Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Saws Of Chartres Cathedral

I need a wealthy patron. Someone excited enough about my work and research they're interested in funding my modest lifestyle plus a generous budget for my clinically diagnosed BAD (Book Acquisition Disorder.)

After a bit of a break as we upheaved life, home and workshop around again I have again rolled myself back into finalizing the research and writing of my book on the Medieval Furniture of the Morgan Bible and I'm finding maybe the step back was good. I never stopped thinking about it, I just stopped looking at it everyday and that time has given me two gifts. First it's allowed me to re-approach the work I've done with a fresh eye. I'd done a lot of footwork, tracking down books and articles, gathering notes, connecting dots, but now, notes I wrote are offering fresh insights and things I might have missed. 

Second, and more importantly, the time has allowed me to find the book. It took me a while to realize anyone willing to apply ass to chair and fingers to keyboard can write step by step instructions on sticking boards together but that doesn't make a book - that makes IKEA instructions. I've been able to solidify the string of my truth that trusses tight the parts into, well if it's not a story then we'll call it a strong argument. 

That string seems to have become a lit fuse and result will be sparse updates here, unfortunately this is a continuation of the recent trend. 

As a peace offering I'm sharing some photos I found tonight while looking at one of my primary collaborating sources, The Chartres Cathedral and some interesting saws. 

The sharp teeth of war and revolution has chewed up many touchstones to Europe's past. If not eradicating them completely, then leaving them scarred and much changed, but the Chartres Cathedral is one of the exceptions, surviving mostly intact from it's early to mid 13th century construction. It has many details in the stained glass and stone friezes just waiting for the curious eye to discover. 

There is a fantastic resource documenting nearly every inch of the structure online thanks to the University of Pittsburgh and Dr. Alison Stones. You can visit it HERE. just start punching terms into the search function. Mind-blowing.  

Is that a saw or an Anime Sword??  It appears to be St. Simon (the Zealot) one of the Apostles. He is often depicted with a large saw symbolizing one of the traditions of his martyrdom. I keep wondering about having one of these saws made. If for no other reason than to experience the use.

Better yet (and more interesting) this scene showing construction of a cathedral and one of the earliest representations of a bow saw I can remember seeing.

Even the detail in the twisted tension cording is there. Standard saw bench ripping body posture with the head dipped to really make sure you're following that layout line. 

This shit is just fascinating to me. As close as possible to a photograph from the past. Open to interpretation - yes. But then again what isn't? 

Ratione et Passionis

PS. The Chartres Cathedral has shown me some interesting tools before. Check out a very modern looking claw hammer HERE.  

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Seductive Power Of Hand Tools

There are many reasons I lean heavily into hand tool woodworking. Yes I have and use several stationary power tools, but there a word hand tools free me from and I love them for it.


With primarily a power tool mentality you fall into the activity of production and arrange your workflow accordingly. I set up the tablesaw for a certain cut and I want to make all the possible cuts using the same set up, the same measurements. To redial in precise measurements can be a big time sink.

Instead with my hand tools I can skip around the process of building with no real consequences. For example I built a small run of four little dovetailed pine boxes

I milled all the parts close using my table saw. This did help ensure all the sides were the same width and length. After milling I touched all the surfaces with a hand plane and started the process of building each box.

As a result of the space I have and the use of hand tools instead of doing things in production way. Say - cutting all my dovetails for all four boxes first THEN moving on to chiseling all four boxes joints to the line THEN grabbing all four boxes and   . . .  you see the cycle.

Instead I was able to take a single box from dovetail cuts to glued up carcass and start over again without creating any delay or errors by changing up my machinery.

Why jump around the process like this? For me that's a couple easy answers.

1. It keeps me fresh. I don't get burned out cutting dovetail after dovetail. When I do this I can see the quality in my work degrade over time but changing out operations allows me to tackle it with fresh eyes after a bit of a break and I believe my work is better because of that.

2. It keeps me involved. It's like the difference between hanging drywall and taping/mudding drywall. When you're hanging drywall your progress is evident, a half hour ago there was bare studs now there is something that looks like a wall - satisfying, with taping and mudding you are making small incremental differences that aren't as satisfying to the whole picture. Important but not as visually impacting. This trade off works the same. Throughout the day I can see nearly finished box carcasses pile up on the moving pad. I know I'm making progress and I can consider whether the most recently finished box is better or worse than the previous and try to perfect the steps on the one to come.

