March 3, 2014 § 2 Comments
More than a month ago now (January 25) Chris Wong organized a frenzied woodworking exercise of building a shop stool in a day (or two). Or in my case – a month. It didn’t actually take a month to build, but after realizing it wasn’t going to happen after about a day and a half I set it aside and just picked at it here and there while other things took precedent. I have nothing but respect for professional woodworkers who can stay focused and disciplined to complete projects in a timely manner. I suppose putting bread on the table is ample motivation. I actually tweeted during my build on that weekend. something I had never done before with a build. Tweeting is far quicker than live blogging because you can’t really write that much. Snap a photo, write a sentence, and keep going. You can check out the posts by going to my twitter feed here, (scroll down to January 25 and 26 for the stool tweets) and you can also see how I tend to neglect this form of social media. Then again, I have a grand total of 9 followers.
Anyway, as I said the stool is now done. There are loads of little mistakes, but it’s going to live in the shop so I’m the only one who will ever see them. There was a large loose knot on one of the upper stretchers that I decided to just knock out and make a hole. I have to say, I like the look. The seat and step are both cherry, everything else is CVG Douglas-fir. I think the two look nice together. The cherry pieces had some dark streaking that I oriented on the edges of both the seat and the step. No real fancy joinery here, just nails and some glue per the inspiration for the piece.
The top was a bit of an adventure. I wanted to have a saddle seat, but I lack the appropriate chairmaker’s tools to do that effectively. So I just took a big gouge and started to wail away. I sawed a few cross grain relief cuts with a handsaw to serve as depth guides. I sawed the middle one a little deep, so it *ahem* became a design detail. I wanted the seat to be textured and not glass smooth, so I continued to hit it with a gouge and a gooseneck scraper. For the most part it came out how I wanted. I went a little too deep in a few spots, and there is some ugly tearout here and there, but the seat is nice and comfortable. For a finish I just slapped on a few light coats of an oil/varnish blend and called it good.
I’ve built a number of these little Chinese-inspired stools now, and each of them have used Tremont cut nails to join things together. I like cut nails for their look and holding power, but I’m starting to learn a few things about the different styles. I’ll try to compile my observations for a future post.
I want to thank Chris Wong for organizing this event. It grew larger and larger as more and more people decided to participate. He stepped up and organized sponsors, judges, prizes – it must have been a tremendous outlay of time on his part. For those who did finish their stool that weekend (obviously they all cheated), you can see a gallery of work here. And congrats to all the winners, including Neil Cronk, who took home the top prize. The winners can be seen here.
February 8, 2014 § 2 Comments
Yesterday the DVD about Wille Sundqvist arrived. Last summer Wille’s son, Jögge, launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the project. It was nice to see that the project was completely funded in 24 hours, and by the end they had raised more than twice their modest goal. The DVD came beautifully packaged in a paper booklet instead of the typical plastic case. Wille Sundqvist was born in a time when the tradition of personally making utilitarian household items was common practice in rural Sweden. Through the years he slowly saw this tradition, or craft, begin to fade – unique homemade items were replaced with pedestrian store-bought counterparts, knives and axes were replaced with game controllers and mobile phones. Now in his late 80s, it’s only been late in life that he’s seen a renewed interest in a simpler, more sustainable and self-reliant lifestyle. All you have to do is see all the new blogs, especially those coming out of the U.K., dedicated to carving spoons and bowls. Robin Wood has a been leading voice in the craft resurgence, to the point that he makes a full-time living turning on a spring-pole lathe at his home in Edale, England. Steve Tomlin, Sean Hellman , Simon Hill, and Jon Mac are just a few others. In England the craft has become so popular that they now have a annual gathering, SpoonFest, originally organized by Robin Wood and Jögge Sundqvist.
