Liberal Arts Education

In working with high school interns last year, I was asked to write about our program. I sent this in to a local newspaper. It sums up my feelings about education.

Why I Did the WIN Class
Letter to the Albany Democrat Herald, 2014
What was great was to see how excited these kids were to learn. They listened to me talk
about geometry and physics. They asked questions about these subjects. They listened to me talk about joinery and cutting angles. They were to a person all interested in learning. And that’s what education should be about: curiosity and the excitement of discovery. Add on that you get to put your hands on tools and it’s a slam dunk for just about every demographic. But certainly it is of vital importance for our kids. Please let all our educators know that hands on education needs to be back in every school. From the arts to music to shop class, we need to train our kids in the broadest possible way. This is called a liberal arts education. I’m a fan of it.

Join us on the 11th of September for a fundraiser in support of the WIN program. We’re trying to expand our efforts into local Portland area schools.

http://northwestwoodworking.com/events–2/nws-win-fundraiser

Brayan and Gar Bear

 

 

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NWS/ WIN Fundraiser

Our Internship Program last year with Albany High School students was a great success. Funded entirely by Albany Parks and Rec, shout out to Ed Hodney, Director, this group came up monthly to study with me at the Studio learning about geometry, furniture design, joinery, construction, and finishing. They made several great pieces culminating in a bench donated back to the City of Albany. Cool stuff helping students learn how to think critically and how to carry a project through to completion.

Expanding it to two Portland area high schools is our goal for this year. We hope to raise funds for this effort on Friday, 11, September, from 6-8pm. Please rsvp at studio@northwestwoodworking.com if you would like to join us. There will be refreshments and a short presentation on our efforts.

Albany High School Kids LtoLegacy 2014 049

 

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The Battleship

Projects come, projects stay. I walked around the shop one day to count the projects I had started only to put down for one reason or another. I got depressed by the number 20. Unfinished for any number of reasons. I cut a panel too short on one. I wasn’t sure of the curve of another.  Not hard to make a new panel, 0r try to mock up the curve. That logic does not fly in the face of a simple defeat. I just let the projects linger, go to your corner.

What is it that stumps me? Probably this doesn’t happen for you, this is probably just me. I think for me it is the battleship called focus. The work is never the issue, I am the issue. Getting me to focus long enough on the problem at hand usually solves it in such a short time that it’s embarrassing.

Get the battleship turned around and pointed in the right direction and it’s amazing how quickly I can knock out one of those unfinished jobs. So I’ll make another list and put a couple of these nearly complete pieces close by and see if I can knock one out today, in an hour or two.

 

1-China cabinet cherry GR

 

 

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Chair Design, Please Sit

Chair design is a fairly new design concept. Read Witold Rybczynski’s book called Home and he points out that chairs were used only by royalty for centuries. The idea of comfort only came later on after the Middle Ages. The notion that people could sit unceremoniously slouched around a dinner table took a few more centuries to take hold.

We discover the intricacies of chair design this weekend. Three days of design, engineering, and joinery. What a trio! On Day One we look into the needs of design, function vs. intention, how joinery affects the look of a piece, and how to engineer the important triangle into our chair. We will sketch, build a 1/4 scale aesthetic model of our chair design and then a sittable prototype by the end of the weekend. Good fun.

 

Cafe chair rail detail Gary

 

 

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The Weekend

I switched things around a bit for this summer. Not every week is filled with class time. Maybe I can get some of my own projects down finally.

There are some good week long classes. Windsor Chair Making with Elia Bizzarri is coming up. He’s a fun guy and super talented with hand tools and on the lathe. http://www.northwestwoodworking.com/courses/36

Then there’s that guy Rogowski and his Stool Workshop. Five days of fun with one day of mind bending geometry thrown in. http://www.northwestwoodworking.com/courses/25

Finally there are three weekend classes planned for July. They start on Friday so they will be long weekends. The first is 3 Simple Finishes. The only true word in that title is Finishes. We’ll cover more than 3 and nothing about finishing is simple. It is chemistry plus alchemy and there is a ton of information to discuss, as well as lots of finishing tips, plus we do samples of all these. We will discuss surface prep, scrapers, coloring, stains, chemical stains, oils, varnishes, and the miracle finish shellac. Oh and wax. And rubbing out. And . . . http://www.northwestwoodworking.com/courses/28

Then because Bob my vet asked for it, we’re doing Inlay Secrets. This is great fun and simple, once you know a few tricks. It’s persnickety work at times but that’s what makes it so fun. From straight line to curved work, we’ll be working on inlay techniques that will make your work shine. http://www.northwestwoodworking.com/courses/79

Finally, Chair Design Strategy will fill our last weekend in July. This will be fun and cool because everyone knows a chair. But how do you make them pretty enough and comfortable enough and sturdy enough? Lots to consider. We’ll make a scale model in wood and a sittable prototype of your never to be forgotten chair design. Good fun. Join us. http://www.northwestwoodworking.com/courses/77

Bench tumultous

 

 

SAB Detail Inlayimage

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As If

I haven’t practiced sawing in a while. As if that makes any difference.

