there are no truths….

flick o the chip

Joshua Klein sent me a note, asking my take on his recent blog post about “real craft” and what that term means. http://mortiseandtenonmag.com/blogs/blog/thoughts-on-real-craft

The first half of his post follows the term, from Jarrod Stone Dahl, back to Robin Wood, who got onto it from an exhibition with that title by someone named Chris Eckersley. I won’t repeat all that here – it’s easy enough for you to read Klein, Stone Dahl & Wood to get the background. One thing I’ll start in with is that all three of these people are friends of mine…and I don’t usually get involved in this sort of stuff. But the heat has fried my brain, and I have a trip to prepare, so there’s stuff I’m avoiding.

Going back & reading Robin’s thoughts, his concentration is mostly about the use of machinery vs “hand” work. He chooses to skip past the “art vs craft” thing. Robin has spent a lot of time in recent years making spoon carving knives; so he knows the ins & outs of factory work…and has interesting thoughts on how work like that can be equally rewarding as handwork, as long as the machines do not take away the skill required by the workman.. I certainly won’t argue with the notions Robin puts forth. That sort of work holds no interest for me

The part I didn’t see discussed much is, if one thing is “real” craft, then something else must be “unreal” craft, or, perhaps, “fake” craft.

One thing Joshua cited was Eckersley stating  that craft is “real” in the sense that it “occurs in the real everyday world, and not in a fine art studio, nor at a heritage site, nor as a hobby or pastime”. Well…that just hits me wrong. This week, we’ll have a short visit from our  friend the painter Heather Neill as she comes north for her exhibition on Martha’s Vineyard. Why Eckersley thinks an artist’s (fine art) studio is not the “real everyday world” is not explained, at least in Joshua’s excerpt. Maybe it is in Eckersley’s exhibition. Heather works harder than me at her “craft” by a long shot. Her head is filled with decades’ worth of projects/paintings/ideas. And each year, she sits at her easel and produces astounding work. So because it’s what one curator once called “flat stuff” i.e. paintings, it’s not craft, it’s art. I guess. http://heatherneill.com/studio-blog/2016/07/18/granary-gallery-2016/

Flying Horses
Heather Neill’s painting “flying horses”

And “heritage sites” – I guess I worked for twenty years making furniture in one. It’s true that in that setting, I had the benefit of a regular paycheck that was not tied to my output. I had to be on the site, working, and explaining to the museum’s visitors what I was making. That kind of repetition and continuum gave me an experience it would be hard to replicate in Eckersley’s “real” world.

When I hear Jarrod talking about “real” craft on his blog or his Instagram postings, to me his use of the term sounds as if it is about marketing, I see him educating would-be customers about the quality and integrity of his work. (I’ve bought work from him, it’s good stuff.) And such a move makes perfect sense, Jarrod puts a lot of thought into marketing his work. I stink at marketing – it holds little interest for me. http://woodspirithandcraft.com/

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Jarrod’s work in birch bark

When Joshua picks up the thread and brings his views into it, all kinds of fun begins. He “state(s) the obvious: craft implies tradition.” His words, his emphasis. I don’t necessarily understand why or how that’s obvious. Nor do I think it’s true. To me, craft/crafted means made by someone – the action of someone making things. Pretty broad definition.  

 

Joshua’s bench top

“Traditional” is one of those terms that means one thing to one person, something else to another. I make 17th-century style furniture, using only hand tools – but some of mine are now/have always been, more modern versions of period tools. I know I have used the term “traditional” before, I might still. But I’m nowadays pretty careful with the use of words like that – because of their shifting and varying meanings. Or perceived meanings.

The whole hand-tool versus machine debate is a large part of Joshua’s writings on the subject. Another thing I stay away from. I don’t want to work wood with machines. I am writing this blog post on a machine – and I like to do that…but for me personally, I like working wood with hand tools. That includes hewing, sawing, planing, mortising – all the stuff that happens in the shop. I have a neighbor who came by every so often while my friend Pret & I were framing the shop. He kept saying to me, in all seriousness, “I have a tablesaw you can borrow..” and I don’t-know-what-other tools he had. I started to wonder if he thought I didn’t know about these tools, or was somehow too broke to acquire them, or what he might have thought about why I wasn’t using them. He couldn’t fathom that I enjoyed doing it this way.

bevel down chisel

I don’t own a chainsaw, but I really like it when other people cut the logs I want to length with one. Then I can take it from there. I have cut trees by hand, and done the whole job – felling, crosscutting, splitting & hauling. I have also used a chainsaw at my old job. When they are right, they are a great tool. When they are cantankerous, they are a nuisance. To me, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I don’t cut a lot of logs in a year. I have a 14’ oak, now all split into sections, that should carry me well into next winter now. So a couple times a year, I prevail on someone…then it’s quiet. Joshua discusses the approach that uses machinery to rough out the wood, then handtools to produce the final surface. A lot of people work that way, and it’s none of my business. What other people do is up to them. Means nothing to me.

