The Madcap Manifesto – The Evolution of a Madcap Woodwright.

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Throughout my career as a professional cabinetmaker and woodwright, there has always been something of an unspoken understanding in the profession. Professional woodworkers are to be flannel clad, bearded, curmudgeons, with saw dust in their hair and a very serious “air” about them. Think Norm Abrams crossed with William F. Buckley, and you are pretty close to the normal perception of the professional woodworker. This holds true especially in recent years it seems.

When I decided (was “encouraged” by the love of my life) to open the tiny shop and to once again work wood professionally, I committed to myself that come hell or high water, I was NOT going to be the overly serious, cantankerous cranky pants that so many of my brothers and sisters seem to be these days.

Enter The Madcap Woodwright.

An unusual name for a business, I know. Many folks have commented to me that it may not be such a hot idea to name my fledgling business this way. The argument being that folks might not take me seriously, and that I may be looked at as less professional than I really am, and so on.

All perfectly valid points if you approach from a traditional point of view. I…..do not.

mad·cap

ˈmadˌkap/

adjective

1.

amusingly eccentric.

“a surreal, madcap novel”

synonyms:zanyeccentricunconventional

“a madcap comedy”

Because I find that modern woodworking is or has developed something of an …..attitude, I feel that it is high time someone who loves the craft takes a risk and tries to let the joy woodworking offers stand front and center.

Far too many of my cohorts take the art of woodworking far too seriously. Not the tooling, not the need for precision, not the care with which we carry the craft forward, more so that they take themselves far too seriously.

I am much more interested in showing people how much I love and adore working wood, rather than how much I think I should be loved and adored for working wood. This is the ugly little skeleton that can be found in many, many modern woodworker’s closets. Somewhere along the way, they stopped loving working wood for its own sake, and started down the path of entitlement.

“I have done this for years and years, I have written books on the subject. I give speeches and presentations……I DESERVE to be viewed as a deity”!!!!

Naturally, there are many professional woodworkers who DO NOT subscribe to this mindset. They may have written books or give presentations, but still it shows that they are in love with the fine art of woodworking. I find that far too many woodworkers, (a generation ahead of me, a generation or more behind me, and my own generation for that matter)seem to feel that they are due a respect and level of admiration because they take their craft so….seriously.

This is one of the reasons I felt compelled to depart from the norm. I am, by nature, unconventional. Rather than hide this personality anomaly,  I choose to embrace and project it out into the world. An unconventional and, dare I say, madcap notion to say the least.

Therefore, The Madcap Woodwright is dedicated to expressing creativity, craftsmanship, attention to detail in all the work that is produced from the Tiny Shop. Old world techniques, traditional woodworking, hand crafted pieces are all the primary objectives. The difference is, to the extent that I am able, I wish to share this more intimately with those who would do business with me. I wish to attract those patrons who enjoy a good cup of coffee, and a nice leisurely chat about design and joinery techniques.

I am less interested in “on demand” deadlines. I am not at all interested in “production level” woodworking. Anything that interrupts the synchronicity between woodwright-patron-design-execution, is to be avoided. I may never make a gazillion dollars, or  see any of my work on the cover of “Fine Woodworking” , but im just fine with that as long as I have had the chance to draw someone into my love of my craft. I am just fine with that as long as I have had the opportunity to spend some time with someone new, share a cup of Joe, listen to a little Sam Cooke out in the Tiny Shop, and talk design ideas. I am more than fine with that if, when all is said and done, a patron and I stand ankle deep in fresh wood shavings running our hands over a newly completed piece, both of us smiling.

Call me a madcap, but that sure seems infinitely more rewarding than self promotion, and book sales. Sure, it is always nice to be appreciated for what you do or have done. Yes, It is wonderful to be paid well for doing something that you enjoy.  Absolutely I would love to be known for a very high level of craftsmanship. But I feel that in order to bring the level of honesty and integrity to my work that I insist on, it needs to be done with joy, abandon, and a sense of humor. Without these things, I feel that a woodwright risks a loss of “soul”.

Perhaps it is foolhardy to approach business this way. Perhaps it is more sensible to leave “work with soul” to amateurs and hobbyists, but I am convinced that there is very little about working wood as a trade, that is sensible. That is of course, unless you really and truly love what you do, and really and truly want to pass that love on to others. In that case, there is no more sensible thing to do but, be…..a Madcap Woodwright.

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11 thoughts on “The Madcap Manifesto – The Evolution of a Madcap Woodwright.

  1. Dan H.

    Dear MadCap:

    I have pondered your manifesto for a little while now. I agree with your eloquent efforts to articulate a value that certainly appears to be missing among many in the woodworking crafts, in fact, it appears to be sadly missing in most occupations.

