A student asked me about the thickness of shaving. How thick should it be? My reply was that a dollar bill, an American issue bill has a thickness of . 004″. A good shaving should be half that I told her. That’s. 002″ thick. As all new students do, she marveled. How do you make something so thin?
The shaving itself, it turns out, takes little to accomplish. It is a stroke, a quick pass with the hand plane. It is the preparation to make that shaving that takes the hours of practice. It is the practice of sharpening, of honing the edge, of tuning the hand plane, all these things combine to yield a shaving so thin. Without each of them, the hand plane cannot sing. It cannot play the tune that appears so simple, a movement to create a whisper of a shaving.
It is the practice in the end that is the most important part of an activity. So that the act may be accomplished with surety, with confidence, without thought. Thinking about the act itself gets in the way. It is the confidence of the worker that lets the work flow through to the tool, to the paint brush, to the instrument.
Why do we make things? Why do we do this creative work?
A dear friend came by last night and looked at a kitchen table of mine made some decades ago. She saw the Cloud Rise curves shaped into the edge of its top. She noticed the Chinese foot at the base of the piece. She remarked on the table, admired its shapes, color, wood. These details were ones that I had put in to train myself at the bench. They made no difference to the integrity of the table. It stood still.
There are efforts we make that have nothing to do with structure, with longevity or use. They are done simply because they are important to me, the builder. They are important to how I feel when I’m done with the piece. That I have given it some character, some part of me as well. These painstaking details are done because they inform the piece. They are a gift of intention by its maker. “Here I hope you enjoy this.”
Nothing more. Done as much for me, the builder, as for the eventual viewer who will never know how many hours it took to create the details that her eyes glanced down to and admired in a few minutes of time. It is how it is.
The work was done for her but also for my own selfish needs to satisfy my simple creative urge. That streak of me-ness that will flash briefly and be seen little more.
Read more of my musings on creativity in my new book: Handmade, Creative Focus in the Age of Distraction.
An image of the first chunk of wood I made into a piece of crude furniture.
Some folks think of hand planes as artifacts. Some consider them cute antiques. Others have the best of intentions to use them on a project some day.
I consider my hand planes to be time savers. They cut out sanding chores, they shave impossibly thin shavings so I can fit joints together perfectly, they smooth and flatten. I would be lost without my kit of hand planes. Their roles in the shop has increased even as my number of machines have. They can do chores that machines cannot.
Saturday we host another workshop at the Studio on Handplanes: Tuning and Using. Join us for the quiet satisfaction of tuning and then using a hand plane. Can’t beat it.
Two years. Long time, two years. And yet for the graduating Mastery students, I can tell you that it seems like a flash of light that just flew by.
Join us First Thursday, October 5th from 5-7:30pm. There will be work from six accomplished woodworkers on display at the Studio. They have spent two years working, designing, thinking, worrying, stressing in order to make and show their final Signature pieces. Please come by and take a look.
Base Camp Brewing says howdy as well. I hope to see you there.
I have a cabinet I’m finishing up. It has some nice inlay on the front of it. This is visually appealing and the inlay is raised up so it’s tactile as well. The cabinet itself has tapered lines to it so it has some interest. On this version of the cabinet, I wanted the back to be important too.
I took the time to carry my tapering motif around to the back boards. Spending a little extra time here does not pay off immediately. It takes longer. I fuss more with the fit of the back. But in the long run, every time I see the back, I say to myself, Worth it.
Some jobs are not done for the client. They’re done for me and my satisfaction.
I had a Mastery student write me recently and ask this question.
“Do you know of any resources or books that would be a good source to study different furniture styles and what defines the style? (ie. Greene and Greene, Chippendale, classic styles, etc.)”
A loaded question. Here’s my answer.
“The Randall Mackinson book on Greene and Greene is fantastic. But more have come out in the past few years. The Franz Karg book on Solid Wood Cabinets is great. The Soul of a Tree by Nakashima is a classic as are the Krenov books but especially, A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook.
Look for books by period and not just for furniture. For instance the books on Art Nouveau and Art Deco by Alastair Duncan are fantastic. Other periods then would be Arts & Crafts, the Bauhaus Movement, Dutch Expressionism, de Stijl, Victorian, Edwardian. The list goes on. Empire, Louis XIVth, Biedermeier Furniture.
And that’s just European. There is Chinese Furniture. The Gustav Ecke book is a classic. Look at African art, Japanese temple construction and garden design. Start reading it all. You will start to see how design is universal and individual and everyone is stealing everyone else’s ideas and using them for their own purposes.
Simple questions always seem to beget long answers.
3 Simple Finishes is a workshop coming up next week on June 16-18. If you have ever had a question about finishing, and who has not, then join us and learn some of the tricks.
Finishing is part chemistry and part magic. The great thing about this workshop over a lecture on the subject is that you get a chance to try out this stuff. Discover the approaches that will work in your shop. Learn the techniques and practice them.
You will walk away from this class with information, experience, and a great sample set of finishes. From oils to wiping varnishes and shellac, we’ll cover the range of hand applied finishes.
Any good portfolio takes time to build. Just like the construction of a piece of furniture is an accumulation of days and hours of effort, so too is that compendium of your work.
Where to start? Start at the beginning. Take a photo of every piece you make so that years from now you can smile at yourself and say, “Oh I was young then. I’ve learned so much now.” And it will be true. There is much to discover and rediscover along the way as we develop our habits at the bench or with the pencil and drawing.
The Mastery Program is an opportunity to jump start that portfolio building. You will build more creative work in the one year or two year program than you most likely ever will again. It is a chance that you will take on yourself, on your own growth as a designer, and on your progression as a builder of fine objects.
Take the chance. Invest in yourself. http://northwestwoodworking.com/mastery-programs/local-mastery
Shea’s latest piece, his Hall Table with Drawer. Pretty cool stuff he’s making.
The first step is the hardest. The decision is the key. Who can say where this choice may lead? That’s a bit of a daunting thought. But starting the project is first. Let the mistakes begin!
I think this is something of what holds us back. What if I make a mistake? Well duh buddy, you’re gonna. Bucket loads of them on some days. From choosing the wrong piece of wood to making a cut in the wrong place or having the grain tear out in a crucial spot. It’s how we learn.
The difference I can make is how I respond to my latest gaff. Slow down, look at my wood carefully when I make that first cut. Mark your boards carefully for your joinery. Read the grain carefully. When I slow down my pace, it is the best way I have to speed up the process.
This is a shot of that maple log I got recently. Matt was doing the slicing, I was making the decisions about where and how thick. Another new beginning.
Chairs are one of the most challenging of projects. They are mostly air with only a few small sections of wood holding up your bulk and your pride. Jeff Miller wrote the book on them: Chairmaking & Design.
Join us at the Studio July 24-28 to work with Jeff on his interpretation of a Chippendale Chair. http://northwestwoodworking.com/courses/104.
I can’t wait to see his tenon jig. There is always something to learn from another woodworker. This is going to be a fun class.