3. I don't lose time changing operations because I am the limiting factor. Because I'm the machine driving the tools I can just mark a line and saw a line and I don't have to worry about losing a set up or a measurement, Changing or resetting up a jig or configuration. If I had a small space with only a six foot bench this would be different, but as it is I can saw my dovetails in a moxon vice, grab the boards and move to a chiseling station to clean up to the lines, then move to a leg vice to cut the corresponding joint side before moving back to the chisel station, checking the fit, then moving to another area by the glue pot to stick things together.

I would never trade in my hand tools because of the freedom they assist me in achieving in the shop. it is so emancipating to mark a line and be able to saw or plane to it confidently.

Ratione et Passionis

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Boarded Chest V: The Start Of A Vision.

The journey you take as an artist or craftsman (or whatever your prefered nomenclature may be) always makes me think of the movie "Back To The Future," when Doc Brown explains alternate timelines to Marty. Different things effect the timeline creating alternate futures. Different influences at different times can push your work and growth in a thousand different ways. Your work is the sum of decisions and influences as they compile into your timeline of work. You keep grasping, and pulling towards something that feels most like YOU.

A slight change in the timeline, perhaps seeing Wendel Castle's work instead of Peter Follansbee's when you were ripe for inspiration, the outcome could be very different when it comes to executing YOUR work. The things you create that feel like they bubble up intrinsically as opposed to extra-corporeal pressures.The artistic equivalent of "The Butterfly Effect."

People say they love carving or turning, and I can do both, but I don't love them any more (or less) than I love cutting dovetails or flattening a board or sharpening a handsaw. I love these things for what they allow me to accomplish in a final product. This boarded chest project is the exclamation point on a recent body of work that has allowed me to solidify a vision to explore until I exhaust of it and find new fertile ground.

Simple pieces of furniture masquerading as something fancy and fantastic. Simple with a surprise.

So here are the final pics of the boarded chest I chose to name "Start Of A Vision."

You will notice the till lifts out from the body of the chest to reveal a false bottom and a hidden niche. 

If you want to see the collection of posts leading to this finished product, you can find them HERE.

Thank you.

Ratione et Passionis

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Boarded Chest IV

I don't pretend to be extensively traveled or even all that educated. I do spend a lot of time buying and looking at books on woodworking and furniture. Once you begin to look you realize just how many there are out there. Many of the old ones are written by art historians and can be disappointing from a maker/woodworker perspective but I learn something from all of them.

In the shop I had a lid to solve for the boarded chest build and I chose a path a bit unconventional going with a frame and panel. I've seen frame and panel on joined chests and certainly on traditional tool chests, but I cannot recall seeing one tacked to a simple boarded chest. Still, their stability over a flat, cleated panel or even breadboard ends made it my go to choice and kind of fit the theme of a simple chest impersonating something more elegant.

I constructed the outer frame first then used a set of pinch sticks to establish the measurements for the inside panel.

Instead of making a raised panel I ran the rabbets along the front edges and then planed two simple beads into the long edges of the remaining field. Just like the door panel shown as figures T & S from "Doormaking and Window-Making" from Lost Art Press.

 I failed to get a good shot of the panel "in the white" Here is a close up of one of the final shots the chest panel after black paint and lacquer.

It also seems I failed to gather any photos of building the lift out till. It is a simple affair of rabbets and nails with a show face made from curly red oak. There will be more to show of that and the secret hiding place I added in the next, and final instalment on this build.

Ratione et Passionis

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Ass, Gas or Grass. Nobody Rides For Free.

Recently I picked up a pair of match planes from Josh at Hyperkitten Tool Co. I can not recommend working with enough. He always has great user stuff for reasonable prices, responsive to emails and quick shipping practices. I've been looking for the right set of these at the right time for a while.

The planes were made by A. Kelly & Co.in Ashfield Mass probably around the mid 1800's and showed up in fantastic shape.

Match planes help you easily cut a tongue and groove joint for edge joining boards. They are common planes but finding them relatively clean and unabused can be a challenge especially if they're sized for the always very popular 3/4" thick board. Without them I made this joint very rarely because the other hand tool way to do it involves a rabbet plane and plow plane. (yes there are other ways too.)

