Monday, May 28, 2012

Dreaming the Perfect Glass Slipper Will Come My Way

I am a little over a week past my ACL replacement surgery and I am downright tired of sitting on my ass.

There, I have that out of my system. Endurance and creativity will be my saviors. Beyond my marriage and family I have four passions in life: Historical Reenactment, Woodworking, Reading, and Writing. The first two require some physicality beyond the reading and study side of things, some physicality that is beyond me for several weeks yet. I decided I would take some time to work on the third item and catch up on my reading

This last week I have done nothing much but read, and read, and read a little more. By Thursday I had caught up with all the woodworking blogs in my reader and I've found and added several more. By Saturday morning I was wishing everyone out there would hurry up and put out more new content to help keep me content. By Saturday afternoon I started thinking about the fourth item on my list and decided it was time to start working on some writing.


I should explain that my writing extends beyond this blog, I have a hundred ideas for fiction and non fiction books alike scrawled in my journals. Having ideas is the fun part for me, getting the time wheedled out to accomplish more than an idea or an outline, not as easy. It's something I've accepted, things happen when they are ready sometimes, forcing them does no one any favors. At this point I have too many things I want to build to let myself become completely involved in another world in another universe.

But what about a book on woodworking, that would seem obvious right. I do have something to say, more than just the blurbs that bubble up on this blog, but it is not a coherent thing yet at this point. It's not a developed vision because I am still developing as a woodworker and I need time to build that vision before I share it further.

There is one idea I've had that I could start on now, that would get me somewhere. I had the though sometime last summer while visiting a Norwegian Heritage Center located nearby called Norskadalen. It's a great place with pioneer period houses collected on the grounds and filled with great folk furniture. The thing is I don't think many people pay much attention to the furniture itself but some of the stuff is great, diamonds in the rough.

A small but unique side table in one of the log homes at Norkedalen

At first I wanted to just go in and study the stuff maybe creating a book filled with measured drawings similar to the work Glen Huey and Bob Lang did with pieces from MESDA. But I don't want to just photograph and draw these pieces. I'm a sawdust maker, I want to build these pieces. Then I read a great interview Rob Campbell from over at The Joiner's Apprentice did with  Bob Rozaieski from The Logan Cabinet Shoppe. In the interview Bob lamented that there is not a whole lot in print for the hand tool woodworking community. There's good books about the tools and some covering the techniques but there really isn't one, not one I've found anyhow. Where these is the presentation of a several fantastic pieces of furniture followed by a break down of how the writer goes about building it, using hand tools.

A caved log chair (kubbestol) from inside the museum area. 
I think about one of my favorite woodworking books, Glen Huey's "Building 18th century American Furniture." Glen takes several great pieces of  furniture and breaks down the construction of them piece by piece. I like the book because, for lack of a better choice of words, it treats the reader like a grown up. He uses power tools for most of the build but he doesn't use any time or ink talking about how to set up your router or how do go about making a dado or a rabbet with the router. He assumes you know how to do that or you can find the resources that will tell you how. His focus is on the furniture, not the tools.

I thirst for this kind of book related to hand tool woodworking, something written for the stage past being a beginner, past the starting stages of how to flatten a board or cut a dovetail, something past the philosophy of why you my find enjoyment burning electrons only with your ipod, something more than saying "this is the way they used to do it, see what I discovered."

I want a book that is written for those of us who have been converted down the hand tool path, for those of us who have a decent base of knowledge to work from, for those of us who want to step from from the apprentice to the journeyman. There are good books out there a plenty, but nothing I've found feels both up to date and relevant to stepping to the next step. There's not a hand tool oriented book where the focus is on the furniture not the tools.

A workbench with a huge end vice sitting one of the log cabin porches at Norkadalen. I think the ball and chain is somehow related to the Civil War Reenactment that was going on the weekend I took this picture.
I know what I would say to someone. If you can't find the book you want then you should go about writing it yourself. I understand that sentiment, but there's a big part of me that wonders if it's possible. The problem with writing a book like Huey's focus on the furniture is the variety when it comes to hand tools. Let me explain.

If I want to tell you to cut a dado with power most likely one of two operations will come to your mind. You would probably choose a router with a fence or a stacked dado head on a table saw. If I asked you to cut a dado using hand tools only then wow, there's an array of options. I personally like to use a stair saw followed by a chisel and then a router plane to uniform the bottom. Some might use a dado plane, some a backsaw and a chisel, heck you can even do it with a chisel alone if you want. The multitude of options available to me is what I like about using hand tools, but is is a hindrance to making a straightforward book about building furniture.

Am I just asking for too much from a tome? I certainly respect books of measured drawings and how they simply present the piece of furniture and the joinery and allow you to completely decide how you will execute it but they always feel like having just a salad for supper. When I'm done paging through them I'm still hungry and I want some meat.

Do you think the type of media I'm looking for is an impossible order to fill? Am I Prince Charming (ahem) desperately searching for that girl who's foot will fit this perfectly molded glass slipper I've formed in my mind. Is it too much to ask for? I hope not.

Ratione et Passionis
Oldwolf

15 comments:

  1. Like your story, nicely done

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  2. Hi Derek

    I know what you mean! Leaving aside the books on tools and techniques, on the one hand there are a lot of "here's how to make one just like this" books which provide little meat (in terms of history, purpose, design etc). On the other hand there are catalogues of collections and suchlike (I'm looking at one right now - Australian Furniture - Pictorial History and Dictionary 1788-1938). Full of great photos, with some pictures and names but no real design/technique discussions.

