Archive for the Category ◊ Ideas ◊

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• Sunday, December 18th, 2016

business card holders

You’re a woodworker. Alas, you have less money than you would if you were not a woodworker and thus expended your effort on more remunerative activity. And Christmas is around the corner.

The dilemma is apparent. The solution, of course, is the woodworker’s solution to everything: you can make things, so make something.

To happily fit the bill, I designed and made these business card holders. The rabbeted front section is edge joined to the back plate, 4 1/8″ wide. The angle of the base is 8°, which is also reflected in the top edges. The primary wood is curly Claro walnut, finished with an oil-varnish mix. The mountainous inlay banding (maple, ebony and sapele) is all face grain, available from Inlay Banding.

Merry Christmas, dear readers.

Category: Ideas  | 4 Comments
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• Thursday, November 24th, 2016
Thanksgiving

Wood
From trees,
Ideas
From a free mind,
Tools and a workshop
From our labor.

And hands to put these together
To make things.

Gratefulness builds happiness.

To make things
Ad majorem Dei gloriam.

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• Tuesday, October 04th, 2016

miscellaneous thoughts

Two nearly magical things in the woodshop are sharpness and good lighting. They are easily neglected, yet you are instantly a better woodworker when you attend to them.

I think most of us have an inner Jobs – the idea guy who will not be bound by conventional limitations – and an inner Woz – the engineer guy who sweats the details to get things done in the real world. It is best to listen to both of those inner voices for meaningful, creative projects to get done.

It is just a matter of personal preference, but I keep my shop neat out of necessity since it is rather small but more so because the orderliness helps keep my mind clear while working.

What should you build next? May I suggest this: that which you really, really want to build; what powerfully compels you; what will have lasting meaning to you. And I bet that is not another box for your chisels – so skip that.

When you make a mistake, what you do afterward is probably going to have the greater effect on the project. Is this a bump in the road or a catastrophe? Pause and assess.

Parasitic vermin who rip off blog content to populate their bogus websites are thieves, plain and simple. Please do not patronize their sites.

Don’t get me wrong, I love hand tools, but I bet very big machines were used to fell the tree, saw the log, and so forth. Our essential reasons for using hand tools are largely different from those of woodworkers in the 18th century. My point is simply to keep things practical and avoid purism. We can improve on the 18th century.

Brace yourself, here is a Beatles-style song created with artificial intelligence. Yes, it is awful, because it is a conglomeration of formulaic snippets with no consequential cohesive structure, no grande ligne, and hence, no impact. That is a powerful aspect we humans can bring to a creative work. Don’t be artificial.

Being cognizant of whether you are shaping wood (e.g. squaring, flattening, cutting a joint or curve) versus smoothing the surface of wood, or both at once, is a simple habit of mental clarity that makes woodworking processes more directed and reliable.

I just do not get tired of wood; I love it. This too:

White Mts.

Category: Ideas  | One Comment
Author:
• Sunday, July 31st, 2016

in the shop

I was listening to a Pandora station in the shop today and it got me to thinking.

Pandora is a wonderful music app that characterizes each song or track of recorded music using “hundreds of musical details . . . melody, harmony, instrumentation, rhythm, vocals, lyrics . . . and more” based on the analyses of Pandora’s team of expert musicians.

With this information, Pandora plays songs that it figures you will like based on “stations” that you set up. The play lists of your stations get refined as you tell Pandora more of your preferences via your continuing “like” and “don’t like” inputs, which the app remembers.

Among my stations (Motown, SRV, etc.), one of my favorites during exacting hand tool work is solo classical guitar music. I’ve guided that station to play lots of J. S. Bach’s unaccompanied violin, cello, and lute music transcribed for guitar. Having just given a thumbs-up to a few tracks of Bach, Pandora then presented some similar sounding tracks, which made perfect sense based on the music’s objectified elements.

But I thought the tracks, analyzed to be similar to Bach, were pretty crappy. Yet Pandora’s system is very sophisticated and this is no knock on Pandora; I highly recommend it.

Thinking theoretically, if you took every detail of Bach’s music, every element, every nuance, everything, well, then I suppose you would have Bach – and nothing else. But wait; Bach already did that, as only he could. That’s why his name is on the music.

OK, you’ve stayed with me this far but “Rob,” you say, “what the heck does this have to do with woodworking?”

The things you make are not defined by how well you fit dovetails, or how nice your well-tuned planes produce surfaces, or even the woods you choose. Your pieces are not fully definable by style, even your style. Each piece you make is ultimately definable only by itself – all of it, and all of it together, as it exists. Just like the music, there are limits to how much you can characterize or analyze it before you essentially reconstruct it.

