Monday, July 1, 2019

Out of the Box

I was the first person in my extended family to complete post-secondary education. Our family really didn't have a lot materially. I got started with a pretty good scholarship to a small drafting and design technical school, but even with that scholarship, it would have been unlikely I could have attended without the aid of my Aunt and Uncle, who let me move into their home while I went to school. At the time 25 years ago, I didn't realize what it meant to take an awkward teenager they barely knew into their family. Now, as an adult and parent I realize what a thing it is they did for me, and by extension so many of my family. 

See, while my extended family hasn't had a lot of formal education, they are for the most part a very intelligent and capable lot, though such talents had largely not helped them get ahead in their construction jobs. So when the contract drafting agency I started with was looking for people, I was able to get first one, then another cousin started on with my reputation. As they proved more than capable even without degrees, my then boss would eventually be quoted as saying "you got anymore of them cousins?" All told, I count at least a dozen of "us" that over the years have a career in engineering with a dotted line pointing to this one act of kindness by my Aunt and Uncle. One of the proudest moments in my career was seeing my dad become a capable tool designer after decades of back-breaking manual labor in the elements. He had finally gotten his foot in the door, given the chance to try something anyone who knew him would've guessed he'd excel at.

What does this project have to do with any of this? Nothing directly other than I thought about this carry on effect a lot as I worked on this project. My nephew recently graduated from high school and is going to pursue a career in the culinary arts. Knowing what to do "when I grow up" is a challenge for many and to see him latch on to something with the interest he has shown is heartening. Months ago, several family members planned a combined gift of a complete set of nice knives housed in a box/roll that would allow such tools to be transported easily to whatever kitchen he will cook in. It fell to me to provide the box. I thought about this project a bit and then did what all good hobbyist woodworkers do, I procrastinated... It was less than a week away, and I still hadn't gotten the stock needed. The design morphed from a simple pencil box to something with integral hinges, lots of joinery, magnets and spaces for what it would house...all the while the calendar window closed. 

The problem with procrastination, is when it works. Because forever thereafter you think of that one time you were able to get everything done in such a short time and make it all happen. I'm hopeful I'll be able put this project aside as an anomaly in my mind, lest I death march myself on some other commitment. After an all-nighter, I completed the last joinery glue up at 5am on the day of delivery, forty quick winks then finishing it up and applying the last coat of spray lacquer (a life saver) at 2:00 pm for a 3:30 pm delivery. I ignored everyone and everything for a week. it was both a glorious and a horrible race against the clock. I really didn't know if I would have anything to contribute. Any misstep would have completely derailed me. I somehow made it without any serious flubs. 

I am proud of how this turned out especially given the time constraints (of course I'll dumbly point out all the flaws/gaps to any one looking too close). I can't get over how the grain flows and book matches in this colorful air dried walnut, and how important managing all that plays into the design. If you know me, over the more recent years, my tools have gotten more "aspirational" less merely "serviceable". For me, using exceptional tools pushes me to higher levels, even if I will never attain to their full capability. I'm hoping that this box and the fine cutlery it houses, will likewise push him to new and greater skills and pride in his craft. At any rate we were both happy with how it turned out which says a lot.

It's hubris on anyone's part to believe we can map ourselves onto an inflection point in someone else's life. Still, no doubt you can think of those that proved to be a jumping off point for you, a person that did something that helped get to the next level. How did they do it? Perhaps it was an all-their-eggs-in-one-basket grand gesture; more likely, they had a habit of putting themselves in a place to make a difference whenever they could hoping it would help someone else along the way and it did. So as you reflect on those people that made you the best of who you are (please do, there are many) don't forget to pay it forward.

Apple bearing pins, is there any process more satisfying in woodworking than pounding dowels?

Sometimes the best bits are invisible (bottom panel is my favorite)

doubled up joinery adds beef to thin ~1/4" box components

It's a shame this goes unseen on the bottom

White pencil and lots of light is a must for walnut (at least for my ancient eyes)

Love these end grain shavings off my shoot board

Magnets keep things in place while traveling...and are just cool

My knives standing in for layout purposes

Delivery day!

High stakes drilling fixture, no room for error

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.