Sunday
Jun022013

Simple can be hard

Simple is usually better. In life. In design. But, we tend to clutter things up. More noise, more stuff, more distractions. Amidst the chaos, the only things to catch our attention are usually the things that shout at us. Pop-up ads, billboards, reality shows, our kids if we ignore them for too long... The designer in me wants to shout sometimes as well. Especially in the fear of being ignored.

But when I de-stress, unplug, slow down, it's the small, quiet things that strike me profoundly.

I threw out my back the other week. As much as I wanted to stay in bed for a few days, I knew the best thing was to get up and walk, as counter-intuitive as it seemed at the time. So, I shuffled around the house counting the steps between spasms. Too many bumps and turns interrupted my concentration so I hobbled my way out to the driveway barefoot. Tying shoes was completely out of the question. Up and back I began to walk. At first focused only on the pain. Slowly, I began to notice the May flowers blooming along the pavement. I was amazed at how blind I was to the beauty that surrounded me. As my attention went to the flowers, the pain didn't receed, but the fear and stress associated with it did. I realized that I didn't have to live inside of it, and it became less oppresive. A funny thing happened as I walked. Along with the blossoms in their Spring riot, I began to notice the leaves of the plants. Spears, blades and swirling tendrils. Infinitley more varied than the blooms. More subtle, but holding my attenion longer once I began to pay attention to them. As I walked further, the endorphins must have been kicking in by now, I began to notice the pavement, the texture under my bare feet, the warmth from the sun. I also became aware of the multitude of activity taking place at me feet. Bugs and bees and ants all doing their thing. A gang of ants were working hard to hoist a dead caterpillar from the driveway and at each turn I was able to watch their progress. I was amazed at the team work, the diligence. Amazed at the incredible world I was surrounded by, but also depressed that only the coincidence of a bad back and a sunny day allowed me to appreciate it.

And there lay my fear and struggle as a craftsman. I like quiet. It's nice to live with. It's what I aspire to in my life and in my work, but how can quiet possibly sell when so many other things are shouting around it. Still, I don't really have a choice about it. I suppose that what I hope to do in my work is to provide that awareness, a respite from the chaos on a small level. Without the need for a bad back, although I'd never argue against a sunny day.

Tuesday
Mar262013

Making a connection

It's a little obvious to say, but you can't really do anything to wood with your bare hands. You need a tool. So the tool becomes the connection to the wood. And the type of tool determines the conversation you have, the feedback, your relationship to the material. Power tools work fast, they put a lot of miles under you quickly. But a spinning blade or router bit is like the pavement whipping by just under your feet as you blaze down the highway. There's a lot of danger and stress between you and the wood. Yes, sometimes you have to hop in the car and just get where you're going, but it's not always the best way to go, and often your destination can't be reached on four wheels. Or plugged into a wall socket. 

And that's where the journey really begins. And that's where hand tools take over and the tone of the conversation changes. The pace slows down and the focus shifts from the macro to the micro. Gaps between joints are rendered non-existant. Surfaces are taken to a mirror polish by slicing fibers by the 1/1000 of an inch with chisels and planes honed beyond razor-sharp.

The process becomes a ballet, moving tool to tool, surface to surface. The result is subtle but real. The details- a crisp chamfer, a polished surface, a well-fit joint, they all add up. In a quiet way. 

So, well, I have a lot of hand tools. It may appear that I have more than I need. Yes, there are some duplicates, but because they are honed and tuned to perform different tasks, they are twins with quite different personalities. Each tool has a use and a place. And each serves to connect me to the wood in its own way.

I'm always excited to open up my tool cabinet in the morning. It's the heart of my shop and sums up what I try to to do and what I aspire to be as a craftsman.

Tuesday
Feb192013

Woodworking with voices in my head

Instead of an angel and devil on my shoulders, I'm stuck with a designer and a craftsman. The designer meditates a lot, drinks tea, takes long walks... you know the type. The craftsman is all about the process, he just wants something to build. Of course he spends a lot of time sharpening tools, examining plane shavings and sweeping the shop. Something of a perfectionist and a pain to be with lest you put a tool away in the wrong spot. I'm not sure they like each other, but they need each other. Each gets a say in turn when making a piece. Perfection to the craftsman is flawless joinery, pristine surfaces and a glass-smooth finish. But if the proportions are wrong, if the lines don't flow, then the work is wasted. Let's face it, what good is a piece of furniture that lasts 200 years, if you can't stand to live with it? On the other hand, what good is the most beautifully designed chair if it won't support your weight... So the designer and craftsman continue to coexist, shouting from ear to ear, while I struggle away.

 


Wednesday
Feb062013

Greetings

Hey.

Personal space is a good thing. It's just a little weird when it's public too. Welcome to my blog.

When I'm not woodworking, I tend to think about it. Here is where you get to find out what exactly I'm thinking about, what I'm making at the moment, the design and construction challenges I happen to be wading through.

Why would you be interested? I'm not really sure.

Stay tuned.

Thanks.

Mike