Is It Cheating?

In the middle of a hand-cut dovetail-demo at a Lie-Nielsen Tool Event recently, I was asked if using a table saw to rough-out the waste would be “cheating”.  The short answer is “no”.  The long answer is “no” as well, but it’s longer for those who want to know why.

I’m obliged to say that there’s nothing wrong with power tools.  I have a whole shop full of them. But if you only use power tools, then you have to be willing to accept the aesthetic that power tools give you, because that’s all you are going to get.   You can go anywhere you want with hand tools, pursue any aesthetic you like, and chase your vision wherever you like.  But if all you use is hand tools, then you have to be willing to do the manual labor that power tools could have saved you.

As avocational woodworkers, we have an obligation, yes……….even a duty, to not mimic the “fast” crowd……the “get-it-done, time-is-money” crowd.  But we also need to “feel” and “be” productive, for whatever reason.  So how do we do that…………be fast like a machine but also impart a feeling that the result is a human result.

Well, for dovetails it’s really very simple.  I’ve seen woodworkers spend half-an-hour laying out the tails for a dovetail joint.  They have their templets, their formulas, their dividers, etc.  Why?  So they can hand-cut a joint that looks like it was cut by a machine?  If you lay them out precisely, and cut them precisely, then they are going to look precise, and that’s a machine-cut look.  It’s the same look we get from routers, dovetail table-saw blades, and handsaw guides.  Would the aesthetics be compromised by cutting the tails on a band saw?  Not if you aren’t trying to follow a bunch of lines that were drawn following someone else’s concept of what a stand-alone dovetail should look like.

If It does not affect the aesthetics, I use a power tool if one is available.  But the spacing and the angles on a dovetail joint very definitely affect the project aesthetics, so I let my eye be the spacing-and-angle guide……….no templates and calipers required.  Then I’m free to make the joinery part of the overall look-and-feel instead of a stand-alone pattern that fails to integrate.

So, would using a table saw to rough out the waste be cheating?  Nope.  If it doesn’t affect the aesthetics, then get it done as quickly and precisely as you can, using anything and everything at your disposal.   Having said that, I find that removing the majority of the waste with a coping saw and then chopping down to the shoulder line is faster than using a table saw, but so what.  If you’re going to be looking at it for 30 years, who is going to care then how long it took you to remove the waste?

Stay tuned,

Kevin Glen-Drake

Cottage Toolmakers

“Cottage industry” is by some definitions a business that is conducted in the home, usually on a part-time basis.   Some employ only the owner.  Others build a pyramid of independent artisans, each working in their own abode.  But in all cases, the artisan is crafting something that they are attached to through an intimate understanding of how what-they-are-making will be used.  AND, they are not reluctant to put their name on it.

At what point a cottage industry becomes something else isn’t really clear to me, but one thing I’m sure of is that when makers and users are mutually exclusive, it’s the craft that suffers.  At some point during the manufacturing process, someone who actually uses what’s being made has to be the final arbiter.  Around here……..that’s me.

I think of the Glen-Drake Toolworks as a cottage industry.  Although I started it in my home (another reason I’m single), it quickly outgrew the garage and more than half the house.  It is currently housed in a commercial building, but I resist letting it morph into something that requires multiple levels of management.  To my way of thinking, it is still a cottage industry.  It still requires that I be deeply involved with every aspect of the business.  It could not function however without outside support, and part of my job is to make sure that our vendors provide materials that will satisfy the level of quality that I demand.

I could name several cottage toolmakers that fit this scenario.  Each one of them is responsible for the tools their company makes, from design to delivery.  Most of us will answer the phone, make sure orders get shipped, and take an active role in resolving difficulties.  We sell direct, but we also sell through selected retail outlets.  Some toolmakers will sell through anyone who will write a check.  I think that’s a mistake.  Many of these “marketeers” offer deep discounts, mostly on imports.   America’s price-shopping robots lap them up and then expect everything to be discounted.

I am constantly asked for discounts by schools, students, seniors, guild members, union members, teachers, veterans, and the list goes on.  My standard answer is that we think everyone is special.  I would have to raise prices to offer discounts, and I don’t want to do that.

