Sam's notebook

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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A Moment of Doubt November 5th, 2003, 2PM

Woodworking

In which I wonder for a while if my work is crap, and then decide that it’s not.

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?

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Fine Woodworking on Treenails November 5th, 2003, 12PM

Woodworking

What Fine Woodworking has to say about making small treenails or pegs for pinning joints.

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.

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The Speed Of Response November 4th, 2003, 4PM

Woodworking

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.

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I Wheel My Wheelbarrow... November 4th, 2003, 9AM

Woodworking

In which I bring my desk back to school to finish finishing it and then get it assessed.

Walking my desk to (or from?) art school.

What a marvellous morning! I brought my desk back to school this morning to get it assessed next Monday; I walked here with it on my wheelbarrow. It’s not a long walk — an hour or so — and an a day such as today it’s quite a pleasure. Not often do I feel like smiling at motorists (in their stinking, noisy vehicles) but when possessed by the good vibes of happy woodworking their childish “get off the road!”s touch me but little. Walking this morning prompted me to reflect on just how important it is for every stage of making — including the transporting of the finished piece — to be of right ordering.

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The nth Day Ends November 3rd, 2003, 4PM

Woodworking

I won’t fill you in on the background of anything; I have to start sometime, and it might as well be now.

The box is coming along well, better this afternoon once I gave up for the time being trying to make A Thing to cut trunnels. I turned instead to getting the bottom finished: I am putting a low divider in towards the front of the box and cut the rebates and tenons on it this afternoon. The work went really smoothly and pleasurably; I love it when it happens like this. I would’ve kept going but I wanted to get in here (the library computer lab) before 7:00PM, and also home before dark.

I began today feeling pretty down and wanted only to sit in my room and read, so that’s what I did. Didn’t last long though, before I hauled myself out of there and down the hill to school — why on Earth should I feel guilty?! I was sorry I had come when I got here, but after retiring to the library to read The Unknown Craftsman for a couple of hours I started to remember what it was that I was so excited and happy about towards the end of last week: letting go and just flowing with the wood; being guided by what it wants to do.

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We Begin! November 3rd, 2003, 3PM

Woodworking

After many weeks of thinking, scheming and proposing I have at last settled upon this blog form, and so must begin. Have I anything to say? Not much, but this morning Yanagi (yet again) gave me something to think about, and I think it worth sharing.

“Crafts are of and for the great mass of people and are made in great quantity for daily life. Expensive fine crafts for the few are not of the true character of craftsmanship, which, being for everyman, are appropriately decorated with the patterns of everyman. It is natural that craft objects should be associated with patterns that are also, in a sense, communal.”

—p.117, The Unknown Craftsman, Soetsu Yanagi (1972), Japan.

If we didn’t have injection-moulding machines to make inexpensive chairs, we would still need chairs, and those chairs would in fact still be inexpensive compared to the alternatives — they would just be vastly different in character. It is this folkcraft that I wish to develop in my work; to make useful things quickly and without over preoccupation with the ‘fine’. A table will fulfill its purpose admirably whether its surface is smoothed a mirror polish or no — and if one wants to to be putting tea cups on its surface it will probably be better that it is not smoothed excessivly.

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