

Well, I only got to spend a little time in the shop tonight, but any time spent is a good time. In my last post I told you all about the split in one of the legs for the second saw bench I'm working on. In the end that incident turned out to be serendipity. Yes it was easy to cut the mortise after it was done but the reality was I had a purpose going at the time the leg split. I was purging on and on towards assembly, pushing to get to the point where I could spread glue and go. I was bending my will towards it but my progress was stopped, and for good reason.

After I put up my post the other night and crawled in bed, it hit me. If I had been allowed to continue, blinders up and strapped in with full on tunnel vision, I would have completely blew past getting the carving done. If that had happened I'm not sure what I would have done. The pieces wouldn't have matched and the carving is one of the cool things that sets these apart and will make them work well at a faire. I would have had to half ass it and try to accomplish the carving on the assembled bench, that would have sucked.

I'm glad fate seemed to stop me. Or maybe the wood of the bench went to it's own measures to make sure it would get the same treatment it's twin did. Either way there are times that happens to me, tunnel vision, and it always ends up screwing me hard. I'm just happy I escaped it's clutches this time.

Tunnel vision confessions aside, I have been enjoying the process of learning to do some simple, by hand, chip carving. When the family and I made the trip to Madison several weeks ago, I got to stop by the Woodcraft store there. Although I came home with a few different goodies, the reason I insisted was so I had the chance to pick up a couple of decent carving tools. I was hoping to find a starter set of some kind, there just wasn't one there. In some of the reading I've done since I guess I understand why, Carving is such an individual pursuit that there would be no way to have a cut and dry, one size fits all set. I have seen sets out there, some even assembled by woodcraft, in the end I am glad there wasn't one in the store.

If there had been a beginners set, lets say six or eight chisels in size, I would have bought it, and I would have walked out of the store with only that, I had a limit of around 100 dollars to spend and that would have sapped that up and probably over done me. Instead I was forced to take my time and look at all the chisels offered and make a measured decision about what I wanted to accomplish and what I would need to do that.

I actually sat down on the floor in front of the carving chisels and studied them, hanging in their little blue polyvinyl sleeves and dangling from hooks. The variety was over whelming. As I thought about things one inspirational figure kept returning to my mind. Peter Follansbee, master of 17th century furniture. I am a close follower of his blog, and though the resources on the internet I have watched several videos staring Mr. Follansbee and his carving techniques for pieces such as this joined chest I had the privilege of photographing that same day in Madison. One was shot at a woodworking seminar, the other was Mr. Follansbee's guest appearance on Roy Underhill's Woodwright's Shop. titled "Peter and the Box" I really appreciate his no nonsense approach to what he does. the message that hits my ears is akin to saying "don't make a meal out of a snack" Break a job into pieces and go.

I thought about the tools I saw him use in the demos and the techniques I could identify with, and that is what I based my first choices of carving tool on. The first was obvious, a decent "V" gouge. one I could drive in one hand and mallet with the other. That simple decision eliminated half my choices. full handles, none of the palm ones. Now it was choosing the size. That was pretty easy. One down.

The other thing I wanted was a shallower gouge. That took a little more searching and deciding, but eventually I narrowed it down and pulled the trigger.

Working with these chisels has been a dream to learn with. They are both Swiss made by Pfeil, and using them is very intuitive. They are beefy enough the don't significantly deflect under the blow of a mallet, yet fine enough that paring with them is a dream too. I know that the carving I have done on the saw benches is very simple and straight forward, nothing to inspire, but one must start somewhere. and I have had many, many more painful starts than this one. I believe I am following the best proscribed path on this one. Starting with two and mastering them and I'll add more when it seems appropriate.

Cheers!

Oldwolf

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