    I have said this to you before. Although we share a love of woodworking, your woodworking is at a different level than mine. In short, you seek to craft a fine piece of furniture and I seek to craft a fine woodshed. But, the similarities are enough that I think I share your love of the craft and I do agree on your approach to it. For so many the approach involves a misplaced seriousness or focus about the art of woodworking, a focus on the woodworker rather than the woodworking. I think you are right that this is a mistake. I think you are also right in your conclusion as to which of the two approaches is more rewarding.

    If I may, I’d like to add a little of my own thoughts. To borrow an analysis from a contemporary critic of modern culture, there are goods that are “external” to a practice and goods that are “internal” to a practice. One can engage in a practice merely to acquire certain external goods; wealth, fame, influence, etc. But, such goods are not uniquely connected to the practice. They can be acquired in many different ways. That’s why they are called external goods. If one is motivated by goods external to the practice he or she naturally will seek to be efficient, to cut corners, maybe even to cheat in order to get the goods.

    On the other hand, one can seek to excel in a practice in order to achieve the goods that are internal to that practice. These are goods can only be achieved by participating and attempting to excel in the practice. Moreover, such a craftsman cannot cut corners, cannot cheat, to achieve such goods; it’s simply a contradiction. And, although difficult to prove, you are dead right that one way of doing it is more satisfying. Or, in your words, “…let the joy woodworking offers stand front and center.”

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    1. madcapwoodwright Post author

      Dan,
      Star tuned. I have been reading and re-reading your comments and am working to respond to them appropriately.

      More than likely, if you are agreeable, I would like to use your comments as a springboard for a post in the blog.

      More is forthcoming.

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  2. michaelgorchov

    Taking delivery on a early 90s X31 on Saturday. Five guys and a truck. Up from one basement, down to another. Haven’t had a proper woodshop in 20 years. Very glad not to be taking commissions, spending down payments, and meeting deadlines anymore. But I miss the fun of messing with wood and tools. And I’m very happy to be putting my old bandsaw right and resuscitating my old hand-planes (some Krenovian types in there with the Millers Falls and the Stanleys; poor things). I like making the jigs and fussing with the machines as much as making furniture. I think I’m happiest playing rather than working. Hope you have fun as a madcap woodwright.

    keywords: Goods (Aristotle), Means (X31), Ends (Thomas), MacIntyre (practice), Suits (lusury attitude), Krenov (stubborn enthusiast).

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    1. madcapwoodwright Post author

      Michael, that’s wonderful. I am sure you will enjoy the Robland. Once set up and dialed in, they are nice machines. Just takes a while to dial them in. It’s great to have features like a sliding table for the saw and shaper, the shaper itself is awesome. And a 12 inch jointer with mortising table is not so shabby either. You will like this thing.

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      1. michaelgorchov

        Thanks for the encouragement. I’ll be very relieved when the Robland is safely in my basement.

        Well, now that I’m setting up a real woodshop again I’m having to face serious questions about what it is that I will make. I did lots of different things when I was in business, and the need to keep work coming in (and the bills paid) was always the driving force.

        I’ve known guys who ended up filling every available inch of shop space with machines in order to dimension/sand boards and panels to order for steady cash. Then there are the shops that process sheet goods for cabinet boxes, and miles of plastic laminate and Corian counter-tops. This is basically when the machines start running your life.

        The one-of-kind solid wood shops often use lots of contrasting colored woods, with an obvious appeal to a certain naive clientele. And so much of the labor in modern woodworking is lapidary in nature. The endless grinding and polishing is health and soul robbing, especially on something like those ubiquitous sculptured rocking chairs.

        At this point my bias is toward Arts and Crafts inspired design. Tables and chairs have always fascinated me. There are still small Italian shops making lovely lightweight chairs in the Chiavarina tradition. It would be nice to reinterpret that sensibility in the Mission style. Not so heavy though, and yet avoiding the Harvey Ellis thing (beautiful as it is) that took something honest and workmanlike toward elitist.

        I recently made a small stroke-sander for table tops. With oak you don’t really have to sand much past 100 grit. At one time I had a monster 10hp shaper, 9 ft. bed jointer, and 20’’ planer. Gave them all away a long time ago. I still have a little 5” rabbeting jointer and 10” jointer/planer; both little Inca machines. The shaper on the X31 will do nicely for chair parts. As will the mortiser.

        What I want to do, with the leisure time available to me, is make some honest wooden furniture. I want to use the machines to prepare stock, shape parts, and do some joinery. Then plane, scrape, and minimally sand the parts before assembly. Some days will be dusty and noisy, but most days in the shop won’t. I am really looking forward to it.

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      2. madcapwoodwright Post author

        Michael,
        The “Tool Junkie” in me is more than a little envious. There are times I wish I still had my Robland.

