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…    

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it’s a sunrise, but similar to a sunset

 

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/

 

 

shifting to the Greenwood Fest next

carved panel

My days have shifted some, from a focus on the workshop to now a focus on preparation for Greenwood Fest. Time to get some tools & projects together, and after the weekend, time to start moving wood, benches, tools & finally people into the site. The photo above is a carved panel, and one to-be-carved panel for my work at the Festival. I’m going to be working on a joined chest (just the front of it, I expect). Like this one:

white oak chest 2009

I have some great red oak for it, the other day I carved one panel, and the wide center muntin. I’ll carve the rails, stiles and one panel at the event.

carved chest prep

Work on the shop has slowed down now as part of this shift in priority. We got a lot of the sheathing up, leaving openings where the windows will go:

sheathing view 1

The front will have a window on each side of the door, and a pair of them just above. so we did almost no sheathing there yet…just enough to keep it connected to the sills.

sheathing view 2

This side has several windows along it, the one on our left is actually wider than this present opening, we’ll cut some of that sheathing away when the windows go in.

north side

Tucked under the north side of the building is some red oak I just rived for my upcoming class at Lie-Nielsen later this month. https://www.lie-nielsen.com/workshop/USA/129

sheathing view front

Here’s a better view of the front. When things settle down a bit, it will be up on the roof – to install red cedar shingles. Right now, the place reeks from these piles of cedar.

red cedar

I want to take a moment to thank all of you who donated towards my building project – with your help I was able to get all the sheathing & shingles to help keep this project moving along. It means a lot to me, the way folks have responded to this work. I can see the inside of the shop in my head, and I can’t wait to show it to you here on the blog.

The sheathing is locally sawn white pine, from Gurney’s, our favorite sawmill down in Freetown Massachusetts – http://www.gurneyssawmill.com/ – sixth generation of a family owned & operated sawmill.

wow that's a load

 

gurney's

 

The shingles were bought locally, but they are western red cedar – I got them from Taylor Forest Products – they treated me very well. Delivery charge was only $10!! How could that be?  http://www.taylorforest.com/application/home/index.aspx

wainscot chair

PF copy KP chair

I finished this wainscot chair and delivered it to the Martin House Farm in Swansea, Massachusetts yesterday. I should say I “completed” the chair, I applied no finish to it. They are looking into having it stained to look like the original. Speaking of  which…

side view chairs

I don’t often get to compare my results to the originals that I study. I sometimes don’t want to see the contrast. It can leave me feeling like I missed some obvious feature, muffed another one, etc. There’s a couple of things I’d do differently next time, but not too drastic.

chairs side by side

I added some height to mine, to bring the seat more level, or slightly canted to the rear. The original tilts forward now.

new & old

The original chair descended in the Cole family in Rehoboth and Swansea. Maybe dates from 165-1700. All oak. Some think it was made in Providence, some think it’s a Plymouth Colony joiner. Hard to say, there’s so little to go on. One very distinctive feature of this chair is the rear of the large panel. Instead of just beveling it to fit, the joiner made a tabled” or raised panel.  Here’s mine before assembly:

back of the back

Unusual in New England wainscots, but very common in Wiltshire, England. I have seen many wainscot chairs there done with a tabled panel in front, then the raised area carved. Here’s one from Salisbury, not a great photo but you can just make out the tabled/molded raised area, then carved.

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Salisbury wainscot chair

A post about the raised panel, and the circular decoration on the carved side.

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/the-wainscot-chair-panel-more/

the wainscot chair panel & more

Some catch up about the wainscot chair underway. First off, the back of the panel is decorated, unlike most (all?) New England wainscots – in this case a raised/tabled panel. The raising is quite distinct, leaving a high rectangle (the table) that is then set off by scraping a molded edge to it. Here, I have the panel on the bench, pausing in mid-bevelling.

raised tabled panel

Here it is, test-fitted into the rear stiles & crest rail. The stiles still need moldings scraped along their long edges. This section is leaning against the front section, so you see the scrolled apron peeking through behind. I can’t wait to work in the new shop, where I hope to have some room for photos!

back of the back

 

The front of the panel has 4 “crop circles” (I had to give them some name…) – you might have seen an earlier post where I showed a couple of period examples of this decoration.

