Friday, August 30, 2013

A Dovetail Journey

Jim Budlong is at it again.  On Saturday he introduced cutting dovetails by hand.  The demo took most of the morning leaving us (me) the afternoon to fumble my way through them.  Of course, even though it's already Tuesday, I've yet to cut a decent set.  Joshua Smith, a two year student, cut over 200 dovetails on the chest of drawers he made last year as a first year student.  He's my new hero.

Joshua Smith


Some might ask "why do it by hand when using a router and template is so much faster?"  Well.....

When I drive back and forth to the shop on Hwy 1, I often see touring cyclists fully loaded with their gear traveling hundreds of miles, some of whom start at the Canadian border to travel as far south as Mexico.  Why do they choose to expose themselves to all the elements when they could just hop in a car and be shielded from the sweat, rain, bumps in the roads, etc?  The scenery is the same and so much faster.

In both examples, there's so much to be said regarding the effort one puts into something that really enhances the senses.  In cutting dovetails by hand, there isn't one step in the whole process where I'm not touching, seeing, or listening to what I'm doing.  With a router, none of that is involved.

So here it is, Friday, and I'm still marking, sawing, and chiseling away to make dovetails.  None so far have been worthy of a picture but for me right now, that's not the point of this exercise.  In the process of learning how to make dovetails, I've improved so many of the primary skills required to be successful; i.e. sharpening chisels, sawing and marking accuracy, but most all, patience.  Eventually, I will get to the point where Jessica Osserman got the first day she cut dovetails. 

Jess's Through Dovetails
Jess's Half-Blind Dovetails

Jessica Osserman

And when it comes down to it, the most important reason to cut dovetails by hand?  As Laura Mays says, they just look better.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Plane Intimacy Squared ( ^2 )

Perfect Board--Part 2

The exercise has increased in difficulty.  Now we have to flatten all surfaces and square all edges. That was Monday. It's now Friday and I'm still working on that "perfect" board exercise. But instead of frustration, I'm actually appreciating the fact that I have this time to work with my plane while getting feedback and encouragement from instructors. I can't imagine doing this at home.  There are so many aspects to this exercise that are valuable.  As instructor Greg Smith pointed out, this allows one to really understand what his/her plane can do and how to get it do the work that's needed.

Sarah Marriage, a recent 2-year student, addressed it in a different way.  "The task is impossible.  Even if one were to complete it momentarily, the board will change shape over time."  She goes on to say "Some people find the exercise extremely frustrating.....  But I think if you let it, the exercise allows you to revel in a game that is always a part of anyone's work: how finely to work and when to stop."

Leviathan Desk by Sarah Marriage

Her last sentence is how I view this school.  Those of us fortunate to be students here, are being given the opportunity to actually see what "perfection" looks like and are being gently guided to reach that level in our own work.  Whether any of us continue to work at this level once we leave here, will be our individual choice.  But at the end of these 9 months, we will know the difference between good work and our best work.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Plane Intimacy

 Perfect Board--Part 1

Last Saturday, Jim Budlong introduced the Perfect Board exercise.  This is a slow, tortuous process that begins with taking a piece of wood, ripping it with a bandsaw, and then using only the handplanes we just made, we must flatten and square the edges for a perfect fit.  Initially this didn't sound so difficult but after a couple of hours of planing, well mostly tuning up our planes, most of us were beginning to realize just how challenging this exercise really was.

At the end of the day, 8 hours later, only a handful of students were successful.  Gloom hung over my world as I left for the evening.  To brighten it up, I headed over to Piaci's, Fort Bragg's best communal spot to get a great pizza, where if you show up alone, it's guaranteed someone will talk to you....even when all you want to do is drown yourself in your sorrows.  Yes, the man next to me wanted to talk.  What about?  The woodworking program.  He seemed like such a nice I didn't tell him about the perfect board workout.

Monday.  It was Laura Mays' turn to put up with my fussiness regarding my board.  I was hoping the "new" teacher on the block would be easier than Jim.  Not a chance.  It took me another 4 hours before I finally got her approval.

And this was only the first step to making a perfect board......

Monday, August 19, 2013

Never A Dull Moment

When my mother lived in Hawaii and I called to check up on her life there, she always said it was "just another day in Paradise".  That's how I feel about my stay in Fort Bragg, Ca. and the 9-month woodworking program here.  Instead of my feet in the sand, I have sawdust under my shoes and there's no better place I would rather be.  Plus, I live two doors down from the beach so not a bad beginning to my retirement.

Week 1:

It's all about getting out plane irons sharp.  If they're dull, there's no way anything is going to get made in the coming weeks.  Along with the irons, is the body of the plane.

Five years ago, I took the Tools and Techniques summer class and made these two planes: smoothing and a jointer.  Dull blades, poor cross pin alignment, and a lopsided wedge meant neither one worked well and, thus, they sat in my tool cabinet as reminders of the skills I needed to work on.  Instead of putting time and energy into improving those skills, I went for the pocket book and purchased some very nice guaranteed-to-work hand planes.  Happy woodworker but one who was lacking in skills.

Fast forward to the nine-month woodworking program and it's time to learn the correct ways in which to do all things concerning wood.

The cross pin is parallel to where the blade sits and my wedge fits perfectly!  Magic.  Not so lucky on the next plane but with a few adjustments with the side of the body, I was able to line that up too.  Knowing how to fix the "fixable" is so valuable!

Now a bit of shaping the plane so that it fits my hand.  Not only is it pretty but it feels soooo good!

After six 8-hour days of continuous woodwork, I finally noticed a cute pinup in the women's bathroom.