The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Weep not for the memories.

Earlier today I heard the song “I Will Remember You” by Sarah Mclachlan just before I got home from work, which is something of a coincidence because last week a video of Ed Helms-aka Andy Bernard-of The Office singing this very song for whatever reason popped up while doing a web search, and I watched it and enjoyed it. As songs go, I neither love it nor do I hate it, and while I think it’s a good song it’s not one that you will find on my iPod. However, for whatever reasons, the song got me to thinking about my own mortality. Maybe that sounds morbid; hell, it is morbid, but in my defense it was a grey, dreary afternoon.

As I entered my living room, the first thing I did was place my wallet and keys on the hall table I made last year. While that table is not a particularly impressive table as far as woodworking design is concerned, it’s a nice looking table that I made specifically for the space it sets in. A good deal of the furniture I made in the past few years currently sits in the 12 x 18 foot space that is my living room: the television stand, the end tables, the hall table, and the magazine cabinet. Not far away is a book shelf that I made. As with the hall table, the rest of the furniture is nice (if I do say so) but nothing you’re going to be reading about in an encyclopedia a hundred years from now. However, the furniture is well made and will probably be in use for the rest of my years, and I like to think that when I’m gone my family will look at those pieces of furniture and remember fondly who made them.

You all may want to stop reading at this point, I’m going to warn you now, and please do acknowledge that you’ve been warned…

Just as I sat down to write this post, I almost universally hated everything I’ve been reading lately about woodworking. I’m not talking about how to saw a dovetail, or how to tune up your table saw, but every piece of woodworking philosophy I’ve ever read. You know why? I’ll tell you. I’m tired of “the craft”. I’m tired of hearing what is good for “the craft”. How about this: Fuck the craft. I personally think if you woodwork for “the future of the craft” you are a warped person. I think you are messed up. I think you need a psychologist. I think you are a pathological narcissist. I don’t think you enjoy woodworking, and I think you are woodworking to impress somebody else, and I think that is sick. Worst of all, I am seeing it everywhere.

My kid keeps coloring books and crayons in the drawer of one of the end tables I made for our living room. One day in the future, maybe thirty years from now, my daughter will come across that table, and maybe she will think of me. It’s possible that thirty years from now I won’t be here anymore; I don’t know. I bet, either way, that she will think of her dad when she looks at that table, and I like to think it will be a very happy memory. She will not care one bit if I used mortise and tenon joinery, or fully blind dovetails, or if it’s held together with glue and brad nails. Maybe “the craft” will care, and that’s why I hate it. The “craft” sounds to me like a judgmental old man who walked up hill both ways to school. The “craft” is a dick. The “craft” is a bitter and angry, small-minded person. The “craft” never had a fun day in its life. The craft is a cry baby. If all it takes to kill the “craft” is Ikea and a pocket-hole jig then the “craft” deserves to die a painful and slow death.

Here it is, I hope “the craft” does die. I don’t want to hear about it anymore. If it’s on life support, like everybody claims it is, then let’s take it off. Let’s put it into a coffin and strap it to a raft and fire flaming arrows at it, cause if you aren’t woodworking for yourself, who are you woodworking for? A guy who died 300 years ago? Are you trying to impress him? Or maybe it’s “the future”? Maybe I want to teach my daughter that the past is more important than the present. Maybe I should stress to her that those tables I made for the living room shouldn’t be a happy memory from her childhood, but they should be judged on the crispness of the dovetails on the drawers.

Maybe if “the craft” dies then woodworking will be fun again and woodworkers won’t care anymore if their neighbor’s coffee table is from Ikea. Maybe if it dies woodworkers will make furniture because they really just enjoy doing it. Maybe if it dies I won’t have to read another suck-ass nostalgia soaked article on why we aren’t doing it right. And maybe woodworkers will stop building monuments to the past, and start making actual furniture again.