That’s the word: construct. You do that when you design and build something. Just like the music tracks, it has innumerable characteristics but cannot be truly described except by the whole of it – what you built.

How grateful we should be, to make something – and sign it.

Category: Ideas  | 2 Comments
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• Friday, April 01st, 2016

Good news for hand tool woodworkers has arrived from the West coast. As we all know, it is very difficult to sell high quality craft work at a price commensurate with the skills and dedication imbued by the craftsperson, particularly when a great deal of handwork is involved. Woodworkers are particularly troubled by this.

To remedy this injustice, a bill was introduced last week in the California state legislature to ensure fairness in the pricing of handmade crafts. It is the product of much research and planning among legislators and leaders in the crafts community, and all are excited that handwork artisans will finally get their fair share.

The rationale cited by those supporting the pending legislation is quite compelling. First, handcraft is an important part of American culture and must be preserved and encouraged. Advocates claim precedence for this by noting the Japanese government’s role in the preservation of traditional crafts.

Second, of economic concern, small shop artisans are not receiving a fair living wage for their efforts and talents. If you’ll excuse the metaphorical pun, the failure of the invisible hand of the market will be corrected by the fist of government justice.

Finally, of environmental concern, handwork produces a smaller carbon footprint than machine work and reduces landfill waste because the products last much longer.

Everyone wins.

Sources in the legislature say the administration of the law would be remarkably simple and work as follows. If a craft article is produced with at least 79% of the labor done by hand, on a time basis, the article must be priced to yield an effective hourly rate of at least $19.37 for the maker. (The hourly rate is still being vigorously debated.) If it cannot be sold for this price, the state will make up the difference directly to the maker if the price is set or adjusted by the maker, or to the purchaser in the form of a rebate if the maker accepts only the state-mandated price and the purchaser can demonstrate financial burden.

Each craftsperson in the program would have to be certified as a hand maker by a new state agency, tentatively titled the Handmade March to Equality Restitution (HAMMER), staffed with experts in the fields of business and craftwork. Certification will be granted after a detailed inspection of the maker’s shop along with video documentation of the maker at work, and be renewed biannually. Of course, only high-end craftspeople who are consistently offering work that is deemed to be a significant contribution to society will be accepted.

Advocates are currently trying to include special considerations for crafts sourced from indigenous peoples and other select groups.

Bids for the development of an appropriate logo for the program have already been solicited. How about something like this?

The bill was introduced in the state House by Rep. Ino Beternyu, while a companion bill in the Senate was introduced by Sen. Duwut Itelia. Though many details remain to be ironed out, the crafts community and the public at large have been reassured that the best experts are working on every imaginable detail and the roll out will be unbelievably smooth.

 

. . . Once again, the government is here to help, and as Milton Friedman rolls over in his grave and takes note of the date of this post, I ask: Seriously, did I have you going for just a little while?

Category: Ideas  | 9 Comments
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• Thursday, March 10th, 2016

blog

Every once in a long while on this blog, your devoted scribe sweeps off the sawdust to see how this little blog is doing. According to the stats counter program, Heartwood has, since its inception, received about 2.5 million legitimate visits (i.e. humans, not crawlers, robots, and so forth) and more than 7 million page views.

The main message here is: thank you, dear readers. Special thanks to those who have posted comments. I will not be shy about encouraging comments – they add interest for all readers, and give me a sense of connection with woodworkers out there. I also enjoy the many woodworking questions emailed by readers, though when appropriate, I suggest present the inquiry as a comment on the blog so the information can be shared among readers.

Content on Heartwood now includes almost 160,000 words, which is the length of two to three non-fiction books, and more than 800 original photographs. Remember to check the Series Topics tab (under the header photo) for groups of posts on single topics. In the past year, I’ve posted about one-third less than usual, due to less available time, but not due to running out of things to say. I’m going to try to pick it up soon. As always, I’ll offer real-deal content “from the sawdust and shavings of my shop,” not armchair woodworking.

Blogging (by the way, I’ve never liked that word; it sounds like something you do uncontrollably when you’re ill), including woodworking blogging, is certainly not as vibrant as several years ago. Other media, particularly social media and video posting have taken their shares of the communications universe. Still, I think a good blog is a useful and enjoyable medium to share woodworking information and ideas, and interest on this one does not seem to have waned.

Thus, again, thank you, readers.

Coming up is a series on edge-to-edge joints. Happy woodworking.

A.M.D.G.

