Tuesday, March 31, 2015

See It In Person

A while back. during a family vacation, I visited the Indianapolis Museum of Art. In one of the first galleries I found an original Greene and Greene dining set designed for the Charles Millard Pratt House. Darlings of the Arts and Crafts style, G&G furniture always grabs my attention. I own several books about them and have read many, many magazine articles written about original pieces, reproductions, and “inspired by” work. I have never had the opportunity to see any original in the flesh.

I hovered and studied the table and six chairs for more than a half hour. Moving around the peninsula dias to see all the angles and even setting off the proximity sensor alarms.


I’m not really interested in building a reproduction or “inspired by” piece, maybe I was once, but those days have passed. so that wasn't the intent of my scrutiny. I was trying to decipher the mystery of my attraction to the Greene brother’s designs and I found it in the subtle details I could never quite pick up on in photographs.

Whether it’s a Greene and Greene dining set or a Philadelphia Highboy, many woodworkers experience these pieces only through measured drawings, cut lists, or a Sketchup models. Isn’t it odd that in a three dimensional medium like furniture making, the majority of our knowledge is transferred in two measly dimensions? Catalogues that come full of pictures of fantastic furniture, isolated against sterile drop cloth backgrounds only tell, at best, half the story. These photos hold no regard for how a piece lives in space, how it can command or deflect attention in a room, or truly convey the subtle details and textures that act like punctuation in a well written sentence.

Museums are the flagships of the art world because they allow people to experience a masterpiece in person. As an art student years ago, I was encouraged to imitate the styles of the masters to learn from them and better imitation sprang from time put in studying a master’s work. It was a given that seeing a masterwork in person was a superior experience. Photos in books will never really show the texture and color found in a Van Gogh painting. The way a Rembrandt changes subtly depending on the angle you view from. Or the way a Picasso draws a visceral feeling from you as your mind takes in everything both familiar and alien.

Translating that experience into broadening your woodworking horizons is easy. All it requires is that you step out of the shop for a while and look for opportunities. Visit an antique dealer and open some drawers to look at the hand cut dovetails. Find a museum or historical home in your area and see what they have to offer, you may be surprised at the cross contamination of ideas that comes from looking at great works other than furniture. Better yet, volunteer and get the chance to spend extra quality time around those pieces. Make a pilgrimage to see great works: The Gamble House in Pasadena, Winterthur Museum in Delaware, The Museum of Southern Decorative Arts in North Carolina.

Get out and see the work that inspires you in person. I promise it will only inspire you more.

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Plugging My Inappropriate Holes.

One issue with the new workbench was the scars of it's past. Constructed of reclaimed barn beams scattered through the top were 7/8" inch diameter holes. They're related to the original joinery. The sad thing is my holdfasts are made for 3/4" holes and these holes just don't work.

I laid out and drilled a series of holdfast holes based on the "Patented Chris Schwarz Holdfast Plan" and my new holes became intermixed with the old holes (There's immature comic gold in that sentence) After working with mixed holes for a bit I became slightly fed up mistaking one for the other.

So I picked up some dowel and spent a little time today plugging my inappropriate holes.

I left them a little proud of the benchtop so once the glue sets up I can cut them off with a flush cut saw and plane them even to the benchtop.

Then I will no longer mistake one hole for the other.

Ratione et Passionis

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

So....Uhhhh....What's Going On?

Things have been quiet here on the Blog for a while, but the shop has been lightly bouncing along. I thought everyone deserved an update on the goings on round here.


The work on my book based on building the furniture depicted in the Morgan Bible. I submitted a query to one publishing company, Lost Art Press. The quality of their books and their expertise really made me want to work with them even more than my original ideas of self publishing.

Unfortunately, I was turned down by Chris and company, not because the either the concept or I lacked merit, if it were simply that I would have a green light, but more because at the moment they are bogged down in a mountain of projects. Enough to keep them busy for the next five plus years. That would put me on the back burner there for a while even if they said yes, and thats not something I'm completely comfortable with either.

So the plan at the moment is self publication, or as I'm calling it, "I'm gonna Konovaloff the sumavabitch." It may take longer, but the complete control of the entire process suits my personality flaws.

Chris has been kind enough to help fill some of my knowledge holes about the publication process and I do have an open invitation to resubmit it to LAP when I've finished. I'll make that decision when it's time, but until then,, it's time to apply foot to gas pedal. Whether that means you will see more or less of me here, I cannot tell for certain.

We will have to both be surprised.



I've been reading "Oak Furniture: The British Tradition" (V. Chinnery) and building an small arming chest of from white oak for a very good friend and fellow medieval enthusiast. A short passage in the book writes about how a lot of 17th and 18th century furniture was lined with wood block printed paper. My art education years (centuries ago) had included a decent amount of time doing printmaking.

There is no greater power than to give an imaginative teenage boy the skillset and materials required to make his own propaganda.

So I resurrected some of those skills and cut a couple 6x6 blocks to print with. From what I understand, historical printed papers were not carved in the same style as the outside of the chest, (two different craftsmen doing two separate jobs) and the ink was like Henry Ford's pallet choice.

"Any customer can have a car painted any color he wants so long as it is black."

Often my problem is that I cannot leave well enough alone.

Chess anyone?


The workshop. The weather has turned here in Wisconsin and the shop has migrated back out from the four season porch I dubbed "The Winter Shop" to the full sized shop that takes up our garage. The best part is through this spring cleaning and rearrangement I finally feel like I've gotten things arranged the right way and I've added a new area to the shop I've been wanting for a while.

We established my control issues earlier, Now I will be able to have more control of the steel and hardware that gets used in my work.

I have a forge.

Ratione et Passionis