Postcards from the Edge

75

76

 

 

 

 

 

I actually haven’t seen this movie, but I think I’m going to watch it tonight. A 1990 comedy/drama sounds like just the ticket. Phew! It has been a big few days! Good and bad things have happened. I cut the end of the armrests to match the angle of the front frame so they connect smoothly. I did this by angling the blade on the miter saw. Once the two chair parts lined up, I cut the joint, which is a floating tenon, so I had to cut mortises in both pieces that were being connected.77

The School of Architecture has an incredible shop. I’m not sure I’ve mentioned that before. It is maintained by John Vehko, a former naval machinist turned educator. John is a cranky man with a big heart and an incredible mind for how to figure things out. 78 Often, I’ll know what I want an outcome to be, but just not be sure how to get there, and John tells me six different ways to do it after thinking about it for five seconds. It’s incredible. Anyway, the point of this digression is to say that the shop has a really cool horizontal mortiser, which makes life good. It allows you to set the height, depth, and width of your mortise really really easily. If you look at the photo above, the lever on the left slides the table from side to side to cut the width and the lever on the right slides the spinning bit in and out to cut the mortise to depth. I clamped boards on either side and on top of the frame piece to keep it in place and so the second piece gets cut at exactly the same angle. I first made a full-depth cut on one end of the mortise, then another full-depth cut on the other side. Then I made shallow passes in between the two holes to cut out the rest of it. I did it this way so the shavings and sawdust had somewhere to go, as opposed to tightening up inside the uncut mortise and burning from the friction.

798081

 

Then I repeated on the other frame piece, then I went through the same process on the armrests. With both mortises cut, I now had the size information I needed to cut the tenons, which I did on the planer and the table saw and then sanded the corners and trimmed down the length until they fit snugly and held together the frame and armrest!

82They close up flush, but I wanted you to see the “inner workings” (below). 84

Tenons don’t have to float; they can actually just be part of one of the boards, but I wanted to be able to test out the alignment of the pieces before I cut the joint and not having a tenon sticking out from one end from the get-go allowed me to do this.

With three sides of each frame complete (the fourth being the rockers), it was time to notch in the seat. The back connection is literally a notch where the back of the seat sits inside (below), and the front connection is more of a lap joint, where each of the two pieces sort of grabs the other one.85 To cut the back notch, I created a jig for the router. The jig is essentially a guide that only allows the router bit to go where I wanted it to, and stops the router from moving beyond the joint, essentially by clamping or screwing other boards in the way. The fence rides along the boards sitting on top of the chair frame and then there are additional boards on top of those that act as a barrier. The spinning bit cuts the notch and you move the router within the selected area to be cut by hand.86

Since the router bit is round and the notches are square, they have to be chiseled out afterwards to square the corners. There seems to be a lot of this incongruity in joinery: round cuts, square joints. The good thing is that you wind up cutting the joint a little too small with the router and then adjusting little by little until it’s the right size to fit the piece that goes into it. Too small is always better than too big. You can’t put material back. 87Well, in some cases you can, but let’s not worry about that right now. In general, too small > too big.

Oh wait, did I say let’s not worry about that now? I think I jinxed myself by saying that. I wrote that yesterday and I should have known better, I mean been more superstitious. I repeated a similar process on the actual seat, where it will grab the legs–routing out a smaller chunk so I could chisel it to size afterwards–only I made the mistake of checking it against the leg/frame without the leg being connected to the armrest and back frame. As a result, the frame piece fits onto the seat, but now doesn’t fit perfectly into the armrest. I am mad. In hindsight, I should have glued up the frame first, and then cut the notches for the seat…in hindsight. So, now I’m left with a dilemma, do I slightly adjust the way the three frame pieces connect to one another or try to repair the joint that is off? Given that the frame pieces all fit together really well at this point, I’m inclined to try to repair the joint, but I will need a professional consultation before proceeding. I don’t meet with Mark until Tuesday, so I will get John’s opinion tomorrow and work on something else in the meantime. Stay tuned…

88


89
90 91 92

Advertisements

Back to the Grind

Thank God this isn’t a post about coffee. As it is I can barely stand the mawkish inanity. If you come up with a better title, please comment.

I’ve totally been neglecting the backrest and it was time to get to it. First, I bent a thin piece of wood over the board to create a shallow arc. I traced the arc and then made relief cuts up to the line of the arc with the bandsaw. I did this because the depth of the board might cause the blade to bind up otherwise. The relief cuts provide–you guessed it–relief to the tension on the blade. I then cut along the arc. I did this to both boards and then glued them up.

6263

 

 

 

 

 

When the glue was dry I started grinding down the backrest, just like I did to the seat, which I worked on a little more too. I alternated between grinding, sanding, and scraping, and the curve of the backrest officially began to take shape.

