Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Importance Of Dividers

As I round the final curve in my research for my book on the furniture shown in the Morgan Bible I've finally gotten my hands on two digitized manuscripts regularly referenced by the art history scholars who have researched medieval furniture before me thanks to the digitized library of the Getty Museum. 

Eugene Viollet-le-Duc was an French architect in the mid 1800's. The majority of his work was in restoration of medieval buildings. Connected to that work he wrote several books, the two pertaining to my research; "The Dictionary of French Architecture from the 11th to 16th Centuries" and "The Dictionary of French Furnishings from the Carolingian Period to the Renaissance."  It's good to have my hands on some original source material created before the World Wars took their toll on the material culture of Europe even if it is the biased and somewhat controversial writings of one man. (like any of our works could hope to be different.) 

Unfortunately for me, both volumes are in French and only "Architecture" is (roughly) translated. My public education and lack of liberal arts degree from (Insert Institution of Higher Learning Here) has left me woefully unarmed in this battle so it will take some time for me to digest the texts. Still the illustrations are fantastic and I found something interesting as I started flipping through the pages of "French Architecture

The Apse is the terminal end of a choir, church, or chamber. It's the period on the structural sentence sometimes referred to as the grandstand. As churches are typically shaped as building sized hallways with a door on one end and the center of worship on the other. It's easy to understand the symbolism of a linear journey from dank reality to beatific transcendence translated through the architecture with the apse symbolising the climax. 

To mark it's importance, there is wonderful sacred geometry related to the apse.  

The fun part about life now is how the book "By Hand and Eye" has opened my ability to see things differently that before. Combine that with hours spent laying out 17th Century carving patterns and the floor layouts shown in the text start to come alive with whole number ratios, complex layouts and fractal repetition of patterns and ideas set down more simply with dividers over any linear ruler, . 

The cliche answer for the most important feature of gothic architecture is the design of the flying buttress, and it's not wrong, But the masterful use of geometry and fractal pattern repetition from the design of the building to the tracery in the windows are the most interesting pieces of the puzzle to me. 

All of this just hammers home for me the importance of a pair of dividers as a layout tool and how it's something we've nearly lost as a society in our race to advanced computized perfection to the tenth decimal. 

I also cannot wait to apply the sweeping concepts I see in my research to my own furniture designs and artistic ideas. First I have to get past this project of creating this book. It will be interesting to see what things I've assimilated when I come out the other side

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Elementary Vernacular

The basics of a thing are important in everything, and staying in touch with the foundation those basics provide is even more so. When I hit a standstill in the shop I try and return to something basic. Often that surfaces in the form of shop made squares, lately it's been a push to finish up a handful of projects started and unfinished. The unfinished ones weigh you down.

There is nothing more basic and primal to woodworking than breaking down your own stock from the tree. Last July I took a trip to Tom Latane's land and spent the day with a small group of guys talking smart and hewing wood.

I got half a section of cherry log. I'd never really used an Adze before that day (you can read more about it HERE) but I sure had fun hanging out with like minded companions. In the end this is what I brought home and dropped on my bench.

I stripped the bark off and did a little more clean up and flattening with planes. I sketched some rough ideas for a scooped seat with a sharpie. Then I decided I had other projects I was in the middle of and I needed to finish. So I sealed the ends of the slab with wax and set it aside.

A few weeks ago, while I was doing some clean up and a little rearranging I unearthed the slab and freed it from the pile. Time to finish that too. I started scooping out the seat side with a large joinery gouge. These great tools are in a lot of old inventories along side the bench and mortising chisels but they aren't gouges for carving. They are meant for serious stock removal.

After starting on the seat side I just wasn't happy. it didn't feel right to scoop out a seat on a slab bench, the aesthetic didn't look good but I had committed.  Frustrated I set the slab aside. A few days later I was walking by and the arch of the scoop caught my eye just right. I decided I'd make the dug out even all the way across and flip the slab upside down from my original plan.

Things were moving forward again.

I needed legs for the bench though, I intended staked legs of some sort, but I've been reading a bit of both Mike Dunbar's and Peter Galbert's books on Windsor chair making lately. (talk about two different roads to the same destination!) I'm quite taken with Windsors, they're high on my bucket list, I just can't afford the time to work my way through a whole one now I figured I could work my way through the legs.

I drew out a Mike Dunbar pattern full size and chucked some walnut into the lathe. The fun part of this is it's part of the stash of walnut I split from some culled logs almost five years ago and have had drying around the shop since.

Between the cherry slab and the walnut legs I'm the one who stripped the bark off all the stock in this project and air dried it. That's pretty unique to most woodworking endeavors these days.

Dunbar says he can turn a leg in around six minutes. I was clocking in at around an hour a leg.

