Assesment

This morning was my final assessment for the Diploma. I was getting pretty nervous beforehand, didn’t sleep much last night (for a host of other reasons, not just the assessment) and had had little to eat. As I moved my work downstairs ready to bump it in I thought how poor it looked next to the fabulous work of Michael and John who were being assessed just before me. The usual pre-performance insecurities I suppose…

But the assessment went fine; better than fine: I enjoyed it, or rather found it helpful and even inspiring! I do believe in the direction that I’m going in, and the body of work that I presented this morning shows this direction — it is not of course where I’m aiming at but if it were why would I be here?! I think I was able to express something of my philosophy of woodworking and explain how the pieces (table, stool, chair and press) fit into it. Rodney was a great help, talking about my progress etc; so was John Reid, especially with reminding and encouraging me about the wider university context of my work (mentioning, for example, the Talloires Declaration). In talking about my work I was not very clear, nor at all concise; there was much that I would like to have added — but all in all assessment has left me keener than ever to get in and do what makes my heart sing! I thinking of drafting some sort of brief outline of those aspects of woodworking that are important to me, that I might refer to when I get stuck in the quagmire of doubt(!) Something about the workshop, my dress, drawing of what I’m to make, the recycled and made materials, the hand tools, finishing, etc. A checklist, manifesto, or somesuch thing.

Do I now want to get back into the workshop and keep working though? Not a bit of it! Time for cake and tea with friends in town I think. Part of my reluctance is the mistake I made with the dovetails yesterday: I was trying a technique that I have read about often in textbooks whereby one marks the pins by placing the tails over them and marking with the saw (and not a marking knife as I have usually done). I did not think very thoroughly about how this would work because I have heard a number of people talk about it as well as seeing it in books. But work is what it did not do: it leaves a gap the size of the saw kerf on every pin! I’ve probably just missed something very simple, but rather than trying to perfect that technique now I think I’ll go back to what I know and can do — marking off the cut tails with a sharp pencil.

On the technical side of things today: on my main page I would like to put an RSS feed from this blog, a calandar or other visual summary of my work and the same for my reading; I guess this summer will see me on the computer a bit! It’s exciting though, this playing at the point of intersection of old ways of working wood and new ways of coding sites!

Closer, Closer, Ever Closer to Where The Wood Really Is.

To be in touch — in contact — with the wood is a wonderful thing; the dust, shavings and sweat blackening my hands; reveling in intimacy with the tree, giving part of myself in exchange for what I am making. Running my hand over the wood, sweeping the shavings off the bench with my skin, it’s this closeness and rawness that cries out to me as real; to get closer, ever closer, to what the wood actually is. Lying curled up, warm and safe, almost consuming the wood (or being consumed by it — it’s hard to tell), at the heart of a tree; or cold, barely holding on high in the crown as the rain whips down, but yet there is care present where the smallest branches meet, and it uplifts. The emotion of the tree is, like the picture in a hologram, present in every part removed from the whole and is ever further released every time we work or use that wood. So personal, so universal; so real.

This is fun!

In which I put little inlays over nail holes.

Thus far today I have been installing little squares of inlay to cover the nail holes in the box sides. It’s fun work, quite exacting but calm and easy. I’m enjoying myself. I finished the inlaying just after lunch and moved on to planing grooves in the two short sides — why I didn’t think to do all the grooving before I docked pieces to length I do not know, and I will have more work to do because of it. It annoyed me a bit that I was that silly, hence my being in this computer lab. On the other hand, I am really satisfied with the inlays, so that’s nice isn’t it?

The Afternoon

I got some lunch on the way back to the workshop, and sat in my corner feeling a bit sad about not wanting to work. It took only a bit of food in my stomach for this mood to pass and I got back to it: more dressing of the ash door jamb for this little box. I made a lot of shavings doing that, and then some dust when I cut and shot each part to length (4 at 377mm, 2 at 77mm and a little bit left over that I will use tomorrow to patch up the holes in the wood).

All that dulled my iron a bit so I went downstairs to sharpen it — little did I know what I was in for! For nearly and hour and a half I toiled over those stones trying various ways of holding the blade, standing, focusing on my big toe – all to no avail until (with a little help from my friends) I hit upon what seems a pretty good way. Locking my elbows and wrists in tight, with a hand on either side of the blade and rocking from my front ankle with my back leg providing the movement. This and a little 30° plastic triangle from R. gave me a sharp blade at last! I have been sharpening it to razor sharpness all year, but a couple of weeks ago I noticed that I was unable to rectify the tendency I have to apply more pressure to one side than the other. So I re-ground it square and since then I just have not been able to get it quite as sharp as usual (until today). I filmed myself as I was sharpening so that I could see how well I kept to the angle.

All of this fiddling around with my plane blade got me right back in the vibe of doing good work, for which I was thankful. So I went back to my bench and worked for the rest of the afternoon. I planed grooves in the box sides to take the bottom and (sliding) top using my No.50 plow plane. It was lovely to be back enjoying wood, and what a marvelous tool that is!

All in all a far better afternoon than the morning; seems to happen that way…

It’s Okay (I Guess).