Category: Ideas  | 8 Comments
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• Sunday, February 28th, 2016

tool cabinet

Just about all of us involved in woodworking have somewhere along the way received a pivotal benefit from encouragement, support, or an introduction to the craft from someone. If you have the opportunities, thank that person, then do the same for someone else.

Bob Flexner’s reasoned clarifications of all matters of wood finishing are among the most lucid explanations I have read, not only in the field of woodworking but anywhere. His books Understanding Wood Finishing and Flexner on Finishing are essentials for all woodworkers.

Just wondering: if you could program a laser to perfectly cut all the joinery in a work of your design, how would you feel about the finished piece? Further, how would you feel about woodworking in general and the aspects of it that are most important to you?

With all due respect to period reproduction furniture makers, it must be acknowledged that some of the most difficult steps of creating a piece of furniture have been already been done for them, not least of which is developing a coherent style within and among pieces.

Doing excellent work is never automatic. Of course, experience, good habits, muscle memory, and so forth are important, but to achieve excellent results you must bear down and concentrate each and every time. It doesn’t just happen.

Sharpness is a magic that solves so many troubles with tools and everything else in the shop. Yet I still hate to stop the workflow to sharpen.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” This speaks so much to us woodworkers, with our tools and wood, in our shops, perhaps bogged down by doubt. It’s worth posting in the shop.

Face it, we’re so lucky to be able to make fine things in wood.

Category: Ideas  | 4 Comments
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• Wednesday, September 30th, 2015
mountains

Woodworking is such a small matter.
We take little pieces
Of what robes mountains and valleys
Then reconnect them in ways so naive.

Yet in making things
The joy of choosing is large.
Maple or cherry?
More or less curved?

Not only the trees
And us
But also from God,
Is this gift of freedom.

trail

Category: Ideas  | 4 Comments
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• Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

designing furniture

Renowned furniture designer Wendell Castle, in a wonderful 2008 interview by the late Neil Lamens, covered many aspects of the design process including the need to do a lot of sketchbook drawing and the importance of challenging yourself. He reminded us that mistakes can be evidence of having challenged oneself and their complete absence suggests one should “move the target back.”

Unfortunately, the videos of the interview do not seem to be available on Neil’s Furnitology site and blog, which are still online, so we cannot see his infectious enthusiasm as he spoke with Castle. Neil was a force of inspiration from which many woodworkers were fortunate to benefit. His kind and generous spirit left me encouraged and uplifted after every chat or email exchange.

There are two points I recall from the interview that particularly struck me.

First, Castle held that, far from dwelling on a design too much, there generally is not enough time spent on designing. Yes, we woodworkers like to git’r done and put a finished piece into a room. But good design takes work, sweat, revisions, and, at least for me, a degree of angst.

So I remind myself often of this sage advice from one of the great designers of our time. Furthermore, I forgive myself when struggling for seemingly too long with proportions, edge details, or whatever.

Second, in discussing how design is such an endeavor unto itself, Castle remarked, “You almost don’t have to build it.” Now, of course, he said “almost,” and keep in mind, he is a phenomenally prolific producer of furniture, but the remark prompted me to say, “Oh yes I do!”

In other words, juxtaposed to the first idea is the imperative to get to the point where all of the design hangs together and feels right. Maybe it will be refined on the next round but now it is time to build – time to make it real.

It’s important to recognize that time, neither arriving too soon nor deferred too long. I try to remember both.

Category: Ideas  | 4 Comments
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• Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

blogging

OK, OK, I get it. 150,00 words – about the length of 2 1/2 non-fiction books, along with 800 photos, of woodworking techniques, tools, resources, jigs, and thoughts on the craft over the past 6 1/2 years, and what is by far the most popular post on this blog?

A joke. Yes, the recent April fool’s post featuring the profound research of the nonexistent Dr. Insane(o). OK, so that’s what you want. My webhost actually had to warn me about bandwidth overuse.

Seriously, this doesn’t bother me a bit. On the contrary, I am, as always, very grateful for the large readership of Heartwood. That post points up the value of laughter and the dangers in taking our woodworking and ourselves overly seriously. That some readers swallowed it whole only unmasks the wishful thinking to which all of us woodworkers are subject. It naturally arises from pursuing a craft that is more difficult than we might like to admit.

While I’m on the subject though, hey, a few more comments now and then would be nice. I’m of course interested in your thoughts on the posts but remember so are other readers.

Anyway, thanks again for reading and here’s a true classic to put a smile on your face. Yes, “They’ll be standin’ in lines for those old honky-tonk monkeyshines.”

Rob

Category: Ideas  | 4 Comments