64656667686970 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The grinder is pretty intense and creates swirl-shaped scratches, and the sander and scraper started smoothing them down. While this is all work I need to do, I did it this week and not later on because I’ve been avoiding final-checking the frame so I can start cutting the joinery. Something was off measurement-wise and I couldn’t figure out what. Eventually I had to bite the bullet…aaaaaaand I figured it out…aaaaaaand it was pretty bad. Somehow my full-scale drawing from which I made my frame template pieces had the armrest about four inches shorter than on my mock-up! Seriously! I’ll give you a second. It’s a lot to process. Mind you, the mock-up is pretty comfortable and this is the information I need to follow most closely.

What this meant was that the seat wasn’t fitting in the frame as I’d planned and the armrest/seat relationship wasn’t as I’d planned. AND, it meant that if I adjusted anything to fix this, it either changed the length of the armrest or the angle of the backrest, you know, no big deal.

71I took apart my mock-up, thinking perhaps that changing the angle of the backrest might be the lesser of the two evils, but it wasn’t. It was very evil and I was totally freaking out. At this point, everything I did went terribly. The drill battery died, I stripped out a few screws, I made a small tear in my pants bigger, a board banged my knee really hard. I would have left the shop but I was waiting to talk to Mark and so I stayed on the crazy train until he came and talked me off the ledge. 72He is a calm presence and I’ve been grateful for this many times. After I explained the issue, which I’d been mulling over for over three hours, in about thirty seconds he suggested putting the mock-up back to how it was supposed to be, and then trying shortening the armrests. I did, and it wasn’t so bad. So, this is what I did next. I shortened the armrests an inch and a half. I recut the mortises and thinned the armrests down, and it really didn’t affect much at all, but it did solve my problem. The frame still isn’t exactly as I planned, but it’s much, much better. I am now finally able to move forward finishing up the armrest joints.

The rest of the week will be spent cutting the mortises and tenons on the other ends of the armrests and cutting the lap and dado joints that will hold the seat in place. I may lose sleep over this, so bear with me.

73





 

Dancing with Myself

I am realizing I need a day or two between what happens in the shop and posting about it. I need time to digest and figure out what it actually means in the grand scheme of things. If I came right home and wrote about my experiences, I think I might just seem mad all the time, or overly emotional about things. Most days in the shop involve feelings of starting anew, optimism, utter defeat, twinges of hope, resolve, triumph, despair, the list goes on. It’s all too jumbled up right when I leave, a tumbleweed.
4951 5052

53

54

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I tried clamping up all the pieces I have, which is great, because I’m able to see that it wilI, in fact, be a chair when all is said and done. However, this turned out not to be the best system for holding everything together. Any time I tried to adjust anything, the whole thing fell apart. In fact, one of the joints completely popped open. Now, this seems really odd since wood glue is really, really strong. Remember that one joint I took apart at the very end of the glue up when I realized it just wasn’t working? Well, it seems that even though I wiped out as much glue as I could, it wasn’t enough, and when I glued up the joint for real, the glue didn’t want to stick to itself. Needless to say, this wasn’t a great day. I walked away from the joint and decided to sharpen my scrapers instead. This is done by rubbing the sides back and forth on a whetstone until they’re really flat, then rubbing the top side on the stone to create a sharp right angle, and then creating a bur by passing a steel dowel over the top at an angle (not pictured). This went well, and I left feeling slightly less defeated.

The next day, after the joint disaster, I sanded and filed out the inside of the mortise and all over the tenon much more thoroughly. I needed to basically recreate the porous surface for the glue to stick to. I re-glued the joint and it hasn’t fallen apart yet, but we’ve still got plenty of time! I told Igor about this episode and my frustration with being able to hold everything together and he suggested just looking at the situation differently, which helped. I need to look at the challenges of working on my own as one of the constraints of the project. It’s a parameter I need to find solutions to just like any other.

In response to this constraint I built kind of an armature that I could clamp the pieces to, and after plugging away at this for a few hours Mark pointed out that I actually didn’t need to be doing this at all. I was building this thing so I could figure out exactly where each piece was going to meet each other piece, and the truth is that I have already done all the planning and mock-ups for this exact reason. I already have all this information. Sooooo, there goes a few hours I can’t get back, but also a lesson learned to trust the work I’ve already done. Another reason I built the armature was to avoid having to wok on the armrest joints. This is one of those critical steps I really don’t want to screw up, so if I don’t do it, I can definitely avoid this problem.