On Anarchy and book reviews.

anarchy4

In my blog post yesterday I had touched on a comment that was made concerning a book review I wrote on Amazon about The Anarchists Tool Chest. My contention was/is that Anarchism and Capitalism do not necessarily coexist well together. The commenter had mentioned that Anarchy and Capitalism do in fact work quite well together (something I don’t believe one bit) and that we here in America refer to it as Libertarianism. Truthfully, the last time I truly considered Libertarianism and what makes it tick was more than twenty years ago in a history class during my first year of college. As I said yesterday, I replied to his comment and when I got a free moment last night I did a little research on “free-market anarchy” or “Anarcho Capitalism” as it is referred to by people who like to use ten-cent words. All in all, I was surprised, in a good way, with what I discovered.

Anybody who knows a little about Anarchy as a political system knows that it advocates the elimination of centralized government. Rather, an anarchist would essentially govern himself and a anarchic free-market system would regulate itself, which in turn would theoretically eliminate price gouging, graft, and so on. I’ve always contended that this system would not work for several reasons, with one big reason being human nature. But let’s just say that we have an ideal situation with every person being a law abiding, hard-working, and intelligent member of society, this would still not account for the driving force behind any economy-commodities (i.e. food, building material, fuel).

For example, in our own perfect little society-let’s say for arguments sake the size of a small town- we have a hard working populace with a balanced system of craftsman, farmers, medical personnel, etc. All services offered, as well as the goods being made or grown, are bought and sold at a fair market value and things like inflation are non-existent. Let’s also say that in our ideal world all of the members of the workforce are equally skilled, therefore not one tool, wagon wheel, or grown beet is worth more than another. What happens for instance if the beet crop is bad one year, suddenly the value of beets becomes greater and therefore the cost goes up because the cost is not regulated by a central governing body? If in our so-called balanced free-market system the cost of a commodity such as beets increases, how then would they be paid for when something such as profit is not really part of your economy? Would the bartering system work? Maybe, but because the value of beets increased, that would mean the value of bartered goods normally used to exchange for them would in turn decrease. For example, if the cost of five pounds of beets in barter was five candles during a normal season, and suddenly the cost increased to ten candles because of the scarcity of the product, what would we have? Inflation.

Generally, when one commodity cost increases the cost of other commodities will rise in order to gain more capital. When the cost of commodities increase, so too do the cost of non-commodity items such as tools, vehicles, housing etc. Suddenly, an unregulated free-market system goes out of control, as the people who control the commodities must charge more and more for their goods. The same too can be said when the value of commodities decrease. This all leads directly to over-inflation and even worse, crime.

What I just offered was a very simplistic view of “free market anarchy”. Now, I will freely admit that I am not an educated economist. But it does not take an educated economist to see the failures of the system, because it has happened continually throughout recorded history and continues to happen to this day. While this may simply come off as anarchy bashing, trust me it’s not. In fact, don’t take my word for it. Several prominent anarchists both past and present have said what I’ve said many times: Anarchy and the free market(Capitalism) do not mix. As I said, an unregulated free market system cannot exist, they just don’t work, and Anarchy cannot exist within a regulated system. There are many articles on the internet that seem to confirm my believe, including a pretty good one on Wikipedia.

So what does all of this have to do with woodworking? Not a blessed thing! That’s what I’ve been trying to say! Woodworking and anarchy have nothing to do with each other. Yet I’ve had people tell me that they do; I’ve had people tell me to ignore the word “anarchy” from The Anarchists Tool Chest. How? It’s in the freaking title, and several chapters of the book are dedicated to anarchy and how it supposedly correlates with woodworking. The fact of the matter is that hobby woodworking could not exist without mass production, both of the tools and the furniture. If the free market system of capitalism broke down, where would the average person get tools, wood, nails, glue, or even furniture for that matter, for even the most dedicated woodworker surely cannot furnish his entire home with his own creations. A true anarchist woodworker would never support mass production, or in reality any type of free-market capitalism, otherwise he would be going against his own philosophy. But a real world hobbyist woodworker needs the free market to practice his hobby. Of course, there are individual exceptions with this, but on the large scale it is not feasible.

But I’m taking the phrase “anarchy woodworking” too literally, you say? No, I’m not. The book itself tells us as woodworkers to eschew mass production, to make tools rather than purchase new, or to purchase from individuals rather than companies. That is certainly a form of anarchy, if I’m not mistaken.