“Do you have any show specials” gets asked a lot at the tool events we do.  I think that what it costs to get there and stay there and transport our wares there so that people can try-before-they-buy is pretty special.  So my answer to that question gets a little flippant at times.  I had a customer once who said, after asking for an “out-the-door” price, “If you want to be competitive you have to discount”.  I gave them the owner’s personal phone number, but they still haven’t called.

The discount game is a hole in the ground where you put your time.  But there’s a bigger problem with discounts than just being a waste of time.  Discounting is price competition.  It changes where people buy, but it doesn’t generate more sales………it just rearranges them.  There must be a class in every business school that teaches you how many ways there are to say “save”.  The problem with saving is that price competition morphs into cost competition, and cutting costs more often than not degrades the quality.

We also get asked for donations for one thing or another.  I will occasionally acquiesce to one of these requests, but we can’t be making contributions all the time and stay in business.  We are not General Motors.  The government is not going to bail us out.

I also run into people who ask business questions.  Questions like “How long does it take to make one of these”?  And there are other, more leading questions.  I say “I don’t know” a lot, because I don’t.  We do not have a cost accounting department.  In fact we don’t have an accounting department at all.  There’s also no marketing, purchasing, or production department.  We just wear different hats for those jobs.  If you are considering making tools, then I applaud you, and I will help any way I can, but don’t expect to get much out of our annual report, because there isn’t one.

I also frequently get asked when I am going to retire.  My answer to that is “If I retired, I would go start a tool company, and I already have one.  So what’s the point?”

Stay tuned,

Kevin Glen-Drake

It’s Just a Tool

I had an employee recently who, when I criticized his work, said “Don’t worry about it.  It’s just a tool”.  That employee came highly recommended.  “He’s a nice guy” was used numerous times by his supporters as a recommendation.    Well,…………a healthy relationship with people is a good thing, but there are all kinds of relationships.

As woodworkers, we need to build relationships with:

  • People
  • Wood
  • Tools
  • Design, and
  • Technique

I don’t understand “It’s just a tool”.  Tools enable us to do the things we do.  The results we get are due in a large part to the tools we use and how we use them, and I will take that one step further.  When we put ourselves into our tools, i.e. build a relationship with our tools,  then what we put into our tools gets added to everything we make…….every time.

If you are familiar with the work of James Krenov, then know that his relationship with tools is clearly visible in his work.  And anyone who thinks that they are making something Krenovian without a healthy relationship with hand tools just doesn’t know what Krenovian means.

I really do get rather fed up with the arguments for “traditional” solutions.  Most of the time the “traditionalists” are devotees of the tools and techniques that derived from the industrial revolution and not from what was practiced for the centuries before.   Prior to mass production artisans made and maintained their own tools.  They had to.  There was no Stanley, no Disstan, and no mail order.  Yet you have to marvel at what was made with those tools.

Am I suggesting that everyone should make all of the tools they use to practice their craft?  No.  Developing a relationship with tools doesn’t mean that we have to make them, although if we CAN make some of the tools we use, then that would be a tool-relationship booster.  Krenov made his own hand planes, knives, and other shaping tools.  He wasn’t into tool-making per se, but his books are full of references to his tools.  He is probably best noted for his hand planes, and plane making in the Krenovian style has become a popular class at some of America’s woodworking schools, both private and public.  If you would like to make a hand plane and are not quite sure how to go about it, then you could start with one of Ron Hock’s plane kits and take it from there.

It’s also relatively simple to make knives and other edge tools from materials on hand.  There’s a plethora of information on the internet about how to make a knife from an old file for example.   If you really want to walk the walk, then I teach a saw-making and maintenance class from time-to-time that might be of interest to you. The percentage of woodworkers that think that they can not or don’t need to sharpen their saws is astounding.  How can you have a relationship with a dull tool?   A dull saw will not go where you want it to go which is the primary reason we see so many articles on how to saw outside the line and pare down to make something fit.  If our chisels were as dull as our saws, then paring to fit wouldn’t work either.

