Work Badly Made

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“(W)ork badly made is always too expensive.”

— A.-J. Roubo, “l’Art du menuisier”

I’m finishing up the editing on “To Make as Perfectly as Possible: Roubo on Furniture.” On Wednesday it goes back tot he translation team to review our edits. Then to the printer. We are shooting for a November 2016 release of the standard edition. (Details on a deluxe edition to come.)

Posted in To Make as Perfectly as Possible, Roubo Translation, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Shortcuts to Good Design

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It’s in Chinnery. A staked backstool shown on page 77 of Victor Chinnery’s “Oak Furniture: The British Tradition” (Antique Collectors’ Club, 1979).

This is an excerpt from “The Anarchist’s Design Book” by Christopher Schwarz.

All of the pieces in this book were designed using dirt-simple techniques that rely on photos of old furniture, a pencil, scraps of wood and wire clothes hangers.

The method allows you to stand on the shoulders of successful designs and alter them to fit a particular space in your home, to remove ornament or to even change the purpose of the piece (you can turn a stool into a desk).

It begins with finding a piece of furniture with an attractive form or, as I like to say, “good bones.” It doesn’t matter in what style or period the piece was built. What matters is that the piece’s proportions and lines hit you in the gut.

The chair and backstool in this book both began with a piece from Victor Chinnery’s classic “Oak Furniture: Fine British Tradition.” I liked the rake of the legs, the four evenly spaced spindles and the smallish crest rail.

But there’s a problem when starting with a photograph. As a photographer friend says, “Photos are lying bitches.” Well-designed furniture looks good from almost every angle, and a photo shows only one view-point. The solution is to make a quick digital model or small mock-up.

To do this, you need some dimensions. I use a pair of dividers and a ruler to work these out. For example, I knew that the seat of the back-stool in Chinnery was about 14″ from the floor. That allowed me to figure out the width of the seat and the other relevant dimensions. Some dimensions, such as the depth of the seat, I guessed at using ranges from “Human Dimension & Interior Space.”

If I’m building a case piece, I then make a quick 3D model in a computer-aided design (CAD) program. No joinery. No details. Just boxes that reflect the mass and major components of the piece. Then I rotate the piece and look at it from all angles to see if the photo was lying.

‘Modeling’  Projects in ‘Wireframe’
Modeling chairs or any staked piece in CAD, however, is stupid. OK, “stupid” is a strong word. It’s much faster to make a half-scale model using scraps and wire.

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Fix you. Just like in nature, the answer was to help the model stand up a little more straight. In a chair, I usually make changes in 3° increments or so. But because this chair looked splayed like a squashed spider, I changed the angle by 5°.

I epoxy the wire legs into the plank seat and bend them into position with pliers. As you’ll see in the next section on staked furniture, this modeling process will also solve the geometry problems for you when building the piece.

Then I put the model on a table and walk all around it. I bend and snip the wire legs until the piece hits me in the gut the same way the original photograph did.

At this point I’ll do one of two things: If I have the time, I build a quick full-size prototype from junk wood. This allows me to work out some of the joinery and construction problems that I might not have anticipated.

If I’m in a hurry, I take a picture of my wire model, print it out and draw on the printout. I might add bulk to the legs, scalpel bulk from the seat, add spindles and other details.

Then I head to the shop and build what I pretty much know is something that will work.

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Run Forrest. The 5° alteration changed the stance significantly. Viewed from the rear and the front, the chair looks more like a bird dog in the field.

If this process sounds arduous, you might not be ready to design your own pieces of furniture. Stick to plans – there’s no shame in that.

Design, like anything in woodwork, takes a little effort. I’ve never met anyone who can design a piece using pure inspiration and nail it on the first try. The process outlined above, however, is the shortest distance I’ve found between desire and satisfaction.

Meghan Bates

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A Scenic View of the Forum

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It is not an early morning forum update like it usually is, but it is written from the most scenic viewpoint so far. Instead of my office I am sitting in beautiful Turkey Run State Park in Indiana. After an exhausting morning of hiking it feels great to sit back, relax and write the update. (Especially when it is quiet because your husband has the toddler.) A lot is going on in the forum these days, this update is just the tip of the iceberg. So don’t rely on me; make sure to check it for yourself throughout the week. Remember, if you have a question about our products, procedures in our books or anything related to Lost Art Press, the fastest way to get an answer is our forum. Check it out here.

Worktable and Bookcase
Adam is looking to put a version of the bookshelf from “The Anarchist’s Design Book” on top of the worktable from the book. He has a sketch drawn up but thinks it looks a bit top heavy. See the rendering here and give your thoughts.

