Tag Archives: design

Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

dalai-lama-caddyshack

It has been far too long since I have contributed to my blog. I am a little ashamed to say that it has slipped from my conscious thought for several months now.

So then, I offer this little….ok, who am I fooling….this long winded update.

The kind folks at Highland Woodworking have inexplicably continued to accept and actually publish my daft ramblings. This is one reason why I have been remiss in my blogging duties. I have been submitting articles in my “Roubo bench Build With a Twist” series for the online magazine, as well as some various meandering musings for their blog. It has been a lot of fun working with an actual editor (now two editors) and I feel my writing is better for the effort.

I have done several “cameo appearances” at a few of the local shops here in town. These tend to be of limited duration and can either be really fun and rewarding, or dull and frustrating. Either way, they all help to keep the lights on, feed my tool addiction, and keep me off the streets. Even the less than positive gigs are educational and help me appreciate the work that I do in The Tiny Shop.

Speaking of The Tiny Shop, The Roubo has some fresh dings and dents now. I absolutely love the pair of benches I have in the shop. Even though they are both Nimitz class aircraft carrier size, they each have their own personality and each have their own quirks. Someday, mark my words, there will also be a Nicholson-English style bench in the shop too. However, that will need to wait until I have the actual shop space to accommodate a trio of full size work benches. Overkill? I think not.

I have been doing quite a bit of restoration and repair work from The Tiny Shop. While it is a means of keeping food in the belly, it is also a minor distraction from developing some prototypes that I continue to mull over. There are a couple of small tables, a set of small nesting tables, a chair design and also a rocker that I would like to prototype and move forward in their development. I just have not had the time or the material to get cracking on these yet. With warmer weather becoming more consistent though, I am hopeful that this spring and summer will see the return of my furniture designing and building in earnest.

On the more literary side of things, keep an eye out for an up coming series or articles I am working on. It is an interview with my former wood shop teacher and longtime friend, Don Rauh. Don has some things to say, and has always been one to “tell it like it is.” The series is shaping up to be quite interesting indeed.

So there you have it folks, just a little update on the Madcap Woodwright’s ongoing adventures. As always, I continue to work wood with joy and abandon because life is just too damn short.

“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

 

Madcap Brain Goo

This blog has been a source of great joy for me. It has been the well spring for a lot of creative ideas.

When I first started The Madcap Woodwright, it was on a whim and really had no direction other than as a platform for whatever random thoughts I had.

It has seemed to morph from the run of the mill DIY/woodworking/tool junkie/word puke, into something much more philosophical and substantive.

In the coming weeks, months, and hopefully years, I will be delving more.deeply into the ongoing grab bag of thoughts and ideas I have been working with lately.

In a recent post, I mentioned the latest project that this blog has spawned. Work on that manuscript continues, but I am finding the urge to blog a louder siren song just now.

In any event, stay tuned. I’ll be making a more concerted effort to distill some “Madcap brain goo” to pour into the vessel that is The Madcap Woodwright.

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.

I Can Finally Call It A “BENCH”!

image

So, does anyone notice anything……different in this picture?  It’s subtle, I know. That is, if the word subtle can be used in a sentence under a picture of this epically overbuilt workbench.

Today, the Fed Ex driver delivered a 45 pound box to my very doorstep. “Oh my”, I exclaimed. “Whatever in the world could THIS be”?

Much to my delight, enclosed in the battered and broken box, was a vintage Craftsman/Columbian 10 inch, quick release vise.

OH JOY OF JOYS!

OH DREAM OF DREAMS!

As many of you already know, one of the bits of minutia that I have been fretting over was what vise(s) to put on this workbench of mine, to finish it off and make it truly usable.
I had been considering the classic, “old school” front and end vises that you would normally see on a Scandinavian/Continental bench, but I had mounted these on my first bench and found them to be “rack-master-5000’s”. That is to say, they would rack and bind in their mountings and cause much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Then the focus turned to the Record line of all steel vises made in Sheffield, England. These are wonderful, pass on to your great, great grandchildren vises. Since anything that resembles the old Record company and/or their fine metalwork has been long gone for nearly ten years now, it is pretty much EBAY or dumb luck as far as getting your hands on one of these. Even if a suitable example can be found, the cost would lead one to think that they are forged from solid gold ingots….wholly unsatisfactory.

There are high quality clones from out friends in the far east as well as from the former Czech Republic. Reasonably priced, and more than adequate for the job.

Then I finally caved in and, in a state of desperation, began scouring Ebay for something old, something heavy, something made from steel that was mined from these here United States.

While going through my normal “find something promising, google it, learn all I can about it” fits, I found a brand that seemed to be in fairly good supply. Columbian Vise Co.

Columbian vises are regarded as the American version of the Record vises. They are hugely overbuilt, made from very high quality MURRICAN (American) steel, and have been around since the late 30’s to about the late 70’s. Examples of their 10 inch vise were selling quickly on “The Bay” The game changing reason I became interested in this option, was the fact that these vises were manufactured in my home town of Cleveland, Ohio.

