Tag Archives: Craftsmanship

“He Who Hesitates……”

……procrastinates indefinitely.

 

It’s not that I am lazy, It’s more a case of having a lot of ideas and not knowing how to put order to them.

Since the first of the year I have been off to a good start with my level of productivity. I have discovered that I am quite adept at disgorging myself of various literary ideas now that I have cajoled an actual periodical to publish some of my ramblings. No shortage of copy for Highland Woodworking’s online magazine of blog.

Nor have I been lacking in the work to do in The Tiny Shop. Since the phonograph refinish, I have had a string of small furniture repairs and/or refinishes. Throw in another workbench build, and you are up to date with my current state of workshop projects.

Aside from a few model train display cases and the long promised step stool for my dear wife, I am starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Now what?

Well, that is where things are getting a little sticky. I really need to get some furniture built as prototypes and proof of concepts. I have been wanting to get some things built not only as a means of developing some design ideas, my take on some more traditional styles, but also as fodder for my photographer son to take some beauty shots of for a hypothetical website for The Tiny Shop.

Since I have yet to actually put pencil to paper in many months, I am relegated to my minds eye for developing ideas. This poses a bit of a problem, you see I tend to bounce from idea to idea and end up with a collection of fractured ideas bouncing around in my melon.

Best to choose one, and get on with it.

My intention is to build one of three ideas I have right now. The first is the glove table I had mentioned in a previous post. Next idea would be a blanket chest for my dear wife.

Last, and most fear inducing is the design and construction of a wall unit for our basement family room. Our house is on the verge of being too large for us, but with my 18 year old son having moved in with us this summer, the wall unit may be a good way of making the largely unused family room a little more warm and inviting for him during his stay with us, and an investment in our future use of the space once he moves on to his inevitable world domination tour sometime in the future.

Decisions, decisions.

yinyang

 

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Madcap-ery Interrupted

writersblock

Sure as shit….just as soon as I post here that I am writing a “book,” I come down with the most horrendous, unending, torturous case of writers block that I have had to date.

No matter what, as soon as I would sit down to write, my mind that had moments ago been filled with the most brilliant and innovative or profound topics and notions just decides to delete any semblance of coherent text.

I would sit and try to put anything I could down. ANYTHING. Sometimes even getting a page or two tip-tapped out on my lovely new Thinkpad. Once or twice I even had a session or two where I had nearly an entire chapter of this thing written.

Then I would reread what I had written…..

The horror….the horror.

Finally, I set the Thinkpad aside and tried to write in longhand. Anything to get ideas that seemed to be just out of reach, fleshed out in some way. A word, a sentence, a phrase….anything. All to no avail.

So, in an effort to get the creative juices flowing again I write this blog post to whine about having lost my voice.

The bright side may be that, in having this wretched case of writers block, AGAIN, I am forced to take my own advice and simply be in the moment. Perhaps I should view these many months as a needed recharging of the creative batteries.

Speaking of creativity, I have finally been doing some light restoration work in the Tiny Shop.

I have a friend who rescued a couple of Art Deco pieces from being consigned to the landfill. He got a dresser and also a combination vanity/dresser that were obviously a set just for the cost of picking them up.

they both have some water damage and also some veneer issues, but I have been able to bring the dresser back to life and work is starting on the vanity/dresser now.resto

This piece still had the original mid-century Bakelite handles. It is back together and just got swapped for the soon-to-be-refreshed vanity.

I am excited to see how these two look side by side. I will be sure to snap a couple of before pictures and post them here.

So while the restoration/refreshing pieces are fun and all, what I really want to do is start building some furniture of my own.

When I say “my own,” What I really  mean to say is that I will more than likely be building clones, or my take on pieces that interest me. This is an ongoing method of mine. I start by putting together classic design pieces, and end up sketching and eventually craving to build variations on that particular theme.

For example, I have long wanted to build this.

