Sam's notebook

Keepin' It Local November 17th, 2003, 10AM

Woodworking

I can’t wait to get to work! I’ll avoid transport; I’ll dig the skips; I’ll code to my heart’s content (and no farther)!

I’m so excited!! Last night I couldn’t sleep for the thrill of what I’m planning on doing. I’m feeling excited about facing the utter enormity of global manufacture from a standpoint of low-tech and beautiful dumpster diving! Take that door jamb from the week before last (let’s just forget about last week, eh? Apart from Monday I was singularly unproductive), a rough length of ash replete with nail holes and weathering — and what potential! A box made from such a waste item, even with a lot of attention, will never be quite the same as a box made with new material — and that’s the point! It is the thought, the love, and the time that goes into a thing that makes it speak, more than it’s raw material. I believe that this works both in terms of a) gaining spirit by putting more hands-on time into a piece (ripping boards by hand for example) and b) also losing spirit through increased alienation and disconnection of the material (shipping things half-way around the world [see The Fable Of The Cop Car]). Hmm… I’ll think about this a bit more…

I have been working on the encyclopaedia code for the last few days (because I didn’t go to the Major’s Creek Folk Festival) and it is now nearing test data entry stage. I still have a lot of work to do with the stylesheet of course — I’m no graphic artist!

This strange, apparently discordant, confluence of the high-tech web world and slow, intuitive woodworking that I am embarking on is a thing which is going to require great concentration on my behalf. It’s a matter of balance, and I know how easy it is going to be to lean more to one side than another. To spend so much time coding that I throw my hands up in disgust and want to never look at another computer. Or to force myself to continue with cutting a joint past when I can see why I’m doing it, and inevitably stuff it up.

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Just Plane / Flat (!) November 12th, 2003, 12PM

Woodworking

This morning I came into the workshop really wanting to work on something, but I couldn’t really think what. I pulled out a rough sawn piece of blackwood that was left over from my table, sharpened up my plane, and set to work making shavings. I didn’t have an aim of making anything at all, I wanted only to hear and feel the plane working smoothly.

I have been looking around for information about producing flat surfaces, not because I need to know how it’s done – I already know that – but just to get a bit of background on how this method was developed. New Scientist – The Last Word: Tell me straight has some interesting accounts of making lapping plates etc. and Joseph Witworth is mentioned all over the web in relation to this subject.

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A slow day November 11th, 2003, 1PM

Woodworking

This morning I began a boxboard mock-up of a set of pidgeonholes for stationery; more on that later. I’m also thinking about the possibility of a bathroom cabinet. I am working again on my bookplate, this time with a view to printing in full colour (I am discovering just how little I know about Illustrator). The weather is so lovely at the moment and I really want to go to the beach… And ooh err: it’s remembrance day; how much that means to me!

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Assesment November 10th, 2003, 1PM

Woodworking

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!

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Closer, Closer, Ever Closer to Where The Wood Really Is. November 9th, 2003, 4PM

Woodworking

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.

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This is fun! November 7th, 2003, 3PM

Woodworking

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?

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The Afternoon November 6th, 2003, 7PM

Woodworking

I get back from the library and cheer up, but have a bit of bother with my plane iron.

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…

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It's Okay (I Guess). November 6th, 2003, 12PM

Programming Woodworking

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…

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Clouds Above The Grass November 5th, 2003, 8PM

Woodworking

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.

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