As I did my due diligence dance, I discovered that Columbian also rebranded their flagship vise for Sears Roebuck. Virtually identical to Columbian’s top of the line woodworking vise in every way….except for peoples interest in one on Ebay. Surely there had to be some reason these were not being snapped up by vintage tool enthusiasts…right? There had to be some sort of catastrophic defect in them to drive people away from buying them.

Researching further, I asked this question on several woodworking forums. It is in the pages of these forums that I normally can find answers and confirmation of those answers, just by using the search function. This time though, I needed to be specific, so I posted my question and got next to no responses. Except for one guy who used to work for Sears. He told me that, yes these were indeed nearly identical to the Columbian flagship vise, and that the only differences were in the casting of the Craftsman brand name in the face, and a little extra metal added to the chop faces. Otherwise, exactly the same.

I confirmed this with another fellow on a separate forum who has one of each. No real difference in the vises. All parts are totally interchangeable.

After finding this out, I was bent on obtaining either a Columbian or Craftsman 10 inch, quick release vise, and I was not going to pay anything remotely close to retail for it….

In just a few short hours, and one or two aborted attempts to negotiate the securement of several sub-par vises, I stumbled on a vintage (c.1964) Craftsman/Columbian. The seller stated they really didnt know much about it other than it had been in storage a very long time. I circumvented the normal bidding process and contacted the seller directly with an embarrassingly low offer…..i’m talking really, really low.

The response left me dumbfounded. The said that my offer would be fine since they had had the thing listed for some time with no bites. They needed the boat anchor gone.

So this is all well and good since the condition appeared in the pictures to be better than any of the other examples I had seen.

Here is where it gets interesting……

When I opened the box this morning, there was inside, ….. another box! THE original box. Not only that, but upon inspection of the vise, I discovered that the darned thing had NEVER BEEN MOUNTED. It was brand new, in the box, with the original paperwork.

Hows that for thrifty?

image

There she is folks….a BRAND NEW COLUMBIAN/CRAFTSMAN 10 inch, quick release woodworkers bench vise, mounted in it’s new habitat, ready to finally be used as intended.

EDIT:
Below is a picture I added for reference. It is a picture of the Columbian version of my new vise but in RESTORED CONDITION.

image

Anyhow, now I can finally say I built a functioning WORKBENCH!

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Mr. Sellers Perfect Timing.

I swear I had nothing to do with the timing of the linked article from Paul Sellers blog.

https://paulsellers.com/2015/07/making-decisions-take-control/

However, his fortuitous post supports my contention that the world today may indeed, be ready for something of a shift in the way we view success, the way we determine self worth, and the way in which we participate in our own lives.

While there is certainly a hint of indignation in his post, Mr. Sellers does effectively, at least to my mind, continue to encourage a certain fearlessness to those who dream.

It is as though he is shouting to the world that “It’s good to want to be self sufficient. It’s good to use your woodworking talents as a means of being independent. DO IT!!!, for gods sake, its OK. Don’t be afraid!”

So refreshing. So encouraging to see and feel that I am not alone. So good to read such a naked call to arms.

Just sayin.

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Rediscovering the Woodwright.

So today, I stumbled across this article…..

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/07/world-without-work/395294/

If you read the article, you may have noticed the section on “Artisan’s Revenge” or some such. It is an interesting and hopeful notion that there may still be a seat at the socio-economic table for professional woodwrights like me.

Happily, I have discovered others out there, both in the blogosphere and through school, that share the same hope.  Folks who mirror a number of the same ideas that you can read about in several blogs like Paul Sellers blog

( https://paulsellers.com/woodworking-blog/paul-sellers-blog/ )

Love him, or leave him, Mr. Sellers, among others, present an encouraging case for the future of the artisan in the modern economy. He calls it “lifestyle Woodworking”

It’s interesting to me that the very nature of modern economics has forced a development of an entrepreneurial spirit. Not yet fully developed perhaps, but alive and kicking.

This is, according to the Atlantic article pinned above, due to several factors.

First,
In my view the term “job security” no longer has the same definition as before.

With a significant percentage of the workforce being what would traditionally be referred to as “under employed” there is a significant swell of outside-the-box creativity both in job hunting and defining employment, as well as folks creating as a means of employment.

Whether it be because traditional full-time jobs have been fractured into part time positions, or because workers string “gigs” together to pay the bills, one thing holds the potential as a happy byproduct of “underemployment” ….. Time available to create!

So, to take the lemon of unemployment or underemployment and make lemon cello out of it, there seems to be fertile ground and willingness to rediscover artisanship as a viable means to support one’s self.

This is encouraging. Part of me mourned my decision to pursue what many considered a dying art/trade.

Still, because I love it, and because I’m actually good at it, I soldiered on, always hoping that the demand for handmade, high quality, “things” made from wood, would experience another revival.

It seems I am not alone. Nor are artists who paint, nor blacksmiths(something I am determined to learn to do), or writers, or people willing to collaborate in developing new ways of doing business independent of established economic norms.

It might just be that folks are tiring of being defined by how large their house is.

It might just be that we, as a species, might be on the brink of redefining the level of satisfaction we derive from our work. We may be at a place where, when freed up to create, we find that it is satisfying to “live to work”.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be in a place in our lives where we had food, shelter, family/friends, and something we did that satisfied us as our job?

Maybe not so far fetched.

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