The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Bueller, Bueller…

Once upon a time I received quite a few comments on my blog posts. Some of those comments were actually posted on the blog, and quite a few were sent to my personal email (just to set the record straight, the hate mail to “fan” mail ratio was about 50/50). In fact, I received enough of those emails to warrant creating an email (gmail) address specifically for the blog posts. Strangely enough, once I did that, I received far fewer blog related emails..go figure.

Anyway, I received my first blog related email in quite a while, more than a year, asking the same questions I’ve been asked many times before: “Where are my fun posts?” “Where are my rants?” “Where have my fringe, op-ed pieces gone?”

I haven’t answered this persons email directly as of yet, but the answer I give him (or her) will be the same I’ve given before: It’s not worth it.

Some time ago I came to the conclusion that the world of woodworking is simply not worthy of my time and my opinions. I could go on a long diatribe explaining my reasons, but instead I’m going to break it down to this most simple phrase; Woodworking is dull.

Let’s face it; woodworking magazines, videos, books, and blogs (sorry) are or have become really boring, very bland, and more often than not, they suck. (Once again, sorry). At one time I liked to think of myself as a counter point to the boredom, but now I just don’t care enough anymore to bother.

So the last two paragraphs are going to be copied and pasted and given as my response to the email. I will continue to post on the occasional project or tool restoration, but my days of ranting are over. I don’t want to be lumped in with a group of boorish, pseudo-intellectual geeks anyhow (referring to trees by their Latin genus? C’mon)

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Advice column

I’ve always toyed with the idea of one day writing a post which basically tells everybody “what I really think of them..”, maybe say some things that only a person on his deathbed, or a really drunk guy, would say without hesitation. I was going to save that for my last post; “go out with a bang” as it were, but I’ve decided against that approach for the time being. It’s not that I’m above telling people what I really think of them, it’s just that I believe that is something that should be done face-to-face and not over the semi-anonymous internet, where the repercussions are few for the most part. And I also don’t plan on this being my last post, though it very well could be; who can say?

But like many people (it seems), I’ve really had it with social media, and I consider this blog no exception. Social media is for twits in my opinion. Okay, that is harsh. Let’s say that social media attracts twits, in all forms. What are twits? Twits are the special breed of sycophants, wannabees, kiss-asses, pseudo-intellectuals, and star-f*ckers that are desperately seeking approval from a small group of people that they feel “get them”. This, to me, is what the world of woodworking media has become, a giant toilet where you can swirl around the edges for a while, if you’re smart enough to hold on, but that will inevitably suck you in if you hang around too long.

That all being said, I’m feeling pretty good. And if this is going to be my last post (I’m not saying that it is, mind you), I feel the need to provide a nickel’s worth of free advice to anybody who will listen.

Firstly, for all of you professional woodworkers out there, you don’t need to be a great writer to be a great woodworker, so don’t bother trying. Of course that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to improve upon your writing. But you still shouldn’t try to be something you are not. Social media has somehow made “great writing” a prerequisite to “great woodworking”. It’s not. The great woodworkers of “yesteryear” were very likely not great writers, and the handful of old texts I’ve seen confirm my belief. Most of those books were dull and contained some questionable grammar. I’m not knocking them in the least; just because an instructional book is dull that doesn’t mean it cannot contain very valuable information. In fact, it is my belief that a great instructional book has to be somewhat dull in order for it to work. I’ve read through dozens, if not hundreds of books on electricity and not one of them was a “great read”. But all of them were invaluable when it came to learning the properties of electrical generation.

And for all of you amateurs who dream of one day becoming professionals, I will first say ‘Good Luck’, and secondly, I will say to read the above paragraph. After you reread that paragraph, I will add that it is perfectly fine to emulate a writer that you admire, but please don’t be an imitator. It’s easy to spot an imitator because imitators are generally repeaters. Writing a lesser version of another person’s thoughts is really not a good idea; it’s lazy and almost always dull.

So what gives me the “right” to criticize?

Nothing. I’m just offering an opinion. I’ve said many times before that I’m no expert when it comes to the subject of writing, or the subject woodworking for that matter. I’m not great at either vocation. Then again, I was never a great baseball player myself, but I can easily tell the difference between a good player and a bad one.

A few bullet points:

-if you think you’re funny, you’re probably not.

-If you don’t write in your own voice, you’ll never write anything worth reading.

-If you’re afraid to speak your mind, you’ll never write anything worth reading.

-If you’re afraid to be critical, you’ll really never write anything worth reading.

-If you’re writing to please anybody but yourself first, you will never, ever write anything worth reading.

I’ve seen some writers come up with rules of woodworking blogging that I’ve found funny, and disturbing.  Don’t be offensive? What?!? If something is bothering you (pertaining to your blog topic) then you should write about it. If you’re truly afraid to write about it because you fear what others might think or say, you should be writing a diary, not publishing a blog.  Woodworking media is full of snobs who love to tell people what to do and what to think. Why should you be any different? I’m not saying you should be just like them, but if you want to speak your mind, don’t allow anyone to stop you from doing it.