But the anarchy of the book really only relates to woodworking, you say, not to everyday life! C’mon now. How you can you live part of your life like an anarchist and the rest like a consumer? That’s like calling yourself a vegetarian only on the days you don’t eat meat. In theory I guess you could advocate calling yourself an anarchist only when you woodwork; who am I to judge? But I personally think it doesn’t add up.

Here’s the deal, once again, for everybody who thinks I’ve “bashed” the book; I honestly really enjoyed it. When I wrote a review of the book on Amazon I felt the need to be upfront on exactly what I liked and disliked; in other words, I tried to provide an honest and insightful review of the book. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that maybe my review wasn’t all that insightful; that is for others to judge. But whatever the review may be it is hardly mean spirited, not even close. I would even go as far to say that if you haven’t read the book, and your are somewhat intrigued by what I am talking about, then by all means I would recommend you go and purchase the book and read it for yourself, maybe you will agree with me and maybe you won’t.

Lastly, I have nothing against a person or persons disagreeing with my opinion; I only object when they feel that I have some ulterior motive behind those opinions. The great part about open debate is that it allows us all freedom to agree to disagree without it coming to anger, or childish implications. I like to think that the author of the book himself would feel the same way. Like I said, if you haven’t read the book and your are intrigued by what I’ve written about it, I highly recommend going over to the Lost Art Press site (there is a link right on my blog home page) and purchasing the book. At worst, you are getting a nice looking book that has a good tool selection list as well as plans for a tool chest. Whether or not you agree with the philosophy, the book is worth it’s cost for those reasons alone. It’s funny, but who would have thought that Anarchy was so controversial?

Woodworking Books

I spent the past ten minutes defending my position on “anarchy” to a commenter that didn’t happen to agree with what I had to say on a book review. Don’t get me wrong, the comment wasn’t mean spirited or condescending, at least I don’t think it was, but rather it was just a simple disagreement. I put some thought in my answer, as it was obvious that the commenter took time out of his day to read my review of The Anarchists Tool Chest and write a response to it. I felt that I owed it to him (or her) to reply with some thoughtfulness.

Anyway, the real reason I noticed the comment was because I happened to be checking out ‘Campaign Furniture’ from Lost Art Press and considering whether or not I should purchase it. I was hoping to find a review or two of the book just to see what they had to say. I generally don’t put a lot of stock into book reviews because books are so subjective; ten people can all read the same book and will offer ten different opinions on it. However, because woodworking is a much more specific/polarizing topic, I find that woodworking book reviews can sometimes be helpful if you happen to find that right person/people to objectively write them. In my brief search I didn’t come up with anything, but that may not matter all that much for the time being.

The truth is that I’m a sucker for woodworking books; good, bad, or indifferent. I generally like them all, even the books that I hate, because most of them give me ideas in some way, shape, or form. I’ve purchased four books from Lost Art Press and I’ve mostly enjoyed each of them. Furthermore. I really like the actual books themselves, which are well made and happen to look nice sitting on a book shelf. At the same time, like many of the woodworking Anarchists of the world are supposedly doing, I too am trying to eliminate my credit card bills. I’m not doing it because I’m on some crusade, but because like most people I would like to be debt free at some point in my life. Though the book isn’t what I would call expensive, it would mean using a credit card to purchase it. Even with the siren song of ‘free shipping’ luring me to purchase (and I’m a sucker for free shipping-a contentious subject among the Anarchist heirarchy), I may just have to hold out until my credit card is paid in full, which probably won’t be until the end of the summer.

Either way I’m still on the fence. I don’t have strong feelings on campaign style furniture one way or another. I don’t plan on making any in the near future, if for any other reason than I can’t afford the woods to make it with. For me, I’m much more interested in the campaigns that the furniture happened to go on. Still, it is a woodworking book, and from what I can tell it’s a nice looking one, both inside and out. As much as people have somehow come to the conclusion that I am at odds with Christopher Schwarz (I’m not), if I am purchasing a woodworking book I would like it to be from his company, as I know that I am least getting a well made product. So I might bite the bullet and order the sucker, or maybe I’ll just rent Ghandi.