[there’s lots of comments on Joshua’s post, including one from Jarrod about “continuum” – a nice take. Jarrod emphasizes utilitarian function – which some might hear the wrong way and think it excludes decoration. I know in Jarrod’s case that’s not true, (I’m expecting delivery any day now of one of his birch cannisters, decorated with punches and pigments). When reading about furniture, I am always keeping my ears up for the “utilitarian = no decoration” crowd!]

I keep going back to what is un-real craft? I thought of a much-hated example, cute little paintings on old handsaws. What could be worse? Lots of things, but it’s a pretty bad example that will do for now. So one thought is that my hand-made, museum-quality reproduction furniture is “real” craft, and the painted handsaw is unreal craft. My outlook on these things is a bit different. I don’t care what other people do. It could be that the handsaw-painting artisan is achieving a near blissful state of Buddha-hood while engrossed in their work for all I know. In which case, who am I to say my work is real and theirs is not? To me it’s about the process, and more importantly, about how I want to spend my days. Which brings me back to Henry David Thoreau by way of Bob Dylan.

Picture1

I’ve told this story many times, but here goes again. Once, back at my old job, I had a young kid, maybe 10 years old, come into my shop and ask me “Do you have anything here that’s 3D?” The room was crammed with piles of wood, tools, furniture in various stages of completion. As far as I could tell, everything in the room was three-dimensional. I told him I didn’t quite understand, and asked if he could ask his question another way. “You know, it looks really real” he said. Which took me back to the existential days of the ‘60s – when Dylan sang “the princess and the prince discuss what’s real and what is not…” (I didn’t get to it til the 70s, but no matter). So I was thinking the other day about what’s real and what is not, and I pulled up Bringing It All Back Home, and listened – and heard another line from the Gates of Eden – “I try to harmonize with songs the lonesome sparrow sings…”

Dylan’s line about harmonizing reminded me of this section seen on the blog before (when discussing Jarrod, interestingly) from Thoreau.

“One-eyed John Goodwin, the fisherman, was loading into a hand-cart and conveying home the piles of driftwood which of late he had collected with his boat. It was a beautiful evening, and a clear amber sunset lit up all the eastern shores; and that man’s employment, so simple and direct, – though he is regarded by most as a vicious character, – whose whole motive was so easy to fathom, – thus to obtain his winter’s wood, – charmed me unspeakably. So much do we love actions that are simple. They are all so poetic. We, too, would fain be so employed. So unlike the pursuits of most men, so artificial or complicated. Consider how the broker collects his winter’s wood, what sport he make of it, what is his boat and hand-cart! Postponing instant life, he makes haste to Boston in the cars, and there deals in stocks, not quite relishing his employment, – and so earns the money with which he buys his fuel. And when by chance, I meet him about this indirect and complicated business, I am not struck with the beauty of his employment. It does not harmonize with the amber sunset.”

I’ll take either one, the sparrow’ song, or the amber sunset. I don’t care what people call my craft, or theirs. What I care about is how I spend my days. I try to harmonize…    

DSC_0077
it’s a sunrise, but similar to a sunset

 

a lot of photos of the 3-legged stool assembly

the 3-legged/footed stool is done.

assembled

here’s some of how it went. I do the joinery in two halves. Here, the leg is propped in the “joiners’ saddles” (V-blocks) to hold it steady. Line up the centerline on the end grain with a square, and then fire away. Because the stretchers are at three different heights, you need to keep track of which one’s which. I tend to make the front stretcher the lowest one. the other two don’t matter which is which. Align the bit against the square propped on the bench.

boring

My half-inch mortise chisel is packed away somewhere. I had to use this short firmer chisel. Makes it harder to steer, and can’t whack it as hard. I chop half-way, then turn the leg over & come in from the other side.

chisel

test-fit the rectangular tenons.

test fit

Sub-assemblies, ready for the next holes to be bored through the rectangular tenons. 
threes

I drew the seat plan full-scale on a piece of cardboard, then copied the angles from that. Set the adjustable bevel and tilt the inserted rail so that where I’m boring is plumb. Then go.