Do we have to have the most expensive tools to have a relationship with tools?  No.  If I had a soul (it’s been parted out) I’d sell it for a Porsche………..or one of Konrad Sauer’s infill planes.  But I have to pass.  That doesn’t mean however that I can’t have a relationship with tools, and one of the best ways to build a relationship with tools is by keeping them tuned up and ready to go so that we don’t have to sweat, strain, force and swear when we use them.

I doubt that you are in agreement with my former employee, but if you are, then please, consider the words of Kahlil Gibran on the subject of work:

“Work is love made visible.

And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.

For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.

And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distills a poison in the wine.

And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night. “

Stay tuned,

Kevin Glen-Drake

If I only had the right tool

My journey as a toolmaker began with my father’s favorite lament……..”If I only had the right tool”.  Not having the right tool frequently led to additional laments, most of which involved expletives, not to mention the residual blood and angst.

His workarounds were legion.  A motor with an old saw blade attached and poked through the top of a dilapidated bench in the basement was his answer to the chainsaw massacre.  How he managed to die with all of his limbs attached remains a mystery to me.  For that matter so does my childhood survival.  When my father was “working”, my station in the basement, by decree and by choice, was behind the furnace.  My job was to get my mother if he couldn’t control the bleeding.

There was also a sort of “grinder” attached to the bench…….”I don’t need no stinkin tool rest”.  I dove for cover the day he dropped a grinding wheel and mounted it with only the label holding it together.  Before I could finish my…..uh….lament, the power was applied and the wheel immediately shattered into at least a dozen pieces, hitting the bench, the wall, and the ceiling, but not him.  Being dragged to church by my mother must have done us both some good.

He survived to demonstrate how to use gasoline to clean cement off of tile while smoking a cigarette, and remove an old bathtub with a sledge hammer, leaving a space smaller than the new tub.  That actually worked out because what everyone else wanted was a shower.

But my father had a can-do attitude about everything and a zest for life that was magic.  There didn’t seem to be anything he wouldn’t try, at least once.  And take something to someone else for repair?,…… be serious.  Before you do that you need to be sure it’s REALLY broken.  (No need to replace something if the label’s still attached.)

The root of my dysfunction is clear.  I wouldn’t be doing what I do if it weren’t for my father.  He was not the sharpest tack in the box, but I was lucky to have him, and I like to think that if he were alive today, I could provide him with at least some of the right tools.

Stay tuned,

Kevin Glen-Drake

Practice Makes Perfect

I don’t know how many recovering musicians turn to woodworking, but when they do they are typically pretty good at it.  I think the reason for that is that they understand the concept of practice.  You don’t just buy an instrument and invite your friends over that afternoon to hear you play.  It’s not like a radio.  You don’t just turn one on.  You have to practice, and practice, and practice.  And yes, the practice goes on even after one becomes proficient enough to earn a living as a musician.  Musicians aren’t alone in this.  Other disciplines instill the concept of practice as well.

We are all familiar with the concept of learning.  But practice is different from learning.  Practice is applying what we know over and over again until both our minds and our bodies understand it.  That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t perform until we are the world’s best at what we do.  I had a music teacher once who said “When you have to perform, get the sound out any way you can, but when you practice, practice what I give you to practice.  The more you practice the more your practice will creep into your performance.”  He was right, and that sage bit of advice also applies to woodworking.

Of course practice doesn’t always produce the desired results.  There’s something called technique as well, so knowing what and how to practice is also germane.   If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, then you know I am opposed to joining the fast-race.  We get good by practicing good, not fast.  If we are going to be looking at something for 30 years, no one is going to care then how long it took to make it.

Garages are full of barely-used tools that were purchased when someone wanted to make something.  They bought the tools and materials, plugged them in, and what they made was a mess.  The part they left out was the practice.  American woodworking schools tend to be project oriented.  Partly that’s to keep the doors open because Americans tend to focus on results rather than process.  The trick is to design a class that instills technique while making something.  It’s hard to do.  Showing someone how to make something and having them make it are two different things.  Returning to the music analogy, band camp isn’t going to do you any good if you can’t play your instrument.

