I found a piece of wood once on the back side of the house I was living in. About 3′ long and 3″ thick, it looked like it had fallen off a tree as it was still round on the outside and scooped on the inside. The shape of it was like 3 fat inches of growth rings had fallen off the tree. It was perfect as the seat of a bench.
I didn’t know what to do with it at the time because I didn’t know squat about woodworking. But I kept it. I said to myself, I’m gonna use that some day. And I did. And I still have it. It’s so much fun to build this stuff and then you look up and it’s years later and it’s not a perfect piece or anyone’s idea of pretty except mine. Because I built it.
Come join us and build your own bench starting Jan. 23rd. Cool Projects: Shaker Bench
It is difficult to describe the satisfaction I feel when completing a project. Particularly an overdue one. I am probably alone in this. But I have literally dozens of unfinished projects littering my shop. And yet, if I can take one from the dust and rubble of the floor and bring it to my bench, if I can turn the battleship, the slow Goliath, the mumbling giant that is my Concentration and get it pointed at this piece, if I stay the course and finish up the several hours or perhaps several days of work to complete this job, how good do I feel. How rewarding is this sense that I knocked another one down. It doesn’t take much. Just turning my focus around and pushing forward. Goodness me, what an accomplishment to get another job done.
It is not specific to humans. Birds and cats have this urge to discover. That overwhelming desire to open the closed door or to look around the corner. That is called curiosity. To satisfy this need should remain a lifelong quest. Because then one is always occupied, one is never bored, always learning, and always trying to cure one’s own ignorance. A large task for me. Happy New Year.
Avion 3 aeroplane by Clement Ader. Now that is curiosity!
Repair work has an appeal to me. It is fascinating to see what worked and what failed on a piece. See where it cracked? This tells me something that I can use in my own work. Avoid the pith, always avoid the pith. [I wish my carpenter’s helpers knew as much.]
This repair also shows me what grain direction yields. The ends of this dough bowl that I fixed has an abundance of end grain showing. This is why it broke so easily in shipping and also what I had to fix on it. It also shows much more darkening as the end grain over the years soaks up more dirt and oils and grease and water.
I also get to make something look as old as it ever was after hours of my gluing or patching or staining or distressing it. Trying to make something look as good as old takes trial and error, note taking, and luck. Into the mix was thrown: baking soda, ammonia, coffee grounds, tannic acid, a dilute ebonizing solution, tea bag, a pedestrian oil stain, dough itself heavily salted, water, and surrender were all added to this piece. Not all at once but one by one with care and discovery. Good fun.
Is it elitist to have standards these days? Do we really want the all-inclusive, everyone is a winner, no one fails approach to education?
I think not. It takes time and effort to get practiced at something. It’s why we stand and cheer for great guitarists, the batsman at the plate who delivers in the clutch, the nimble fingers of the carver. It is not just their skill but their determination to improve that skill that we applaud. Some folks word harder than others. Some have the gift of talent but even then the dedicated ones work hard to improve their talent and to increase their skills.
I say that I’m glad we’re elitist then. We don’t everyone to feel it’s their right to be great just because they wish it. We welcome everyone who wants to work with their talent. We welcome everyone who wants to struggle and fail and try again to improve. It’s the hard way which is why it’s not for everyone.
I can get close but when do I quit? It’s a concept that still flits about my bench distracting my attention at times. Is the work good enough? Precision can be both a mantle of pride and a chain mail coat that can drag you down. The decisions to be made about how precise the cuts or joints, edges or finish are, can be as difficult as their execution sometimes. These choices make for slow and slower work that few people recognize. Or want to recognize.
Perhaps there is an accumulation of choices that give a piece this quality of precision. The way a drawer opens, the consistency of a hand planed edge, how the inlay feels under your fingertips. Precision then is fluid in its delivery at the bench. It can mean one level of work for one part of a piece and something completely different at another more visible or more touched spot.
Or do you insist on precision throughout every job, inevitably slowing yourself down for this laborious effort? And without complaint for it imbues your work with a spirit that shows through. I still need to remember that precision is not perfection. The balance point needs to be found where I can get close with my precision. Close enough to feel proud of the work without being burnt out by its requirement of effort.
Join us Nov. 16th for our DESIGN: Open House on Precision. Wednesday evening from 6-7:30 pm we will be discussing the idea of Precision with David Biespiel, poet and Director of the Attic Institute, A Haven for Writers, in Portland and Rhys Thomas, performer, juggler, and science teacher extraordinaire. Check out jugglemania.com.
What a topic! Precision. Who needs it most? A writer, a juggler, or a furniture maker? Are there different aspects to precision, different types of it? Precisely.
It’s free. Sponsored by Base Camp Brewing as always and it will be good fun. Join the conversation.
Mastery Graduate Matthew Kanomata’s Dovetail Chest
I admit to a slow comprehension. The geometry of the table saw made no sense to me. Mostly because I was so afraid of its power to slice me in two. A good trade-off I thought, trading caution for comprehension. But eventually I came to understand its angles and how, like a matador, to be close to it without danger. It was an understanding of the beast that got me there. Knowing how the back half of the blade is always the more dangerous part in rotation because it can take things and with power spit or spin them at you.
Same thing occurred with my jointer. I did not understand its geometry. I fussed for years over my jointer fence trying to understand its secrets to cut so perfectly out of square. Years, until I discovered that the fence had a warp to it, that I could ignore its squareness up to a point for edge laminations, and that I need only set it out of square to get the squareness I was after.
So simple, these things. Understanding came slow but it is oh so important to me now.
Precision is a topic I get involved in. How much precision today? Just a dose? A smidgen? A dash of precision on my way to completion? Or is it time today for that bone cracking precision that stops time, stops the world, that makes me check and recheck until I’m about ready to throw the work away? And I make a cut and I can see that it’s 1/32″ off. Grrr. And I take a deep breath and dive back into the clear water to get it right.
Standards are changeable with the weather, mood, and economics. Precision isn’t always precise then. Some days it fits like a glove. Some days, you’d rather eat bait. Pick your moments, pick your spots. Decide how it feels once you’re done. If you’re happy with the results of your persnickety-ness then it’s a good choice. If not, cut yourself some slack. Do your second best piece ever.
I find myself being quiet at the bench these days. Hours go by when there is no voice heard, no radio bleating, no podcast informing. I need the blessed silence to knit back together from the constant barrage of media. Like this blog.
Stop reading. Go to the bench, be quiet with yourself. Practice your skills.