 

moserdesk1moserdesk2

This is a “Stand Up Desk” by Thos. Moser of New Gloucester Maine. It is on my short list of “to-build pieces.

I also want to build a blanket chest for The Love Of My Life,blanketchest

as well as a glove table for our entry to the house.glovetable

So while I may be somewhat hamstrung by my literary ineptitude, i do have a great deal I wish to get built out in The Tiny Shop to help salve my seemingly empty head.

 

A Little bit about Finishing

niagra

 

In my last blog post, I mentioned that I was planning to switch from my tried and true solvent based lacquer finish to a more eco friendly water based finish. A reader commented on the switch, and this lead me to jot down some thoughts I have been having on this issue…well…and as another excuse to avoid working on  The Madcap Woodwright-Thoughts On Joyfully Working Wood With Abandon manuscript.

As the Muse has continued to elude me of late, I figured that writing ANYTHING was better than hiding from my ThinkPad. (A true hot rod of a laptop by the way)

As I mentioned, my normal film finish (as opposed to a penetrating finish like Danish oil) was always some version of a traditional lacquer finish. Nitrocellulose, or “pre catalyzed” lacquer being the two main versions most commonly used, until recent changes to environmental law began making finding reliable and affordable sources for these finishes difficult.

In addition, I have many, many, MANY years under my belt using these finishes. They are wonderful, and provide a good protective, and visually pleasing finish. Ease of use and over all versatility round out the reasons why they are traditionally preferred finish choice.

Their downsides, for me at least, include toxic vapor, flammable vapor, environmentally negative, and they require specialized EXPLOSION PROOF exhaust equipment to be anywhere near compliant with safety regulations in most areas.

Enter water based finishes.

Since their initial introduction, some 15(?) plus years ago, they developed a reputation for being cranky, finicky, and generally not ready for prime time.

A lot has changed in that time.

Now, let me say here, I have yet to actually use a waterborne finish. To say that I am hopeful, yet skeptical, would be an apt description.

However, word on the street among those who have actually used these finishes, say that they act very much like their solvent based predecessors. The word is that the newest generations of waterborne finishes cure to a tough, hard, and nearly identical to the traditional lacquers they are moving to replace.

target finishes

One thing to note, ANY solvent free finish that calls itself  “Lacquer”, is NOT lacquer in the strictest sense. Rather, most water based lacquers are in fact an ACRYLIC rather than a true lacquer. This is important because it has some significant differences in performance. Acrylic finishes are difficult to strip off when doing a refinish as compared to traditional lacquer, it does not “move” in the same way a traditional lacquer does either. This is, or could be important, for instrument makers or craftsman who take wood movement into consideration.

That said, the latest generations of acrylic lacquers are said to have much improved elasticity properties, and  perform very, very closely to solvent based lacquers but tends to be brand dependent.

All of this leads me to the decision to begin working with the above pictured finish. By all accounts the Target Coatings acrylic lacquer is as close to traditional lacquer as one can get in the latest generation of waterborne finishes.

My hope is that I will find that this is the case. I really want to be able to make the switch from solvent based to water based spray-able finishes.

Much more on this as events unfold……stay tuned.

Writer’s Block Sucks…

dalai-lama-caddyshack

Since I had been using my poor, much overtaxed, little tablet to do the majority of my writing since starting this blog, I had a built in excuse to avoid the subject of the dreaded “Writer’s Block.”

Now that I have obtained an incredible, new-to-me, Lenovo Thinkpad, I no longer have technical difficulties as an excuse for the denial I have been wallowing in regarding the case of writer’s block I have.

So, while I have been remarkably negligent in my writing, I am now, as they say, “Back in the saddle.”

Attempting to get myself back in the game, I figured I would whip something up for this blog as a means of stirring up the creative juices, and reconnect with my muse.

Thus far, I have been somewhat mired in finishing off the equipping of The Tiny Shop, and doing some light restoration work to keep the mind and hands supple and well practiced.