Here’s my advice.  If you are new to woodworking or you just feel like you are struggling, find a good teacher.  Practice what they give you to practice.  A good teacher will be aware of your skill level and set you up to take the next step.  Then you have to practice.  You can’t learn to play an instrument all at once, and Beethoven is not the place to start.  When I teach turning for example, the weekly lesson lasts for a couple of hours. The only thing we make for several weeks is shavings.  If the student comes back without practicing, we do a refresher lesson and try again.  After that, if it’s no practice, then it’s no lesson.

Workshops and classes can be both productive and fun.  But they won’t be either if you are looking for instant gratification, which admittedly is the direction the world has been moving lately.  Woodworking can provide a respite from our digital scramble but only if we practice the process.  I’ve said it before, but here it is again.  Projects do not expand our skill levels because we are never willing to place our projects at risk.  The best way to get better is by being willing to burn the results.

So find a good teacher, make a burn-box, and fill it up.

Stay tuned,

Kevin Glen-Drake

Mindfulness (Shop Radios)

This post is most likely not going to win me any new friends, but maybe, just maybe it will help prevent one of those “accidents” that can change a life forever, and that’s reason enough to do it …………….so here goes.

Have you ever driven somewhere and realized when you got there that you don’t remember the drive?  We’ve all done it.  It means we weren’t consciously driving.  We were engrossed in thought about something totally unrelated to driving.  Scary……isn’t it……the damage we could have done while we weren’t driving.  The car is a metaphor of course.  What I am really talking about is woodworking tools.  They are dangerous enough.  We don’t need to encourage them by succumbing to unconscious movement when sound overtakes us.

Our ears hear for us, whether we want them to or not.   Sound can invade our conscious awareness at any time.  It can grab our attention long enough for us to not see something, not feel something, or not hear something else.

I’ve seen people use machines while they move to the rhythm that’s vibrating their ear buds.  Those people are near the top of Darwin’s future-awards list.  The upside is that when they’re in the shop, they’re not on the road.

Then there’s the radio headset.  Now you can be dangerous to yourself and those around you anytime, anywhere.   Oh, and thanks to all those tool companies that make construction-site radios.  There’s nothing quite like waking up to one.  Roofing crews are the worst.  They work outside so they just play their truck radio.  They’re on the roof on the far side of the house, so the radio gets played for everyone in the county.  Darwin loves roofers.

The sound of someone working has never bothered me.  But I’m willing to go to the wall to get away from radios while I work.  If you know me, then you may have heard me say, “If you have to be entertained while you work, then maybe you should be doing something else.”  There’s more than one reason behind that snark.

Reason 1:  You can’t do two things at once as well as you do one thing, e.g. run a machine and/or listen to music.  Yes, there is something called multitasking, and a lot of people insist that they are very good at it, but there are more than enough studies to prove that multitasking is not as productive as single focus.

Reason 2:  Background noise obfuscates the sounds that we need to be totally hearing. Machines and hand tools can make happy, efficient sounds, and they can make inefficient, unhappy sounds that clearly indicate a problem. Continuing to overload a machine or use a dull smoothing plane can have costly consequences.  Sound can indicate a problem long before smoke and tear-out.

Reason 3:  This one’s for all you traditionalists.  Early woodworkers didn’t have radios.  Nuff said.

What about ear protection?  YES!  We have to protect our ears.  I’m not talking about muffled sound here.  I’m talking about muffled hearing.  That’s when the sound overrides our focus and we start grooving on auto-pilot.  You can still hear a wayward machine through earplugs, and for hand tools, you don’t need any.

Okay, here are some arguments in favor of shop radios:

Argument 1:  The radio keeps me sane.

Really?  That’s a false dilemma.  Have a radio or go insane can’t be the only choices.  Maybe more focus on work can save your sanity.  Just sayin.

Argument 2:  I really enjoy listening to music while I work.

Fine……………….Be a musician.

Argument 3:  I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve never had a problem.

You’re right.  Never is a long time.

Argument 4:  I have a SawStop.

Stay tuned,

Kevin Glen-Drake

Design Tools

The three aspects of furniture design are:

  1. Function,
  2. Esthetics, and
  3. Structure.

Function is easy.  (Nothing fulfills the function of a table quite like a table.)