bore plumb

Same idea, different setup with the bevel.

bore plumb 2

beveling under the seat. Like a joiner’s beveled panel, feathered down to fit the grooves in the seat rails.

bevel seat
seat

the front seat rail & stretcher have spindles between them. Knock this together, then insert one rectangular tenon into each post/leg.

sub assembly 2

Keep in mind the rectangular tenon is a through tenon, the stretcher is not. So the seat rail enters the post ahead of the stretcher. Here’s the front section on the saddles, don’t want the rectangular tenon to bump into the bench top.

v blocks

Here, catching the stretcher tenon before the seat rails get too far ahead. Gotta keep things open enough to install the seat. 
starting final assembly

I once was putting one of these together in front of a crowd, pounding away on the joinery, when my friend Ted leaned over & said “you forgot the seat!” Not this time…

tip seat in

Knock it together.

knock it together

 

3-footed turned stool

 

It feels like a long time since I’ve written about furniture-making. Shop-building & spoon carving have taken up a lot of space here. This week, I’m building a stool that reaches back to the beginnings of this blog in 2008. Here’s one I made many years ago for the museum where I used to work.  These things don’t exist in the wild – not 17th century ones anyway. Chairs built along these lines are common in England and elsewhere. Not New England. These stools are found frequently in Dutch paintings. Note that the three stretchers are at different heights. The seat rails are all at the same height. More on this below.

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I am a joiner who does some turning, not a turner by any means. Especially these days. My lathe had been packed away in storage for 18 months. That’s a long hiatus between turnings! This is almost where the lathe will be in the shop, I plan on moving it further back into the corner when the real setup happens. The pole is up in the peak, about 14′ above my head.

turning

These turnings are pretty basic, just a large gouge & a couple of skew chisels. Wood is straight-grained ash. Riven & hewn before mounting on the lathe.

gouge

skew

one main feature of these stools, and the related chairs, is the joinery at the seat level. All the seat rails are at the same height, so the joints intersect. A large rectangular tenon gets pierced by a smaller turned tenon. Like this:

joint-detail

Here I am scribing a centerline on the end grain of the seat rail. This is the basis for the layout of the tenon.

centerline

Sawing the shoulders.

sawing

Splitting the cheeks.

splitting

Paring to the finished dimension.

paring

The seat rails get a groove plowed in them to receive the beveled panel that is the seat. Here’s how I held it to the bench for cutting with the plow plane. The rectangular tenon is pressed into the teeth of the bench hook, and a notched stock pressed against the round tenon. Holdfast keeps that stick in place. I eyeball that the rectangular tenon is parallel to the benchtop, then the groove goes in the resulting top center of the rail’s surface.

setup for plowing

groove

boring and chopping joinery next time.

here is the same information, in one of my first posts  https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2008/07/05/three-footed-chair/

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2008/09/03/board-seated-turned-chair/

 

Another trip I’d like to make some day

27-IMG_0113_photoTamasGyenes

Just a pointer to go read about Terence McSweeney’s visit to Tamás Gyenes’ house in Hungary. Terence & I met last year when he came to a box-making class I taught in Somerset, England. I was thrilled to hear he made it over to Hungary. What an experience that must have been! I swiped his photo above…but for the real thing, just go see his write up. It says part 1, which implies there’ll be a part 2…thanks, Terence & Tamas. 

https://thrownandriven.wordpress.com/2016/07/12/hungary-part-1/

 

 

No woodwork to show, see Heather’s paintings instead

Time is flying by. I have lots to do around here. I’m back to work on the shop, shingling the roof with Western red cedar shingles. They don’t call them perfect for nothing – I have to stop myself from pausing to admire the wood in these bundles. But I’ve not shot any photos. You’ve seen people put up shingles before. First batch of windows are slated to go in soon. 


bench view

Prepping to go to Spoonfest, then right from there to Täljfest at Sätergläntan in Sweden.

In the meantime – it’s July. That means Heather Neill’s show is coming up at the Granary Gallery on Martha’s Vineyard. Here’s a sneak peek – one perhaps called “dark and stormy” 

Each painting has a blog post, with the notes about the painting. Worth the time in spades. http://heatherneill.com/studio-blog/

I might not make it to the island this year to see the show – all the more reason to read the blog. I don’t know anybody who puts more of themself into their work than Heather. Unreal. Always a highlight when we get to visit, see you soon HN.

http://heatherneill.com/exhibitions/on-the-horizon/  and http://granarygallery.com/artist-works.php?artistId=196643&artist=Heather%20Neill

Whoops – posted this & remembered to add the video link:

Visions of Home — The Work of Heather Neill from Barbarella TV on Vimeo.

