Metropolitan Museum of Art

I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with a gang of Wikimedians and led by the wonderful Wikimedians in Residence at the Met, Neil and Richard. It was the day before we were all to catch the Adirondack (Amtrak #69) to New York, and it was raining, and I was completely jet-lagged from the trip from Australia the day before.

But it was wonderful!

After an initial (whirlwind) tour by Richard, our group of a dozen or so organically decided that we’d really quite like a bit of alone time, and went our separate ways around the hundreds (literally!) of gallery rooms in the museum.

I found George Washington of greenback fame:

I'm in the States now I guess

But reasonably quickly gave up on being a good art-looker and hid myself in the cafeteria with an overly-salty soup and some dry crackers… I’d been up since 3 already, and wasn’t sure I’d make it through the rest of the afternoon without crying.

However, after lunch I found the Frank Lloyd Wright room and the American Arts and Crafts items; and what a joy it was.

The American Wing

Frank Lloyd Wright room

I remember Greene & Greene vaguely from my days at art school, but seeing their armchair (1992.127) and library table (1981.316) was a breath of fresh air, and a reminder of the joy of truth to materials. These were pieces in which one could see the reality of the work. Ebony through-tenons in a table-top? That’s a beautiful idea!

Greene & Greene table with tenons

Then Gustave Stickley in the next room: his library table (1976.389.1) with a leather-clad top, screwed down with steel butterfly lugs (to the outside of the rails), and sidways-pegged tenons to the six legs. The inside bottom rails didn’t intersect, but are stacked on one another; such obviousness!

Library Table MET DP209329

Stickley’s sideboard: the doors are solid boards, jointed only with butterfly through tenons and seemingly no other bracing (they don’t need any). This stuff is about design, not so much for the Common Person, but for the Common Craftsperson. Design that makes things easy to make, honest in their representation of the abilities of the materials, and from those things to exhibit a raw and accessible beauty.

After that I returned to the open storage area, where large numbers of items from the collection are displayed in shelved glass-fronted cases, with as many items squeezed in as possible. It’s not the most flattering way to see some things, but then most of it was overly-ornamented 19th century stuff that I had little interest in. The good stuff, the simple and wooden furniture, was if anything enhanced by being often up higher than eye level (we could see underneath it with ease).

One piece caught my eye, and a visit to the weird huge touch-screens taught me that it was actually another Stickley piece (well, built by him; designed by Harvey Ellis). A small writing desk, 1981.440.1:

Desk MET 234742

This simplicity of construction gives an easier path between the designer and the maker (ideally, the two should be the same person). These ideas were explored more in Stickley’s journal The Craftsman (1901–16); I shall see if we can add these to Wikisource.

The Met has uploaded a huge number of images to Wikimedia Commons, and so as I went around I tried not to take a million photos—there are so many better ones already on the web, and freely usable. But I had to take some, either as aide-mémoires or because it seemed unlikely that the professional photographers would have paid close enough attention to the things that I am interested in. So I’ll upload at least a few new ones to Commons; the rest of mine can stay on Flickr.

Shed doors

My new house didn’t have a shed, but just a carport with no fourth wall (it was brilliant in every other respect, really—even insulated in the ceiling). So, as part of the WMF’s “Spark Project” (that aims to encourage employees to do more than just be wiki geeks), I decided to turn the carport into a shed by adding a set of wooden ledge-and-brace doors. There was a deadline of April 18 (i.e. tomorrow).

This post documents the process up to the point of being ready to hang the doors. Unfortunately, the hinges aren’t back from the galvanizer’s yet (or haven’t even been welded? Zoran the welder wasn’t communicating with me over the Easter break) so the project is incomplete; I’ll post more when the doors are up.

All of these photos and a few more are in a Flickr album.


How wide is not wide enough, or what is the absolute minimum garage door size that will still fit a (small) car? I settled on 2.2 m, and subsequent testing has confirmed that this is fine for most cars—not that cars will be allowed in this shed, mind.

Some changes were made as construction progressed: the double studs either side of the door were turned 90° in order that the hinge bolts be able to add some extra joining strength between them; the sizing of all timber was adjusted to match what was available. Mostly things turned out as planned though.


Fremantle Timber Traders

I wasn’t sure what to build the doors with, but heading to Freo Timber Traders (above) and finding a couple of packs of nice old Wandoo settled it.

