Thursday, November 26, 2009

quick and dirty

It's that time of year again, the holidays. If I can get ten minutes in the shop it's only through hard-won persuasion. "oh yea, the turkey needs to sit for a while" "the mashers will cook for at least twenty more minuets" and when I do get out the excuse is "they're Christmas presents"

But I did have at least one good project.
New chairs!
no wait...
I still have to plan them, build a mock-up, test the fit and feel, find the right wood...

Oh yea, there was one other thing I needed to do...
Two moves ago the dining-room table leaves disappeared. They are probably still mouldering away in the damp, rat infested basement of the Gingerbread House. So here we have eleven family members trekking to our cramped little home, and the table's only fifty inches long.
You know how this works.

"honey, I'm going to the lumber yard"

mmm, some nice oak will be perfect...
A couple swipes with the jointer and a painless glue-up, a pass or two with the smoother, and a quick matching edge molding with a shoulder plane and block plane. A matching apron with a small grove near the bottom, stick it on with the Kreg, a few holes with the bit and brace and some dowels, and here we go...

no wait...
something's not right here...
they don't line up with each other
oh crap..

well I got a little lesson in truing a panel, a few strokes with the jack plane and a pass or two with the jointer and flip it over on the table saw to parallel the other side. and bingo, there it is!
Since it's covered with a table cloth it really doesn't matter if the color is even close, but I'll be sitting there, running my fingers over the transition between the leaves and the original and I'll smile a little that I can't tell the difference.

Friday, October 2, 2009


well, not really done.

There's still a bit of work straightening the top (it's a bit wonkey from it's natural viewing angle, one I've not yet experienced till tonight (reminder: work from P.O.V.)) and some bits of finishing left to do. I decided to break from tradition (and Arielle's repeated advice against, and mount the handle beneath the drawer. I did spend the time to shape the handle, clever angles and curves to snag the fingertips, a quick pop and it slides open. I could not for the life of me mar the face of the drawer, it serves as a graphic panel, perfectly flowing with the other three.

and oh man, the color! The curly cherry never sits still, it glimmers and undulates like fire!
The piece of glass was purchased specifically for the table, titled Wave, it was created by Cleveland artist Michael J Mikula

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Timing really is everything. 

Don't believe me, look at every major point in your life, when something profound changed, and everything was different from that day forth.

Go on, take a minute to think about it.

So now you get it, just how important timing is.

When did you get into woodworking, when did you really know you would hasten down this path, spend all that money, invest all that time? Did timing have anything to do with it? In retrospect, everything has to do with timing, as if each moment happens and the results are already determined. 

I know, you think,  this has little bearing in woodworking, but wait there's more! It really does...

Imaging the timing that goes into a piece, if you have a nine to five or a business that you run, there's so little time for wood, but you find the time and treasure it, slave over a piece for just moments, sometimes get to indulge in a day. Hours at a time, honing the surface, stalking a fit. and then it's over.

Well if you are an optimist it's really only half over. Or, of course, you're one of those weirdo's who likes to caress the material before it's entombed, immortalized, in a mercy killing of odd chemicals. You have reached a point when you really are no longer necessary, it is what it is and it's time to let it go. That first application of finish.

Sure you've made a couple test pieces, slathered on a few candidates, picked by juried vote (you do have two halves to your brain, you know) the aesthetic and convenience you require most, but until this point you've not sullied the piece itself. It's then you see it, the oil picks up the chatoiance, light glimmers, your tools reflect in the pool, and OH GOD, the color. You knew it was there, you've planned for it, you've planed for it, you've scraped and pared, and there it is, and it's incredible, then it's gone, it's dull, the grain raises, the streaks happen, the glimmer fades, and you know it's at least another two or three weeks before that moment strikes again...

So back to timing...
it's always a good idea to time those last two or so weeks into a period when you can be there an hour or two at a stretch and have too many other distractions, so you don't drop hair and eyelashes and skin cells and saw dust into your slowly evolving finish.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

to the line

I've had a couple weeks away from the shop, torture to the involved. Concentration on the task at hand, frequently interrupted by thoughts of the piece. After 130 hours of serious labor (and serious addiction-fueling cash) I managed a couple days with my table.

In the interim others' blogs have been my vicarious woodshop pastime. I ran across this article (see if I can dig it up) that stressed cutting to the line, not just cutting , but chopping, planing, paring, etc. The fable here is obvious, if you always steer clear the line is never in reach, how can you progress without a little confidence. If you constantly work to the line, your work load is reduced, and your skill level increases. I spent the last two days to the line, and damn I made good lines. Not only does this technique force you to cut, pare, chop and plane with determination, it forces you to concentrate on the action of the tool itself (and of course,the making of the lines becomes obsession). Like driving (not like the schmoes who simply pilot their vehicles whilst gulping down heaping bowls of Captn' Crunch, or liberally applying stop-light-makovers) down a jam packed boulevard slicked with ice and crammed with Bentleys. You know this is your only shot to get it right, and by god you do. You'd be surprised how good you can get, fast! Sure cut a row of lipped, half blind dovetails in a compound angled front, then simply snore through the traditional and totally uninspiring ones in the back, it does make you pay attention so you don't screw up the ten hours you already spent on this piece of tree.

