Saturday, May 25, 2019

Full-throttle, half-baked

A while back, I realized that I'm not one for in-process blogging, attempting to encapsulate each project into some sort of a story arc; but I just haven't been actually "finishing" much lately. Sure there has been some spoons here and there over the winter etc. but it's hard for those to be more than an Instagram post.

For 2019, I chose "Go!" as a one word motto. This means I am trying many new things, supported by the freedom I have as a single dad with independent teenagers. What this doesn't mean, is that I plan well and wrap-up everything before the next new thing needs attention. This bothers me since I generally consider myself serial finishing one project before starting another. Still, in the spirit of adventure, I'm exploring this new method and soaking up the experiences along the way. I suppose this in itself is the story of my now, that of many irons in the fire concurrently, pausing here, returning to this one, etc. So today, I invite you into my current chaos of in-process and nearly done projects.

Arcade Cabinet
This project is getting close to completion... I promise. This started out as a typically over ambitious 8th grade art project for the boy.
  • We did in fact meet the deadline for the removable central console (phase one) complete with buttons and Retro-pi setup. (He got an A)
  • We have in fact constructed the main cabinet (phase 2) 
  • Painted the structure and installed the guts (Phase 3) 
  • What remains is (phase 4) which will be pretty novel to this type of project I hope, but taking time off from this project has made me nervous about the level of precision with compound angles etc. required to wrap it up. Also the fact that it's 100% playable and usable in the current state has taken some of the wind out of the project sails.
Estimated time to completion (1 weekend of focused effort)
Bar Stools
For some time after the Kitchen remodel, I've needed some stools for the island. Since the island is a couple of inches higher than standard, it needs custom stools. Last year I made a prototype that I'm pretty happy with and started down the path of making a set of 5-6. This project appeared to be going along a linear path preparing material for the seats until it came time to drill holes for the legs when I mistakenly drilled the first blank with the legs facing inwards. (I'm not sure it can be salvaged by flipping the top upside down, but may try to salvage) In that moment, I decided to set the tools down and they have sat there waiting for me to return. Last week drilled the seats (hopefully correctly this time) and will hopefully get on to legging these up. Lots more to do here, but really looking forward to getting rolling again especially carving the seats.

Estimated time to completion (50 hrs work)

This was quite an experience to say the very least. I took a class from Austin V Papp at Caleb James shop alongside Anne where we built three functional mandolins (in the white) in a week. As Anne says, it takes two solid weeks work to build a mandolin, we just did it in one. (by working 14+hrs a day) in the end I learned so much about instrument making and setting up, which is a real bucket list item for me (I want to make a violin/cello in the not too distant future.)

The hangup with completing this project is 100% finishing. It is currently playable (and  sounds pretty good). All throughout the class, I envisioned it being finished clear, and I was only hung up on the french polishing process. By the end of the week, I felt comfortable with that. But when I arrived home, the musician in the family decided that she definitely wanted a dark sunburst. this meant I need to do some experimenting and finishing work, first on samples and then to take the leap on the finished instrument. But that's where it stands today.

Estimated time 1-2 days of experimenting and 1 week of french polishing

Dutch Tool Chest
A couple of weeks ago, I had the second annual "non-class" in my shop with some friends, where we built dutch tool chests in a day. This actually went pretty well, and despite a couple last minute cancellations, those that made it went home with a complete (minus paint) tool chest. With guiding them out on new techniques, I got maybe 85% of the way there on a "spare" DTC and had to call it a day. Basically I need to finish the fall front and the lid, which I'd planned on doing with simple hinges.

In the mean time, I took a road trip to Lost Art Press's open house and got to show off a few things including the recently "famous" 4-bar linkage on my existing chest, which now has me re-thinking if I want to recreate that type of lid on this second DTC,(which I've been really happy with) so now it sits, waiting on that decision point.

Estimated time 4-8 hours and paint time

Work Bench
I include this here because this is a project I sort of left undone after I got my split top Roubo usable (notice a pattern?) a couple of years ago. Recently (when I cleaned it off) it started bugging me all the things that need tidied up and finished.

