Friday, September 27, 2013

Darkness after 4

After four days, I'm still working on this concave door.  I started with the rawest wood I've ever used, scrub planed it for one day, spent two days with my coopering plane on the concave face, and now I have my smoother to get the final back side rounded just right. But I have this bump.  And no matter how much I plane, scrape, or sand, it's not going away. 

Plus throughout all this, my arthritic thumb is hurting.  So I did what I used to do when I was tired and sore from a long distance race.....drop into a zone and muscle through it.  In planing wood, that means I tapped the blade to make heavier cuts, cranked up the speed of my strokes, and stopped thinking.  Never mind the gouges I was leaving.  I was going after that bump.

Then the birdie chirped signally that it was 4pm.  I don't do very well after 3pm so seeing how close it was to quitting time, woke me up.  Uh door.  And was I swearing throughout this?  My bench buddy doesn't like me using foul language so I've been trying to be good.  I decided I needed to take a break and maybe sharpen my blade instead.

Ahhh....back to my door and no more gouges being left behind.  My plane is working that sweetly and I'm back to being a happy woodworker.  I finally called Laura over to check my door.  "What do you think?"  "It's pretty good....but I feel this bump." 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Small Things

Daniel Zenefski is not one of the small things I'm referring to in the title of this post.  He's actually over 6 ft tall.  But in his first year as a student here he made a relatively small piece: a little box.  When I first saw this this piece, I thought "nice" but he's a second year student, where's the pizzazz? 

Then I friended him on Facebook and found the following photos.

Note the grain and how the front, including the drawer, wraps around to the side.
Not too many people look at the bottom of a piece but Daniel included a sweet frame and panel.

His second project was a wall-mounted sideboard.  At first glance, I thought it was just another small piece.  But it turns out it's 5 ft in length. Again, I thought "nice" until I saw the details in the photos.


The tambor door is so graceful as it sweeps around the back of the case.  And for a piece that is so long in length, I love how the grain of the door balances the piece with its verticality.

Then there are those rounded edges on the drawers and case.


Now every time I look at these photos, I think "wow" so much beauty in those details.

In today's Show & Tell, David Welter showed a former two-year student's work beginning with her first project.  With just a subtle touch, a curl in the wood, Sarah Marriage was able to make a piece with such a quiet feel to it.  As in Daniel's pieces, there is no pizzaz, just a small thing that makes one smile and say "wow".


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Show & Tell Part 2

Home Free.  Not quite.  Tobyn McCormick is working on a "form" for the back of a chair.  In other words, he glued up multiple pieces of poplar, measured and then cut away material, and in this picture, he's sanding the work so that he can vacuum press wood that conforms to his body.  And, yes, he will also be done with his project by winter break.

Jake Hockel is working on a desk that has a tambour door and Jeff Noblett is working on a chair.  To help him figure out how and if the door is going to slide correctly, Jake had to cut about a thousand (my estimate according to what I saw on his bench) sticks, tape them up perfectly to fit the runner, and slide them back and forth over a period of weeks before he decided on the final layout of the door.  For Jeff, one of his biggest concerns regarding his chair was how to find the right wood that would allow the grain to flow along the contours of the side of the chair down to the leg.  He also had to make a mock up that was very close to the real thing in order to guarantee that the leg was strong enough to hold up to the usual wear and tear that happens to a chair over its lifetime. 

Listening to these students talk about their projects, why they chose it, the difficulties encountered, what they hope to learn, how they're stretching themselves, etc. is so inspiring.  It amazes me that a person can actually do what these guys want to do.  And the process they go through to get there requires so much thought and patience that I can't imagine being in their shoes.

But I am in a shoes.  All of us, no matter what level we're at, are learning how to walk through this world of wood and fine craftsmanship.  And the best part about all of it are the discoveries we find along the way in both the work we do and in our own personal experiences.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Show & Tell Part 1

Another great feature of this woodworking program is the Show & Tell segments.  Second year students are well into their first project and are now being asked to tell us first year students about their process so far in the work they've been doing.  They share with us their thoughts concerning their design, the difficulties and adjustments they've had to make when they realize the design may not necessarily match reality, how they are stretching themselves in their abilities, and the techniques being used to create the desired result.  There are so many things I find valuable in these learning moments.  

I've been to many of the CR Woodworking shows over the years and I've always admired the work of these students.  But I don't think I've ever fully appreciated or understood the amount of work that goes into each piece.  Hearing Joshua Smith talk about his "Sow's Ear", a bench he made for some friends for their cabin along the Trinity River, allowed me to see his piece in a whole different light.  It wasn't just some rugged bench for a summer cabin in the woods.  As he shared his thoughts concerning choosing the wood, keeping it native to the environment, to his idea of making it a "tactile" piece, wanting people to be able to feel the bench, what at first seemed like a simple bench turned into a thoughtful creation.  And to some, it may look a little rough.  But as Laura Mays pointed out, the bench is "perfect for the appropriateness of the project".

Laura was up the following day to share her process for making her chair "Googie".  

1.  The idea:  She wanted to make a chair that didn't require as much time as her "Wholeness"  chair.  She also wanted to be able to make this chair in batches. 

2.  Sketches: lots of sketches: 

3.  The mini mockups: scale:  1:5

4.  A mock up that became a bit too big and, thus, is now her daughter's chair.

5.  Her final piece:  The details--note the continuous grain pattern in this photo and

 the arms in this one.

