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.

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.
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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.

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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!

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

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