Sunday, April 1, 2007

On Process

The photo above shows the evolution of a spindle from a rough split to a (partially) rounded piece. The process begins with a drawknife, which follows the fibers and creates the shape before finishing with a spokeshave. This is vital to preserving the strength of the piece, but there is more to making good spindles. Developing a process and using your eyes to judge when you've arrived at each stage will create suprising results.
Imagine sitting down to make a set of spindles, picking up the first and completing it, then moving through the rest and completing each one as you go. How similar is the first one to the last? I have found that by working all of my spindles through each stage, before moving onto the next stage dramatically improves my consistency and speed. By focusing on a single task, such as squaring all of the splits, I can set very clear goals of quality and observation that improve as I move through the set. When I move onto the next stage, the order of the spindles will be shuffled and I will see them with fresh eyes. With this exagerrated focus on each stage, I give my sense of judgement a chance to develop.
Your eyes are powerful measuring tools, but only if you are asking very pointed questions. Is it square? Is one side thicker than the other? Does the piece taper evenly? By creating a set process and following it, you can pose the questions that will guide your eyes.
One of the observations that I've made and incorporated into my process, is the relative ease of sizing the spindle while octagonal in cross section versus round. A rounded spindle (actually having too many facets to count easily) is difficult to adjust and takes very careful observation and shaving. This excess time consumption has led me to leave the spindle as an octagon as long as possible, all the way through the drying process and beyond. When the octagonal spindle comes out of the kiln, it is a simple thing to shave the facets, which have shrunk unevenly, to a uniform octagon again. It is also easy to size the tenon ends by measuring from one facet to the opposing facet. After it has been shaved to shape and size, I can round it by shaving the corners of the facets and know that the spindle is near complete. This may seem insignifigant, but it is a real time saver and produces very uniform spindles. Most of chairmaking can be broken down this way, into a series of clearly defined goals. Once you have them in place, you really can just sit back and watch!


Herman said...

Excellent idea, doing the same operation to all the spindles at the same time. I've always found spindle making a bit intimidating for the first 3 or 4, then it gets easier. But I've always done a complete spindle before moving on to the next one. I'm looking forward to trying your method.

Wish we could get such straight ash here in Ontario, or is that white oak?


Peter Galbert said...

It's actually hickory! I was lucky enough to get a beautifully straight hickory log last fall (they don't cut many around here) , now I have to use it quickly before it cracks, dries and rots!

Philip said...

I would be interested to know: do you have a series of drawknives that you use before the spokeshave? Also, at what point you shift to a spokeshave?
Thanks, Philip

Peter Galbert said...

I use one drawknife to shape the spindle to the stage of the second from the right in the photo. Then I kiln it. When it is dry, I use a spokeshave to true up the facets and smooth the profile. Then I knock off the corners with spokeshave and size the tenons. Finally, I use a razor sharp spokeshave to finish the surface.
Hope this helps.

john said...

Just curious: I assume you do your drying in-house. What do you use for a kiln?

Peter Galbert said...

My kiln is a simple box lined with rigid foam insulation. I have 3 light bulbs in the box that can provide the 140 degrees that I need. I'll do a posting showing the kiln and my use of it later this week.