The most ardent champion of the craft tradition in the U.S. has long been Drew Langsner and his Country Workshops school in Western North Carolina. Wille Sundqvist was one of the first instructors at Country Workshops, and Jögge would follow his father to North Carolina for various classes over the years. It was Drew Langsner who originally came up with the idea of documenting Wille’s work with a DVD. Additional work by Peter Follansbee and Jarrod StoneDahl have brought about increased interest in the U.S., as has the North House Folk School and Milan Village Arts School, both in Minnesota.
The aim of the film is to show not only how Wille works, but why. All those involved thought it was important to have a permanent record of his life, and to hope that the craft of making something as simple as a wooden spoon doesn’t disappear from our society as wholly and complete as the latest must-have piece of technology. I watched a few minutes of the film last night, and will continue to watch it over the next week or so. It looks to be excellent. (I tend to watch woodworking videos in short spurts because they put Judy to sleep.) In the United States, the DVD can be ordered from Country Workshops or Pinewood Forge (and while you’re at Pinewood Forge, go ahead and order one of Del Stubbs’ excellent knives).
In other news, this weekend was the annual Lie-Nielsen hand tool event at the Northwest Woodworking Studio in Portland, OR. Unfortunately, this was also a weekend where 8″ of snow was dumped on Portland, a city not accustomed to snow actually sticking to the ground for more than a few hours. I was within walking distance so I braved the elements and ventured down. Normally there would be 25-30 people packed into the space, but today I was one of three people there. The whole city is hunkered down – there are more skiers on the streets than cars. I bought a few things at the event, partly because I felt really bad for their rotten luck. I didn’t take any pictures – you can check out my photos from last year’s event here.
January 24, 2014 § Leave a comment
A while back Chris Wong posted a rather innocuous entry on his blog about building a new shop stool. He was planning on just building something simple in one day, and a few other woodworkers would join him and also build their own versions. He invited anyone else to join in and share their builds using whichever social media avenue they choose. Well, the whole thing took off from there. There are over 80 people signed on to build a stool. And now there are prizes, side bets, judges – careful what you wish for in this day and age of instant global communication.
I’ll be participating, but I’m not intending to break through with an awe-inspiring original design. I intend to just build a simple, useful stool for the shop, and to see if I can complete the build in a day. I’ve built a few stools in the shape and look from the Kam Wah Chung Heritage site stool collection. There is one from that collection that is different than all the rest in that it has a small step on one side instead of the simple, narrow lower foot rests (see pictures below). That unique stool is also taller than the rest, and was likely Ing “Doc” Hay’s chair when he was behind the counter at the apothecary shop. I’ll need a taller stool when I build one of my future (or is it hypothetical or mythical?) workbenches. (I plan to build two woodworking benches – one taller and one shorter). So, another Kam Wah Chung stool it is. I’ll change the dimensions a little, and I’ll angle the legs in slightly to make it a little more stable and visually attractive. But all in all, the design works for me.
The shop stool build is tomorrow, Saturday, January 25. For anyone not signed up, there is still time – just head to Chris’ web site here. And even if you don’t sign up, perhaps you can make this Saturday a day to challenge yourself to build a simple and useful item in just a day (or two).
I’ll be posting updates and pictures through my horribly neglected Twitter account – @ebushee. The hashtag for the event is #SSBO so you can search on that and see what everyone is doing. Although I’ve posted at least one thing to that hashtag and it doesn’t show up on a search. Oh well. I’ll post a synopsis on this blog sometime next week. I do have to cut out a little early on Saturday to attend a company holiday party, and I will be using that as a preemptive excuse for not completing the stool in a day. And like many of those participating, I’ve tried to do some prep work beforehand. Unfortunately I’m not as far along as I hoped, so for me this project will certainly extend into Sunday.