It took five tries but I got four usable legs. No the top ends weren't chamfered. I don't have a tapering tool and didn't want to buy or make one just yet so I went for a straight dowel like socket and a tight fit. To keep things together I drilled for and drove a 3/8" riven oak peg in from the sides to lock the leg into the seat forever.

I drilled out the leg sockets from the top of the bench. I used a 1:6 slope away from the center in both planes. Then I leveled the bottoms of the legs to themselves and the ground and hit the top with a quick sanding at 120 grit. I didn't want to remove hand tool marks, just soften them some.

A coat of Danish Oil and a treatment of paste wax and the bench was done.

Often by the time I'm done with a piece I'd rather light it on fire than see it again. I get hung up on my mistakes and miscues and it's never as good as what I can envision in my minds eye. However I find myself proud of this little bench. It fits my personal aesthetic more than a lot of other things I build, a combination of rustic and refinement with a heavy dose of execution.

The only problem now is there is no place in the house to fit it, so I may have to sell it. Anyone interested?

Ratione et Passionis

Friday, October 9, 2015

A Tray For Tea Part 2: Cherry Ring

Page two. . .

I had managed to create and smooth out a parquetry field. Let's hear it for thicker, shop cut veneer!! Of course it's not perfect. there are miscuts and voids, but it's much more successful than my last attempt.

I now had the base down for the tea tray.

The small oriental antique tea set we'd purchased for Fayth was four cups and the teapot. I wanted to do some inlay into the field and thought some contrasting rings, marking placement for the pot and cups, would be perfect. I had some cherry I'd already sliced into veneer and rings felt appropriate.

In steps the Veritas String Inlay tools. A fun little system I've hacked to do more than simple string inlay. Infact I have yet to actually do any string inlay with it. . .

It comes with a sharp blade and a compass point to which I've been using the cutter intended to slice the veneer strips, and using it to cut out circles.

With an outer diameter and an inner diameter cut through the parquetry I used a flat sweep carving chisel to remove the walnut and expose the oak underneath. The carving chisel gave me a cambered bite and worked well but there's no reason a standard bench chisel wouldn't work either.

I tried to be careful and use one setting to cut the outer radius into the field and then into the cherry veneer, then repeat the process with the inner radii, creating close matching rings.

The smaller rings are around two and a half inches in diameter which was verging on being too small to easily cut with this compass. Lee Valley offers longer replacement rods for bigger sweeps of stringing, I may consider buying another set of the short rods that come on the original and machining them even shorter by half for this smaller work.

The extra length at the back would find a way to ride on the veneer and burnish a larger ring. In this instance it didn't bother me because I had thick veneer and already had to resurface after gluing down the rings. But in the future, for finer work I may consider this.

At this point I had five rings prepper, four smaller, one larger. Now the problems to solve was the fine fitting. As I was cutting the field and the pieces I had visions of them fitting into place perfectly. I'm not certain where my error happened, or if it was the sum of a hundred little errors, but the rings were thicker than the voids. I had to slim them down to get them fitted.

I don't own a spindle sander, and I'm not sure if a commercial one would work on this small things like sanding the inside of the ring. I made my own detail sized version. I drove a nail into the center of a 7/8" dowel and clipped the head off. Then I glued and rubber banded some 150 grit sandpaper to the dowel. Then I drilled a 1" hole into a chunk of 2x4 scrap to act as a work surface and chucked everything into my drill press.

I would raise and lower the height of the table to move from inside to outside of the ring and access a fresh area on the sandpaper. It worked very well.

Hot hide glue and a veneer hammer to press the rings into place.

Now it was time to address the voids in my parquetry with mastic. Mastic is one of those crappy words that means a lot of different things depending on the context, in this context it means a mixture of fine walnut sawdust and hide glue. I spread the mastic and filled the voids with a palette knife and let everything set up overnight.

The next afternoon, I returned to again flatten the field, probably something I should have arranged to do only once, but there is no worries here. Yet another forgiving benefit of thicker, shop sawn veneer.

Then I turned my attention to the sides of the tray. More walnut, more adventure.

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, October 4, 2015


For a moment, please pardon some personal navel gazing.

2,304 days ago I sat down at a computer in our house in rural northern Maine. Thousands of miles away from the pack of family and friends I'd gathered over a lifetime. I'd made a decision to fill my hobby time by getting serious about woodworking, something I'd played at for a while. I decided along side that I'd document the process online as a way to improve my writing skills too. At the time I thought I was inventing the woodworking blog. I hadn't read Chris Schwarz (well I had but didn't appreciate it for who it was) or really anyone else outside the occasional magazine.

I remember the excitement at getting my first comment, the elation of reaching 1,000 hits, then 1500 hits!! The sheer joy in catching my first rude comment that required a "moderator's" hand (A friendly note on the phallic nature of something I'd turned)

"Dick jokes on my blog!  I must have arrived!"  :)

I passed the stage where I celebrated most milestones publicly. In private, once I notice they happened, (usually after they're past.) It's Ickey Shuffle Time.

