Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Work With Your Hands And Think On Your Feet,

There is always at least one part of a build that blindsides me. Whether I'm working from detailed scaled plans I painstakingly drew myself or a scratched rough sketch on the small chalkboard I keep by the bench, there is always at least one thing I failed to foresee. I understand that's why many prototype important pieces and I could do that. You'd think I'd do that since I'm dealing with such a precious and finite resource as the stock from these two walnut boards.

I'm much more of a two-foot-in kind of person and problems like the one pictured above are actually the challenges I appreciate. I had the miters planned, the sliding rabeted "pencil box" style lid planned, but I missed visualizing where the two would meet. Once I got this far I stopped and cleaned the shop. It helps me think.

I thought about several solutions. Rounding over the points on the miters and saying good enough. This was not the project to take a short cut and say those two words. (I hate those two words) I considered scabbing in little mitered and slotted pieces to fill the gap and bring the sides of the box out even with the end and that was a promising thought, but getting the grain to match and the pieces to hold in alignment in clamps and blah blah blah. It was too complex of a solution.

I'm not sure if this is a common solution to the problem. I don't remember seeing it addressed in magazine or book before but I can't be the first to enact such an explication. It starts with marking and squaring off the offending miter points.

Then using an offcut, creating a tongue and groove joint at the end of the lid.

The tongue board end will be secured with wedged pegs and all will be copacetic again. But there's one more lesson in this piece.

I cut the end piece long for several reasons. Protecting myself from blow out and giving myself a larger reference surface to work from are two important ones, but a side effect is it allows me to slide the piece to fine tune the best visual impact. Early on in my on-going woodworking education I remember watching a video by Charles Neil where he discussed the many ways to consider the grain and it's visual impact in your work.

You can see how the grain lines flow from the panel into the end piece even though they're cross grain to each other. That's a recipe 40% serendipity and 55% paying attention and planning and 5% work.

He blew my mind talking about how in super high end furniture the grain of the stiles and rails (in floating panel doors) should not only flow around the corners, but how the face frame of the cabinet behind the door should be cut from the same boards as the rails and stiles so the grain continues to match as you move visually deeper into the piece. The consideration of the material and it's effect on the details in a work was a paradigm shift for me.

It almost made me quit woodworking. I was sure I'd never be able to work at that level, but once you know about it you start seeing it. Once you start seeing it YOU CAN'T STOP. It's like looking for clocked screws. It is the number one issue that bothers me when I see higher quality manufactured furniture. The thing is, it's not as hard to carry through on as it sounds at first.

The trick I've found is just to be mindful of the concept as you're moving through your wood selection and making your choices. There's a line between being wasteful in slavish obedience to matching grain, and being conscious of how the grain works throughout a piece and aware that while you might be the only person to ever notice the way things line up there is a visual difference that someone unaware of the concept will notice, even on a subliminal level.

It's just one more step into the deep rabbit hole that is woodworking.

Ratione et Passionis

Friday, December 22, 2017

From Chaos With Love.

My workshop is my sanctuary. Its slightly dusty atmosphere is where I go to breathe. Where the feel of my tools in my hands is the pathway to feeling re-centered. Anxiety, anger, pensive thoughts, ennui. The workshop is my prescription for all that ails.

There is a distinct mindset that leads to good work at the bench and it doesn't start in these dark places, but the shop helps turn off these bad factors and switch on worthwhile ones. Reminds me of what I am, or can be. In the middle time, during the transition, I often head into battle with chaos.

I have a tendency to try and box the concept of a year into the categories of good or bad. Though I know a year (and a week, a hour, a minute, and so on) is a human construct arbitrarily dividing infinity, I still hold magical thinking that the turn of a new year can reset the karmic switchboard from the previous.

2017 has been a roller coaster year and I'm calling it a karmic draw.

But through it all I have my siege proof fortress. It's there for me when I'm ready and it waits patiently (more patiently than me) when I'm not. The only thing it asks of me is to help hold the line in the battle against chaos.

When I used to read and participate in woodworking forums one of my favorite subjects was shop tours. There is a special pleasure, something I'm certain only the German language has a word for, that comes from looking into another's Sanctum Sanctorum. But there was often something off-putting, off-balance, off.

