Wood & Water

Don’t be afraid of wood & water. Wood loves the stuff. Most of the tree is water when it’s standing. It’s why they’re so heavy when they come down. It’s all that water inside of them.

Once I had a 1/2″ thick maple table top, 20″ square, all shaped and sanded. I decided to raise the grain and sand it off. Wet sanding I call it, although I wait for the water to dry and just sand off the fuzz raised up by it. Well I wet down this top and it cupped almost 3/8″. This is a very good way to increase your heart rate by the way. Seeing hours of hard work go wacky in a minute.

But I didn’t panic. I breathed deep, flipped the panel over, and wet down the other face. The table top came back to flat. As did my heart rate. If your wood gets wet, wet down the other side. It will be in balance. It’s imbalance that causes movement.

1-Lightning Bolt Table GR

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Practice

Getting back to the bench is as much elixir as it is simple nourishment. I spend most of every day working in the shop. When I want to relax, where do you think I want to go? To the bench of course. To work with my hands. To make something. To talk to myself perhaps above all. No matter. It’s practice.

Practice is what is needed to learn, to become proficient, to master. I worked next to a Japanese Living Treasure one year up at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass, Colorado. He was a ceramic artist and spoke no English. His daughter was his helper, translator, and student. She would help him in class and she would practice her own craft. Every day, she would make the same pot and then crush it. Make it again, and then crush it. Over and over again. She worked every day to get the pot into her hands, into her bones so that in the end there was no thought required. It was a part of her like her breathing.

Musicians practice scales, ballplayers practice slides, craftspeople practice skills. Come join us at the Studio and learn new ones or practice the old. Either way you will enrich your life and get the craft into your bones1-Bedrock plane-002

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Create

Quit believing that you are not creative. Kurt Vonnegut said: “do art and do it for the rest of your lives”. If you stifle yourself you will fulfill your prophecy of silence. If you explore your life, your interests, the ideas and images that excite you, then you will unlock all sorts of unforeseen doors. Can’t know, won’t know, unless you try.

1-336

 

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Clean Up

Wait five or ten minutes to clean up your glue squeeze-out from a joint glue-up or lamination. It should be almost plastic and then it will peel right off. On a table top you can use a putty knife or my new discovery, an old chip breaker off a hand plane. It works great. For insides of boxes or cabinets, I use my sharpest chisel. That way if I cut into the wood, it will be a good clean cut. Also the color of the cut will match the wood inside which is always hand planed.

Patience is a virtue here. Let the glue skin over and almost set, but not quite. It will come off easily and there will be no smearing into cracks, corners or pores. This smeared glue will then only become visible when you put on finish.

 

Cafe chair rail detail Gary

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Your Grip

Avoid those teachers who say: This is the only way to do something. Whatever that something may be. That person has never been dancing. Expression is a part of building too. There are lots of ways of building things right. Just like there are several ways of learning. Learning style makes a difference in how well you understand a teacher. Pick a teacher who understands that not everyone is the same. Study with someone who remembers that choice is important too. It’s like a grip. They’re not all the same.

Brilliant chair au naturelBrilliant Chair Painted

 

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Getting Right

It is far easier to talk about than to do, but you have to get right in order to do good work. You have to think straight, to get your concentration right, to get your mind working with your hands and not against them. Now this can take hours for me some days before I finally get focused enough to work. But when I do then the work just flies and the time whizzes by and I get something done. It feels great.

But it’s a matter of concentration and when we enter the shop our mind is in a hundred different places. Where did I leave my keys? Did I send out that note? Where’s my dang hammer? Everything seems to thwart us at first. It can take time to get there and it can feel unproductive. But it is the only way to the productive place where all of you starts to work together and you start to do some good work. You have to get right first. Carved bird box

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The Work

Fine woodworking is not crafty. It is craft. It takes time, effort, and a commitment to excellence. It requires persistence and a willingness to overcome failure, repeatedly. It takes practice and patience and then more of both. It is as rigorous and as rewarding as learning a musical  instrument or teaching your body ballet or the tango. It is formal and full of expression. There are rules to follow and rules that bend. It is cumulative in its knowledge and yet so vast that no one can know all its possibilities.