This one's not bad though. This is the 400th post. That's a lot of writing, some of it good, some of it amateur, some of it pretty bad. My fingers itch to edit old posts, especially from the first year or two but I won't let myself, they show the progression which is what I was after all along. I did some gross estimations and averaging and figure I've written my way through two out of three books in "The Lord Of The Rings" trilogy. (we're talking length, not quality)

The best way to learn how to do something is to start, in the shop or at the laptop the story is the same. As my hand work has improved, so has my writing.

Things change. Maine changed back to Wisconsin. Shops moved several times. New friends have been made. Fantastic opportunities presented themselves. I've grown as an craftsman and a writer. This past spring at Handworks and the Studley Exhibit I had the surreal first moments of being picked out by strangers in a crowd and asked if I was "The Oldwolf  Guy" The best comment after that was "You know what I like best about your blog? You're not afraid to show it when you screw up."

If I didn't show my screw ups I'd only have half the things to write about.

I've tried to show my honest growth from a sometimes sawdust making, tablesaw obsessed hobbyist to someone reasonably well versed in traditional woodworking techniques. Someone who's been published in an internationally distributed woodworking magazine. The learning and growth continues on from here as I tackle workshop challenges like marquetry and writing challenges like publishing my first book.

Writing an internet blog is an incredible litmus test. People can anonymously tell you where you got it wrong, if they'd do it different or better, and sometimes, just how much you suck. I really do enjoy the near instant feedback I get. So maybe, just maybe I'd still be plugging away at this keyboard even if nobody was out there was reading . . .but it certainly would not be as much fun!

So here, at this milestone I wanted to stop and say Thank You to anyone and everyone who has taken a minute here and there to keep up with me and the shop this far into the adventure.

Oh and just for fun, here is a link to the first blog post . . . I warned you.

Ratione et Passionis

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Shop Stool Build Off: Epilogue.

Almost 22 months ago I participated in a pretty fantastic event. Chris Wong organized a one day build off where all involved were to make a new shop stool during the duration of that 24 hours. I built a stool based on the Plate 11 workbench from Roubo.

I don't remember much about the day and the build. I was a concerted blur of effort to get all the joinery done. Four double mortise and tenons for the top and eight more mortise and tenons for the stretchers around the legs. All I do remember is it was damn cold in the shop that day, my little R2-D2 heater barely helped at all.

This is where the build ended. I had intentions of finishing the seat with a little sculpting and maybe applying a little finish the next day, but it didn't happen. It didn't happen for almost 22 months. The stool kicked around the shop. basically unusable because the seat tenons were still proud of the top.

But recently I started a big kick of finishing up some of the things I began but never quite put the period on the sentence. This stool was one of the first things I grabbed.

I planed the tenons and the top and eased all the edges. The white oak had picked up some stains as it kicked around so I gave it a coat of dark, slightly reddish stain. Several coats of garnet shellac, and a coat of clear paste wax.

The results were quite nice. The ray flecks and the grain pop just enough, Best yet, it's done!!

I love how the finish accentuated the hand tool marks. I love more that it's done, and I can use it, and I can move on. If you want to see the accumulated social media pictures from the original build (I had to look to remind myself how the day went) I have them in a blog post HERE.

Ratione et Passionis

Forest To Furniture 2015: Joint Stools.

I had the good fortune to spend last Sunday out, enjoying excellent weather, making wood shavings, chips, chunks, and dust with a couple good friends. It was a similar demo we did together last year for the Castlerock Museum of Arms and Armor and they asked us to make it a yearly adventure!

This year we organized our efforts a bit and all worked on different parts of the same project, A joint stool. Tom Latane had several he'd built in classes with Jennie Alexander many years ago and we had the great book by Alexander and Follansbee from Lost Art Press to reference throughout the day.

Tom took up riving, hewing, and planing oak into planks and legs. Making them ready to pass off for the joinery.

 I spent the day swinging a mallet and chopping mortises (something I'm much faster at when I'm not stopping to talk with visitors about the process) I also demoed making pins and drawbore joints. I never did get around to cutting a tenon.

Paul Nyborg is an up and coming blacksmith on the scene, (he made the holdfast I'm using in the pic above!) When I first met him he was hauling around pieces to a nearly finished wainscot chair. Imagine starting to learn 16th - 17th century furniture and carving by starting with a wainscot chair. Ambitious yes but cooler yet, he was pulling it off.

He used the afternoon to demo the refinements to the joint stool. Carving and making mouldings with scratch stocks. I love how he works off a low bench like Alexander shows in "Make A Chair From A Tree".

The museum has asked us to make this a yearly show and it's so fun to do how could we say no. My own involvement with the museum will be increasing in the future as well, but more on that to come.

Next year we're thinking of a joined chest. That seems ambitious as well, but a satisfying ambition as one is very high on my bucket list.

Ratione et Passionis