I have begun dressing the ash, but am quite disheartened today; I don’t want to be doing it. I feel like my work is not ‘good enough’, too rough, or ugly… Why this society, myself included, is so hung up on the smooth, square, fair, straight, even and ‘perfect’ I do not know! I like things to be neat, orderly, clean, structured, yes — but why does that mean I should feel this incompetent when I struggle to make things so? Aagh…. As usual when I am in this state I have come to find solace in the internet (please note irony!), and at least the quiet of the library is nice…. I have been reading about the Inaccessibility of Visually-Oriented Anti-Robot Tests. Fascinating.

I love the physicality of woodworking, the way that it engages my whole body and soul — but not, alas, my mind. What I mean is that I don’t turn to wood to be challenged in a cerebral way; rather, I find with wood a calming and a satisfaction that is on a wholely other level, more in my hands than my head. The problem solving inherent in woodworking is entertaining, but it’s nowhere near the level I find in programming. Thus is the eternal division in my life… sigh…

Clouds Above The Grass

An afternoon of a book, a cafe, a friend, much good talking and only a little work done.

William Morris’ lectures on Art and Socialism from the last quarter of the 19th century kept me company in a juice bar in town this afternoon, but only for a short while before the noise got to me. Morris really does give me a lot to think about, almost all of it good or exciting; I find him attempting to answer many of the same questions that have come to me in recent years, and in a manner wholely fascinating and indeed often congruent with my way of thinking.

“To give people pleasure in the things they must perforce use, that is one great office of decoration; to give people pleasure in the things they must perforce make, that is the other use of it.
Does not our subject look important enought now? I say that without these arts, our rest would be vacant and uninteresting, out labour mere endurance, mere wearing away of body and mind.” — William Morris, The Lesser Arts, 1877.

This ‘decoration’, could it not also include something that one could term ‘decoration of activity’? Those non-functional things that one does when working such as enjoying the sound of a sharp handsaw as it cuts, or being in an attractive workshop. Or am I just a bit too tired to be thinking more about this?

The jamb that I picked up earlier I docked in two and would’ve started planing but had tea instead.

A Moment of Doubt

I have nailed six of the eight corners of the box: through the first tail and into the next pin, and I tried to offset the holes so the joint would be pulled tighter when the treenails were driven home. This failed to happen on most of the joints and has left gaps in some, and made me feel that the whole box was not of a very high standard. After some reflection though, I have rembered that the whole motivation for the box in the first place was to make something without glue or metal fasteners, and I am doing that. It is resulting in an aesthetic quite different from the norm, and that’s okay, that’s what I wanted to explore. Anyway, I couldn’t think how to progress; I couldn’t even decide on what I wanted the box to be, so I jumped on my bike and rode over to F&S to see what I could scrounge from their skip, and returned triumphant with an ash door jamb.The doorjamb I found at Facilities & Services. I will now make a small box, possibly to go inside the large one, and I’ll glue it.

I would like to research a bit more about PVA and its manufacturing process, especially from an environmental point of view because it is this which concerns me. Nothing quite like an uninformed radical opinion, eh?

Fine Woodworking on Treenails

Squaring a drilled hole. Begin by drilling through the leg and tenon with a bit just smaller than the width of the peg. Make sure you don’t drill through the other side of the leg. Use a 1/8″ chisel to square up the first third of the hole.
Making peg stock. [Irrelevant – SW]
Whittling pegs.With the pegs cut into 2″ lengths, round over the first third with a small knife. Rounding the ends of the pegs prevents then from splitting the legs.
Driving it home. After applying a small amount of glue to both the peg and the hole, tap the peg with a hammer. Keep the peg aligned and stop hammering when the peg bottoms out (you’ll hear a change in tone); otherwise, you risk splitting the leg.
— p.65, Fine Woodworking, Taunton Press, Jan/Feb 2001.

So perhaps I do not need to make a pencil sharpener after all! I have been trying to make round treenails, using some varient on the idea of a plane I saw in use on Duyfken; I’ll give this simpler idea a go.

The Speed Of Response

The speed at which one is required to respond in various forms of a) long-distance communication, and b) woodworking.

I have been thinking about the various forms of long-distance communication that are in common use, such as email, telephone, and snail mail, and in particular the length of time each gives one to respond to what the other person says. With traditional postal correspondence one has ample response time — months if so wished — and this I think gives letters a distinctly ‘thought about’ tone. The same is true, to a lesser extent, with email: although it is easy to quickly rap out a reply to someone and send it without really thinking, there is still the opportunity for leisurely consideration of what you want to say, over perhaps a couple of days. This is not true with the telephone — it is at the extreme end of this ‘speed of response’ continuum and necessitates a faster and less considered reply than even a face to face conversation. Silence just doesn’t work on the ‘phone, and can’t play the important role of reflection and consideration that it does in all other forms of long-distance communication — including postal and electronic mail.

There is a parallel between this increasing response time in communication and the time that one has when working with wood to respond to the tools, materials and workshop environment. Take the saw as an example: a portable circular saw can give you very little time indeed to change your grip, stance or in some other way avoid being hurt — its a bit like a ‘phone; a table saw is more forgiving because the table, blade, fence(s) and work-piece are all (hopefully) fixed in their positions or trajectories and are therefore more predictable, but there is still the opportunity for rashness and accidents — similar to email one might say; the handsaw is the slowest of the saws and as such gives the user much more time to respond to the work-piece moving, or an unseen knot that puts the saw off a bit, or any of a thousand other things that necessitate a response to the timber or tools — I would liken using a handsaw to sitting down and spending an hour or so writing a letter, knowing that far from being a ‘waste’ of time it is just more time spent being close to a dear friend.