January 4, 2014 Comments Off
It’s been a little while since I’ve written anything for this blog. December can be a busy month, and hopefully I’ll get back into things now that the calendar has turned. A while back I wrote about a door and moldings that we had stripped of paint. After a contractor enlarged the door and fitted a new jamb, the door was hung so that we would at least have a working bathroom door. But the moldings were still missing for weeks. In my defense, it was a several step process. After the wood had been stripped of paint, there were still some pockets and slivers of paint that were worked with dental picks. Then the moldings were planed, sanded, and/or scraped to remove the roughness. Coupled with some 180 or 220 grit sandpaper, those little rubber contour sanding grips worked really well here. An added bonus of those sanding grips is that they make nice little sharpening fids for molding plane irons when used with fine grit sandpaper. Because of how the door was re-hung (i.e. straightened), I had to rip the moldings for one side of the door to a narrower width. Easy enough except there is a side bead on each edge. I’m sure that a router molding bit could recreate that profile, but for me the easiest solution was to contact Josh Clark and see if he could hook me up with a 5/16″ side bead molding plane. He quickly found one that fit the bill, and I was able to produce a near perfect copy to the originals. The only difference I can notice is that the groove was made slightly wider from my plane. And using a molding plane is so much more pleasurable than firing up the screaming router. And finally a finish needed to be applied – in this case oil to darken the wood, followed by amber shellac.
That said, I did have a few challenges. The moldings are soft red cedar, and grain direction wasn’t always on my side. Even with a very sharp iron, this can lead to a little tearout. And the soft cedar sometimes wants to fuzz instead of cutting cleanly. For one of the moldings I needed to follow with a little sanding, while the other was good after just burnishing with a handful of shavings. One other thing that I’ve found working with side beads is that the mouth likes to clog on the closed side – the narrow area furthest in from the escapement. Some sort of slippery wax, be it tallow, slip-it, or something similar, really helps to keep the shavings moving through, and out the mouth. I saw Roy Underhill demonstrate this in person with mutton tallow at Woodworking in America last year, but forgot about it until after I completed the first molding and had to continually pull the shavings out of the mouth with a pick. After applying slip-it, the second molding took a fraction of the time and the mouth hardly clogged at all.
And while I still need to do some staining on the replacement plinths to better match the color, the door and trim are back up. The baseboards still need some work, though (and sorry about that wallpaper).
November 29, 2013 § 2 Comments
In the United States we have this bizarre yearly ritual where thousands of people wait in line for hours and then stampede each other to get into large retail stores. These same stores are open every other day of the year, but on this particular day the stores entice customers by putting things on sale. Of course they have sales at countless other times during the year, but this one comes at the holiday season, when people have an especially strong urge to buy things. We are told that consumerism accounts for 70% of the American economy. In that sense you could look at these crazed shoppers as economic patriots, doing their duty for country. Some of us see over-consumerism in this country as a disease, and Black Friday looks more and more ridiculous each year.
There is a great William Morris quote on Robin Wood’s home page that reads, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” I try to remind myself of this when I look at all the plastic tubs of stuff in our basement, or the countless things squirreled away in drawers throughout the house. And I wonder about all those things being stuffed into shopping carts today. Will any of it still be useful just a few years from now, or rather shoved into a dark corner in the basement or garage? And how much of it will soon find its way to a landfill? I doubt that anything being purchased today is beautiful.
I’m currently reading The Art of Japanese Joinery by Kiyosi Seike. He talks about the importance of space, or ma in Japanese art and culture. To the Japanese, an “empty” space is of vital importance to the whole. In American culture empty spaces are seen as a waste, and must be immediately filled with something. There are some who believe that parks and open space in cities is nothing more than squandering property that instead could be making somebody money. And give us a 5,000 square-foot house, and we’ll accumulate so much junk in a few years there won’t be any empty areas left.
In our house the Black Friday tradition (if two years makes a tradition) is to stay home and brew beer. We do buy grains and yeast from our local home brew supplier, so in a small way we’re part of this tribute to American consumerism. But in 4-5 months we’ll crack open a bottle of our own Scottish Ale, and that beer will certainly be useful and beautiful.