To bead or not to bead

Yesterday morning the sun rose once again and brought with it one of the nicer days we’ve had in some time. Among other things, I took the time to run some Walnut through my surface planer, which I was able to do in my back yard because of the nice weather. I did not end up with as much usable stock as I would have liked, though there should be enough to make the plant stand I am currently planning. Still, I have some nice boards to work with, and if worse comes to worse I should be able to pick up a piece of Walnut without too much of a hassle.

As far as the design is concerned, I’m pretty much set on the dimensions and the overall look of the stand, but there is one feature that I am still undecided on, and that is whether or not I should bead the legs. I mocked up a couple of legs with some scrap and ran a full bead on them and I still don’t know which direction to go in. I like to chamfer the bottom of table legs, in particular when they are stockier in size, like the legs of the plant stand will be. When I ran the full bead it just does not work with chamfered leg bottoms. I made several attempts to clean it up using chisels and a saw, but no matter what I did it ended up looking half-cocked. I suppose I could pick up a larger beading bit and see if that changes things as I currently only have a 1/4″ bead for my router, and router bits are relatively inexpensive.

Full bead with chamfered bottom

Full bead with chamfered bottom

Trying to make it work

Trying to make it work

Trying to make it work

Trying to make it work

In the end, I think I’m going to give the full bead a try. I’ve made five tables and each of them has chamfered bottoms and three of them have stopped chamfers. It’s about time I try something new. I think the beaded legs will look nice with a slight taper added, and make the stand “stand out” from some of the other furniture I’ve made recently. And if the look doesn’t turn out exactly how I would like, I’ll chalk it up to a learning experience, besides that, the plant won’t care one way or the other.

I finished off the woodworking portion of my weekend by sharpening my wood plane irons (all Hock) which was a nice experience, and then sharpening my two Narex skew chisels, which wasn’t so pleasant. The Narex steel sharpens just fine, but the bulky handles make the sharpening jig tippy, and I am not about to sharpen a skewed iron free hand; I don’t have the skills for it. Otherwise, I managed to get a decent amount of work done in a relatively short amount of time. Before I put everything away I cut the Walnut to rough lengths and stacked it. Lastly, I washed and waxed my wife’s car, not that it matters all that much, it will look like it she drove it off a cliff after her first drive in it. I don’t know what it is, but women and clean cars don’t mix.

It’s not a blessing; it’s a curse.

Somebody dropped me a note yesterday wondering why I felt that “hand tool only” woodworkers were narrow minded; apparently I said that somewhere. Anyway, I don’t think hand tool woodworking is narrow minded in the least. Before I go on, I would like to reiterate that I am not a woodworking professional, or expert, or even a woodworking personality (but between you and me, I do have a little personality), but I am an expert at offering my opinion. So if I did at one time opine that hand tool woodworkers were narrow minded I wasn’t stating any facts, and I most likely never presented them as such.

To continue, I do not think that hand tool only woodworking is narrow minded; I’ll say again that we should all woodwork in any way that makes us happy. But, I do think that some hand tool woodworkers are narrow minded. Why? Because when you say such things as: “It takes more skill to be a hand tool only woodworker” or, “if you use power tools you are not a real woodworker!” or, “I’ll never use power tools again!”, I come to the conclusion that you are being narrow minded, and also somewhat of a douche.

Being a vegetarian isn’t narrow minded, but thinking that is the only way to be healthy is. Enjoying Stephen King books isn’t a narrow minded act, but hating everybody who doesn’t like them is. And woodworking with only hand tools is not narrow minded, but feeling that it is the only way to do it really is. So dude, I didn’t call you narrow minded, but maybe you are. I’m not a psychologist. And by the way, if I read another pseudo intellectual kiss-ass comment on a woodworking blog I’m going to lose it.

Have a good one.
Bill

Plant Stand beginnings.

The past few weeks have left me with little free time, but as it were, when I did happen to get a brief moment or two of liberty I dedicated it my hopefully soon to be upcoming Plant Stand project. I could not find a plan that I liked, but I did happen to find a few photos on the internet that caught my eye, including one that I added on my last post. Working from that basic photo, I drew up a rough sketch of my basic idea. For that sketch I used the photo as the basic guide. I did not make the drawing proportional, and because I did it by nearly all by hand it is a little rough. For the final drawing I will use my architects ruler (it was in my desk at work when I drew up the first sketch) and do my best to make the drawing proportional.