Once the function of a piece has been identified, the esthetics and structure are determined by an iterative process that involves some or all of the following as they relate to woodworking:

  • Research:  The process of identifying and understanding the elements of a given style.
  • Sketch:  A free-hand, non-dimensioned rendering of a project.  It’s usually the tool of choice for brain drought.
  • Drawing:  A dimensioned, full-sized or scaled rendering of a project or part of a project typically used to clarify and archive.
  • Model:  A less than full-sized, non-structural and non-functioning simulation of a project made from materials at hand.  Models are typically used as a prelude to a mockup or to gauge esthetics when a mockup is impractical.
  • Mockup:  A full-sized, non-structural, and non-functioning simulation of a project made from materials at hand.  Mockups are typically used to gauge size, visual weight, and esthetic appeal.
  • Moquette (French):  A scaled simulation of a project made from project materials.  It may have functional parts but its considered non-structural, mostly due to it’s scale.
  • Prototype:  A full-sized, structural and functional simulation of a project or part of a project made from sound, but not necessarily project, materials.

Case Study

Kevin's Project #2:BESTWhen I was a student at the College of the Redwoods (CR), my first project was a box inspired by the Green Brothers, the early 20th century architects.  I had been familiar with the Green and Green style for some time, so I began my design by making a few sketches.

We were encouraged to move directly from sketches to mockups, so I sat about with some cardboard, scissors, and crayons to render my vision, albeit at less than what I thought was going to be its finished size.  By the definitions above, I was really making a model.  After a few people eyeballed the results and said “it’s a nice size”, I started saying “thank you”, and my model magically morphed into a mockup.

Next came prototyping.  The box presented some complex-joinery problems like lining up dowels with some x-y-z slots.  The mockup did not solve those problems, so I worked them out to the point where one of the instructors said, “You don’t want to build it twice”, meaning that maybe I should get started on the real thing.  My brain quoted J. Krishnamurti (To seek immediate results is to preclude the possibility of complete understanding.), and I forged ahead.

By the time I started shaping my precious wood there were no more mysteries.  There was plenty of angst however.  The project-wood was limited. There was no room for error, no room for tear-out, and no room for changing my mind about anything.  A problem of any kind could trigger a restart with different wood.

Mocking up and prototyping before starting the project allowed me to focus on the building.  I still have the box and the scraps that were left over.  The scraps are secured by a single rubber band.  There aren’t even enough to start a decent fire.

All I had to do was please myself which is why I didn’t need a moquette to make things clear.  I had the vision in my head, but Heather Trosdahl, another CR graduate, routinely uses moquettes as presentation tools for her clients.  Trosdahl maintains a shop in Berkeley, CA, <heathertrosdahl.com>.  She says that “Moquettes sell projects much better than drawings.   Plus they help build excitement.  They are easy to make and easy to transport, and the cost of materials is negligible.”

The bottom line of course is that design is an art.  In the end it is the designer that makes the difference.  The tools I have delineated here are just that,………tools.

The tool that some of you may think is missing here is the computer.  But I don’t think of the computer as being a design tool.  Computers are an implementation tool.  They can be used in numerous ways to facilitate and sell a design, but there’s still a lot to learn from good old-fashioned cardboard.

Stay tuned,

Kevin Glen Drake

Knockoffs

I design, make, and sell tools for a living.  Running the business is the least favorite part for me, and I would gladly turn that task over to someone else if I thought they would count something besides money to measure success.

We can blame China or some other country for the loss of American jobs, but the truth is that what has driven jobs overseas is our own preoccupation with money.  America’s price-shopping robots couldn’t care less where something is made or how long it will last.  Their only concern is price.  What they don’t understand is that businesses will fail if they can’t cover costs.  Price competition quickly morphs into cost competition.  Lower costs mean lower quality.  It’s a vicious cycle that impacts the quality of life for everyone.