Writing means putting yourself out there. Sometimes you need to do that without fear or hesitation. As has been said before: It is easier to offer an apology than to ask permission. But in actuality it is even simpler than that, because it’s your blog. That doesn’t give you the right to slander, tell lies, or wantonly insult people, but it does give you a personal forum to offer your full opinion. And if you are not speaking your mind, in your own voice, and doing it without fear, then you will always struggle.

Lastly, I dislike the concept of blogs that are  strictly “how to” blogs. Blogs should be personal; blogs should offer insight into you, the writer. A nice project is certainly a good backdrop, but there are thousands upon thousands of woodworking books with furniture plans in them that will generally always be a lot more clear and concise than anything you will find on a WordPress blog. At the risk of repeating myself, if you are only writing about your projects, consider a little something more. Consider a little critical thinking. The world of woodworking media is now dominated by a short list of people that are followed blindly for the most part. It is so commonplace that many blog writers are virtually plagiarizing their idols to the point that they are using the same “catchphrases”. Don’t be that guy/gal. Criticize your idols even if you agree with them the most of the time. There are few people alive on this planet who are above reproach, and not one of them is a woodworking writer.

So you can take my advice, or not; it really doesn’t make much of a difference because I will very likely never know one way or the other. Still, I feel better for putting my opinion of the subject out in the open, and in the end, isn’t that all that really matters?

The Kitschy Woodworker

Like most houses, ours has its share of art work hanging in the halls and bedrooms, and like many home owners, I couldn’t tell you much about the artists who created them. My knowledge of fine art really begins and ends with the Art History 103/104 courses I took when in college because they were required. In fact, the only two pieces of art work in my home that I can speak intelligently about are The Starry Night by Van Gogh and Washington Crossing the Delaware by Leutze, and then only because those are my two favorite paintings.

When it comes to “art”, I have a greater affinity for historical documents, vintage propaganda posters, and what I like to refer to as kitsch art, “tin advertisements”. I have around a dozen or so examples placed around my garage (all reprints, I’m not a collector and I don’t really care if they are authentic or not).

To cut to the chase, last week I came across a tin sign still in its wrapper in the closet of our spare bedroom. I vaguely remember ordering it maybe three years ago BP (before Prime) as an adder to make the freight allowed minimum on Amazon. Rather than let it sit, I brought it into the garage with the intention of hanging it…somewhere. The one spot that is open where it would be visible happens to be a spot I’m saving, so instead, I fastened it to the front panel of a cabinet I made when I first began woodworking. I then had a brief moment of inspiration. While the tin sign itself is nothing special, I think it really made the cabinet pop, for lack of a better word. It then occurred to me that rather than using a panel for the door, a tin sign might make a nice “panel” on its own merit (with a plywood backer of  course). The skies the limit when it comes to the panel. They’re sold everywhere from Amazon to antique stores to yard sales. I could even double side the door to add to the fun.

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A  Kitschy Cabinet…

The cabinet itself is nothing special either; it’s made of basic pine panels and constructed using rabbets, dados, stubby tenons, and screws; it was one of my first woodworking projects, after all. If I were to make another, I would probably stick to the same methods, though I would dress it up with some beading, tongue and groove back panels, maybe a shop made moulding, and of course cut nails in place of screws; I think that would satisfy the woodworker in me. The right kitschy sign, and the right finish (maybe a different species of wood), be it paint or stain, could make this a fun little project, and I could always use another wall cabinet in my garage.

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Clamped and ready to be flattened…

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A few passes with a jack plane is all it took..

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Sanded smooth and ready for some linseed oil…

In other news, the other day I did a video on rehabbing the iron from my coffin smoother plane. During that process I noticed a very slight high-spot just in front of the mouth of the plane, so I decided to correct it over the weekend. I used the jack plane to remove the spot, just one shaving from the front of the sole followed by a very light pass over the entire sole, checked with the square for flatness. I then used 220g and 400g sandpaper to finish it up, along with two coats of linseed oil and a coat of wax, which was added last night. Now that I think I am a video woodworker, I filmed a short video showing the results (before the wax was applied). That plane, I am very happy to report, is now a very solid worker.

How I sharpen a chisel

Yesterday after work I recorded my first full-length woodworking video my first full-length woodworking video which shows I usually will sharpen my chisels and plane irons. To be clear, I’m not a woodworking instructor; if this video helps somebody out  I would be very pleased, but its main purpose is to shed a little light on how I do things when it comes to woodworking.

Once again, the link is attached, and I hope you enjoy it.

Private eyes.