Selecting the boards

The 60×19 for the cladding came from a house in Wembley; the 110×28 for the ledges and braces came from an old shoe factory in Maylands. The ex-factory floor was covered in machine oil, and full of holes from where the machines had been bolted down. None were in any awkward spots though, and as I was planning on oiling the finished product I wasn’t too worried about the oil.


The first thing to do was to prepare the timber for the ledges and braces by removing the tongues and grooves with a draw-knife and plane (shown below). I wasn’t too worried about making these edges pristine or accurate; these are shed doors not furniture and I rather like the rough, used, look. It was also stinking hot while I was hacking away at these, and there’s something viscerally satisfying about draw-knives, sweat, and following the grain of the timber (and what shitty grain some of it was! But some, smooth as silk).

Using a draw-knife to remove the groove

The main joinery of the doors is the mortise-and-tenon joints at each end of the four 45° braces. These are what take the main load of the cladding hanging on the outside. (It’s worth noting here how common it is for this style of door to have their braces put on the wrong way around — the idea is that the brace is in compression and for it to go up from where the hinge attaches; if it’s running from the hinge point downwards then it’s pretty much doing nothing, and the door will sag.)

Cutting the tenon cheeks:

Cutting a tennon

Some tenons, with the ledges behind:

Ledges and braces, cut to size

The mortises were easier than the tenons in some way, although they took longer. Mortises, cut by hand as I was doing, are basically an exercise in holding a chisel vertical and square, thumping it with a fair bit of strength, and moving it 2 mm before repeating.

One end of each mortise is cut at 45° where the brace comes in; the other is square and is where the main force of the door is held.

Finished mortice, with 45° at one end
Laying out number two door
Laying out number two door

Once the ledges and braces were done, the cladding was screwed on from the back with 40 mm stainless steel decking screws.

Screwing the cladding on

The boards were spaced with 2 mm gaps to account for timber movement, to prevent the doors from warping. The ends were docked square and to size once all the boards were on.

Spacer between the boards

The finished doors:

Both doors finished


The two side walls are 2.1 m high and about 400 mm wide. They’re painted treated-pine stud frames clad with more 19×60 Wandoo flooring.

They’re fixed to the slab below:

Bottom plate bolted to slab

And screwed to the beam above:

Top stud fixings

(The threaded rod in the background of the above is a tie to hold the top beam in its place when the force of the open doors is tending to pull it outwards.)

The cladding was put on with the same spacing as the doors:

Cladding the side panels

And when completed, had the place looking a fair bit closer to enclosed:

Cladding the side panels


Unfortunately, this is where it stops for now, because I’m having some hinges fabricated and they’re not yet done. As soon as they are, and the thirty bolts are doing their thing, I’ll post some photos of the finished project.

(By the way, I am surprisingly grateful to the Spark Project initiative for making me get off my bum and actually get to work on these doors.)

Drawer for my toolbox

My main woodworking toolbox has two runners inside, near the top edge, on which to slide a drawer. I put them in when I built the thing (I made them too long, or the lid props too long, or something too long, and had to chop a bit out of them so the lid would close; see at right. That’s irrelevant to the task at hand though.)

But I have no drawer — so, I’m making one. I’ve got a few odd bits of pine sitting around, mostly destined to be paint stirrers; I’ll bodge them together in a squarish shape, and my chisels and small things will have somewhere to be put.

The piece of 19×42 was a bit fat, or at least I thought it might look a bit odd next to the skinny walls made from the other pieces, so I ripped it in half.

Docked to length (with a few millimeters to spare for cutting off later), I then cleaned up the sawn surfaces (a bit; I’m not fussy, and sometimes like to see some saw marks). I usually work with Tas. Oak, and am always surprised at the soft squishiness of pine, and the speed with which it can be worked (or butchered, as one might say in this case).

The drawer bottom pieces were actually already within a gnat’s crotchet of where they needed to be, so I just planned their ends to get them squared up and the right length. The sides I then marked to length off the bottoms, because I really don’t care how big this thing is (it just has to fit itself).

I really should get around to making myself a bench hook or two; they’re far better than hanging things off the end of the bench. But I’m lazy; whenever I’ve got energy for woodwork, I want to get on with the thing at hand, and not get caught up in jigs and set-up and prep. A ridiculous, inaccurate attitude, I’m sure. It’s not like I get shit done anyway.