6.  The changes she made:  She felt the arm twist in the child's chair was too much for how she saw her final piece.  She wanted to return to simpler roots.  She also took out much of the bulk in the back legs leaving the chair with a lighter look.

Tomorrow the rest of us first year students will begin the design process for our first project.  The expectation is that we're done with our piece by winter break.  Really?!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Flexible Accuracy

Last week, Laura Mays told us she wasn't going to give us numbers anymore.  And then she looked at me, the retired high school math teacher.  I couldn't have been happier, agreeing with her that numbers can be so distracting from the work that needs to be done. Just like outside the wood shop, when I pay too much attention to statistics, especially in public education, or even my age, weight, etc., I end up spinning my wheels....going down paths where I really don't need to go. 

Case in point:  I cut mortises and tenons following a given formula.  I spent a ton of time measuring and laying out my cuts.  First the mortises, then the tenons. The tenons fit snugly and I was a happy woodworker.  Then I stepped back and took a look at my work.  Ugh!  The tenons are too skinny!!  I had my head down the whole time working with that formula and I didn't realize I had miscalculated.  Yes, even this former math teacher.

Skinny to the left and hefty, solid one to the right.  Hmmm....which one would I want my chair to have?

The other day, Laura dug out her old Latin phrase book and came up with the following:

Apta Ad Rem----relevant to reality.  It fits perfectly, I think.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Do you see what I see?

Back when I applied to this school, I wrote in my essay that I wanted to make something pretty.  So little I knew back then.  Pretty isn't easy.  After three weeks in the shop, my goal now is to see what they, my instructors, see.

Since the beginning of school, I've been sharpening tools, planing boards, cutting mortices, tenons, dovetails, and my fingers. I was highly successful at the latter.   My goal then was to get checked off on a list the instructors had to show that we could do the exercise satisfactorily.  Ugh....that list!  For me, it was kind of like chasing wood shavings in the wind.

Currently, we are working on a practice cabinet where all the exercises we learned previously are now being tested and honed in a more concrete way.  Knowing this is leading us to our project finally made me realize I had better change tactics; i.e., stop worrying about a list and start learning how to see the work I'm doing. 

I started this practice with Greg Smith this morning.  "Show me what you see."  Lots!  But that's okay......more work means, more learning.  In the afternoon, Laura Mays came in and I got to pester her with the same question, but after many hours working on the morning "lots".  She showed me a few things but said overall, it was "acceptable".  Two weeks ago, those words would have made another Facebook photo moment.  Not this time.  I didn't sign up for 9 months to make "acceptable" work.  I came to make "pretty".

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Three Musketeers

Laura Mays
Besides having six student mentors to lead us in the right direction, we have three amazing instructors.  Laura Mays, Jim Budlong, and Greg Smith.  These are the teachers who have taken on the task of saving me from myself.  Being one of the oldest students here, I have many wood habits that don't quite work at the level that is required here.  And being a former teacher, I'm finding I'm a lot like my students.  The instructors give us lectures and handouts that describe exactly what we are to do for the next exercise but once I get back to my workbench, it's all me.  And if I'm not careful or focused, the old me seeps back in telling me "you've done this before, do it your way".   

Jim Budlong
Greg Smith

Ooops!  "Jim, why are my dowel holes crooked?" or "Laura, these gaps in my dovetails are no big deal, right?"  "Greg, can I add some wood here so this joint won't fall apart?"  They graciously hold my hand and lead me back on the correct woodworker's path.

James Krenov

They've been down this path themselves as they are all former  students of  James Krenov, the founder of CR Fine Woodworking Program.  From what  I've heard, he was one of the toughest teachers a good way.  Thus leaving Laura, Jim, and Greg with some quality skills and information to pass along to those of us fortunate enough to be a part of this school.

David Welter
And there is a fourth Musketeer, David Welter.  He is the unsung hero of the shop.  In a few words, he maintains the shop.  But it would take paragraphs to describe exactly all the work he does to insure that the school runs efficiently.  Plus, in between his duties he teaches, answering questions and helping in any way he can.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Measure once, cut twice or is it....

One of the many great things about this CR Fine Woodworking program is that second year students are incorporated into the program and, thus, enhance the whole learning process for us newbies as well as for themselves.  As first year students, we have six mentors we can observe as they progress through their project from design, mini mockup, actual-size mockup, and then the real thing.  Even though they have their own work to do, they're never too busy to answer our questions or give us suggestions on how to tackle a certain exercise.  Along with this they reassure us that, yes, hand-cut dovetails and the perfect board can be a challenge.  But most importantly, they bring us food.  After spending several days flattening and sharpening our Hock plane irons, Jake brought in sharp cheese and flat bread.  Other days, it's donuts......though I think the latter was for getting our bellies primed for pushing our boards into the boring machine.

Suffice it to say, these are the students who measured up in their first year and, thus, made the cut twice.  Check out more of their work using the links below.

Jake's sideboard as a first year student.
Jake Hockel 

Joshua's dresser as a first year student
Joshua Smith

Tobyn McCormick
Tobyn's Table as a first year student

Daniel Zenefski
Dan's wall cabinet as a first year student

Jeff Noblet
Jeff's dresser as a first year student

Ben Cooper
Ben's wall cabinet as a first year student