(I do wish to make a note here, the date is now ten minutes until March 6, 2010, and I realized I had the wrong approach: the front set of dovetails turned out muddy... look closely at what you are doing as you do it. CONSCIOUS DECISIONS HERE, FOLKS! The back set is extravagant! Major contrast, dramatic composition, the front, ehhh, not so much. Goes to show, trust the gut instinct!)

I'd bore you with the details of all the work I've done, all the joints I've finessed, all the unexpected twists and turns in the design, all the ego-stimulating, third world GNP priced tools I've used (but I will say, good tools really are worth it, REALLY!) all the times I've dry fit the piece, only to tap it all apart, remove a thousandth of an inch to make it fit better and stick it all back together, just to do it again (and this gets longer and more involved the further you get) the times I've just stood there looking stupid as a neighbor stuck their head in to see where the dog was (Mini just LOVES my woodshop, and she makes a great broom at only two inches off the ground) the meals I've missed, the aches I feel, because you already know these things. I'm not here to teach, or preach or write magazine articles, I just want those of you who have a loved one with this affliction to know what we feel, and for those of you who have it, to recognize, you're not alone.

So instead of a lecture, here's a series of (not necessarily in order) crappy, boring, low quality images from my Jesus-phone for you to fall asleep to.

By the way, anyone know what this joint is called, if not I got dibs!

-edit 10/8/09-
This morning I found a reference to this joint in the back of the Oct 08 Fine Woodworking, it's a Japanese mitered bridle joint named kane tsugi (right-angle corner) and here I thought I'd made up something new...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


There comes a time in every project that planning must make way for working, you just have to stop thinking so much and cut some tree.

After reviewing, revising, tweaking, reviewing, adjusting, compensating, measuring, critiquing, asking opinions of others who could really give a crap less, sleeping on it, reviewing, revising, tweakin.... you get the idea...I took tool in hand (a beautiful hundred plus year old Disston cross cut, and a brand new Lie-Nielsen rip cut) and started butchering.

Now you have to understand, I just started working wood maybe five years ago (seriously started working wood yesterday, and tomorrow I'll feel the same way) and this piece is daunting, many compound angles, lots of odd tennons, miters, slot dovetails, half blind dovetails, pegged blind mitered slip joints, and the dubious "attach a top to the whole damn thing" joints, and I would really rather get the most of the uncountable (unless of course you look at the account books) dollars of tools in my shop, and do the whole thing by hand. Fairly easy, with the right tools.

Of course, I don't yet have ALL the right tools... yet...

The bevels for joining the leg pieces were cut on the table saw, but as my better half said "you did buy those power tools too, you know"

However, there are jobs only a hand tool can do. Lie-Nielsen's Dovetail saw has been perfect for these tiny leg pieces. 80.3 degree compound miters and offset tennons on three by four pieces of walnut on the table saw are not the best insurance of coming out of this with all my digits intact. And to be honest, there's something rewarding in shaping a complex piece by hand, when the tools work exactly as expected, the layout lines are dead-on and the finish face reflects the time spent studying the grain and laying out the cuts accordingly. Even in the beginning I'm satisfied.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Where exactly an idea begins I cannot say, this particular one began with a slab of wood.

In the desperation for a new piece from the woodshop I reluctantly trudged to my local woodworking store to mosey down the isles for a piece of wood. There it was dirty, splotchy and saw-marked, but oh, so full of potential. Curly cherry can radiate waves of psychedelic euphoria if treated properly, and I could just see this slab unhindered, glinting in the sun in the front room. So several days behind the computer and one vast departure, then mild return to an old idea and I have the inklings of a vision. I like to work out the idea and joinery in the virtual world, long before even attempting it in the real. Sometimes stumbling blocks such as impossible joints alter the design in ways the aesthetic desire cannot.

So here's the fourth design and it's working well, curly cherry, maple and walnut. And I'm off to the shop to plane this top!

Monday, July 20, 2009

very first post

I know, this sounds corny, but this is the first. I've managed to fall into so many of modern technology's traps, rewarded at times, confounded at others. This is the result of a great many ponderings, mistakes and triumphs.
I must explain the title
Grain Damaged
it started as a play on words, a sand sculpture for the first ever Doubles World Championship of Sand Sculpture, my friend Brett Stocker and I were sponsored by BTO (yes the real Bachman Turner Overdrive) to enter the event, we did well.

The name was resurrected for the first Sand Blasters on the Travel Channel

 with teammate Kirk Rademaker

and again for the second and third season with now permanent teammate Suzanne Altamare.

The thing about Grain Damaged is that it at first referred simply to sand, but then I realized its potential in photography, thus my Flickr stream was born, now it takes on a new life yet again, wood has grain, right?
I'll do my best to keep this thing going, unlike Facebook or Twitter or even my own website, I'll post when I can, bore you at times, and hope you keep coming back for more.