I had the good fortune to find a deal on a brand new 1 1/2 HP motor for my Delta jointer, and it is now semi operational. I need to dial in the knives still, but otherwise it is fairly tuned and ready to do real woodworking finally. wpid-wp-1444014009777.jpg

 

Also, after much research and hand wringing, I decided that using the tried and true HVLP conversion set up that I had been using for years for applying finish was just not in keeping with my position on environmental responsibility. Further, It just had far too much in the way of “tweaking” that always seemed to need to be done in order to get the level of quality I wanted in a finish.

Add to that that I was planning a switch to water borne finish media, and the need for a different application tool was obvious.

 

Enter the Fuji Semi-Pro2.

fuji

The Fuji set up is a very well regarded turbine driven High Volume Low Pressure (HVLP) system. The idea is, that with this small, self contained set up, over spray is kept to an absolute minimum,which means a significant boost in savings as it applies to material cost. Also, since there is no traditional compressor, oil, water, and other potential contaminants are no longer a worry.

Since the cup gun is stainless steel, (both the gun and the cup) I can shoot both solvent based finishes as well as water based finishes.

Word on the street about Fuji turbines is universally good. They are regarded as some of the very best finishing equipment at markedly reasonable prices. Far less than other manufacturers like Apollo, and Grayco. Bang for the buck, and considering the space limitations of The tiny Shop, this is a no brainer.

All that remains for initial equipment purchases are another router or two, a hollow chisel mortiser, and a dovetail jig.

I debated long and hard on these last two, expensive, pieces. I decided to add these to my “need to have” list because, as I have aged, hand cutting joinery has begun to take its toll on my hands/joints. As much as I enjoy hand cut joinery, I feel that from a longevity standpoint, it makes sense for me to mechanize these operations. Trust me, if I thought that I could continue indefinitely hand cutting my  joints, I would. It is a wonderful exercise in mindful woodworking. Alas, the ravages of a misspent youth and father time, are beginning to rear their ugly heads.

That, and it gives me two more tools to shop for…..so I got that going for me…..which is nice.

carl

 

 

 

DO YOU…SEE THE LIGHT?

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Almost brother James, almost.

This weekend, I posted that I had been making headway on putting my “Tiny Shop” together. I can say with only a little reservation, that I can indeed SEE THE LIGHT.

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I still need a whole grip of things to get done before I can say that it is actually a “Shop”, but I’m here to tell you, this little building is a damn sight closer to becoming the realization of a working woodshop.

While things get shuffled here and there, I can start to see how things are going to need to be arranged in order to get efficient use of this space. I can also see that machine upgrades may need to happen sooner, rather than later.

But that is a different post.

For now, this is shaping up to be a nifty little place to birth the shop of

Dun
Dun
Dun

The Madcap Woodwright.

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A Day In The Life … or … The spirit of James Krenov is alive and well and living in Denver.