55

56

57

58

 

 

 

 

 

I always wear ear protection in the shop. The dust collector alone is incredibly loud and it’s much more pleasant with the sound drowned out. When I’m not using a machine I also put music on inside my ear protectors. As a result, I often realize I’ve been dancing by myself to music only I can hear. I talked with my coworker David today about how I’ve been lying awake at night mulling over joinery, my process schedule, and these critical moments like moving ahead with the armrest joints. He made a bed last semester in a short amount of time and I know he’s familiar with the feelings of anxiety I’ve been having, understanding that each new move being made could explode the whole project. He pointed out that when he took Mark’s class he noticed that Mark would say everything he was doing out loud. Obviously he’s doing this because he is teaching people, but perhaps it’s also a system of checks and balances. So, today, in addition to dancing by myself I began talking to myself (more deliberately than usual). I forged ahead and cut the armrest joints, and they work!

59

I learned today that if I leave immediately after accomplishing something successfully, my outlook is much better. Success?…I’m out.

60 61

D pulled me over and said “hide your gold. The girl is crafty like ice is cold.”

I’m not a thief, just conveniently both a lover of the Beastie Boys and a female craftsman (one of which I’m a veteran at). 38 Here’s what’s been happening on the ranch: I had a little repair work to do after those glue ups didn’t go exactly as planned. There are a few joints that don’t close up totally perfectly all the way through and so I filled those tiny gaps with a mixture of super glue and mahogany sawdust. 39A good woodworker will be able to spot this if she’s looking, but it’s pretty unlikely anyone else will notice this. Mark always says that being able to make repairs is also part of the craft and I’m learning more and more how large a part of the process it is (for me). This is not to say that there isn’t a point at which something should actually be done over again because it’s just not good enough, but that minor imperfections, which will always happen, can be toned down, hidden, or even played up depending on intention of the piece. I am also learning that superglue and sawdust look really gross when they dry on your finger.

After this, I moved on to the rockers, something I felt a little more confident about having done a couple successful mock ups a few weeks back. I cut 1/4″ strips on the table saw, kept them in the same order, spread glue in between each layer, and then bent them over this heavy-duty foam form. I started with the middle clamps and then worked my way out. I repeated with the second rocker.

40 41 42

43

 

 

 

 

 

And I’m now back in unfamiliar territory. I began the process of trimming down the legs, being careful to leave them long so I can still adjust as necessary as I start to assemble all the separate pieces together. There are two pieces on the back frame and two pieces on the front frame, and the pairs didn’t line up exactly once they went through the band saw separately, so I then took them to the belt sander, clamped together, to make sure the separate pieces in each pair are the same size and shape. In doing these steps, I trimmed down the extra material on the tenons I glued in last week, and most of the joints are looking better than I had feared.

44 45 46It’s now actually possible –if I stand way back–to see the whole piece taking shape in elevation.  48

The Soul of Struggle

photo 1photo 2My cousin Naomi is in Argentina and sent me these photos she took of trees in Ushuaia where the winds average eighty miles per hour–forming many of the glaciers in the region–and the soil is just inches thick. The trees look windblown but frozen in space at the same time, almost like, well, someone took a photograph. Here, the trees speak directly of their environment. You would know it’s windy there without my having told you. It’s obvious from the character of the trees. There’s something creepily human about them, like tortured souls whose feet are bound to the ground and yet they perpetually try to escape. Wood with a soul, I’m sure.

Churning, Crashing, Burning

Jad Abumrad talks about the early days of his now-rockin’ radio show Radiolab, speaking of the life-or-death feeling that comes with the creative process: that feeling that even if no one is paying attention to what you are doing (even if no one is reading your blog, for example), it is making or breaking your entire life in that moment. He describes it as the “radical uncertainty that you feel when you try to work without a template,” and recognizes “how crummy it feels to try to make something that’s new.”* Now, it doesn’t feel terrible all the time, but when it does, it’s important to recognize that it means that you are forging ahead. It feels terrible because you don’t know what you’re doing, but you’re figuring it out and continuing despite your setbacks.

Perhaps I am deliberately looking for validation that my failures are OK, but I feel like this talk by Abumrad as well as another article on anxiety and creativity found me at just the right time (thanks to Shota Yamaguchi and Dave McClinton). For Kierkegaard, anxiety arises as a product of staring the abyss of possibility in the face. It is an abyss we can fall into and fail to climb out of, or it is an abyss we fall into and swim in. The “dizzying effect of freedom” and “boundlessness of one’s existence”** can be stifling or can be generative. I am reluctant to say that my anxiety is generative, as it feels stifling, but I have completed zero projects without generous doses of it, so it is surely a part of my being able to produce.

I begin with this lesson as I had a good, easy experience followed by a harrowing failure. Here’s what happened:

22 24 23

With the help of this handy jig, I cut the mortises on the dado pack at 3/8″ thick. I had to turn the jig backwards in order for the boards fit centered over the blades, which required a little tinkering on John Vehko’s (our shop manager) part, and a little extra clamping for safety on my part. Remember when I had the pieces misaligned on my armrest mock-up? It’s OK–I do, and as a result I avoided this mistake this time. The mortise-cutting went smoothly and everything lines up perfectly. Small victory!

