Thursday, November 1, 2007

Falling off a Log

Much of the type of craftsmanship in chairmaking is risky and depends on the eyes and hands of the maker as well as an ever growing understanding of the process. This can make for some hairy moments as well as some unique opportunities to harness the imperfections that are bound to be present for our benefit.
I describe this to students like falling off a log. Yes, it is most likely that we will succumb to falling, but perhaps we can choose which direction. Below is a photo of two tenons on the rear legs of a chair before being reamed. Now, in a perfect world, they are exactly the same dimensions because I turn their diameters and angles using the same methods. Luckily for me, they almost always show some size difference.

I use this to my advantage by always choosing the smaller of the two tenons to ream into the seat first. This way, if my reaming doesn't come out perfect (it happens), I can reach for the leg with the larger tenon and get a few extra turns of the reamer. It is often enough to make a pleasing difference. Of course, then I have to nail the other leg reaming, but if I hadn't used the smaller tenon first, I'd have had to nail them both.

This way of working makes the work seem natural and forgiving. I believe in finding methods to better control the process and its outcome as much as I believe that each chair offers the potential to face our human fallibility with grace. I often remind myself "Shoot for perfection, settle for beautiful".

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