I knew the planes I ordered from Josh were made for wider stock and sometimes you can get away with it on thinner stock.

Groove plane with the skate removed.
These just wouldn't work on 3/4" thick stock, No problem because sistering a thin addition to the fence would push the cut over and make it work. Not to mention cover over the small amount of damage to the toe of the plane's fence.

I do need to stop for a second and point out the fantastic molding detail above the skates bed. You just can't get better than the details in old planes.

I added a thin slip of oak, about 1/8" thick, that centered the groove on 3/4" stock and I added a matching slip to the tongue plane. I used some small brass screws counter sunk to hold the slip in place so I can remove it and use the plane on thicker stock when the need arises.

I understand some may have trouble with my decision to make small screw holes in these old planes for my own dirty purposes. It wasn't done without consideration to that matter but there's another truth. I am a tool user not a collector. I have no problem truing up the bottoms of my wooden try plane or sharpening the teeth of my old saws, Every tool in my chest has to do it's job and earn it's keep and I have to do my job to maintain them and keep making things with them. As much as I appreciate the details and elegance of these old planes, they have to be useful to me. There are no freeloaders here.

Truth be told these match planes have paid their due twice now. One in usability, but the second in inspiration. I've been planing a kerfing plane and frame saw build for a while and struggling with how I wanted to execute the body of the kerfing plane. Using the groove plane in this set felt just like I thought a kerfing plane should, so I used it as template.

Kerfing planes coming soon!

Ratione et Passionis

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The New Shop Tour.

Paint, paint, paint.

Move, lift, slide, push, pull, move.

Hang something here. Hang something over there. Shit. Take that down and hang it over there instead.

There is nothing glamorous about setting up a workshop from scratch. Yes there are things to consider like workflow, unique storage solutions, and accessibility but those things are covered to death in the standard "Great Workshops Annual" magazine you see reprinted every year with a new cover (sometimes.)

If you want, need advice on setting up a shop, do yourself a favor and pick up a used copy of Scott Landis's classic "The Workshop Book," from eBay or AbeBooks. (It'll cost you less than $5)

For my experience here. I dissolved two months of hard work into about 10 minutes of video.

Here is a look inside my shop. Enjoy!

Ratione et Passionis

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Boarded Chest III

I was working myself up to the good part. The inside papers were in place and the next step in the process was to turn a pile of boards into a big box. A boarded chest goes together quickly and solidly with a handful of cut nails. I like to drill an undersized pilot hole for these nails, especially through the top board and always at intersecting angles for additional holding power.

 The next step was a strip of moulding that commonly wraps around the chest providing a line of punctuation between the body and legs, Often it runs on just the front and sides, but I decided to wrap it all the way around. I ripped 1 1/2" off a 10 foot pine board, cleaned up the saw marks and fudged a long sticking board apparatus with the remaining board and a plane stop.

One of the best things about a 12 foot long work bench - I can stick a 10 foot moulding without sweating it.

I used a 1/2" bead on one side and a complex moulder on the other to pretty good results.

Then I went through the process of mitering the corners, wrapping it and nailing it in place, (with a little glue too.) The next day I mixed up some putty and filled in all the voids, nail holes, french marks, and coated all the knots. After an hour of dry time I sanded the puttied area smooth and started to apply tape and paint.

 I spent quite a while pondering over this step. I had some notions but no strong plan. After reviewing my notes (yes I take notes, sketchbooks are fro more than just drawing) things came down to a cross between the elegance of this photo I screen shot with my phone.

And this folk art facial.

I will admit. As of right now I have no idea where these photos originated,

I experimented on several test boards to achieve a look similar to the folk art supreme but wanted to maintain the serpentine curvy shape and banding of the high falutin' marquetry.

This is where it landed, to which my daughters immediately observed looks like a pair of ski goggles. Undeterred by their teasing giggles, I pressed forward.

Two coats of green milk paint, (because green contrasts with the red which covers most of the inside) and two coats of lacquer and I was ready to remove the tape and start on the inside.