front of the back

I had no evidence regarding what tool might have made these shapes – I’ve only seen the circles a few times… so I made a tool much like a wooden brace, or “wimble” as it’s sometimes called. But instead of a boring bit in the bottom, I inserted a scraper, like we use on scratch stocks for molding.

crop circle wimble

Here’s the head. I left it loose, thinking I might like to use this head for an actual brace (that’s what I cut it for ages ago, was just lucky I could find it now, & thus didn’t have to make it)

head of wimble

Here’s the scraping profile, and the result. If I had time to spend, I would have rounded the end of the tool, and installed a ferrule to keep the cutter in place. I tried a screw like I use on scratch stocks, but it split the maple. So I temporarily clamped the end closed, cut the circles & moved on.

crop circle & cutter

Our neighbor Sara invited us to see Sara & Brad, fish monitors from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries checking the smelt coming up the river. We had quite a time. Birds I know because they fly right around where you can see them, but the fish rarely poke their heads out of the water…

here’s the fyke net:

fike net

Here’s one of the smelt. I think I heard them say they caught 190 overnight, and over 400 in 4 days this week. They told us it has been the best year (out of 14 or so) they have had for smelt. they do the whole “record-them, measure them, toss them back” thing.

smelt

some chair making in between all the excitement

crest

In between the raising and moving & stacking roughly 160 white pine boards I got some work in on the wainscot chair(s) I have underway. Soon, I’ll set up my lathe (yes, even before the shop is closed in) and get on with turning the front stiles in these chairs. But before that, I can do all the joinery and other decoration. There’s some rather pedestrian carving, some scroll work on the lower edge of the aprons, and top of the crest, and some scratched moldings on the rails and stiles.

The scroll work on the aprons is simply a matter of boring a few holes, connecting some dots with a turning saw, and clean-up with a chisel. One nice feature almost every time I see this detail is that the scroll work is cut into an angled rabbet on the bottom of the rail. This tilts the scroll work upwards to the viewer’s eyes, and thins out the piece to be pierced. Those old guys knew what they were about.

scrolled apron
One detail on the carved panel of the original chair is something I have only seen a few times before – these little round bits (bottom corners in this photo) – they look like turned decoration, but that’s nuts of course. They aren’t carved, that’s for sure. They seem to be made like “scratch stock” moldings, but around an axis.

back panel

Here’s a detail of some on an English box I saw years ago:

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Carved box detail

After some head-scratching, I decided I’m going to make a wooden brace fitted out with a molding scraper, like a scratch stock. Now that the pine boards are all stickered, I can go back to working  on the chairs. If the brace does the job, you’ll hear about it

Next up it’s time to hide the frame

I really like the look of a timber frame against the sky; a giant wooden skeleton, all pegged together.

finished frame
finished frame

Pret designed this one with asymmetrical braces – often braces are at 45-degrees, but these are laid out two feet out from the vertical post, and three feet from the horizontal (either the tie-beam or the plate). He’s right, they look very nice, now that all the mind-crushing & teeth-gnashing is over and the joints all pegged.

It’s been fun this past week having the frame in our view. But this ain’t the old world, with its half-timbered framing tradition, wattle & daub and brick infill.

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mythical or not – an attractive look

Here in New England the tradition is to cover the frame with sheathing – the frame only showing inside the building. Not as romantic, not as attractive; but I rarely mess with tradition. Thus, it’s time to cover that thing up.

Yesterday, Nathan Goodwin, a regular at some Plymouth CRAFT events, kindly hauled me in his truck and trailer down to East Freetown Massachusetts, to Gurney’s Sawmill to pick up our order of white pine sheathing/siding and floor boards.

gurney's
I didn’t see Paul at the mill, looks like he’s posing for the sign

I usually buy wood as a log – thus one piece, or a few boards at a time. But this framed building is the largest thing I eve made…so I need more boards than usual.

wow that's a load
wow – that’s a lot of boards for me…

I stacked and stickered the boards, and our next move will be to sheath around the corners of the building, to tie the frame to the sills. Then tackle sheathing the roof, which will then be covered with wooden shingles. And no, I am not making the shingles. There’s only so many hours in the day.

stack 1
stack one of two

If you’re around this area, try Gurney’s – they’re the nicest folks. It’s like stepping back in time… http://www.gurneyssawmill.com/