Steaming Boards Flat
Anybody have experience trying to steam boards flat? Another Adam has finally found the Brazilian mahogany boards that he has been looking for but they are a bit wavy. If you have any tips to give him, here is the link.

Strong Trunk: How to Accommodate Wood Movement with Brass Straps
Inspired by “Campaign Furniture,” William is about to start on a trunk. However, he is concerned about the brass straps constraining the wood and leading to splitting. If you have advice or would like to see the responses so far, the post is here.

Workbench Holes worn out from Holdfasts
Shannon has a “Naked Woodworker”-style Nicholson bench that is less than a year old. She has noticed that a couple of the holes on the bench have become ovals and are no longer holding the holdfasts as tight as they used to. She has a few ideas on how this issue could be resolved but is looking for some insight from those who might have had the same issue. See if you can help here.

ADB Bookcase – An Eagle Scout Project
Hats off to Brett and his son for taking on the bookshelf from “The Anarchist’s Design Book” as an Eagle Scout project. Brett’s wife works at a Title 1 school that was in need of six bookshelves and their son rose to the occasion. Pictures are above and the link is here. Awesome work you guys!

— Meghan Bates

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Register for the Crucible Tool Launch Event

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You can register to attend the Crucible Tool event at 7 p.m. Sept. 15 using this link. Please note that we can accommodate only 100 attendees because of fire codes. So don’t dally.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Crucible Tool, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Roman Workbench II: The Fall of the Machines

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One of the interesting aspects of building this second Roman workbench has been how useless machines are to the process.

The benchtop is too big for a jointer and planer – and too heavy to move without a crane. But a jack plane trued it up quickly without any back strain.

When it came to the tapered legs, my plan was to cut away some of the excess on the table saw. I have a 3 horsepower cabinet saw, which usually can handle anything in furniture making. But the oak legs were too dense and wet. The saw bogged down and the thermal overload switch popped several times.

So I turned to the band saw with a fresh blade. Ditto. Once again, the jack plane and jointer plane did the majority of the work, and in fairly short order. (After wasting away a lot of material I did use my electric jointer to tidy things up with some light passes.)

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Turning the tenons was like riding a bronco at a prison rodeo. I have a midi-lathe that I clamp to my massive French oak workbench. Even though I carefully balanced each leg between centers, the entire bench jumped and wobbled as I turned the 3”-diameter 5-1/2”-long tenons at 500 rpm – the slowest speed available.

Now comes the mortises. I hope that my corded drill is up to the task.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized | 19 Comments

A Thank You to the Roubo Editors

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The vast majority of the headaches I’ve suffered in my life have been caused by one thing: editing.

Though it might seem like fun – sitting down and reading hundreds of pages of writing about woodworking – I assure you it’s a lot like working. So I am grateful to the men and women who showed up last Saturday to help us edit “To Make as Perfectly as Possible: Roubo on Furniture.”

The amateur editors found lots of typos and even a few mistakes made by Monsieur Roubo in the original text. We ate donuts, drank cream soda (thanks Eric!), ate pizza and drank beer. All these things help the editing process, but they still can’t mask the fact that it’s a slog.

As a result of their efforts we are on time with getting this book to the printer in September and  in your hands in November.

We asked everyone who helped out to write down his or her name. Some people did; some people are clearly hiding something from the authorities. Here are the editors:

Jared Wilcox
David Pruett
Greg Jones
Rick Stillwater
“Handsome” Chris Decker
Scott Stahl
Mike Hamilton
Rosalie Haas Pruett
Mike Ham: Hon
Matthew Conrad
Jen Neiland
Ryan Fee
Brad Daubenmire
Charles Thomas
Megan Fitzpatrick
John Hoffman

If I’ve misspelled your name, it’s only because your handwriting sucks eggs. Mine is, of course, even worse.

Thanks again everyone. I think we will do this again with future books. It really helped.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in To Make as Perfectly as Possible, Roubo Translation, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Registration for the Crucible Tool Event Opens Monday

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We will open registration for the Crucible Tool launch event at 9 a.m. (EST) Monday (Aug. 22). We can accommodate only 100 attendees at the event because of fire codes, so don’t dally if you want to attend.

We’ll have both of our new tools there for you to examine, use (and buy, if you like). Plus T-shirts and maybe a beer or two. The event will be held at the Lost Art Press storefront, 837 Willard St., Covington, KY 41011. The event will be from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 15.

If you can’t make it to the event, we’ll have a booth at the Marketplace at Woodworking in America during the following two days.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Crucible Tool, Uncategorized | 11 Comments