image Now that I have made some headway on sorting the shop, my thoughts turn to just what it is exactly, I intend to do with it. Obviously, there will be much lolly gagging, and pondering over steaming cups of coffee. There will be plenty of tinkering, and tweaking, and fussing about with the machines. I can also imagine a period of building jigs, and shop cabinetry, not to mention those pieces promised to the Love of my life (LOML) once the shop is operational. After that, it is a little foggy. If I were asked what my fantasy life would be like, I would have to say that I would be quite content to stroll out to the shop early in the morning, smelling the lilac as I passed by, coffee cup in hand. I can clearly envision opening the shop up, turning on some music (perhaps Bach, or Brahms. Maybe some Miles Davis, or Duke Ellington.) and sketching something from the catalogue of project ideas I have stored up in my minds eye. Once a suitable direction has been selected, the rough dimensions and scale imagined, it is time to saunter to the lumber rack and select from the gobbs and gobbs  of North American hardwoods or perhaps something European and mysterious. Something I have yet to cut into or work with yet. Perhaps some Olive wood, or Steamed Beech. Running my hands over the rough sawn boards, I wait for one or two to speak to me. As esoteric and deluded as this may sound, I have ALMOST felt this experience as described by James Krenov in his books, from time to time in my career. The experience of being patient, and waiting for the wood to “Tell” you what it wants to be. Once the boards have been selected, it is time to begin the day by bringing these precious pieces of wood into square so that they can begin their metamorphosis from rough sawn stock, into something fine and pleasing to the touch. The anticipation of the finished piece is present, to be sure. However, there is great joy in handling the boards, discovering their grain and figure as they are milled carefully. As the day progresses, a break for a drink from a refrigerated water bottle, and a bite to eat. Mustn’t forget to feed the Koi also. I can imagine spending 20 minutes or so, munching on a sandwich, drinking cold water, and watching the Koi Hoover up every last morsel of food tossed in their pond. Once snack time is over, it is back to the shop to lay out joinery, or to take glue-up’s out of the clamps and scrape the squeeze out from the joints before preparing them for their intended use. As mid day turns to late afternoon, good headway has been made. The piece is ready to be dry fit. With the remaining time in the day, perhaps even getting the piece into glue up is possible if executed well. Should I? Or shouldn’t I? Will I have to rush through the glue up process? Or can I take my time, and allow the piece to come together, rather than bullying it into submission? Maybe there would be someone waiting to buy the piece. Someone who knows what went into it’s construction. Someone who sees the same synchronicity  between the wood itself, and the piece as a whole. This would be the ideal way to spend my days. Yes, this would be an ideal day in the life of the Madcap Woodwright. A day spent exploring my imagination, and making useful things for people to enjoy. Definitely something to work for…no question. Like me on Facebook @ Madcapwoodwright Follow me on Twitter @ mdcpwoodwright

Some Thoughts On The Modern Woodwright….OR……Chris Becksvoort Is My Hero.

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As of late, I have found it a bit difficult to sit down to tap out a post here, as has become my habit. Suffice to say, the muse has not been upon me.

That is until I began researching clamps (of all things) to use in the soon-to-be-new-to-me shop.

I remembered reading an article in Fine Woodworking Magizine some time ago, that had some pictures of one of their long time editor’s, Christian Becksvoort in his home shop.

The article was about small shops of different sizes and scale. In one of the pictures that described Mr. Becksvoort’s shop at his home in New Gloucester, Maine, there was a wall full of sturdy looking clamps. These were clamps that I had never seen before, and felt that I simply MUST have them……..as I have mentioned before, it’s a sickness.

Me being…well… “Me”, I Googled Mr. Becksvoort, and through his website sent an e-mail asking him if he would be kind enough to send me any information on those clamps if he could. (NOTE: please notice the request by him to direct any “woodworking questions” to his contact info at Taunton Press. He provides a link. I must confess that in my zeal, I did not notice this little request until AFTER I had sent the email to his business email…lessons learned, and he still took the time to respond to me. Nice guy)

Now, Christian Becksvoort is a well known name in woodworking circles. He has written books, gives workshops, edits a well known and established woodworking journal, AND finds time to produce fine, handcrafted furniture in limited quantities. In short, the man is a woodworking God to many….myself included.

So, imagine my delight when, in ten minutes time, I had received a reply from him graciously forwarding to me the contact information for the company that made his clamps. We traded a couple of emails, and that was that.

Or was it?

You see, in this day and age, it can be difficult to find a Woodwright like Mr. Becksvoort. Successful, well known, self employed, and solvent. Granted, he, like so many talented Woodwrights out there, supplements his income giving lectures, and writing, but that is only because he had made his name by hand crafting such fine pieces in the first place. The man is truly living the dream after having paid many, many dues. To me, having any expectation of getting a response from him, let alone within ten minutes, was a lot to ask. At least in my mind it was.