 

Inspired

Pete Seeger's banjo

I told you I feel inspired. I remember when Pete Seeger died, I searched the web for a photo of his banjo – this week it served as an idea for some wood carving. I’ve had these items rattling around the house since Greenwood Fest; further inspiration. A bowl by Dave Fisher, large spoon Beth Moen, small spoon Derek Sanderson.

grouping

So I weighed this piece of wood one more time, and  got the same weight as recorded here in April & early June – 14 oz.

weight loss record

here’s where it will go, a replacement handle for my old Viking-style hatchet.

old & new handles

Here is recto:

axe recto

and verso:

axe verso

a favorite quote from Bill Coperthwaite, found in his book A Handmade Life.

I plan on carving spoons this weekend at the Lie-Nielsen Open House, with this hatchet. https://www.lie-nielsen.com/hand-tool-events/USA/109

Meanwhile, some birds around the workshop project, which is roof shingling.

female downy woodpecker (right) feeding male young.

feed me

white breasted nuthatch.

wb nuthatch

red tailed hawk, every day being chased off by grackles, blackbirds, blue jays – you name it, they chase ’em.

rt hawk

Red bellied woodpecker.

rb woodpecker

what to do with all this inspiration?

After Plymouth CRAFT’s Greenwood Fest 2016, the biggest problem I have is what to do with all that inspiration. I remember the first evening all the instructors were on-site- it struck me that we had a great lineup assembled, and that I wouldn’t be able to see much of it/them. It’s the nature of working an event like this, rather than attending it. But it was so exciting seeing everyone, and comparing ideas, thoughts, plans – and then the snippets I did see really got the juices flowing.

Dave Jogge & JoJo

We had Beth Moen and Dave Fisher carving bowls with axe and adze, contrasted with Derek (non-stop) Sanderson and Jarrod Stone Dahl turning them on Jarrod’s pole lathe. The spoon contrast was between the Woodland Pixie and the Viking – JoJo Wood and Jögge Sundqvist. Two very different approaches, but both so engrossing that I wished I had eight arms, so I could carve more spoons every day. I showed JoJo a large crook I was going to make a spoon from. “What would you do?” I asked. “Throw that out and carve some straight-grained spoons” came the reply. And yet I hear Jögge talking about “form follows fibers” – there ain’t no one way, I guess.

dave w students

turned bowls

After the event, a bunch of us were talking about what worked, and what could stand some tweaking. April Stone Dahl said earlier she wondered why she was included, not being a spoon carver. Nonsense, says me. I wanted basketry to be a big part of the Greenwood theme, and April’s are some of the nicest baskets I know, without being precious and dainty.

april

Tim Manney’s approach to both spoon carving and chair making are so different from my own, but he has a tremendous grasp of both crafts. I really like Tim’s work, and his teaching style is very engrossing. He always had a crowd around his bench.

Pret Woodburn and Rick McKee are not as well-known to the web-based woodworking community as our other instructors. But if you’ve been around a Plymouth CRAFT event, then you got to know them. Together they have hewn more wood & talked to more people than anyone except maybe me (well, Roy Underhill too…but you get the point) and they taught these skills for years beyond count. It was a great thrill for me to combine them with these far-flung friends. I knew the fit would be perfect, and it was.

pret hewing

When we decided to call our festival “greenwood” something seemed familiar…and that’s how I thought of having Scott Landis come give us a glimpse into the organization known as Greenwood, and the wonderful work they do, making the world a better place through woodworking and green wood. http://www.greenwoodglobal.org/

The classes afterwards were an added bonus, Tim, Dave and I hung around, while JoJo and Jögge had to work. So we got to rubberneck in their classes, and keep on exploring what to do with sharp edges and lignin fibers.

Back home, I’m working on oak furniture, spoon and bowl carving, a bench in catalpa and white oak, and Pret & I are about to resume some carpentry on the workshop. And I’m eyeing some half-finished baskets, too. If I could only skip sleeping….then I could utilize all this inspiration.

Here’s two views – first, the video our friend Harry Kavouksorian put together for us. Thanks, Harry.

Greenwood Fest 2016 from Harry Kavouksorian on Vimeo.

And the second, a very nice article with slides & video, from Frank Mand. Nice work, Frank. I appreciate it.

http://www.wickedlocal.com/news/20160615/national-audience-in-plymouth-for-worlds-best-woodworking-artists 

I heard we might just be dumb enough to do it again. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, go carve something!