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!

Just Plane / Flat (!)

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.

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?

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.

The nth Day Ends

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.