Get Woodworking Week: DIY DaVinci Notebooks

Welcome to Get Woodworking Week.

Giving advice is a difficult thing, for me at least. I don't feel that my judgement should be used to replace your own in anything, and that includes woodworking. I definitely found my way in this world by reading as much as I can by as many different people as I can and then just taking my feet and stepping out there. Tackling projects where I feel I'm in over my head and learning from them.

There is not one single thing I've built, ever, that I have felt like I have every aspect mastered. It's important to realize that if you are starting out in this avocation. Realize that everyone started out somewhere simple.

My first real woodworking project. It's a four player chess board based on a regular chessboard plan I found in a magazine. In the end it was nothing more than a bunch of maple and aspen squares glued down to a sheet of 1/4" MDF and framed with red oak.  The implications of four people playing chess at the same time intrigued me enough to build this, but to this day I have never found three other people to sit and play with me. 

The is one thing, one indispensable thing, that I believe every woodworker should have in their arsenal. A sketchbook or journal. This one thing will take you places you never thought were possible. Leonardo DaVinci was a smart man for many reasons, but I think his brilliance boiled down into the fact that he kept his now famous notebooks or journals. Inside them he packed his ideas, dreams, and studies. He didn't make those notebooks for others to see. (if he had then reverse writing would probably not be one of the amazing things about them) He created those notebooks for himself. They were a testing ground for his many, many ideas.

The ancient Greeks told a mythology about nine sister's known as the Muses who were the personification of the arts and knowledge. They would visit someone as whisper creative inspiration into their ears and souls, thus acting as the spark that ignites the big bang theory of great works. I've suffered these strokes of inspiration before. Lying in bed, hovering near the edge of sleep, the "Idea" strikes through my soul with an electrical shock.

But like all mythological gods, a Muse is fickle and temperamental  They choose their own time of inspiration on their own terms. It can come while you are driving, eating supper, shoveling snow, or participating in your local fight club. (OK so I broke the first rule) Often if you don't capitalize on the inspiration in the moment, the clarity of it gets lost and jumbled

Concept drawing for a bed side table with sinewy bending legs and Maloof  chair joints for the lower shelf. 

My sketchbook is my way of battling this loss of clarity. Way back in the day, when I was taking a lot of art classes, several teachers encouraged us to carry our sketchbooks with us everywhere and to use them not just for drawing in, but for writing in and recording the things you see and the ideas you have. When I started really diving into this sawdust thing in earnest, I renewed this practice in my life.

A take on a set of bunk beds inspired by some timber frame construction I saw.

I know the common argument against it.

"I . . . can't . . . draw,"

to which I respond


Some sketches for a desktop credenza where I wanted to highlight the the species pine. 

Not everyone is a Leonardo Da Vinci, but anyone who can place pen to paper can scrawl a few lines to help them work out an idea. What's inside your sketchbook is for you and you alone. You're not creating something for someone else to see or read, so whatever chicken scratching you need to record the idea, to ask the question, to solve the problem is all there has to be. As long as it works as a record for you and your creativity then that's all it has to do.

Here I am trying to work out the viability of joinery, grain directions, and carving patterns with a Medieval Hutch Chest that works as a drop front tool chest.  

You can see from the pages of my sketchbook that I've put up in this post, even with my training in drawing, the sketches are rough ideas, only intended to capture that moment. There's more than drawings in my sketchbook. There are more pages of writing than anything, blog post ideas, book ideas, notes on a technique or recipe for a finish. Some of these things are woodworking related, some are not. I also keep printed pictures of carvings, a few postcards with favorite artworks on them, notes from classes or for classes.

It's like carrying an exterior hard drive for my brain.

The best piece of woodworking advice I could ever think of was already written about by Chris Wong over at Flair Woodworks but, keeping careful track of your ideas, your questions, and your solutions is the second best thing I can recommend. In the end I don't care if you use a sketchbook or an iPad to accomplish it, I happen to have compulsive obsession with pens, pencils, and paper that I could never give up. Just take your time and develop it, right along side all the other new skills you will find yourself practicing.

Ratione et Passionis

P.S. As a follow up the great Paul Sellers keeps a series of notebooks / journals. You can read about his take HERE and HERE and keep following over there to see more.


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