Fortunately for woodworkers, America’s cottage-toolmakers are helping save woodworking tools from being bean-counted to death.  It’s not easy.  The bean-counters are always lurking, waiting to strike at anything that promises short-term profit from producing knockoffs abroad.  What was once a successful product can quickly become a liability when the market turns to cheap knockoffs.

The knockoffs can be alluring.  They can look virtually the same, especially in a catalog or on a web site.  A customer of mine called awhile back and said “I have two of your hammers, and they are both broken.”  I immediately said that he should send them to me so that I could repair them and do a quality-control analysis.  When I got them I was relieved to see that they were not made by me.  It turns out that he had purchased Chinese-made versions of my tools from a store that was part of a national chain (you know the one), and, according to my customer, he was told that they were made by Glen-Drake even though my name was not on them.  The similarities were convincing.  The Chinese versions even had the numbers I assigned engraved on the heads.  Maybe the imitators think that those numbers are some kind of a standard for hammers.  Or could it be that they think the numbers might help convince people that the hammers are in fact made by Glen-Drake?

An imitator of one of my tools even used my tool for the front photo on their packaging.  Now that’s just rude.  But here’s the real problem.  Imitators don’t need to be creative.  They don’t need to identify a problem.  They don’t need to design a solution to a problem.  They don’t need to build and test prototypes.  They don’t need to determine and assemble the best materials to deliver a product that will stand the test of time.  All they need to do is send something overseas to be copied, and that’s a callous and insidious form of theft.

If someone walks into my office and steals my wallet, the police will be all over them.  But if they make cheap knockoffs of the tools I make, then I have to hire a lawyer to make them stop, which is about all I can expect.  Then someone else will do it, and I have to go through the whole process again.   Cottage toolmakers can’t afford to pursue the knockoff makers, even if that’s the way we want to spend our lives, and it’s not.  Do the thieves know this?  You bet they do.  Criminal audacity is astounding.

Admittedly, some buyers are simply not informed, but the real problem is that people who knowingly purchase counterfeits don’t consider the long run effects of their actions.  Those long run effects include the demise of the business that designed the original tools.  Every time we buy a counterfeit we are encouraging theft and making it harder and harder for the legitimate developer to continue developing.  When the developer-business fails, all we are left with is a choice between cheap and cheaper.

You can purchase our tools from us or from from one of our dealers.  See a list of our dealers by clicking here.  We do not sell through anyone that also sells knockoffs of our tool designs.  Some of our tools, hammers for example, are only sold directly through us.  And, as you may already know, we participate in many of the Lie-Nielsen tool events around the country.  See a list of our upcoming events by clicking here, and see a list of all of the Lie-Nielsen tool events by clicking here.  Please join us at one of these events to try our tools so you can make informed-buying decisions.  Our guarantee is for the life of our business (double entendre intended).

Stay tuned.

Kevin Glen-Drake

Power Tools or Hand Tools?

Someone was trying to prove their worth awhile back by publishing an article on a “Krenovian” cabinet they had made.  Having been a student at the College of the Redwoods while James Krenov was teaching there, all I could do was try to control the retching.  The photos revealed a cabinet that was further away from Krenovian than the earth is from the sun.  The author of the article gave full credit to Krenov for the project design and the inspiration to build it.  He should be glad however that Krenov was not alive to see the results.  Krenov was at his best when someone was trashing his work and using his name to do it.

The difference between Krenov and his imitator couldn’t be clearer.  Krenov had nothing against power tools.  He used them as much as anybody, but when he finished with the power tools he was just beginning.  When his imitator finished with the power tools, he was done.

The difference between using a power tool and using a hand tool is like the difference between playing the radio and playing an instrument.  The radio is easy.  A monkey can throw a switch.  The instrument takes practice, and Krenov was a virtuoso.

I can’t tell you how many people have said to me “I’ll do some woodworking when I get a shop”, or “I’m building my shop and getting it outfitted”, or “What kind of a table saw, band saw, jointer, shaper, etc. do you recommend”?  Where does all of this space and power-tool envy come from anyway?

