Friday, November 30, 2012

Oh Snap!

My pal Ray Duffy sent me this link to a blog posting.

For some reason he thinks it has something to do with me!?

 In case you missed it, I am on the back and inside cover of Fine Woodworkings Shops and Tools issues. Jon Binzen also made this video slideshow of my work that my mother simply adores!

Here is the link to the video.

 Thanks Jon, sorry to have led you so terribly astray with the shavehorse!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Operator Error

Sometime you just have to keep up with the times, so I'd like to introduce my new robotic travisher maker, The Armitron.

Actually, this is what happens when I leave the shop for a few hours and a 25 year old toolmaker finds a 30 year old toy. The funny part of pulling this thing from the attic is that every male from 30 to 45 who see it shouts, ARMITRON!!

Here is a photo of Ken St. Onge, Armitron devotee and editor from Fine Woodworking. He and I have been working on a two part turning article and he took it to heart when I suggested a day at my lathe might benefit us both as we head into producing part two. Perhaps no tool requires resilience when learning such as the lathe and teaching it gives a view into the ways that each person deals with failure, largely because there is no way to learn to turn without lots of it. 

Of course, there are plenty of other activities in chairmaking that require a healthy does of composure in the face of adversity.
I think that perhaps I’ve reached a tipping point where I’ve had my efforts go awry enough times to take it in stride, or at the very least, not be shocked and utterly demoralized when it happens.

One part of our woodworking literature that is sadly missing is dealing with the failure inherent in the learning process. Most of us are on our own, learning from books or trial and error. The glossy images of wisened woodworkers who’ve mastered the craft only go to rub in the fact that we are not likely to get anything right the first time.

Here are a few quotes that I always have kicking around in my head when run full speed into my limitations.

"An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a given field."
Niels Bohr

"The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas."
Linus Pauling

"I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work."
Thomas Edison

Everyone screws up sometimes. It’s a humbling process, but if you embrace your mistakes and sometimes even learn to repeat them, not only will you master the technique, but you'll forge a process and perspective for learning that will spread into the rest of the workshop, maybe even beyond. 
And of course, I'm referring to mastering the Armitron.

Friday, November 16, 2012


For years now I've thought and taught that glue should be a back up for already solid joints. It's a belt and suspenders approach. But there has always been a nagging curiosity as to how a chair would hold up without the glue.
So as I went about finishing up a chair that I started during my demonstrations in Rochester, I figured, why not give it a go. And even without knowing the long term results, I have already realized some benefits of the attempt.

In making the joints, I use air dried mortises and kiln dried tenons so that the joint benefits from the swelling of the tenons as the moisture contents equalize.
When I started to put this chair together without the glue, I found my focus on the fit of the joints slightly elevated. Not profoundly, but I suppose that driving the joints all the way home without the glue made for a different experience. The ring that wood on wood joints make when seated is very gratifying.
There is also that little space that generally has to be allotted for the thickness of the glue film, but in this case, I went for the absolute tightest joint that I could manage without blowing out the mortise.

As I turn my attention to the top of the chair, I am thinking a great deal about the joints where the short spindles pass through the thin continuous arm. Without the glue, I am definitely going to make each one a sort of "hammer eye" joint by having a subtle shoulder on the spindle so the arm can't shift down and flaring the top of the mortise so that the wedge will spread the spindle enough so that arm cannot move up.
It may seem like a silly esoteric exercise, but I am thoroughly intrigued as I think and rethink each of the joints and what it takes to count on them without glue. Of course, time will tell which joints loosen, and it will be fun to live with it, watch and learn. I think I'll paint it blue.