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I awoke this morning with a very sore back, but got up, breakfasted, read for an hour and was out of the house by eight. I had no wish to go back to the workshop, nor to make anything; all I wanted to do was read. There is so much that I want to read and very little that I want to make. I feel a little guilty about that, but I’m quite sure that it is what I feel, so I’m going with it. It came to be during Meeting yesterday that a key to this struggle lies in simplicity: I build such elaborate ideas of what I want to make to have around me, and forget the foundation that all these things rest upon, namely that they are but incidentals designed only to make life more pleasant or comfortable. The part of making that engages me most – the process, the doing of it – has nothing whatsoever to do with the made. The image of a hand-formed mudbrick wall replaces that of the finely-crafted, acurate polished wooden panelling, and my penchant for well-bound books and wooden furniture recedes when I have a book to read and a table to sit at. I feel sure that I will return to making, perhaps in a few days.

The book and a table are precisely what I have now: “The Quakers and Quietism” by Pamela M. Oliver (1972, thesis for an MA in History), and the deserted Menzies basement. Lovely.

* * * *

I am begining to feel a little guilty for not being in the workshop. I know that I don’t want to be, which is nice. I am also a bit hungary due to not having had a very large breakfast. I am very much enjoying this book and learning a lot about 17th Century Friends.

* * * *

“Henceforth I shall not try to change people’s minds but inform them of my stand only. I shall forgive all, for everything. I shall not err from the Truth as I see it.”

* * * *

Do I really think I’m going to sit here all week reading this?! As if!

A Catalogue, I Think?

I have not posted for ages, and I didn’t really think I would be again until next year. But here I am, and very inspired about woodwork, uni and all that is going on: hooray (and what a relief)! I have much to report from the last couple of weeks but I may never get around to telling you because I want to meet G. and L. at the street theater soon.

Firstly (or lastly if one is to be chronological), I am working on the catalogue for the workshop exhibition. I am learning heaps about InDesign (especially its faults!) which is rather exciting. It does not do signature imposition of pages by itself, so this afternoon has seen me scrabbling around the web looking for a script that will. I found one (at ScriptBuilders.net) and so I think tomorrow will be fun.

It is strange that I am focusing more on the web/technological side of my proposal at the moment, given that it is a minor part of what I will be doing next year. I feel like I want to get it sorted though: get the encylopaedia working and also a couple of other things that I have been considering recently. I will be making a reading log to keep track of what I read, a project management script with which to track all of my ideas about things to make and write etc. I also have been doing some work with the style (CSS) of my site. I am constantly thinking about what I want to do next year and how I will go about it, working on a ‘manifesto’ or ‘modi operandi’ thingy… hmm… more thought needed…

I was on 2XXFM yesterday (Thursday) talking about the Walking With Water project that I did earlier this year. I’ll put the MP3 of it up soon.

— I really am rather excited about all this!!!

[UPDATE 2007-06-12: After nearly four years, here’s the MP3.]

Keepin’ It Local

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.

Assesment

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!

The Afternoon

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…

It’s Okay (I Guess).

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…

Fine Woodworking on Treenails

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.

We Begin!

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.