Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Progress?


Here is a picture of Chris Durbin carving his seat, I couldn't resist grabbing my camera when I saw that sunlight! His chair is moving along at a surprisingly rapid clip. Today we'll be making the rockers and turning our attention to the pieces coming out of the kiln. But it isn't his progress that I am thinking about right now.
I have been reading about a new tool that makes mortises for loose tenons. In other words, it will carve out a rectangular hole into which a separate piece of wood (purchased from the tool company of course) is glued. Loose tenons have been around for a long time, however, a simple hand tool that can cut a real mortise is new (really it's an improved biscuit joiner). There is a vast amount of promotion and discussion concerning the impact this tool will have. Some cry Ikea! while others shout back revolutionary!
It is no secret that I use mainly hand tools to make my living. However, I'd like to stress that it is not out of romance and I am not a Luddite. The way that I make my chairs is fast and efficient and most importantly offers me a structural advantage and design freedom that is essential to the quality of the product. I could stress all sorts of examples but the one that interests me the most is in the arena of design.
Often a process comes along that offers something so great that it takes a while to realize that there are limitations that it brings with it. Let's step away from woodworking for a moment for an example. Canned food. With the advent of metal canning, the preservation of food jumped light years. All of a sudden the potential for nourishment and enjoyment of food was no longer threatened by rapid spoilage. It saved lives. But when was the last time you went to the grocery store and did all of your shopping for a dinner party in the canned aisle. My point is that we haven't lost our taste for fresh food and its inherent advantages.
Back to designing with wood. As a cabinet maker, I learned that wood comes in sheet form or rough planks from the lumber yard. It MUST then be jointed and planed and ripped and formed by a series of tools, all oriented to this flatness. While there is amazing speed added to the production of cabinets and "flat" work by this process, every diversion into the round and curved creates added work. Often I see a design and wonder, how many steps away from the original plank the maker was willing to take? Look closely and you can still see the lumber. Trees know nothing of flat and square, and neither does the human form. Ever since I've learned to bypass the lumber yard and work with the tree, my imagination has not been hampered by the countless jigs and steps required to make flat boards fluid again. This simple freedom inspires me to make objects from trees.

3 comments:

Greg said...

Peter, great thoughts, just as there is too much salt added to canned foods I can't imagine building a windsor chair from what you could find from Home Depot. Can that even be done? Most people don't get to start from the tree, cutting to length and splitting the log. I can't imagine anything more satisfying than working wood in this manner. Thanks for the blog.
Greg

Ed Straub, Orange County, CA said...

Peter, well spoken. One should shop the parimeter of the "store" to find the "materials" for that next great meal. In the case of a woodworker the store consists of the forest, the yard trees, the salvage yard, the arborists yard, even the bowling alley being demolished. Power tools,flat wood, and sheet goods definetly squeeze one's creative glands.
Great picture.
Ed

greg said...

This is an "other" greg...
That's probably the epitome of raking light going on there- wonderful picture.

It sort of bothers me that there is more wasted wood when you rive and shave parts. Especially when it's a primo straight grained specimen. Sure, I use the retrograde in the wood stove, but it's really not the best use for such a fine hunk of wood. But I don't let the guilt part spoil the fun and wonder of making something from a tree.