It does. I will get to the bench and try my hand at a dovetail and I won’t know where exactly to put my feet. Or rather, I put my feet where I think they’re supposed to go and they don’t feel quite right. Or I don’t feel right and I’m thinking about how to stand instead of standing and cutting. First tail gets done. I start to cut the second tail and I start to feel that things are getting right again. I launch into the third and now I know I’m back home.

It always takes time to find your pace. To find that body memory. It only takes practice.

 

 

doveclose-1

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Being in the Shop

I cannot tell what woodworking does for most people. For some it is a simple hobby. It is a pastime where you get to work with some tools and build something nice or useful. For others it’s a job, how you make your money and provide for your family.

Still for other woodworkers I think it is an important escape from the world. The shop becomes a spot where you can finally be in control for a change. You alone are responsible for the failures and successes at the bench. You get the credit for both. You also get to finish a job. It’s not taken from you or given to someone else to wrap up. It’s yours from start to end.

Many makers love the variety of tasks and problems that have to be addressed and solved. Lots of hats to wear as the builder of a piece from design to lumber selection and milling,  joinery and assembly, and then don’t screw up that finish. A cornucopia of tasks.

For me it is what centers me and holds me steady. It is my work, my hobby, my career, my drug of choice. When building something I really like, a design that makes me happy, time goes away. I go away. And then I get to build things. I get to work with tools and wood at my bench, in my little world that I have created, and as an added bonus, I get to build things. Lucky me, being in the shop.

1-Tapered cabinet inlay close

 

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Humility and Ignorance

One of the lessons that every woodworking teacher must learn is humility. Being more knowledgeable than a new student doesn’t mean that you’re smarter [that’s certain] or more skilled. It means simply that you’ve put in more time. You have made more mistakes and after repeating them enough times you do learn to avoid them. But then you forge on to make new ones.

If you, as a teacher, forget that everyone starts from a place of ignorance then each question is irksome to you. Don’t forget. Remember how it was when you started. When I began, my test for strength in a piece I built was to get up and jump up and down on it with my boots on. I was never one for fine tuned metrics.

If it survived, I felt good enough to press on. In ignorance. There is much to learn still. Stay humble.

 

Transition plane close

 

 

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Why not Dovetails?

Hand cut dovetails are a pain in the butt. So some would say. I say differently. They are a giant . . . delight.

Consider the dovetails below, cut by John in last year’s Resident Mastery Program. This drawer is pretty small. Dovetails are overkill for its strength requirements. And yet they add so much beauty to the piece. And these half blind dovetails are actually easier to cut than through dovetails. Hmm.

Desk drawer John RMP7 -001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also think about the value of this hand cut work. It’s not just to hold something together forever. It’s a statement about how you consider your own efforts.  What you think them to be worth. It’s pretty apparent how Matthew in our current Distance Mastery Group feels about his work. He’s darn proud of it and he should be.

Join us June 15-19 and learn to cut some dovetails with us. Or improve your skills at it. I guarantee that you will get better at the table saw by doing so. And you’ll get better at dovetails too.

Dovetail chest Matthew DMP #12 013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Taking Down a Tree, Part Two

The tree is down. No ceremony was performed for it. As a street tree, this maple had a pretty good long run. I was sorry to have to remove it but seeing it fallen over on top of a car would have made me a bit sorrier. It was half dead as was plain to see this spring and rot would soon take over the trunk. So.

It was actually pretty cool to watch how the arborist, Aaron, took it down. He roped up and started dropping limbs, both dead and alive from the top on down. When he got close to the crotch is when I became really interested.

Where you make your first cut determines so much about the kind of wood you might receive from the tree. About 7′ up, we had two big limbs split off from one another. This crotch area can reveal beautiful grain. You could already see some spalting on the outside of the tree and some ripple in the grain. I wanted to capture all that in some slabs so I had Aaron cut off just about the crotch split.

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From there, he switched out chainsaws to one with a rip blade on it and made two rip cuts so we could maximize the crotch wood. Almost lined them up but that’s a tough cut to nail. It’s a big kerf too. You can see right through it.

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Once he got the log split, then he crosscut the sections down. This is when it became apparent that there was some real pretty wood here and a bunch of rot as well. You can see how the right side, the dead side, is starting to rot out from the center. That’s how it goes whenever you cut down a tree. You never know the surprises that await.

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