I am ripping down a piece of 135mm tas oak for a drawer-bottom. Straight down the guts of it, I mean: the sectional cut of greatest area; the big-board-to-two-thin-boards break; if you see what I mean. The sort of thing done in twenty-five seconds by a bandsaw, but taking me an hour and a half (maybe; I’m not counting, and I don’t think you should either). I sharpened my dad’s dad’s ripsaw yesterday (well, it’s sort of mine now — and how I love the thing!) and it’s now doing it’s octagenerian best (no, actually I’ve no terribly firm idea of how old it is) to rip straight and thin and planar. My muscles are attempting to keep up with it, and not doing so well. Perhaps another few drawer-bottoms, or wardrobe-backs, or other thinish bits of furniture cladding (which don’t mind their back’s been furry) will see me back in condition. Perhaps not.

Ripping timber like this is fun. That’s why I’m doing it. I don’t really need a drawer bottom made in this way — my dad gave me a perfectly suitable panel of ply just three days ago, that he didn’t want and that I’ve not other use for — so it must be for fun. Why else would I have eschewed the much faster (and yes, certainly more structurally stable, and probably stronger) route of plywood-and-glue and have the drawer slid into its home and gone from my todo list by now?

Because this isn’t about making a drawer, it would seem. (And oh! what other new-age cliches are to come next?!)

It’s about standing at my bench, making sawdust, hearing the tools in the wood, breathing with the strokes of the saw… feeling non-analytical for once! Just doing, very slowly, and not thinking anything of the future, or how all this is meant to work. It’s time to let the programmer’s brain sleep for a while…

(Oh, and “non-analytical”?! Yes, quite; but I didn’t say “non-ironic” did I? Hmm…)

An afternoon cutting dovetails

I’ve just come in from the shed, where I’ve been working on the tea shelf. It’s coming along well, although I’m about to reach one of those points of really seeing how good a workman I am, with the actual fitting the dovetails; up to now it’s all been a matter of marking and cutting and paring. So before launching into that I thought I’d come inside for a coffee.

Cutting dovetails is mostly a matter of getting one’s body into the right spatial relationship with the wood: stand above the cut, an eye on either side of the saw, and just cut down; for the tails, cant the timber over in the vice to whatever angle looks good (traditionally 1:7), and again, cut accoring to gravity. There’s really nothing to think about, no lines to follow (not down, anyway; there’s a guiding mark on the end grain, but even that can be ignored for the tails—for the pins, it’s critical). The whole process is quite fast, and rather relaxing; there’s not too much measuring and thinking to be done.

The goal is, of course, to cut the tails, mark the pins, cut them, pare the endgrain cuts back to the scribe lines… and then have it all just fit. Nice and snug, square and strong. Hmm… I’m not quite getting that, yet; but “little bit, little bit” as someone used to tell me! (Actually, this cutting and fitting is only what I’m aiming at—have been since arts school—but I know plenty of other people do it differently, and are far more concerned with accuracy. I just want to get the process swift and clean and right, and then do it over and over until the result is good.)

So cutting everything is easy, and there’d be the end of it if I were good enough. But I’m not, so the fiddly job of taking a bit off here, a whisker off there, and slowly fit-by-fit getting the parts to come together. This is what I need the coffee for.

I’d better get back to it!

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.