  • Make a "gap stop" for the split down the middle
  • Drill hold fast and dog holes
  • Make wooden dogs
  • Flatten top
  • Carpenter boxes as a "shelf" (after relocating the snow tires...)

Estimated time, probably a full weekend or two

Stick Chair
Ugh this project has been burning a hole in my psyche for years. I made a model nearly 3!?! years ago for this idea I've had brewing for even longer... I finally worked out a tentative solution on the problem I was fixated on (keeping a glued up seat together after the shousugiban process.) and need to just get this out in the world. I have the materials generally at the ready, maybe it's time to start another project...

Estimated time...however long it takes to make a chair? I don't know, a week? a year?

To Be Continued?
Mentally, there is a tug-o-war pulling back-n-forth on what to attack next, yet now as summer approaches, I also know from experience that woodworking time will diminish, still lets hope that come fall, at least some of these items are checked off, and not too many new ones have been added...

Monday, October 1, 2018

2018 Danish Chair Building Extravaganza

For several years there's been a group of guys that get together and build chairs bi-annually in Denmark. It's a great event because while it's not a "class" official, each of the participants brings their own ideas and experience, all benefit, build different chairs and get to spend time hanging out with people that enjoy making stuff while trying new things. (if you are not familiar, check out Brian and Jonas' blogs) Once again, I have not been a part of that group doing that thing in anything other than spirit, Still, I realize that many of my recently undocumented projects mimic the experience that they have been creating, mixing chair making and working along like-minded individuals. Here's what's been going on in my shop since my last post.

  • Clam Chair Build
    • I've built a few of these in recent years, one by myself and another with a cousin. (and only now realize I haven't blogged about it.) This is based on a design by Ceasar Sherrard often called the Belize Clam Chair. (Or with 2x material the Kentucky Stick Chair) the folding design is clean and simple but it provides astonishing comfort by nature of the curved seat back formed during assembly. Back in winter '17-18,  I had the itch to host a group of new woodworkers to make one of these chairs, since they are pretty straight forward to make and we could finish it in "one" day and make good gaming or back porch chairs. The idea was that since spring would be here, we could have a fair number out building chairs spreading out into the drive. As it turned out, it was absolutely freezing mid-April and we all had to huddle in the garage and be constantly tripping over each other. Regardless, we were able to get one chair finished each in a VERY LONG day. I think we all enjoyed the process, and everyone has a comfy chair and got to try something new (+burn something). For me this was the opportunity to host and to share my passion of woodworking and have a good time doing so. I hope I've started some fires burning on this path, if nothing else we all learned how much better MAP gas torches are than propane for this endeavor.
  • Leaf Stool(s)
    • For some time I've been
      needing stools in the "recently" remodeled kitchen to get rid of the terrible stool shaped objects that have inhabited my home for ages. I've been through various iterations in the design but had finally settled on building an eclectic mix of stool designs that I admire (like Maloof or Wegner) or wanted to try out (some sort of stacking webbed type). I may still get to making that mix, but after building a simple stool that was inspired by Bern Chandley's leaf stool, I've decided that I'm going to knock out a set of these first. The seat is stolen from Bern's profile with some of the seat carving techniques I've learned from Pete' Galbert's Perch seats albeit with kutzall carving disks. The undercarriage was based largely on the availability of material and tapered tenon joinery. Finish was the red oak shoushugiban I've now done on numerous projects, maybe I'll tire of it someday, but at least until I run out of red oak, it'll stay the go-to.
  • CH25 Build
    • The final chapter in my 2018 DCBE for me was visiting the Shop of Caleb James for a week and building an actual danish chair... a reproduction of the Hans Wegner CH25 lounge chair. While Mid-century mod is all the rage, I've not been deep down the hole of this like Caleb has. Though now I think I understand what all the excitement is about. This chair is an incredible design, subtle yet complex; and it sits really nicely for all sorts of relaxed activities like conversing with friends or playing chess with the boy. Again, this experience let me come away with a new chair (well after I finished the weaving at home) I was able to spend time working in another shop with new methods and tools. (I NEED a slot mortiser now...) I also learned of the wonders of weaving and Danish cord. I was previously ambivalent about woven seats, but now I'll be looking for ways to incorporate into future designs as well. Of course, I couldn't resist the urge to char this chair as well (prior to the black paper cord, naturally) I think it turned out really well and is a unique look and texture for sure.
  • Takeaways
    • There was a lot of wasted time goofing off throughout, talking, sharing a drink and going off on tangents, talking about tools. but that is what made these events so productive and refreshing. If you think such an event should be about heads down woodworking and getting things done, then by all means get a factory job, that's what it would be. instead this was all about hanging out sharing different things with friends and staying/getting energized about making stuff, which in the end makes you more productive.
Hopefully I will get to more Chairs/stools yet this year, I do have another large project with my son with a looming deadline so likely that will take priority, Still I'm really pleased with my chair building efforts thus far. If you get a chance to work with someone else either in your shop or theirs, do so, you'll come away wiser and likely more excited than ever to get to work.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Bread and Water