The time had come for beer, so that was procured (from a shockingly plastic homebrew bottle), and the glue-up commenced. It didn’t go right, at first, but I went and found a proper glass for it (and found my battery drill with a 1 mm bit), and after that the nails went straight and true and didn’t blow out the sides.

Probably, one should try to avoid blogging about gluing things together while actually doing it. But then, the computer was right there in the cupboard playing odd things from Radio Paradise, so it seemed easy enough. Got a bit of glue on the camera grip though.

The two short sides were next, being cut to length each to their own. They fitted with no dramas. By this time it was dark, and I was wondering what it would cost to get something more than a single fluro tube lighting my shed. Or even a new extension cord so I could run the computer, amp, and a desk lamp on my bench (radio takes precedence at the moment).

So, all done.

The album for all these photos is at

Bookpress, free to a good home

I built this press in 2003 out of pine salvaged from bed frames that were being thrown out by University House at the ANU. I’ve barely used it since, and the time has come to admit that I’m never going to be the small-time bookbinder fellow that I perhaps at some point thought I might be.

So, hopefully, this will end up being of some use to the WA Craft Bookbinders Guild.

Fake World DOES Contain Humans

All has gone well, since my last post, with my intra-office carlessness. My announcement (“I don’t go in cars; don’t ask me to.”) has been met with near universal acceptance (or silence), to my great relief. I had wondered whether the conversations in the tea-room about various cars’ power-ratings and other such motorcar trivia would mean some expression of distain towards one who rejects all that. But no, nothing has come of it. They’re nice chaps, and I needn’t have worried.

So, with that bit of excitement out of the way, I’m left pondering the far-off hills and wishing that I could be in the workshop, at my bench, and writing in ink and not at a keyboard. The computer-reality is basically two-dimensional: we, the IT people, strive to make everything the same. Documents can never show age; photos must be as bright forever as they day they were taken; we care only for content, and never for context or media. A rotten state of affairs! I want my pages to yellow and my photos to fade! A world in which nothing is old gives us nothing at all — despite what Wikipedia would have us believe.

But I wont go on about that. I can’t bear to think about it, not here, in this place.

This office has begun to pall my spirits, now the novelties of The Commute and Being A Man have worn thin. I just want to run! (Well, run for a little ways, and then sit and sew my shirt, or write in my Moleskine…). I can’t dream about my workshop.

Kerrie Tucker’s revamped site

During the last few days I’ve been working with Margo Kingstong and Kate Tucker on porting Kerrie Tucker’s website to WordPress. I’ve also set up the new ACT Greens online merchandise shop, Green Shop. So I’ve probably had about enough of sitting at here at our kitchen table hunched over this laptop; why I’m not out of here I don’t know, but I did just want to mention those things.

Also, I’ve been back in the workshop — getting it ready, at any rate, to be a workshop. That’s a bit exciting.

But enough for now, I must get to the coop.

Nothing to say

(So why am I saying this?) I am looking forward to the day when I will again have something worth writing about (and I’m thinking here of woodwork: one of the happiest times of wood/tech union was back in 2003 when I was working at the art school wood workshop. The web then was a motivation for me to keep working with wood, not the distraction that it’s now become. All I wanted was a workshop, wood, digital camera and computer, and I was happy.

Of course, that was in the sheltered bubble of the art school, and it was coming out of that and finding no similar space elsewhere that turned me to geek school last year—seeking the same solace, with different materials. But can code and computers really do for me what wood and words did once? I doubt it.


I’m lost today, lost in a dull quagmire of concurrency, Ada and the oppresive weight of too much stuff. I have an assignment to do and I understand very little of it. I suspect that I could figure it out, but I can’t be bothered. If I could see clearly the important things, in life I mean, that would be a start. But I can’t.

I have my bike, which I like at the moment; and woodwork which I will one day return to; and mostly and day-to-day I have this funny old world of computing. (Which latter I find so tedious today that I’m not sure why I’m writing this.) I like the order within each of these three things and know that that’s much of what draws me to them; I hate their order too, because in these times when I need it most I can get none of it. I know, academically, that it’s there, but I can feel nothing. Sadly, without the guidance instantiated by these activities I become lost sometimes. What’ll I do?

