Saturday, July 30, 2022

You are not alone.

I generally think of myself as heavily introverted, and that woodworking, the hobby I've been obsessed with for ~25yrs, is a solitary hobby. Most often what I THINK appeals to me is quietly cutting joinery late into the night in solitude. 

This is all a lie.

Sure, there are aspects of that romanticized loner life, but honestly evaluating most treasured projects & accomplishments, very few of them have really been that hermit at work, in fact quite the opposite even if you just look at this blog. (Your mileage may vary)

Likewise, many of the most memorable social interactions in my life have been paired with making things. Remodeling, volunteering, roofs and asphalt maintenance etc make it seem like working & making things might be my true love language. (fact checkers: actually its quality time) but clearly there is a connection. I suspect that both of my readers already know that these woodworking things go where feelings go in other people. 

If woodworking alone is good, woodworking with a partner is gooderer (sp) to that end I wish to share with you a rather monumental project completed, finding a partner*

I should discuss much more about this project, what sharing a hobby with your spouse is like and perhaps some of the fun & challenges that presents. However, considering these chairs were in-process for ~a year,  have been finished for months and even had glamor shots for a while, perhaps I should just let the finished pieces (design by Bibbings & Hensley) speak for themselves.

*Now I know not many will get as lucky a I have here (she's the complete package, she even enjoys finishing my projects!) but find yourself someone to make stuff with, or at least makes some stuff and find someone that you can talk about making with, you'll be glad you did.














Thursday, May 19, 2022

½ Time

If you know me much at all, you know that I'm more a thinker than feeler. Of course, I have emotions (deep down), but they are invariably driven by using the past, to draw conclusions and find patterns moving toward a desired future state. So I present a few vignettes of current life, somewhat connected and even loosely woodworking, though there will be no cut lists or joinery diagrams.

The Dartboard

Owen, living with his mom these days, texted me asking to borrow a drill to help a friend hang a dartboard in a plaster wall. I gladly dropped a few helpful items off next time I was in town. When he returned the tools, he wanted to show me something. He had bought a small tool box and some simple tools to be better prepared to handle such a situation in the future. Of course, proud to see him taking an interest in such things, I quickly filled his tote with duplicates and other tools lying around the shop that might fill some holes in his budding tool collection (like his own drill.) Now, with the experience of being "handy" he was taking more interest in what many of the tools that have always been at hand, really did. 

It reminded me of my own tool mentors along the way. Dad, gifting me a small set of sockets & wrenches when I had my first car, and some others later when I moved out of "drop by and borrow some tools" range. I remember being touched when two draftsmen in my cubicle bought me my first cordless drill as a wedding gift, to equip me for what would come my way, so that oil changes and picture hangings wouldn't be prevented by lack of tools. 

Men often get accused of being poor gift givers, but based on my experience, I've found most to be quite generous in helping to get a young person get the tools they need, when they're ready for them. (ask me sometime about the tool shower we threw for a cousin prior to his marriage.)

The Kitchen

When I bought my first house, like most, it needed work. Part of that was lightly remodeling the Kitchen. One thing I found was the window sill was rotted out. I headed off to dad's to grab a 2x4 and cut a couple of notches in it to fit in the window and be done. I remember looking at my father as some sort of wizard as he walked me through selecting a weather durable timber, matching the thickness, taper, contour and edge profile to match the one that came out. It was mesmerizing, and opened my eyes to really look at the work I was doing, not to simply get it done, but to do it properly.

I was reminded of this on a recent project for my Daughter's new apartment in an old house that has a tiny kitchen with literally 2ft² of counter space. She needed some additional work surfaces, and called in Dad for some assistance. There were the typical constraints with apartments (no attaching to walls) and old houses (sloping floors, radiators, maneuvering up cramped stairs.) I can't speak for her, but perhaps installing something that fit the need above the bare bones solution, has a similar effect in gaining pride in getting your place "Just Wright"

The Patriarchs

From youth, I skip ahead to a ripe old age to two exceptionally mighty men passing in the same week at the age of 92 this February. These men never met each other and often I may feel I barely knew either, yet each gave a ¼ of my genes. These two men lived rich, full lives touching all those around them. They will be missed, but their passing is not merely sadness, their memories serve as high praise for the lives that they lived.

Freeman was a man I only had the privilege of meeting once early in 2020. Through the wonders of technology, and the perseverance of my mother, she was able to connect with her father, changing the closing punctuation in her life away from just a question mark. What I do know of Freeman is that he was a kind hearted man, and that shows in the kindness of his offspring. Not just my mother (whom I know) but in the warmth that we have been drawn into his family by his son and my "new" cousins. While new to me, they have immediately felt familiar with many common interests; trees, convertibles, spoon carving, dump trucks, simplicity, home building, making music (even if it skipped me), engineering, stick chairs. Perhaps these are common to many families, but still I saw the legacy that Freeman has left, and it's one I can support and hope to be a part of.


Maron (my dad's dad) contrastingly was a fixture in my life, always around, yet I must admit not much more known by me. My family is large and when I would go to visit, there's always many cousins of my own age to play with, so I take the blame for not getting to know him as well as I should. Also, from the shear effort required to raise all those kids, must've wore out Grandpa. I swear most of my memories are of him asleep in his chair, one shoe off, watching or listening to a Cubs game. That isn't meant that he wasn't involved I can certainly also remember him taking pictures and teaching us to jump rope, play jacks and hopscotch, but almost always a troop of us rugrats.

In our family we often do things the uncommon way, intentionally or otherwise. Having little kids in your 40's (Guilty, and I have an aunt my age) Dads and uncles starting to working with their kids as second careers, things like that. So it fits right in that Gpa Maron would become a prolific woodworker well after his sons and even grandsons had taken up the hobby. In the last 14-15yrs After he retired he finally had a minute to himself and he artistically designed and made vintage cars from scraps, over 400 unique ones, keeping track of where each one went in little notebook.