My son and I have a waffle place we go. It's a joint for locals, it's quirky & fun (it's also a tea house with sort of a Moroccan Jazz club feel). It's little out of the way on a backstreet. (It's moved addresses a time or two in the time we've been going there.) The boy is decidedly not a foodie, he always orders sandwiches plain; Panda's orange chicken is a rare foray into "exotic"; still, his favorite thing at this place is the Crème brûlée (inside) waffle, (which this time he had to enjoy via FaceTime... the s'more waffle is a pretty close second.) The only negative of Waffle-era being the preferred breakfast joint, is that it's just a shade over 2000 miles from our front door, in Old San Juan, PR.

I <3 Puerto Rico. It's beautiful, wild, historic and tropical, but also lively, domestic and tranquil. As any good love story should be, it's complicated and simple all at the same time. I've been there some times (and pondered ways to make that background Coquí soundtrack permanent.) So I was greatly saddened to see the damage and destruction from Maria and especially sad to see the island struggling to get back on it's feet following that disaster. When the opportunity to provide disaster relief work and apply my abilities (such as they are) presented itself, I leapt at the chance to give something back to a place that has given me and my kids so many memories.

It was a great experience on so many levels. Out of respect for the organization I was working with, the people in whose homes I worked, and the many new folks I met, I am not sharing photos here of the work done (though I may over share in person if you get me talking about this) It was a great privilege to be invited to spend time with such a well organized, and caring group and directly assist those in need.  I know there are many people that need help, and while many times we are limited in what we can do...this time I was able to assist folks in need directly, and it felt amazing. It also felt great to work flat out all day alongside other volunteers doing something truly worthwhile, feeling both tired & sore and refreshed & energized simultaneously. If you haven't had such an opportunity, I encourage you to jump in PR or elsewhere. Constructing rooves that can endure all but a cataclysmic hurricane for those that wouldn't otherwise have been able to get their home dry before the next storm was truly rewarding, all the more so after getting to know them and hearing their stories.

It's perhaps understandable that some believe that far off places don't deserve their attention, preferring to focus locally. But I'm surprised how often traveling brings me "home" in unexpected ways. On this trip, I met a new friend that drives past my house at least once a week (now he'll stop and say "Hi"). Still, a more memorable link home was quite literally on the ground in front of me.

I instantly loved the design of the water valve covers used around the island when I first came in 2012, I think the shape and style combined with their ubiquity on the sidewalks of old San Juan adds to the charm of its blue brick streets. (Also it's a Spanish word I know...) Still, I was surprised when I discovered that many of these cast covers were made by a company in the same small industrial city I've spent much of my working life. I suspect these are 1940's or before and I can imagine the very people involved in this work and how their jobs helped shape their families and the nearby towns I've lived. Humble to be sure, but without such things "where I come from" could be vastly different.