You will not build anything well without throwing yourself all in. But if you, if you do commit to learning and getting it in your bones and doing your best, then the rewards are far greater than you imagine. As my friend Bogy once said to me, “The work makes you. You don’t make the work.”

Sideboard inlay GR

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A Neatness and Precision

In Pete Dexter’s book Deadwood, Wild Bill Hickok’s partner, Charley Utter, is thinking to himself, “He liked having a drawer, it was a neatness you could see just sliding it open.”

Making drawers requires a precision and calm missing from some other jobs around the shop. Cleaning out the dust collector comes to mind. Or hand planing some misbegotten wood like a rowed grain khaya. Drawer building on the other hand needs careful measuring, straight parts, and clear thinking to do a good job. A job that you’ll notice and admire in its careful sliding, with the slight woosh of air emerging as the drawer enters and fills its opening almost completely.

You can of course do a fast job and get it done with some drawer glides or run the drawer on a center mount. But it’s not the same. It doesn’t feel the same. It doesn’t act the same.

We’ll be busy at the end of this week in the Studio with a class on Drawer Work. We’ll be making a drawer box and filling it with one precision cut and fit drawer. When it’s right, you’ll be able to stand the drawer box on end and put the drawer in place and with a close piston fit the air will only let the drawer slowly descend into its resting place. Nice.

Walnut Collector's Chest open

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Congratulations

Think about how you look at others’ work. You don’t look for every mistake. You look at the scope of the project, the effort required. You consider the time spent on design. You see the form, the choice of wood and think about the time taken to mill the lumber. The hours spent on joining pieces together and the detail in the joinery and the weeks spent on shaping and sanding and how the hardware is hung. You step back and look at the whole piece and you know in your heart how much it took. You congratulate the builder.

Well, do the same to your own self. Congratulate yourself on work well done. Yes do better next time. Always strive to do better, but give yourself a break every now and then. We all make mistakes.

Step back from your own projects. Give them some room to breathe. Enjoy their imperfections. Do good work and strive to do better work each time. But don’t slow yourself up with perfection.
two leaf box

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Cobblers

Cobblers
This letter was sent to me by an old friend.

Hi, Gary!

May I give you a story, as promised?

The story is told that if you were a young person in medieval France embarking on a spiritual quest, if you were fortunate you might meet up with someone older, perhaps a teacher, who would say this to you: I think I understand what you are seeking. Let me give you the name of someone I know, a cobbler, in Dijon. I think that it might work out well if you were to become his apprentice. If that happens, let me give you one piece of advice. Don’t talk with him about spiritual matters; just let him teach you how to make shoes.

So, time passes, and you find yourself in Dijon, and you seek out the cobbler. Sure enough, as it works out, you become his apprentice.

Years pass, and you learn how to make shoes. Year after year, you measure people’s feet. You watch them walk. You listen as they tell you about their work, their daily activities, their lives, their yearnings. You make their shoes, you modify their shoes, you repair their shoes. Your shoes tell stories. You make wonderful shoes that enrich people’s lives.

More time passes, and one day, the cobbler says to you, You have become a fine cobbler. Your fingers listen to the leather, and your heart listens to the people who will wear your shoes. I am growing old, and soon I will reach the end of my life. I want to leave this shop in your hands.

You begin to protest, but the cobbler goes on.

Now hear me. One day, a young person will come to you, on some kind of spiritual quest. If it works out for this person to become your apprentice, let me give you one piece of advice. Don’t talk with him about spiritual matters. Just teach your apprentice how to make shoes.

Warmly, Herman F.

The Northwest Woodworking Studio Cobbler's Bench

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