        I think you are on the right track vis-a-vis re-scaling the mission style. This is something I have pondered many times, but have yet to put pencil to paper. The Stickley /Arts and Crafts style has been a favorite of mine but, like you, I have found that the proportions demand a large room and lighting that is much too dark for my tastes. Bring more delicacy and perhaps more femininity to these original designs, may make them much more accessible to a wider audience.
        I’m at the same time encouraged that someone else sees this and miffed that my “design secret weapon” has been discovered and acted upon before I got off my fat ass and actually started building….lol….you and I might need to collaborate on design perhaps?

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  3. michaelgorchov

    Madcap, Just an update. I got the Robland into my shop on Saturday. Not without drama, of course. I had removed the jointer tables, the slider support cabinet, and that left a dangling control box. I also took out the basement door, jamb, stops and casing – in order to provide enough room to get the thing through the door and up the basement stairs. But the three cement winders (right turn) at the bottom of the stairway proved too much, and the movers couldn’t safely make the exit and turn. I told them the move had to happen that day because the basement was heated and I wasn’t putting the door back on and off and on . . . .
    So, I offered to take off the saw top. This wasn’t so bad actually. Four caps screws and I had to cut the wires to the three stop switches, but the cast-iron table with saw, motor and the whole shaper assembly (with that motor) all came out together. Probably lightened the thing by 250 pounds. They strapped the remainder (mostly planer now) to an appliance hand-truck, and put the other mess upside down on a dolly and away we went. The move into my shop was relatively easy. I just had to get the whole thing put back together. The movers put the saw table with the two motors back on, which I couldn’t have done alone, and the rest I did myself.
    Today I got it running. Works nice. I got some saw blades in the deal, but I passed on the three wing shaper cutters. I’m going to save up for lock edge collars with a ball-bearing follower and a big molder head for corrugated back knives. It will be a while before I put a feeder on it, but I’m already plotting how to do that. Look at me. Already tool crazy. And I’ll be making flooring in my spare time . . . Not! But I am very glad to have the Robland in my shop and running! Peace, M+

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      1. michaelgorchov

        Hi MC, I’m working on repairing a carved chair from the church and making a run of four arts and crafts dining chairs. The templates, shaper jigs, and crest rail glue-lam bending form are done for the chairs. But there have been some issues with the combination machine.

        I’m afraid this is just a re-post from my blog but here goes:
        A typical european combination woodworking machine has a sliding table that can be used with the circular saw and the spindle shaper. The machine also has a thickness planer, a jointer, and a mortiser. These machines generally have three separate and identical motors; one for the saw, one for the shaper, and one shared by the jointer/planer/mortiser.

        I bought my 1990 green Robland X31 in February of 2015 for $2100. My understanding is that it was purchased new from Laguna Tools, CA in 1990-91, was very lightly used for ten years, and then basically not used at all until I got it last year.

        In order to get it out of the basement where it was stored I had to take off the sliding table and rail, electric control box, left side cabinet, saw top (with attached saw+motor and shaper+motor), and both jointer tables.

        I moved it with hired help to my basement for $500, and re-assembled it. The jointer/planer/mortiser motor burnt up within a couple of months and I managed to remove the motor through the side panel. I called Laguna Tools and they suggested having the motor rebuilt since a new motor from Belgium would cost at least $1200 plus shipping. I had a shop in Schenectady do the work and they charged $650.

        Last week the shaper motor died. This time I used a chain hoist to take up the saw top so I could remove the motor. The motor is now out being repaired. The saw motor is running at 11.5 amps and seems to be fine. The rebuilt jointer/planer/mortiser motor runs at around 11.7 amps. The shaper and jointer/planer/mortiser really were hardly used, and this may have contributed to the motor failure. Even though I had run all the motors before I bought the machine, I didn’t check amps until after the first motor burnt up. I have been using the shaper and after a little while it would run over 13 amps, and it had that acrid-hot-motor-smell.

        Observations:
        1. The saw top is now back on the machine and the saw is running fine. The top is secured with only four cap screws, and getting inside the machine to do maintenance/repair (including the planer motor, drive belts, and chain drive mechanism) is really best done by removing it (and the attached shaper and saw) with a chain hoist.
        2. By now I have almost $3500 into the machine (not including moving costs). I’m very glad I got it for the price I did. I like having one dust hose and one power cord. I like that it is compact. The mortising machine is great. Actually, the whole thing is good. I don’t even mind the saw adjustments and the fence.
        3. Buying and keeping a vintage (25+ year old) euro combo machine is like taking on a long-term committed relationship. The trouble involved with moving a 1400 lb. machine out, and/or trying to sell it, makes you think twice about getting rid of it.
        4. I have both a small 5” jointer and a 10” jointer/planer (Inca brand). Most of the time I use these other machines, and save the Robland jointer/planer for when I have a pile of wood to mill. It really is inconvenient to swing out the jointer tables and then have to wind the planer table all the way back down in order to flip over the dust hood to use the planer. Really.
        5. I’m not sure why but I have an amp meter on the machine all the time to check to see how the motors are running. Just a little paranoid I guess. If you have a spare Robland motor for a reasonable price let me know.

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