Thursday, March 30, 2017

Outside of a Dog...

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend, inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.
Groucho Marx

I think woodworkers take the cake as far as dog obsession (sorry Megan). In my case at least, I'm comfortable admitting that making a life in woodworking is basically an attempt to recreate and extend my favorite childhood moments. Dogs and sticks...what more do I have to say...Rosebud?

Here is my latest shop mate Georgie, taking in the morning sun while I cook breakfast. One of the reasons that I want to share this experience (besides the obvious cute as hell factor) is how much this little gal is teaching me about, well everything. Anyone who has ever had a shy or nervous dog will relate to this. Georgie is the easiest dog that I've adopted, until she sees something new. She was raised without much exposure to people and certainly no exposure to city life. Around home, she is housebroken, a snap to train and always eager to please. But when new people come around or someone on the street makes eye contact, she goes in full flight mode.

I'll cut right to the chase with what I've learned, and believe it or not, relate it back to woodworking and chairmaking. Anyone with expertise or years of experience knows how tough it can be to explain the process to a newcomer. How can they not understand that their tools are dull or their technique is wrong, it's so obvious?! This brings me to my second quote

Patience is a mild form of despair, disguised as a virtue
Ambrose Bierce

When I finally taught Georgie that jumping in the truck could be fun (there's safety and treats in there), I thought that I'd opened up a whole new world of adventure, we can go anywhere now!
But then how do I get her out?
If my other dog Kobe is there, she follows him out, but otherwise, no deal. So my first inclination was to grab the dog, put her on the ground, give her a treat and then expect that now she knows that it's all good. I did this a couple of times, but the fear instilled by my reaching for her was worse than any promise of a treat. To her, the truck ride is still novel, and that door opens to a great swirling abyss. Reaching in to grab her is akin to the disembodied arm reaching out of the darkness!

Thinking from her perspective is one of the most challenging mental games that I've come across, there is so much that we take for granted. So here's what I did. We went to the truck in the driveway, I opened the door and she hopped in happily. Then I held a treat so that she'd have to stick her head out just a bit to get it. Then she retreated. The next one was a little further out and finally, she hopped down to get one on the ground, this is the driveway that she knows after all. Multiple treats and then a well earned retreat to the truck.
Then we repeated the process about 4 times until she hopped down willingly. Throughout the day, I walked her to the truck about 3 more times to repeat this process. At the end of the day, I leashed her up, drove her to the park, crouched next to the car and called her out, and she hopped down and off we went. Not all our work is this fast. New people and experiences are still a challenge.


I think that extending this kind of patience with students, or even better, ourselves, while learning is essential. I recall wanting to learn woodworking, but I had such trouble letting myself take a little at a time, I wanted to master is all, get to that end ability. But like it or not, I think we all learn more like Georgie. Finding out what parts you are comfortable with and stepping into risk with some safety is essential.
Students often remark that I am very effusive in my support during class. It isn't false praise, what I see is a bunch of adults, experts in things that I probably know nothing about, putting themselves out there and trusting me to guide them through uncharted territory. It's a leap of faith and act of bravery that I've rarely risked.

Moral of the story, besides get a dog? Give yourself a break, take a moment to think of your goals as well as your achievements and remember, even though the piece that you are working on will be finished, your process marches on. What kicks your butt today, you will soon take for granted.






Monday, March 6, 2017

WIlliamsburg in Action!

Here is a short video that Ben Strano from Fine Woodworking shot of me bending the c arm in front of a packed crowd.  Bending is always magical, as the solid wood gives way and contorts, your sense of reality is challenged, kinda like floating. But like all feelings of floating, one is also highly aware of how far you could fall...the 250 onlookers gives that height a little boost! Thanks again to Ben for sharing the video.

And here are some other times that you can see me in action or join me for a class.

April 10-15 at North Bennet Street School in Boston, I"ll be teaching the Balloon Back/ Fan Back chairs (your choice of style and turnings). It's a 6 day class with 8 students and I'll have a great helper in the form of Eli Cleveland. We are also going to be adding a Continuous Arm class in August and this course serves as the prerequisite for taking it. Here is a link for enrolling.
I hope to see you there. I am really enjoying my relationship with the school and hope to continue offering and expanding the chairs that we are building. These classes have been some of the best I've had a chance to teach, with great facilities and small class size, everyone gets lots of attention and we have a great time.


I will be at Handworks in Amana, Iowa May 19-20 again this year, the Abrahams put on a great event and deserve a real pat on the back for the effort.

I'll be back in Maine for the Lie-Nielsen open house on July 7-8, as usual, because it's such a great time.

I will also be teaching a Perch making class overs two days at Lie-Nielsen in Maine on the weekend of July 22-23.

I will also be at the Greenwoodfest here in Massachusetts, but I hear that it's sold out, which says a lot about the quality of the folks involved.

I will probably have at least one more class in the fall at North Bennet Street, but for the most part, I will be spending this year making chairs and playing with my dog...and that's true.


Friday, March 3, 2017

Catching Up: The Winter

This summer will be a bit subdued as far as travels go, which is going to be lovely for me after the fall and winter of action. After returning from Purchase, I immediately launched into teaching a 22 person class in the Cabinet Program at North Bennet Street. I spent the better part of January working with the students there.