Anyhow, I may sound a little surprised by the personal response by one of my hero’s.  The truth is, if I really thought about it,  I shouldn’t be. Chris has a long standing reputation as a true ambassador for the art of woodworking, and also as a thoughtful and well respected “stand up” guy. I have followed his work for as long as I can remember, and can attest to this. Granted that my endorsement means very little, and that on a personal level,it is based only on three or four gushing emails traded with him in the span of an hour. Still and all, he did respond personally, and was just as gracious, encouraging, and friendly as a hero SHOULD be.

So, this begs the question, “Why so few Woodworkers like Mr. Becksvoort?” Why is it so, that so many aspiring woodworkers either never move past the hobby stage in their woodworking, or if they do try to strike out on their own professionally, fail to make a living at it? How do the Sam Maloofs, Christian Becksvoorts, and James Krenovs “make it” and others do not?

All good questions. All questions that I wish I had an answer to.

If you listen to some, you may get the idea that fine woodworking as a trade, is dead. That it is relegated to being a craft or hobby only, and that mass production and the IKEAs of the world have replaced it with disposable furniture. In some respects, and for some people, this may be true. However, for me at least, I do not think that it is asking too much of the world to make room for and appreciate finely crafted furniture. Pieces that started as a tree, and were lovingly, respectfully, and honestly worked into a table, book case,chair, or cabinet designed and built to last several lifetimes, and the people whose hands make them, surely still have value and an audience.

One of the keys to advancing this mindset, and thus securing the livelihood of present and future generations of Woodwrights,  is through connection to folks like Mr. Becksvoort. Connection with like minded artisans. It used to be that trade shows and guilds were the mainstays of this connection. Over the years, the guilds have either died off, or are only barely there, and the trade shows/craft shows have degenerated largely into not much more than living commercials for … gasp … tools and jigs that are not really NEEDED.

There is one area that has brought hope though. The internet.

The internet has been a wonderful resource not just for researching woodworking, but also for connecting like minded artisans. I belong to a handful of quality online woodworking forums. (sawmillcreek.org , woodworkingtalk.com , lumberjocks.com, etc.)These forums are an absolute treasure trove of folks who, of vastly differing skill levels and woodworking interests, gather to shoot the breeze, talk about tools, and generally be there for one another. I doubt very highly that you could ask a question on one of these forums, and not get a researched, and thought out answer. More likely, you will get several. Even more likely, you will get several DIFFERENT answers. While it may sound like getting a bunch of different answers to a question is like spinning your wheels, think about this…..

In getting several different answers to a question, you are presented not only with differing opinions and options, but also with little morsels of information  that you can use to further your search, should you not find a satisfying answer initially.
A word to the wise, if you ask a question, and get several different answers that don’t really satisfy you, go out and research what morsels you get in those answers. If you come up with an answer all your own…. go back to your original post and SHARE THAT INFORMATION.

It is through the continual sharing of information that we help keep woodworking alive. Sure, you really DO need to go out to the shop and build stuff. To spend your days writing blog posts and researching tools and blabbering about workbench design, is an exercise in mental masturbation. It feels good, but produces very little.

However, sharing information, and helping fellow woodworkers develop and grow their skills and knowledge base, is a foundational move to keeping the trade moving forward, keeping it from dying. It is through this connection with one another that we help to evolve the art of working wood in that, methods and processes, both old and new, are passed on. Questions about various joinery techniques are answered. Help with applying finishes can be had. Critiques of design ideas are available for the asking. Discussions of forestry and responsible timber harvesting, renewable forestry, and general knowledge sharing on the subject of the proper management of our forests for future Woodwrights, are all facilitated  and made much more available via the internet now.

Therefore, a simple personal response to a very simple question, asked by a VERY simple Woodwright, is indeed a hallmark of someone who values working wood not just as a means to provide for a family, but also as something worth sharing and passing on to future simple Woodwrights.

Thanks Chris.

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