I left a boarder of tape around the goggle shape. (dammit now I'm calling it that) and started on the inside. Here is the steps I followed:

  1. A thinned layer of gesso tinted with yellow ochre went down 
  2. Next went a layer of blond shellac colored with yellow ochre and burnt sienna pigment, darker than the base gesso, but still fairly yellow
  3. Then a lightly brushed layer of blond shellac with burnt sienna
  4. Then a lightly brushed layer of blond shellac colored with burnt umber, the darkest layer. 
  5. Then I used a stiff bristled artist brush and worked back into the shellac with denatured alcohol. Thinning and removing the top shellac layers and exposing the layers underneath. This process is where the design defined itself. I planned and drew a few ideas for the design, but didn't refer to them at all during this process, I wanted it to feel spontaneous and immediate. 
  6. Then I mixed earth pigments into raw linseed oil and worked back into the field, applying highlights and lowlights. 
It's important to note I allowed at least whole day of curing between each of these steps, I'm unsure if this was necessary but it seemed safe.  

Then I removed the tape and created the banding using off the shelf oil paints. First yellow, then burnt sienna brushed lightly in a cross banding sweep. Then a thin black outline on the inside and outside of the banding to set it apart.

 The end effect is was not displeasing. Very close to what I was after. I let the process cure for a while longer, oil paints and raw linseed oil do take time, then I applied a couple coats of lacquer to the front.

Now it was time to start working on the lid.

Ratione et Passionis

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Boarded Chest II

"The unreal is more powerful than the real. Because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it. Because its only intangible ideas, concepts, beliefs, fantasies that last. Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on."
-Chuck Palahniuk - Choke

With the basic elements of the boarded chest constructed it was time to start moving into the unreal parts of the work. Selecting and executing the design elements that would define the blank canvas I had created. It's the dangerous part of the work. Things bog down in decisions and problem solving and that's trouble if you pride yourself on efficiency. Mistakes can lead to set backs that can involve scrapping the whole thing and starting over.

The first play was the cutouts for the ends. Traditionally these are often shaped like ogee mouldings or something called a "bootjack." Of course I had to find a different path. A scholarly article on medieval architectural mouldings had recently found it's way to my desk and since these cut outs are akin to moulding profiles I looked there for inspiration.

Staying away from the more elaborate ones I decided on a "double hollow" which I promptly reversed in the layout so I suppose now it's a double round, which sounds like a Denny's menu item.

I ganged the sides together, made a few saw cuts and smoothed the final profile with rasps. Subtle but just different enough.

With all the main parts of the chest complete I set everything aside to explore the next element. Lining the chest with bespoke papers. In Victory Chinnery's "Oak Furniture: The British Tradition," There is a small, nearly throw away sentence about chests and boxes being lined with printed papers such as 17th century wood block printed wallpaper. His written words became a worm in my head and I started experimenting with lining many of the carved boxes I've made. Starting with paper I marbleized myself and moving into carving woodblocks and printing my own "wallpapers"

Smaller boxes are one thing, but I wanted to see the effect on a sizable piece of furniture. So I came up with a simpler two tone design and set up for a day of printmaking.

I may have to build or borrow a large roller press to carry out this large scale job again. The red field involved inking and placing the block. Then flipping the block and paper over without slipping, sliding, smearing and burnishing the paper into the block with the back of an old wooden spoon. I'm not looking for a strikingly perfect field, the voids, lift offs and heavy fills add a character missing in today's perfect digital world. A touch of Wabi-sabi is a good thing.

Once the red had set up I moved pack in with a pair of smaller blocks inked in black. I hung them on a makeshift clothes line to dry for a day before . . .

. . . gluing them down to the inside panels The sheets were cut and printed oversize and once the glue was set up and the paper "veneer" set, I trimmed the overhang to fit.

Over the prints I added a couple coats of laquer. I wanted to seal the water based inks from rubbing off or sticking to anything placed inside the chest, especially if it encountered high humidity.

Once everything was set and dried I set up for another dry fit. I wanted to make sure the thickness of the paper didn't interfere with the fit of the simple joinery. Also, I couldn't help myself I had to get a look at the effect. I have to admit, with everything else in "the white" as it were, the colors and vibrancy of the print was pertty overwhelming.

I knew it was too early to pass judgement, The next design decisions were simpler, but maybe more labor intensive.

Ratione et Passionis