The Introspective Conclusion


Despite my current age, I still often feel unprepared, youthful and like I'm still the "new guy" in many situations. Still, I find in more and more situations, I'm the one with the skills and experience needed to step in and solve the problems. I suppose this means that I've moved around to a new position in the circle of life. If the long lives of my patriarchs serve one lesson to me, it's that at 46 I've now reached the ½ way point (At least I can hope)

Time to rally and make the most of the second half.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Hex Chair

I recently read Draft no. 4 by John Mcfee. Sometimes I read about writing because there is so much I missed learning early on in life and yet so much of modern life is writing in one form or another, I should know what is going on, or at least know what people are talking about when referring to tenses and sentence structure etc at parties... people talk about that sort of thing at parties right? It's been a while (even before the pandemic I'm not exactly a socialite). Anyway, it's not at all the type of book I was expecting (Zinsser, Strunk & White) but is really enjoyable nonetheless

When I finished the penultimate essay also entitled Draft no.4 (easily one of my favorites.) and it got me thinking much about the challenge of completing a project. Especially when you see some people cranking them out. and a light bulb moment sort of appeared to me. 

I tend to always just do the rough draft of any project, since I'm typically doing a new design of my own, and doing the first piece largely as the prototype but also the finished piece.

This presents issues like

  • Being uncertain of the sequences of operation, circling analysis paralysis in order of operations discussions. This is reminiscent of writers staring at the blank page not knowing where to start.
  • Making tentative or conservative decisions about strength (typically too heavy) shaping (can't put material back) or stylistic lines which can mean you end up with designs that might work but not live up to it's full potential. (boxed words)
Contrast this with people who make lots of the same thing or writers & comedians honing their flow.
  • Because they have a working process, their minds don't need to be cluttered with anxiety about what happens when etc. 
  • They are familiar enough with the variables to know what to mix up for the next round.

One of the key concepts is to get a rough draft and move on, but what is the rough draft in furniture making? A sketch, a drawing, a model, a prototype, all of these are similar to, but not really the same as the item (The map is not the territory)? In woodworking, how do you go back and wholesale edit it top to bottom? a completely new piece? that seems like a lot of work. I guess the effort involved could very much resemble retyping a draft in the days before computer.

A further concept I like from McFee's essay is the idea of "boxing words" when you find something that is really "almost there" in a draft and a little tweaking might make it great. I think there are a couple of details that to my eye have this potential, in particular, the "knuckles"

Another aspect that makes sense in both writing and woodworking is employing a good copy editor to evaluate your work and help to clarify an element or eliminate chaff (So with this chair I've been trying to get other people to sit in and critique, super easy during a pandemic.) 

This first chair sat for a long time weighing on this "one true chair" concept that I would be finishing it and and I would be a chair maker (full stop) (This was stupid.) During this build, there were things that went sideways. (wood irregularities, splitting...)  and once it became "unrecoverable" in perfection terms, it took away that anxiety, since I was just barfing out a "rough draft." 

How I got here (the backstory)

Things I tried on this project

  • The legs are twisted/smushed hexagons. they go from a circumscribed hex to a smaller inscribed hexagon (rotated 60°) at the top. this means the middle section are actually octagons. It's a bit tricky to visualize at first but actually easily executed with hand tools. This provides a hex on the floor, but doesn't look like a pencil along it's length. in part because it's hard to go against this comment from that last referenced blog 
    • "pfollansbee says:February 8, 2015 at 5:49 pm Octagons. there’s a reason you never see legs that are hexagonal. a.) they’re stupid. b.) they’re ugly. Huh. two reasons. says me, anyway. Otherwise, I like smaller. The chair will look better."
  • The hex Seat actually provides a nice shape to sit in. rather than thinking about it as a point added, think about it as the corners are removed allowing less thigh pressure.
  • I evenly spaced spindles in the deck to maintain the mathematical regularity
  • The angular arm rail formed by bridle joints. pinned with the spindles
  • The exposed dovetailed "knuckles" So far this has been everyone's favorite detail
  • The crest rail is V-Shaped rather than bent

Things I learned

  • My love affair with shousugiban is coming to a close. I still love the color and texture it leaves, but the added complexity of sequencing sizing parts/joining/shaping/finishing/glue ups has gotten old on complex projects. this may be one of my last complex projects with this finish.
  • My legs are still kind of fiddly to fit to get just right and yet largely indistinguishable in the finished product from dead simple octagons, might not be worth the extra work in practice. 
  • The wide V-backrest base does cradle the back effectively.
  • Angled tapered dovetails in the crest rail was tricky for my mind to ponder in layout & execution, but also fun to try. 
  • shaping the crest rail was actually pretty easy and fun once the joinery was correct.

Things I'll do differently on the next draft

  • I'd like to make this in walnut, I think it would be a good fit visually
  • Legs will be a bit thicker to add more weight at the floor benefitting visually there.
  • Use 2 fewer spindles in the back to accentuate the elongation of the chair shape and perhaps improve the head rest feel.
  • The spindles could use something more "angular" in some way. the round dowel spindles are fine, but I feel like something could be done to enhance the look somehow perhaps tri-lobed with the soft flat face towards the user..
  • Work a bit tighter on the inset hex line on the seat.
  • on the armrest section that touches the back lean it back to match the spindle angle. This will reduce the edge contact to the sitter.
  • I may make the crest rail connection a miter with splines to guarantee the tight joinery I desire.
  • The arm spindles "lean" in the wrong direction to my eye from the side view. I'd like to reconfigure that a bit to make it lean the other way (or at least I think I do)