26252728

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next step was cutting tenons to the right thickness to hold the joint together and then figuring out how to hold together two pieces meeting end to end at an angle in order to glue them up.

29I planed down the tenons little by little until they squeezed right in to the mortises. Another success. Then I set to making jigs so that clamps would have two parallel planes to register to in order to hold the angled pieces together. I did this by measuring the angles of the pieces I want to join, and then cutting pieces for the jig at the complementary angle to make ninety degrees. The table saw blade tilts, which is very convenient. Once I wrapped my mind around how this needed to work, it went fairly easily.

30 3132

34 33

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Given how logical this whole process is and how according to plan it went, it seems like the glue up should go just as well, right? Wrong. From here on out, things took a dark and twisted turn. Even though I checked and checked and checked again, the mortises weren’t totally square. It truly baffles me as to how this might have happened, but it did.

3537

 

 

 

 

 

 

They were only a hair off, higher on one side than the other, but this is enough to mean that the joint won’t close up perfectly tightly. I was afraid if I cut them down on the miter saw again, they would still be off, since this is the tool I used to cut them in the first place, and I didn’t want to spend hours upon hours making jigs for the table saw since there are actually four different angles I would have to figure out, and I didn’t trust myself enough with a hand-plane to shave off just the right amount. So, I opted for a sanding block with 150-grit paper and I worked little by little to get the high side down.

36In the end, I somehow only made things worse (the image above with the square is after I put things further out of whack). I eventually had to suck it up and trim the mortises down again on the miter saw. This worked fine–not perfect–but better than it was before, and I just have to live with it. I wish I hadn’t wasted two hours attempting to fix things with a sanding block, but you live and learn, I guess. With everything more-or-less square, I did a test run on gluing the joint up with my new jigs and it went great, so I moved on to the real thing, which went horribly horribly wrong. The tenon was a little tight when it was dry, and once I applied glue inside the mortise, the wood swelled and I could barely get the tenon to go all the way in. I struggled and clamped and unclamped and squeezed and sweat and cursed, and finally, as the glue became less workable, I had to admit defeat and just take it apart. I was able to wipe the glue out. I moved on to a different joint with a looser tenon, which I thought would be better, but this time I wasn’t able to close the joint up all the way and I have no idea why and it was too late before I realized. I now have a small gap in a critical part of the chair that I will have to repair and hope that no one notices (though I suppose the cat is out of the bag!). I don’t have pictures because I was just too mad about it. This is life and death people! The end of the end! OK, so of course it’s not life and death, but it felt like it: the terrible jump into the abyss of possibility and the coming up for air only to find you’re still leagues under water.

I did what any reasonable woodworker would do. I went for some retail therapy and had a margarita.

I’m going back today with a clearer mind and a calmer demeanor, and hopefully this will amount to a full oxygen tank.

*Jad Abumrad, “Why ‘Gut Churn’ is an Essential Part of the Creative Porcess.” 99U. http://99u.com/videos/7278/jad-abumrad-why-gut-churn-is-an-essential-part-of-the-creative-process (accessed March 8, 2014).

**Maria Popova, “Kierkegaard on Anxiety and Creativity.” Brain Pickings. http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/06/19/kierkegaard-on-anxiety-and-creativity/ (accessed March 8, 2014).

The First Cut is the Deepest…

Unless, of course, I subsequently make some huge mistake on a later cut. Then that cut will be the deepest. That said, I took the plunge today and made the first cut on the frame pieces. I only cut the line at one end of each board where it will meet another board. Everything else I left as is, and will cut later on when the joints are done. I followed the lines I drew and used the miter saw. It is now possible to start getting a sense of the actual, real, in-the-flesh frame when the pieces are laid out on the table. I’ll have more on the frame when I start cutting all the joints, but I’m waiting for the dado saw to get fixed. The Sawstop got tripped and we’re waiting for new blades. Don’t worry, no one got any fingers cut and I wasn’t responsible. I’m frustrated about this though as it puts me at a bit of a standstill. Next week is spring break and the shop is closed and I’m very nervous about this period of inactivity.

1518192021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the meantime I did a mock-up of where the leg will meet the rocker. I want the joint to be faired and flare smoothly from the leg to the rocker. The only way to do this without cutting into the laminations themselves or risking chip-out on short grain on the legs is to add a few extra laminations to the particular spots where the legs meets the rockers and cut them down to size. They will connect with floating tenons. I cut the general shape on the band saw and then sanded the curves down smooth with the spindle sander.

1617

 

 

 

 

 

I feel like I’ve had an unproductive week, but Igor pointed out that I keep showing up to work and that counts for a lot. This week felt like “fake it ’til you make it.” I’m going to go do some power poses in the mirror now.