    Quite a good book is called The Barossa Folk - it's about the furniture makers and potters who were part of the German migration to Australia in the 1800s and their work. But even then it's hard to replicate any of the furniture in it (altho' I did make one chair which worked out quite well). Some of the books on the Moravians and the Pennsylvania Dutch (as well as the Shakers) have an interesting balance of history, technique, design, tools, material and finishing.

    I think it's a very hard book to write because in trying to satisfy all audiences, you may well end up leaving all of them disgruntled.

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  3. You've answered your own questions. So now the fun part: Make it so!

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    1. You are so encouraging Rob :)

      About two minutes after I posted this I came to the realization I had just dared myself to go through with this.

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  4. Derek,
    I feel your pain. This is the book I wish I had 20 years ago. There is a book I was put on to by another woodworker that was written by Graham Balckburn in the 70s called Illustrated Furniturmaking (http://www.amazon.com/Illustrated-Furniture-Making-Graham-Blackburn/dp/0709167784). It's a decent book and takes the reader from a simple start to a more complex finish. I like it, but I think it can be improved upon. We've learned a lot about the history of the craft since the book was written in 1977 and I think Blackburn's book can be built upon as a result.

    As I mentioned to Rob in the interview I did for him, it's a project I'd love to take on when I have some time to spare. At the same time though, it's an enormous undertaking since one would have to build every project that was to be included in the book in order to write it. That's in addition to the historical research that would go into it. No small task. Still, I get excited thinking about it and the fact that I want to see the book myself motivates me. If I could find a way to put the rest of life on pause for a year...

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    1. Bob,
      Spare time is always the problem, always will be the problem, Here's a question, If I consider going through with this would you be interested in consulting with me when needed? There would be a couple intimidating projects in the mix, the Kubbestol being the biggest.

      I'll check out the Blackburn book as well. Thanks.

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  5. I think Tom Fidgen's book comes closest to what you're talking about, that's the first thing that popped into my head reading this piece. Chris Schwarz's toolchest book also comes close, though focusing primarily on only one piece.

    I don't see any problem with taking a book like Glen Huey's and simply performing all of the operations with hand tools instead of power tools.

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    1. You're right that Fidgen's book does come close, but while I respect the man and the artist, the pieces he makes just don't speak to me. I don't know if this is the proper terminology but his product is very modern studio furniture-ish, don't get me wrong, it pays it's respects, but there is nothing in his book that I saw and said, "damn I gotta build that" From what I've read on his blog he's leaning more into things like doing bent lamination with hand tools in his next book and that's more towards the sleek modern look that has never appealed to me.

      ATC is one of my favorite books, I've read it a dozen times, but only a third of it (at most) is about building the chest, the rest is philosophy and information, which I dig, but he did it and I read it and bought in and built it, now I'm ready to move on.

      I don't have problems taking Huey's book and working from it either, but there is a different feeling and pace to working with hand tools that's a difference from the production mentality that follows power tools around. I would like a book built around that difference in rhythm. If for nothing better than for the sake of that rhythm itself.

      Thanks for the comments Simon, I found that I had a lot to say in response, I hope my words don't seem argumentative because I agree with you. I had thought a lot about those books while I was writing the original post but for the reasons I tried to explain above, they just weren't the fit I was looking for in a glass slipper.

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    2. I guess I never really thought about it much. I like the personality of Fidgen that comes through his writing. I appreciate what he has done. BUT there is only one of those pieces from the book that I like. Of course, I appreciate what it took to make them, but I wouldn't want them in my house.

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  6. Langsner's Chair Book

    Fidgen's book ( though I only like two of the pieces in it (style issue)

    I understand that The Schwarz is working on a new book in this vein, as is Fidgen

    I am going to do as suggested above with a book on Art's and Crafts furniture

    Might be fun for someone to start a repository on the net of "project articles" aimed as us Galoots

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  7. Why don't you post a step br step article on one of your carvings?

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    1. I have been trying to work my way around the logistics of doing that, The hold back is I still feel like I'm learning as I do them and I'm not sure I'm in control enough to validate teaching yet.

      I have invested in a time lapse photography set up, because I thought that might be a unique way of presenting the carving process. I just haven't figured out the best way to set it up yet.

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  8. I think the major difference in using hand tools is not so much the tools, but the way to measure. I once read that if an engineer measures to a nth fraction of an inch, boatbuilder measures to the boat. Same thing about using hand tools in general, there is no absolute need for measures or parallel and square as everything is handfitted and can mostly be set to the eye.
    When I see one of the older New Yankee shows on the net, my only problem is not the tools I don't have but the fact that he builds to a plan. Of course I guess his sequence is: build a prototype based on a sketch, make the plans and finally make a show of making a copy with the plans. A good hand tool book is about the part we didn't see: build the prototype (using hand tools).

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    1. I think you have a good view of the heart of the matter Damien. I think about how I used to believe Norm had the only way of going about it and smile about the naivete of youth.

      "a good hand tool book is about the part we didn't see" I think you may be on to something there.

      Thanks
      D

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  9. Sounds like a great idea for a book. I'll buy a copy. I have been woodworking for about 7 years and just last year I decided to take the hand tool path. Not 100% mind you but I am buying more quality hand tools and use them more each day in the shop.

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