Tag-Archive for ◊ is it worth it ◊

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• Tuesday, November 30th, 2021
resawn sapele

Even at this point, I often make small refinements in the design, mostly to make the proportions look good. I also may add features, such as edge treatments. This is small stuff that I do sweat. I am aiming for a certain peace and balance that will make the piece of furniture be interesting at several levels, and ironically, even fascinating.

However, all of this has to be put into the language of wood. The goal is to make something out of wood, not to just make a nice looking drawing on paper. Sometimes as I gradually get the oversized components out of the rough stock, the wood itself will suggest subtle alterations in the design, so it’s back to the drawing board yet again. 

I think of the wood early on in the design process. In fact, I really do not even think of a design in the abstract at all, but instead see it from the beginning as being in a particular wood or at least narrowed to a few possibilities for the wood.

So there is an ongoing interplay among the drawings, the wood, and my imagination.

Now, when the mental dust has settled and sawdust will take its place, I want the wood to be reliable. Oh, and you know where that goes, fellow woodworkers. Recall the words with which the late Professor Bruce Hoadley began his seminal book, Understanding Wood, “Wood comes from trees.” Its essential characteristics make it for good trees; it did not evolve for woodworking projects. 

And so the gorgeous boards of quartersawn sapele that I took home for this project were destined to drive me nuts. I wrote about this a while ago in the post “Weird wood stresses stress me.” 

This was an unusual, hopefully uniquely frustrating situation with the wood. The point here is that once we have settled on a design that drives us, that answers the question “Is it worth it?” strongly in the affirmative, uncertainty still lurks, starting with the first bite of the saw’s teeth into the rough lumber. 

The recipients of our best work do not, in all likelihood, have any idea of this, especially if they are used to veneered particleboard ready-to-assemble “things” (see how civil I’m being). Still, as I pointed out in the first part of this series, these matters are not, and should not be, their problems. 

Yet they are out problems, fellow woodworkers, and indeed we can usually solve them. So, I am not whining but once in a while, it is worth mentioning them, just among us. This is the uncool reality that is infrequently shared in print, but we ought to be able to say, “Oh, you too? That happens to you too?”

Next in this series: construction, detours, and, gasp, mistakes!

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Author:
• Saturday, October 30th, 2021
cabinet design

Something easy to draw on paper may not be so easy to execute in wood. Though we can and should try to stretch our technical limits to meet the demands of a compelling design, it may be impossible or at least unwise to attempt certain things in wood. Sometimes even an innocent curve on paper has the potential to foul up a construction.

Deviating from established construction methods is fine but there are reasons they are tried and true, so you better know what you are doing and have a sound plan if you diverge from tradition.

With those points in mind, the “hook” for this piece is the curved sides. I knew I was asking for trouble. Whenever there is a major asymmetry in wood removal on opposite sides of a board, the built-in stresses can manifest unpredictably. If the wood has been in storage through many seasons of changing humidity, the stresses seem to reduce themselves, but for recently harvested and kiln-dried wood, there are inevitably some case hardening stresses lurking. The thinnest points of the 8-inch-deep sides are about 1/2 inch less than the thickest points. The sides come out of 8/4 stock. 

But wait, I’m the wood guy, I know how to work around this! Well, dream on wood guy, the wood does not care that you’re the supposed wood guy.

The wood had its own plans as I was to find out. 

The case construction is carcase dowelling, and the techniques I use have proven sound in projects going back more than 20 years. So I felt confident there and similarly for the frame-and-panel construction of the doors and back.

However, the other hook for this piece is the layout of the door stiles and rails. The center stiles do not reach to the top and bottom like the hinge stiles. They are also, along with the middle rails, slightly thinner than the other frame members to create small steps at the joints.

It would have been easier to take the usual approach where the center stiles go all the way to the top and bottom like the hinge stiles. That way, the doors would be easier to assemble and trim to a final fit. But that’s not the way I wanted it. Still, my scheme here is not too unusual and quite doable. 

Other things that required careful thought are the doors overlapping the top and bottom of the carcase, which precludes using a nice Krenov-style door catch, and hanging with Z Clips, which are essentially thin metallic French cleats. 

So, in summary, I felt my design was exciting but brought about some challenges and doubts. Doubts for sure. But remembering the late Wendell Castle’s advice, “If you’re always hitting the target, it’s too close,” I was ready to go.

Now, about the wood . . .

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• Thursday, September 30th, 2021
design stage

This will be a series of posts that I have wanted to write for a long time. It will be what is rarely written – a real accounting of a maker’s thoughts from the first idea for a piece through its completion. I will relate my ambitions, joys, frustrations, doubts, successes, failures, and more – all unvarnished and “from the shavings and sawdust of my shop” – in building the piece that started with the sketch above.

Now, why would I want to do that and why might you care?

Magazine articles and books almost always present a sanitized version of the construction steps, and reasonably so. The reader needs a clear layout of the building process so it can be understood and employed, not a replay of a woodworking psychiatric session.

Moreover, when the finished piece is presented to viewers, interested and sensitive observers are generally best served when the piece is mostly left to speak for itself with little or no verbal accompaniment. Questions can come later. That the joints were hard to fit or the wood tore out on the thickness planer are my problems, not theirs, and I have to solve them so they can enjoy the piece.

Yet, Heartwood readers know that I have long emphasized that high-end woodworking is not fast or easy and pretensions to such fantasies by woodworking media are counterproductive. I also think that high quality woodworking, especially one-of-a-kind pieces, are largely underappreciated and not well understood. If that were so, they would probably be in greater demand and fetch higher prices.

So, this is some honest talk for woodworkers. Most of us work alone and all of us encounter doubts and difficulty with the craft. Sharing that can bolster our faith and energy in making things. This can also benefit those who have to put up with our passions or just want some inside baseball about the craft of making really nice stuff from wood. 

I will cover: 

  • Design, starting with the sketches above
  • Wood and materials
  • Construction plans, problems, and detours

The first question, however, is posed in the title. From the outset, a maker has to be convinced that the object is worth building. The concept must be strong, clear, and compelling. The energy has to be there. The plan to execute it must be sound. That’s right, the plan, but as boxing great Mike Tyson has been quoted, “Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the mouth.”

Here we go.

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