Well,….uhhh……………..have you ever been to one of those furniture-manufacturing shows, the ones with the barn-sized machines that pick up a piece of MDF and cut 8 faux frame-and-panel doors at once?  There’s something there for everyone.  I went once and was astounded to see a line a quarter of a mile long to get your picture taken with a TV personality that hosted a woodworking show that featured a power tool for everything.  Need a dado?  Just install your dado blade and throw the switch on your table saw.  Need something nailed?  Just charge up your compressor and pull the trigger on your brad nailer.  Couldn’t be easier.  And easy is what…….we……..want.

The problem here is that “easy” rhymes with “cheesy”.  We’re so used to it though that we not only acquiesce to it, but we go out of our way and spend tons of money to get it.  What’s driving this insanity?…………………Could it be advertising?

Could it be that woodworking periodicals present their projects from a power-tool perspective because the big advertising money comes from power-tool companies?  Are we being led to believe that we can’t do anything with anything that doesn’t have a switch?  What’s happened to us?  Has instant gratification crept into our crypt?

If you really want to do some woodworking, here’s what you need:

  1. Something that functions as a bench.  That could be a real woodworking bench with a vise, or it could be the kitchen counter with some clamps.  I recommend Chris Scharz’s workbench books for making, tweaking, or simulating a bench.
  2. A few hand tools, including a joinery saw, a few chisels, and a couple of hand planes.  Don’t cheap-out here.  It’s better to get good used ones than cheap new ones.
  3. Some guidance.  You can get that from a friend, a local guild, or a community college hand-tool class.  Steer clear of most store-sponsored classes…………they do it for a reason, and it’s not education.
  4. Wood.  I have a friend who only uses pallet wood.  I think he’s nuts, but it works for him.  There’s plenty of other sources for wood.  Just keep your eyes open.

That’s it.  The only switch you need is the one that turns on the light (triple entendre intended).

Stay tuned.

Sparkle

Americans are addicted to sparkle. We wear gold and silver jewelry, piles of makeup, the latest fashions, and on and on. How we think we look extends to our homes, our cars, and yes, our furniture. Societies that eschew sparkle wither and die, e.g. Shakers, but their creations live on as a reminder, for those who care to look, of the simplicity of “form follows function.”

When I was a student at the College of the Redwoods, James Krenov made a cabinet that I thought was not going to work. When it was finished, it not only worked, but I thought it was breath-taking. He used walnut (slightly pitch-burled) on the outside and tanoak on the inside, both local woods. Krenov’s reputation could have gotten him any wood he wanted, but he chose local.

It’s no secret how The College of the Redwoods got its name. The trees here, the ones that did not succumb to corporate greed, are spectacular. And had they been reserved for local use, this area would be one of the wonders of the world, not that we don’t see enough tourists as it is. But the old-growth redwood trees that were felled for local use barely tipped the scales compared to the boatloads that went elsewhere. It was just one more case of trying to supply the world with a local resource. Old-growth redwood can now be added to New Jersey swamp cedar, Cuban mahogany, Port Orford cedar, et al. They were all mined for short-term profit. Considering how long it takes to make a tree, I doubt that anyone was thinking long-term. If they were, they would have stopped the slaughter. The fact that there are any examples left speaks not to a conscience, but to the practicality of maintaining an industry for what was left. That these industries created jobs is a lame argument. Those jobs are gone. Why? Because society acted unsustainably.

I’ve heard all kinds of arguments regarding the use of exotic woods for furniture. I think they all boil down to attempts to impress. Africans used ebony for railroad ties. Americans fall all over themselves to get snippets of it. To the Africans it’s common- place. To us it’s exotic. The grass, it seems, is always greener elsewhere. We covet European benches, Japanese tools, and wood from all over the world. And why do we want it? Isn’t what we have enough? Do we not think ourselves capable of creating with our own treasures? Are we looking for an edge to be special? Do we think ourselves so inept that we need wood that is common-place elsewhere to make our creations presentable?

Yes, it’s prudent to select the best wood for the job, and using exotic wood from a sustainable source is fine if you can’t help yourself, but we can no longer just blindly tackle trees because we can. When the trees are gone, they are gone, and one lame justification after another is not going to bring them back.

It’s time to sparkle on our own.

Stay tuned.

Kevin Glen-Drake