Many photos I saw were spur of the moment, purported to show the rest of us a real shop, no fancying up cleaning, no staging, no care taken. The concept is to show a shop where work gets done, but there are piles of chaos everywhere. Arioch reins. It's the chaos of my dad's shop in my childhood, where there was barely time to fix or build what needed doing, but not usually enough time to clean up afterwards, with the additional help of my brother and I recklessly rummaging through for whatever we thought we needed.

I can't abide the chaos. It doesn't work for me and I don't understand how it works for anyone. I don't have to work in a pristine fantasy. Items get set out and used until I'm done. But I will often do a complete clean up at the inbetween points of a build.

All or most of the squaring and thicknessing is complete . . . clean up and put away almost all the tools I used and sweep the shop.

All the major carcass joinery is cut . . . clean up and put away almost all the tools I used and sweep the shop.

Main carcass is glued up . . .  clean up and put away almost all the tools I used and sweep the shop.

Hardware is fit . . . clean up and put away almost all the tools I used and sweep the shop.

Do you see a pattern?

This also includes problem solving moments. Something unexpected results from the joinery choices I made. Something isn't fitting the way it should. I forgot a step in my haste to glue up the carcass and now have to retrofit something. Opportunities for problem solving.

Instead of severing one more wood fiber I will often clean up and put away almost all the tools I used and sweep the shop. Usually by the time I'm done I've solved the problem and I've held the chaos at bay. I've kept up my end of the bargain.

In the end I don't care how you like your shop anymore than I care how you like your steak cooked. It's none of my business and I don't judge. I've come to an agreement with my shop and as long as it upholds it's end of the bargain, so will I.

Ratione et Passionis

Friday, December 15, 2017

Mitered Corners

Still on the build of a box to hold the cremation ashes of my Father-In-Law for burial. Getting stock from the odd shaped boards was the start but after stickering it and letting it sit for a weekend (while I worked my real job) I came back to address the next steps.

The boards were never well taken care of or protected. The ends sat on concrete floors near open doors for as long as I remember before they were given to me. The faces saw rain and dirt and snow and I never really thought much how beautiful the wood under these layers of crap could be. They had too much sentimental value to him, even though he had given them to me. I was convinced I would just have to move them around the lumber rack forever. It is actually more of a relief getting to build something meaningful from them.

Trimming all the ends square and removing the rot and bug holes was the next step

Then I planed both sides of the boards, first with my #4 then with a #81 scraping plane. I wasn't going for flat as much as clean, and once I scrubbed the scruff off I was super impressed with what was underneath. Some curly figure as well!

All the boards set I took the long board that would yield all four box sided and plowed grooves on the top and bottom.

 I cut them to rough length and shot one end of each side square. I like using my #6 to shoot end grain, it has just the right amount of mass and length.

I used the tablesaw to make the mitered cuts. I find I get my best chance of success shooting my reference edge square (the edge that rides along the fence.)  Your table saw has to be well set up and maintained with the fence set square and then I raise the blade all the way up and then measure the 45 degree tilt using the black reference body from my small combination square. Then I lower the blade down to a reasonable cutting height and set my fence.

For these cuts I cross cut using the fence as the guide, I do not use the miter gauge or any sliding table. I run the miter on one end of matching sides, then creep up on the outside length I'm after with multiple cuts, readjusting the fence each time. I make sure I hold the board edge tight to the fence and control were my fingers fall (away from the blade!)

Once I dial in the cut on the first board, following with the second is easy and the two sides should match up perfectly.

I measured for the top lid and bottom panel and cut rabbets for the grooves. You've gotta work cross grain first and then the long grain to keep the tears inside your eyes.

I find fitting panels like this fiddly, seems I always miss one of my dimension and have to creep up on the perfect size. Fortunately it's not difficult to make the adjustments with hand tools. A couple swipes of a plane here, a little work with a chisel there and everything fits.

Once I had the basic box dry assembled and held together with blue painter's tape I realized a design problem I hadn't anticipated. I'm pretty sure I've figured my way out of it but I'll show you next time. Until then. . .

Ratione et Passionis