Archive for ◊ September, 2013 ◊

• Saturday, September 28th, 2013


Take a look at two lists: the Speakers and the Toolmakers who will be at WIA.

Every woodworker can learn plenty from that bunch. In fact, we can probably learn just by breathing the air at WIA. I’m only half kidding: seeing Mary May in person carving oak leaves, and hearing Silas Kopf discuss where design ideas come from, to cite just a couple of examples among the classes, are sure to elevate my skills and confidence.

Browsing the toolmakers’ booths is going to be fun – handling and trying out fantastic tools cannot be done online. Yes, this is dangerous territory, especially if your credit card is handy, but as a woodworker, isn’t that just the kind of living on the edge that you crave?

Exchanging ideas about tool design with these outstanding makers will be just as enjoyable. My first mission will be a reconnaissance op to the Bad Axe Tool Works bunker and Col. (Ret.) Mark Harrell.

Heartwood readers, I cannot think of any better or more enjoyable way to improve your woodworking skills, knowledge, and perspective than to visit WIA and hang out with lots of people who share our passion for the craft. I hope to see you there!

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• Saturday, September 21st, 2013


There are places available in the class I will be presenting tomorrow, Sunday, September 22, 2013, at the Woodcraft in Walpole, MA, 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM on “Fundamentals of Hand Plane Selection, Setup, and Use.” The location is about 15 miles southeast of Boston, two miles north on Route 1 from Gillette Stadium.

The presentation will be in a clear, logical, at-the-workbench manner, much as topics are presented here on Heartwood. It will include plenty of guided hands-on, as well as demonstration and discussion. Beginners as well as experienced woodworkers will benefit from the class, which will include bevel-down and bevel-up options and tuning. Bring a plane or two. DVR the 1:00 PM Pats game and beat the Route 1 traffic going in and going home.

Please see the Woodcraft website for directions and details.

Other upcoming classes I will be teaching:

  • How To Make and Use Mortise and Tenon Joinery on Saturday, November 2, 2013, 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM.
  • Choosing and Using Hand Saws – Western and Japanese on Thursday, November 14, 2013, 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM.
  • Fundamentals of Hand Plane Selection, Setup, and Use on Sunday, December 15, 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM.

If you are in the area, and especially if you like reading the Heartwood blog, come on over – we’ll have a blast.

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• Thursday, September 19th, 2013


The previous post discussed the creative destruction that I optimistically think contributed to my development as a woodworker. Thus, probably slower and with more angst than necessary, I think I’ve learned a few things worth sharing. Surely, readers, you have many points to add, but here are some key factors that come to mind that I believe contribute to a successful woodworking project, which, for me, is one that brings the “quiet joy” of which Krenov spoke.

  • Plot a smart order of construction steps. Don’t back yourself into corners that make succeeding steps more difficult than they need be. Think and think ahead.
  • Recognize appropriate tolerances in stock preparation, joinery, tool tuning, and so forth. Know where you must be very close and where you have some room. We all recognize the damage caused by sloppiness, but compulsive attempts at unnecessary perfection waste energy when building.
  • Know where the critical junctures are in the process. Some steps are make-or-break, so bear down on these.
  • Likewise, be cognizant of the major pitfalls. Usually, they are apparent only if you stop and think.
  • When possible, work in a self-correcting manner. For example, it is often a waste of time trying to get two surfaces to meet right off, and easier to plane small excesses flush as a final step.
  • There are many small touches that cannot be shown in the shop drawing, such as how ends and edges are softened. These decisions properly come along as the work progresses, but they must be consistent with your style and the design concept, and so you must maintain aesthetic awareness as you build.
  • Choose finishes as part of the design, not as an afterthought when the piece is assembled. Experiment on scrap to find a finish that supports the design concept.
  • It is nice to challenge yourself, but not to the point where you cannot maintain reasonable composure as you build. That’s no fun, and the piece will probably show it!

In marked contrast to the disappointment that can sometimes come from trying to make fine things, it can be exhilarating to work in control, in the flow, and in the moment, making something that you dearly want to be.

Here are best wishes as you pursue your path to the joy of woodworking.

Category: Techniques  | 5 Comments
• Wednesday, September 11th, 2013


Two projects, a small table and a wall cabinet, now distant memories from 25-30 years ago, occupied a considerable amount of my attention as I endeavored to advance my woodworking skills. They were moderately complex pieces. The table involved blind and through mortise and tenons, and curved legs. The cabinet involved multiple frame-and-panels, doors, drawers, partitions, and lots of dovetails.

The designs were pretty good, the wood selection was very good, and there was a decent amount of good workmanship including lots of clean joinery. Unfortunately, I eventually got stuck with some poor choices in several areas: coordinating the alignment of certain components, assembling parts with work left to be done that was then impossible to do well, delayed decisions on some joinery strategies, and poor selections for pre-finishing the panels in the cabinet.

I could not bring myself to finish these projects. Both lingered, partly assembled, in the shop for a long time because I also could not bring myself to destroy them. Yet, eventually, I did destroy both of them.

Why? It was not a matter of imperfections; all projects have those. It was because I knew these pieces would never have that fundamental rightness that produces joy. Further effort would be drudgery. My consolations were that I learned, and time would better be spent on work with real promise.

This sort of failure can come from a faulty or misunderstood concept, though not in these cases. Rather, in each, I did not understand a path to successfully putting all the aspects together to complete the piece, even though I successfully executed many individual tasks such as joinery. My craftsmanship, while pretty good in many respects, was naive. I could not put it all together, figuratively and literally.

This is the hardest aspect of a woodworking project – all the elements of design and execution must come together. One must map a clear, controlled path to achieve this. This path is ultimately based on a clear vision of a good design concept, and the insightful craftsmanship to carry out that vision.

I guess it is true of any endeavor, work or play – such as jobs, sports, and arts. It’s one thing to learn the components but quite another to put them together and make it flow. With woodworking, however, you see it all before you. There is no hiding, and you know it.

Next: So, what did I learn?

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