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.
October 17, 2013 § 1 Comment
When we think of illegal tree harvesting we usually think of far away third world countries and their exotic woods. But sadly, a recent incident in the state of Washington reminds us that it can hit much closer to home. Several bigleaf maples were chopped down in a Washington State Park in order to pilfer some of the highly figured wood so often associated with these great trees. The trees were cut down, chopped up, and only a small portion of their trunks removed. Using an analogy from the animal world, it was the equivalent of slaughtering an elephant, cutting off the tusks, and then leaving the corpse to rot.
One of the biggest demands for figured maple is the guitar industry, where prized pieces are used in high-end instruments that can demand big money. When I look at all that goes into making a guitar, how much of the cost is the wood? How many board feet get used in the making of a guitar? Four or five total? Even at the most expensive $25-$30/board foot, we’re talking a couple hundred dollars of maple for an instrument that will potentially sell for thousands.
I won’t get into here the use of “rare” and “exotic” woods. Like many things, the discussion devolves into politics and quickly goes downhill. I will relate one story from my naive past. Several years ago I walked into a lumberyard, mainly to just look around, from what I remember. I saw all the usual native woods – oak, maple, cherry, walnut, as well as several foreign species I couldn’t pronounce (I only recently learned how Sapele was pronounced). I wasn’t familiar with the foreign trees so I spent more time looking at the native woods. I especially liked some oak in one of the bins, so I asked one of the workers what I though was a simple, legitimate question, “Where did those oak trees come from?”. As I said, I was naive and not intentionally being a smart-ass. The worker thought differently. I’ve since learned that in most lumberyards it’s useless to ask that question because they honestly don’t know the answer. When I can, I now like to buy wood from folks who can tell me where the trees were standing. Maybe it makes me weird, but that provenience means something to me. And if we read about more stories like this in our own backyard, maybe a polite question as to the source of the wood we are buying won’t be such an off-the-wall question.
September 29, 2013 § 2 Comments
I’m selling a few more tools that just aren’t seeing much use in my shop. Go to the For Sale page on the left (under Menu in mobile view). If you want to buy any of them, shoot me a message in the Contact Us page. All prices include shipping.
September 23, 2013 § 4 Comments
Last month Andy Margeson had an entry on his blog about the new space currently being leased by the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers (Guild). Though the shop has been open for member use since September 1st, this past weekend they hosted an open house that served as a more official unveiling of the shop. Andy titled his post “Jaw-dropping” in reference to the large machinery in the shop. I attended the open house, and yes, it is impressive.
A little background – the Guild has been around for about 30 years in one form or another. As enrollment has grown in the last several years, so have their mission and goals. In the last few years the Guild has greatly increased the number of classes they teach or sponsor. This became ever more challenging without a permanent facility to host classes, monthly meetings, and other events. In the past several months the Guild started to explore opportunities to lease some dedicated shop space to facilitate a growing agenda. As luck would have it, right around the time they started a more intense search, a Craigslist ad appeared offering the lease of a professional woodworking shop in southwest Portland. The owner of the shop needed to take leave from his production shop to focus on work at the Portland Japanese Garden. (I’m not sure of the details of the work at the Japanese Gardens, but it sounds like they will be constructing some new or replacement buildings at the site, and the structures will be built using traditional Japanese timber frame construction).
The Guild answered the Craigslist ad and it turned out to be just what they wanted, and more. The large, production-scale machinery was included with the lease, including several Casadei machines. Pictures are below. There is also a bench room with several large workbenches and even some hand tools for common use. Next weekend I’ll be taking the mandatory safety class, and shortly after that I’ll sign up for some shop time. As much as I enjoy my (mostly) quiet work with hand tools in my basement shop, there are times when some large power tools can save a lot of time and effort. Hopefully the Guild is able to hang on to this space for a good while, giving local woodworkers access to world-class machinery as well as a nice place for the Guild to hold classes and events.
On a final, unrelated note, on the way home we stopped in at Grand Marketplace, a new antique mall in southeast Portland. I always love to see old tools re-purposed as art. For most, an old hand brace is simply an obsolete relic of the past. And so you get what is in the picture below. For 225 bones you can take home that authentic piece of woodworking history. Hey, if the artist can get that, more power to them. And that last picture, well, that’s just the coolest damn tub and shower I have ever seen.
September 8, 2013 § 2 Comments
This weekend I finished up the baseboards as part of our ongoing (and nearly finished!) laundry room remodel. The profiles from the router needed to be cleaned up in places, so I unearthed my gooseneck scraper – that had never been sharpened – and scraped away. While Douglas-fir doesn’t scrape as nicely as a harder wood, it is still 1000x more enjoyable than sanding.
The walls of our house are anything but square and straight in any direction, so the ends of each board had to be custom fit. Those little plastic shims from Lee Valley came in very handy here. I used them to purposely cant the boards out of square on the shooting board.
I wonder how much coping saws get used to actually make coped joints in most woodworking shops. I suspect they are primarily used for removing the waste when dovetailing. Undoubtedly carpenters and joiners (does anyone still call themselves a “Joiner”) still make frequent use of a coping saw, as a coped joint is the still the standard when joining the inside corners of moldings and trim work.
During installation of the baseboards, one inside corner needed a coped joint. I pulled out my trusty Olson saw and got to work (of course I did a few practice joints first). A nice thing about this joint is that one piece can simply be cut straight and butt up against a wall, and all the work really takes place on the mating piece. A coped joint starts with a miter cut, as if you were going to miter the joint. From there you just follow the the edge of the miter cut, using the thin blade of the coping saw to make the tight turns. In my case the majority of the baseboard is actually straight, so I cut along that line with a ryoba, and only used the coping saw for the curvy parts. After that I fussed around a bit with small round files until I had a nice fit on a piece of scrap.
Proud of my efforts, I put the boards into place, stepped back to take a look and…
And today the washer and dryer arrived. Don’t the baseboards look nice!
My fine work on these baseboards will be admired for years by the occasional ant that wanders into the house.
Coping saws are readily available at any hardware store and are very inexpensive. Some brands aren’t made to high standards, probably knowing that carpenters will use them in a few years and just buy another. I’ve been happy with the inexpensive Olsen sold through Tools for Working Wood, and the Olsen blades are especially nice. For the discriminating woodworker, Knew Concepts offers better-made (and much more expensive) alternatives to the standard coping saw . They even have titanium fret saws for over $200, if you are so inclined.