In case you didn’t get it, this post is pure procrastination.

Yet again, the Great Divide

Often, when I’m sitting in a lecture about concurrency, say, or sketching a possible design for some program, I actively love the fountain pen that I’m using at these times. Engaging with I.T., I find such great comfort in using such an old and ‘outdated’ technology. I usuallly don’t find this particularly interesting, becuase it seems to be a sensible reaction to being surrounded by and immersed in Modern Technology (oooh!). However, I’m blogging about this today becuase I’ve come back to a feeling that I was quite used to at one point a few years ago, at art school: I want out of all this computing, I want to get away from it all and not have my head spinning painfully with the unbearable complexity of it all. I want to get back to the workbench, and I want to blog about what I do there.

It seems that I can’t walk the line. I fall to one side of it, only to take pleasure in using the tools of the other side. I say I want to be completely with one branch of the dichotomy — technology these days — but can’t do so without yearning for the other. It rips me apart. I just wonder whether the divide is less consuming from one side or the other.

What I was going to say was that I want to get back to a workbench, and keep a journal of my work, probably on the web. Maybe even that I want to go and make furniture with my dad in WA, who knows?

In fact, fuck this!! I don’t want to be miserable about this! That’s not why I sat down to write. It’s too jolly cold here, that’s the problem, and I haven’t had my customary tipple of sherry yet.

I want to go home. I want to live with my friends in a nice house, and go to work in a furniture workshop with my dad. I’ve been away too long.


So, we’re all sitting around, I’m sort of pissed (from a bit of a bottol of beer, and a bit of a bottil of wine) and life’s okay.  Thing is, I’m in here typing away here, ’cause the girls are out there talking about teaching and I’ve got little to say really and that’s okay and all, and I mean that, it is, but I’m somewhat more into woodwork today, or even programming, but what’s there to say?  Nothing, really, nothing much at any rate.  And because I’m a bit pissed, I’m rather in the mood for going back to WA, or not ‘going back’, but at least being there and being warm.  Yeah, being warm, that’d be nice.  Being warm.  Huzza!  I’d like to be in the bush in the hills in Perth, and with a hand axe making things.  Walking about the place, that’s what I’m thinking; roving, if you will, wandering about the hills, walking into town now and then for food, but mostly just making wood things with simple tools.  A bottle or so of scotch maybe, for evenings by the fire and rolled up in my swag.  That’d be nice.  Or so I think now.  Yeah, I do.  It’d be nice.  Not be all caught up with coding some new thing that I think people’ll use, but in fact they don’t need to use, because what fuckin’ use are computers anyway?  Eh?  What use?!  Bloody none, so’s far as I can see; better we were all growing food, brewing beer, and fucking.  That’s more to the point of life, so’s far as I can see.  But I’ll do this, this degree thing, that’s what I’ll do.  That’s what seems to be useful at the moment.  I think. Maybe.  I’ll live in a little house one day, with my vegies, and I’ll keep a blog probably, because how can one leave what’s been a part of one’s life?  Don’t know.  I’ll keep a blog, or something like that, and contribute to Wikipedia’s woodworking section, and make things out of wood between times, because that’s really where life’s at, for me.  So’s far as I can see.  Which mayn’t be far, that I can say, mayn’t be far, but it’s far enough to see that computer programming’ll get me a ‘safe’ job, with a ‘safe’ income, but what’s it gonna gi’me in the way of joy?!  Of that all-encompassing joy and extreme satisfaction in what one does in a day?!  Dunno.  Seems like it might just be a bit shallow or summint, like it’s missing a bit.  I would be, if I could, wandering, making, writing, and full of the exquisite joy of the life that’s not the life that is told to me.  If that makes sense?  Dunno if it does.  Maybe it does.  Hmmmm…

It might be time for another beer.  That’s something that I’d touch on before, though: drinking.  It’s a thing that releases me from all this hideous worry about What To Do, whether programming is The Thing for me, and I like getting pissed for that reason.  I like it because when I’m a bit drunmk, out of myself somewhat, I feel oh so fucking drawn to making, to walking and being with the world and nature.  I want to hug the wood, hug the night and the day and shout and sing and in any whay I can be an idle singer of an empty day!…  That’d be the thing.  Being here, Canberra, being at uni, these things don’t do it really.  Not really I thinmk…