A Field Trip

132I sit in on a class called “Timber Technologies” and this week we went to Delta Millworks here in Austin to learn about Shuo Sugi Ban, a Japanese method of burning wood to make it more resistant to rot and insects. Oh, and they just so happen to have a tenant in their space named Aldo Bohm who built this amazing canoe. It’s made entirely of scrap material (mostly longleaf pine, and some mesquite) and the strips are only a quarter inch thick. I would have taken a photo of the whole thing except that it was surrounded by architecture students (not that they’re not attractive enough, but it takes away from the majesty of the piece itself).

Anyway, Delta specializes in reclaimed lumber and Shuo Sugi Ban. They gave us a little demo of how they char the wood on the outside and then seal it. 133This job seems like every little boy’s dream–burning stuff. None of the burnt wood is structural. It’s primarily used as siding and flooring and it looks really cool. 

I also had to get some of my own work done this week. I trimmed off the excess lamination material on the rockers. It seemed simple enough to just run it through the band saw and then sand it down, but it didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t be able to get the band saw into the inside of the frame (duh), so I had to cut those ends by hand with the Japanese saw. Lots of Japanese methods happening this week apparently. After they were cut down close to size, I used the spindle sander to get the curves smoothed out and the transition from leg to rocker flush. I’m generally pretty happy with how they turned out, except I cut into one of them a little too deep and now I have to fill it (I made the mistake by hand, not with a machine. Remember David Pye’s idea of the workmanship of risk? Yep).
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Next up was fixing the joint that opened by running dowels through the tenon. I bought a half-inch, mahogany dowel from Woodcraft and used the drill press with a half-inch forstner bit. The drill press makes sure the bit goes in straight, and also allows you to control the depth of the cut. The nice thing about using two things that you know are a half inch in diameter from the beginning is that you know they will fit together well. I put glue in the holes as well as on the dowel, banged them in with a mallet, and left them to dry.

Since the next order of business is re-cutting the joints on the seat so that they properly grab on to the joints on the leg frames, I sharpened my chisel.

This is done by touching it to the grinding wheel. Sparks fly when you do this, which makes it seem like you’re doing something really hardcore. After the wheel you rub it on the whetstones, like when sharpening a scraper. You go from coarse to fine. A sharp chisel will shave off your arm hair. That’s how I determine it’s ready to use–a quick arm shaving.

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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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.