In past posts I’ve mentioned that I sometimes receive emails from people who read the blog (or this case, watch the videos) asking me questions, giving me a vote of confidence, or sometimes simply complaining. The latest one (which was a nice one BTW, or at least I think it meant to be) was from a somebody who watched a video I put on YouTube. Paraphrased, the person basically was wondering why I have a table saw if I never seem to use it.

The truth is that I use the table saw on many of my projects.

Much of the time I use the table saw is for getting all of my material near to the final dimensions. If I am making something such as a bookcase which has several shelves of equal size, I will use the table saw to accurately cross cut the material. On a small project, such as my dovetailed boxes, I will usually do any crosscutting with hand tools. But any project with wide boards I will use a table saw whenever possible. Speaking for myself, even if I wanted to use a hand saw to cross cut a wide board, I haven’t come up with an accurate or simple method to “shoot” those boards. I know there are half a dozen suggestions out there; I just don’t like any of them. So I hope that explains things a little bit.

On a further note,  I usually don’t mind when somebody sends me a personal email, but if it is in reference to something on the blog, or in the case the video on YouTube, I would much rather that you comment there. I understand that some people are hesitant to comment publicly for their own reasons; I’m not trying to pressure anybody either way, only to state my preference. Whatever the case may be, I hope that those who won’t comment on the blog aren’t doing so because they fear how I will respond.

After a few years of doing this, I hope everybody who happens to read can see that I’m a fairly level-headed guy. Those of you who have watched the first few videos hopefully will have noticed that I don’t rant and rave. What you saw is generally my demeanor most of the time. I’m an honest person, and I don’t necessarily care for insulting people, and I certainly don’t view a disagreement as a character flaw, the way some woodworkers seemingly do. If there is a certain tool that I use and you don’t, or vice versa, I really couldn’t care less one way or the other. If you happened to enjoy a book that I didn’t, I have no problem with that. I only ask that you reciprocate.

So bottom line, if you would rather email me personally (concerning something you saw on the blog) I am fine with that, but I would really prefer you to leave a comment on the blog, because I think everybody who reads it will benefit.

Thanks.

I’m asking for your advice.

Let’s just say that I’m a sucker for woodworking books, good, bad, or so-so. In general, I probably purchase 3 or 4 per year, blind in most cases (in the sense that I did not read any reviews etc.). I won’t call woodworking books expensive, though they generally cost more than your typical novel or history book, but I probably do spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $150 each and every year.

So the other day the Highland Woodworking advertisement arrived in the mail and right on the front cover is the latest book from Lost Art Press: The Anarchists Design Book. The only thing I know about the book are some snippets I’ve read on the Popular Woodworking blog. It appears to focus on staked furniture, which in all honesty is a style that I don’t care for all that much, though I do prefer furniture that is simpler in design. And though I’m not really on-board with the whole “anarchist woodworker” ideology, that alone wouldn’t stop me from reading a book. So I’m about to do something I normally wouldn’t do and ask for an opinion of a woodworking book.

If anybody out there who reads this blog has also read the Anarchist Design Book, would you mind giving me an honest, unbiased assessment of the book, likes, dislikes, etc. As I said earlier, in general I don’t have an issue when it comes to blindly purchasing a woodworking book, but I’m trying to be a bit more judicious with my woodworking fun money. And considering that I’ve had issues with “anarchy” in the past, I’d hate to spend money on a book knowing that I already may disagree with the subject.

So, if you don’t mind lending me your opinion and a bit of your hard-earned time, I would appreciate it.

Thanks.

 

Through thick and thin

I’ve been having bad back spasms lately (shoveling 5 cubic yards of wet mulch will do that to a middle aged guy), so I made no attempt to woodwork this past weekend. The good news is I was able to catch up on some blog reading as well as watching some woodworking videos. Considering that I’ve been making a fair share of dovetailed boxes lately, my reading and video watching was centered mainly around the dovetail joint.

For this particular post I have no real desire to touch on the mechanics of the dovetail joint and how it is sawn. However, I briefly want to discuss one aspect of the joints appearance.

For whatever reasons, I took to the dovetail joint fairly quickly. When I first began, it seemed that the hallmark of a really skilled dovetail joint was a very thin pin. So after I developed some consistency in sawing dovetails, I began sawing the joint with thin pins. At some point, however, I stopped. Why? I don’t really know the exact reasons. Because the dovetail joint is first and foremost structural, maybe larger pins, more on par with the tails, looks stronger to my eye. Or maybe it’s just the fact that I don’t really care for the look of thin pins on an aesthetic level. In fact, on most contrasting woods I think they look hideous. But there are some cases such as half blind dovetails in drawer construction where I think they look okay. Otherwise, I’m not a fan.

So, the whole point of this little post is to see what the opinions are of woodworkers who may read this blog. How do you like your dovetail pins, thin, beefy, or somewhere in between? In most woodworking project videos that I’ve seen the thin pin is avoided like the plague. Is there a reason for this? Once again, I’m writing this post because I want to know what other woodworkers think, so if you care to let me know I would appreciate it.

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