Plant stand rough sketch.

Plant stand rough sketch.

Speaking of proportions, I’ve narrowed down the dimensions I’m looking for, but they will all depend on the final sizes of usable stock I come up with. I would like the overall height of the stand to be 38 inches, with a 14 x 14 inch base. I’m hoping for 2 inch square legs, and by laminating two boards together I should be able to get that thickness, unless I have to plane off more material than I think. If that’s the case I will shoot for 1 7/8 or 1 3/4 thick legs. The top will be 16 inches square which will give me a minimal one inch overhang. I would also like the top to be 1 to 1 1/8 inches thick. I want the stand to look very sturdy, almost stocky. I don’t care for the look of spindly furniture all that much. To soften it up I think I will taper the legs slightly (I really don’t like tapered legs much, either). I’m still not sold on adding a full bead to the legs. I will have to do a few more experiments on some scrap wood and see how they turn out; I do still plan on beading the aprons. Otherwise, this is a very simple design, which it should be considering where it is going.

The still hasn’t been cooperating. We had snow, and now it is expected to rain the rest of the week, so even though the rain finally cleared my back yard of snow, it is little more than a muddy swamp at this point. With the weekend forecast not improving that much, I may just have to bite the bullet and plane the stock down in my driveway. That operation will make a mess, but I’m tired of waiting around for the weather. Mother Nature doesn’t really give much thought to woodworkers without workshops in my part of the country. So I have to man up and drag my stuff out into the driveway and do a little woodworking in the cold and get this plant stand started. Besides that, if I run the surface planer in the garage my wife yells at me.

Plant stand project.

Before I begin a new project I usually do an exhaustive amount of research. This usually includes going through furniture books, scouring the internet looking at photos, taking measurements, and drawing many rough sketches. This process becomes even longer when I am undecided on what exactly I would like to make. During those times I am comparing sketches, wood costs, material needed, and time frames. My methods tend to be very scholarly and cerebral. So the other night I was watching a movie on TV, I think it was Porky’s, and I happened to notice a plant stand that I really liked. Just after the shower scene it occurred to me that a plant stand would look pretty nice in a conspicuously empty corner of the living room of our house. I did a quick inventory of a small stash of Walnut I have and found more than enough to make the stand as well as another smaller project I had in mind.

Originally, my wife had wanted me to make a leaning shelf for that corner, but I wasn’t too keen on the idea. A shelf in that location would have looked out of place in my opinion; the corner is too small for a larger shelf that would actually be able to hold anything of substance, and too large for a regular sized table. A plant stand seems to fall into the Goldilocks zone: tall enough to fill in the corner, yet small enough to fit without over-crowding the space. Best of all, my wife was surprisingly enthusiastic about the idea, though I had to tell her that there would be no drawer installed no matter what.

I don’t have any project plans to reference for the stand, just a few ideas in my head and a few photos I’ve found thus far. I have come across a few Arts and Crafts style stands both in books and on the net, but I’m trying to stay away from A&C in this case. I caught an episode of The Woodwright’s Shop a week or so ago and wacky woodworker Roy Underhill was demonstrating running full beads for case sides and legs. I thought that a fully beaded leg with a slight taper would look nice in conjunction with a beaded apron, so I did a few experiments with full beading on some scrap wood I have(I will post photos later-camera died) Of course a bottom shelf is going to be a requirement, if for no other reason than to help give the stand a more stout appearance, as some of the examples I’ve seen tended to look a little flimsy. The joinery should be easy enough: sixteen mortise and tenons, and some dados for clips to hold the shelf and table tops to the aprons.

First thing I need to do is mill up the Walnut when I get the time, the weather still isn’t cooperating, and then sketch up a few design ideas along with dimensions for the stand. I’m going to have to glue up the Walnut in order to get the thickness I need for the legs unless I come across some thicker stock in my travels. I will also likely have to glue up a piece to get the width needed for the table top and shelf, as I don’t think I will be able to get enough width out of the pieces I do have. So this should be a fun project. It will include some hand tool and some power tool work, a little joinery here and there, and a chance to experiment with decorative elements on an original design. Man, I nearly sound like a real woodworker!

Basic plant stand

Basic plant stand

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