Saturday, July 14, 2007

Home Again

Everytime that I return from Penland, I find coming home a mixed experience. I am thrilled to be home again, though the lawn has grown into a jungle. I am happy to be in my own shop again, but I am too tired to work. I enjoy sleeping in my own bed, but having to prepare my own meals seems downright daunting! Now that almost a week has passed, I'm ready to get back in the swing.

The class that I taught ,in collaboration with blacksmith Marc Maiorana, focused on conveying the basic skills in the wood and iron shop while exploring the connections between the two. We often used tools and toolmaking to blur the line between what are often seen as separate disiplines. The image above is of a class project. Each student, having been versed in the iron shop skills of blade making and the woodshop requirements for a proper tool, created a handmade tool. These tools were then gathered into a collection which featured a variety of gouges, an adze, a froe, a mallet, a scribe, a slick, and chisels. I made a box for them and we sold it at the scholarship auction for over $500!

This project was the culmination of much experimenting and learning (by Marc and I as well) about the interplay of the two materials and shops. I have long believed that to be a woodworker, especially one that works with handtools, requires one to be almost half iron worker. Being able to manipulate the iron begins with sharpening, sadly a process often mystified and neglected, and ends with the ability to form a tool to meet the woodworking requirements at hand. Now that I am able to create tools to better suit my needs, there is one less obstacle to my creating with wood. My ideas take me from my forge, to my woods and into my woodshop.

One of the points that I tried to stress during the whirlwind introduction to green woodworking, was that handtools are not a Luddite response to modern production methods. Just like walking across country may seem extreme, so might driving to the mailbox. I've found that being versed in wood technology and handtools offers me a flexibility and speed that suits my level of production.

Penland has a fully outfitted and impressive machine room that proved to be too much to resist for some students. I have no problem with using those tools appropriately, but I did try to point out that they bring their own restrictions, along with the whizzing blades. Once engaged, these tools require one to work in the world of square and flat, which is not necessarily bad, but can seep unrecognized into the choices we make not only about how a piece is made, but how it looks and feels. Every step into the world of the curve can cost time and effort, and often isn't attempted.

At the end of the class, I was impressed with the creativity of the students efforts, some of which I'll be sharing in the next posts. As a chairmaker, I have only needed to push the limits of the wood so far, and seeing the successes and failures as the class pushed further has deepened my understanding and respect for wood. Thanks to all of you who worked so hard to make the class a success.


Jean-Francois Theoret said...

Funny that you talk about forging! I just picked up a 150# anvil yesterday... I have to set up a forge now. Will you be talking of your forge setup?

Peter Galbert said...

Hi Jean-Francois,
congratulations on the purchase, I will be addressing the blacksmith end of things more soon. I learned a great deal from Marc Maiorana and look forward to exploring the craft more.