Here is the chair that we made. It's a scaled up version of my kid's hoopback (which is one of my personal favorites to have around the house). I made this version larger to better serve the students at the school as their bench chair. I think it's very cool that they get to make their own shop furniture. Scaling it up posed the usual challenges of adjusting the rake and splay of the legs so that the chair doesn't take up too much floor space, which is especially important in the tight spaces of the school.

As the class was winding down, I went down to Colonial Williamsburg to present, along with the outstanding Don Williams and the folks from the Cabinet and Jointers shop, on chairs...of course.

 The auditorium at the museum is first class with two cameras and projection to really get up close. Here Kaare is giving me a "hand" pumping the treadle lathe. Frankly, it was a bit much for me to turn, pump and talk! I got lots of help after wearing out Kaare from the jointers apprentices.

photo by Tom McKenna
For the presentation, I thought it would be fun to work out a new continuous arm and Kaare Loftheim, master cabinetmaker, agreed. Here is the chair that I made, based on a few photos in books and online. As usual, I learned some fun things about design and got to finally turn some Rhode Island balusters!
 Here is the complete chair and the one that I demonstrated
 The seat shape and the legs were a lot of fun.

 Plus I took a little more time with the distressing, placing a thin coat of shellac inbetween the undercoat and top coat of dark green. I was very pleased with the results.

 The swelling on the lower section gives ample material for the joinery, I'm not sure how much that played into the design thinking at the time, but it was apparent to me. The lower portion takes on much more of an important role in the look of the leg, which gives a nice balance. The image below is not good for proportions because of my phone lens, but you get the idea.

It was a great trip and an honor to be invited. If you ever get the chance to attend, I highly recommend it.
And here is your Georgie update! She is thriving and turning out to be the easiest dog I've ever had. Playful and loving but extremely calm on her own. She is now acclimated to all the shop noises and all my hustling about. When it gets to be too much, she just retires to her crate for a nap! We are still working on new experiences. The first time she saw the television she freaked, but now she sits calmly while it's on, I don't think that she had ever heard a voice come from a box.

I know it's gratuitous, but I"m smitten
Lil would approve of her technique
The truck is becoming a safe space, this is their first ride together






Sunday, February 26, 2017

Episode 4: A New Beginning

If you don't follow me on instagram (it's like blogging with a dash of attention deficit disorder) than you might have missed some of the goings on lately, so I'll try to catch you up!

I spent four months as a resident artist at SUNY Purchase, which is a college just north of White Plains, New York. It was a fantastic experience getting to have time to create whatever I wanted and interact with a group of wonderful young people. I had minimal teaching requirements, just a few hours a week and found myself exploring ideas that would be tough to do in my normal shop time.
I made sculptures, chairs, and chairs that were somewhat sculptural!

Here are some images of the pieces from the exhibit at the end of my time there. Here is a rocker that I made.


 I was playing with some ideas, trying to convey a sense of tension between the parts, treating the posts and legs like tent poles (with some subtle details to add to the effect) and the crest, seat and spindles and arms seem to stretch and drape over them. I've always enjoyed the way that classic Windsors show tension and thought I'd push it a little.

When I first arrived at the school, I was frankly a bit burnt out from making lots of chairs to fulfill all my obligations while clearing 4 months of my calendar. There were a bunch of discarded logs outside the studio, so I started splitting and carving them to make it look like there were objects embedded in them. If you've ever split a log, you know that moment of discovery when it is finally in half and you can see what you got. I always thrill at this moment and enjoyed the thought of these objects meeting me there.





 Here is a bench that I made in Butternut and White Oak. The high spots on the carved seat are akin to the pommel on a seat, so you can sit in lots of positions, kind of like my perches.
 The is a bit of a departure. I have a bunch of lovely curly ambrosia maple planks, but as you can imagine, it doesn't come into play much in my chair work. So I wondered how I might find interest in it without just stuffing it into a box form. This thin plank cupped and warped a lot, so I took the challenge to join two pieces with dovetails. It required lots of head scratching and scribing as the planks are rough sawn not uniform in any way. I really liked the way it came out. It looks very different from every angle.
 Here is again, looking full of volume.
Here you can see the rough sawn texture competing with the curly maple, it makes for a lovely surface
 I could go on and on about all the different stuff, probably wearing your patience thin with my "artistic" works. Suffice it to say, we all need to play sometimes to clear out the cobwebs and I surely did that.
At opening, I was lucky enough to have my good friend Jon Binzen, from Fine Woodworking, join me for a conversation about the work. It was an honor and a pleasure. 

There's lot more that's happened since I disappeared, but for now, I will leave you with this, my new pup Georgia! She's a rescue from, yes, Georgia and is about 1 year old. She was part of a hoarding situation and surrendered to the shelter with 10 other dogs. She has very little exposure to the world but she is sweet and bold enough to test it out. With some support, I see her blossoming into an epic companion.

And of course a great shop dog!
 She has the lovely spirit of my dear Lil and I am beyond overjoyed to be with her.