Many times, it feels like the problems this world faces are too big, and "those people" too different, yet if we see these connections, we remember our neighbors aren't just those in earshot, that our work can reach into the corners of the earth, and that just because it's not in our backyard, doesn't mean we shouldn't lend a hand. And regardless, waffles are always a good idea.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Power of Running Water

Caterpillar (my employer) is no stranger to making significant infrastructure improvements to all areas of the world. One area of significant involvement and investment by Big Yellow is in making sure water reaches those that need it. It's admirable the efforts the company puts forth in this arena, for instance consider this recent press release:

Today, I want to give a "shout out" to Caterpillar, not for providing water to far flung reaches of the earth, but instead someplace much more local. My life is better, right here in Central Illinois from the water Caterpillar provides. See, when the office planners of my small facility were arranging things, they had the foresight to provide a shower area for employees to utilize. This might seem like an extravagance, or an unneeded item by some, especially those that live nearby their work or are attempting to optimize every square foot of a cube farm. Still, I can attest to its worth. In the years I've been in this building, it doesn't get used daily; but it is a key enabler to a healthy lifestyle for employees, much more so than more costly initiatives aimed to do the same, with less efficacy.

Originally, I would use it to go for an occasional early morning jog to try to "get in shape" when I had 2 toddlers keeping me from getting the exercise I needed at home. Later, it would be an asset that enabled me to bike ~20 miles to work occasionally. And this winter past, after returning to this facility, it's been a boon to be able to get marathon training runs in midday. In the middle west, it's dark when you come & leave work for much of the winter. My point is that just as bringing water to a remote village enables unforeseen community benefits, so too adding shower facilities to your work environment has carry on effects.

In a couple weeks, I will be running my third annual Illinois Marathon (it begins right outside our office) my 13 yr old son will be running alongside me for the first half (his second); I can trace the start of this healthy aspect of my family's life directly back to a thoughtful office layout. If you are involved in this activity, and your company says it values employee health, providing a place to get clean should be a mandatory feature included in your work. It may not happen on day one, but someone will thank you for it later. Thanks Michael, Walt, Carol and others.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Getting Ready for HandWorks

This may seem like an odd title given that HandWorks 2017 occurred several months ago. To be honest, I had hoped to publish just such a post prior to the event, but life being what it is at the moment, I didn't get to it. Still, the idea hung on and I decided it is still relevant.

HandWorks will likely always be a significant marker for me. The original event sparked me into stepping out of the shadows into the woodworking community. Before the second & third I found I wanted to finish up some things before the event to serve as conversation points with people I knew I'd meet or as punctuation to where I've grown and what I've accomplished in the meanwhile.

This is better for me than the annual goals many may kick off in January each year. I find that  not as useful because
  • January is right in the middle of what I consider to be "woodworking season." Spring/summer is a better point for self-evaluation.
  • One year goes by really fast as a hobbyist; evaluating myself on an annual basis can be disheartening. Thus far HandWorks has stuck to a bi-annual schedule, this makes me feel better about what I accomplished looking back over that time.
So what did I get done in the 2yr prior to Handworks 2017? If you only follow me by blog then you may have missed some of these since smaller items only ended up on Instagram without a legit blog post associated. (looking at this list makes me realize I need to write more frequently)

What do I hope to get done before HandWorks 2019? (hopeful there is such an event) Some of these things are already in-flight, or even completed given that HandWorks was a while back. But these are where I hope to get
  • Shop Projects
    • Finish-finish my workbench

      • Make center divider/planing stop
      • Flatten top
      • Dogs & holes
      • Shelf/storage
      • Swing Seat
    • Shavehorse
    • Finish Dutch tool chest. (paint + guts build out)
    • Sheet good Storage
    • Heat (install gas heater previously aquired)
    • Roubo Wall shelf?
    • Upgrade Lathe?
    • Upgrade Planer?
  • "Real" Projects
    • Chairs Chairs Chairs
      • Folding Clam chairs
      • Maloof style barstools
      • Perch Stools
      • Webbed chair/stools
      • Hex Chair
      • Mira inspired Chair
      • Staked Bench for entryway
    • Barn Doors for media room
    • Gaming Coffee Table
  • Personal Development
    • Share Something
      • Seminar
      • Kids' involvement
    • Learn Something (Class)
    • Community
      • More frequent blogs
      • Group build non-class
    • Sell Some thing(s)