I am delighted to report that, late on Monday, I sent Jögge Sundqvist’s latest book, “Karvsnitt: Carving, Pattern & Color in the Slöjd Tradition,” off for pre-press and proofing. (It should be available in around 7-8 weeks, and will likely be less than $50.)
Below is a sneak peek at just a few of my favorite spreads (the whole book is a gorgeous riot of color and pattern). We’ll post an excerpt when we get closer to having the book available.
“To me, contemplating what pattern to cut on an object — on a box, spoon or knife handle — feels like I’m being served dessert. I want to enjoy the process, allow the sketching the time it needs to create a unique and ideal pattern: a decoration that I can cut at my leisure, safe in the knowledge that it will stand the test of time for many years to come. This is the feeling and experience I want to share with you.” – from the Introduction
“The ideal is when the color catches the light and, in an almost magical way, lends a resonance to both the carved surface and the decoration. For me, that’s argument enough.” – from the chapter on Painting
“A slöjd object with a consistent expression and a purpose connected to the context in which it is used tends to last longer in terms of design. When patterns and symbols align with function, the different parts are bound together into a whole by the subtext — a certain unity to which they all contribute.” – from the chapter on Pattern Construction
“The desire to communicate through signs and symbols goes back eons. In 2018, the earliest known artistic creation by a prehistoric people was discovered in South Africa’s Blombos Cave. A flat stone with nine lines of chalk is believed to be the world’s oldest work of visual art made by humans. About 73,000 years ago, this chalk drawing with an abstract motif could be understood by others. Even then, humans were able to use symbols and store information outside our brains.” – from the chapter on Symbols & Magical Signs
Registration has opened for Handworks 2023, which will be held Sept. 1-2 in Amana, Iowa. The event is free – registration helps the organizers determine the approximate attendance.
Handworks is – hands down – the best woodworking show I have ever attended, and I have attended hundreds of shows all over the world. Handworks is a true celebration of the craft, the tools we use and the people who practice it.
Even if you don’t buy a single nail or widget at the event, you will meet amazing people who share your interests. You will learn techniques from the exhibitors. And your faith in the future of woodworking will be restored.
Lost Art Press will be there – all of us. We will bring books, tools and will probably make some special edition something for the event. Check out who else will be there. It’s everyone in the hand tool world. And Roy Underhill is giving the keynote. And did I mention it’s free?
This show is not a money-making event for the organizers. They do it out of the goodness of their hearts. The booth fee for exhibitors is laughably minimal (like 1/20 of what we are usually asked to pay). No one shakes anyone down for money. So Magic Rag salesmen. No Router Bits that Fell off a Truck.
This is the good stuff.
Also, I recommend you make every effort to attend this Handworks because there might not be another. It is an enormous pain in the butt for the organizers to pull off. And every time they put on the show, they say: This might be the last. I believe them.
Why Iowa? Why not your backyard? The Amana Colonies are amazing. They are worth the trip even without Handworks. It’s a gorgeous setting with beer, good food and old buildings.
It is, above all, succinct, easy to understand and perfectly suited for the furniture-maker. As important as what is in its 160 pages is what is not. It’s not a detailed analysis of cell growth. It is not a heap of tables and equations for figuring truss loads in residential construction. It is decidedly not a scientist’s approach to the material.
Instead, “With the Grain” contains the facts you need to know at the lumberyard, in the woodlot and in the shop. It gives you enough science so you understand how trees grow. It explains the handful of formulas you have to know as a furniture-maker. And it gives you a hearty dose of specific information about North American species that will inspire you. Becksvoort encourages you to use the trees in your neighborhood and makes the case that just because you cannot find catalpa at the lumberyard doesn’t mean it’s not a good furniture wood.
You’ll learn to identify the trees around you from their silhouette, leaves and shoots. And you’ll learn about how these species work in the shop – both their advantages and pitfalls.
Becksvoort then takes you into a detailed discussion of how wood reacts to it environment – the heart of the book. You’ll learn how to calculate and accommodate wood movement with confidence and precision. And you’ll learn how to design furniture assemblies – casework, drawers, doors and moulding – so they will move with the seasons without cracking.
Numerous considerations influence the air drying of lumber, among them:
Climatic conditions. Generally speaking, very little drying of lumber is possible during the winter, particularly in those areas where the temperature remains below freezing. Moisture close to the surface can evaporate by the process of sublimation, whereby the water goes from a solid state (ice) directly to a gaseous state (vapor) without becoming a liquid. In areas where winter temperatures are relatively mild, some drying will occur, as long as rainfall and humidity are not excessive. Drying rates are variable and often very localized. The location of the drying pile and even its orientation to the sun and prevailing wind all influence the rate of evaporation.
Species. The wood species makes quite a difference when it comes to length of drying time. Specific gravity is a fairly good general indicator of drying rate. The lower the specific gravity, the faster the drying time. The softwoods and lighter species of hardwoods dry faster under favorable conditions. The percentage of sapwood and heartwood also plays a part. For example, sugar maple dries faster than Northern red oak with roughly the same specific gravity, but sugar maple has more sapwood. Figure 4-11 lists the approximate air-drying times of some native woods.
Thickness. The old rule of thumb “one year of drying for each inch of thickness” has no basis in fact. First, it does not take species into account. Second, drying time is a function of the square of the thickness. This means that 8/4, or 2″ (5 cm) stock takes four times as long as 4/4, or 1″ (2.5 cm) stock. In fact, for some species the drying time is even longer than the square of the thickness. This is one reason (along with the differential between radial and tangential shrinkage, described in Chapter 5) why it is next to impossible to dry entire logs without serious cracking or checking.
Grain orientation. Quartersawn wood is slower to dry than plain-sawn wood. The ray cells aid in drying, and although they appear more prominent on quartersawn wood, not nearly as many are exposed on the face of the board.
Pile construction and foundation. The actual method of stacking the wood has a lot to do with the drying rate. Adequate space left around each board aids in drying. Many smaller piles dry faster than one large pile. The pile foundation should be well off the ground to allow for free air movement underneath. Weeds and debris should not obstruct the air flow. Finally, the ground should be well drained, with no standing water.
PREPARATION OF THE WOOD The proper preparation for drying wood can yield much higher returns in sound wood, and in some cases can prevent near total loss due to checking and warping. Whenever possible, the pith of the tree should be cut out and discarded because as boards containing pith usually check. Large planks or timbers will check no matter how carefully they are dried (Fig. 4-12). Any heavy timbers or carving blocks should have the pith removed if they are expected to dry without serious checking.
Because exposed pores or tracheids on the end-grain surfaces promote too-rapid drying and result in checks (Fig. 4-13), it is wise to coat the ends of boards to slow the moisture loss from the end grain. Almost any impervious material will do. Wet wood can receive a primer of acrylic latex paint first. Aluminum paint, oil paint even melted paraffin will seal the wood. Coat the ends as soon as possible after sawing to minimize end checks. In woods such as beech, checking can begin in a matter of hours. Oak is also quite susceptible (Fig 4-14). Once checking occurs, the damage is done.
STACKING THE PILE When constructing the lumber pile, select a clear, relatively flat and well-drained site. Construct a foundation of cinder blocks, bricks, fieldstones or very heavy timbers. Timbers are also useful on top of the foundation to raise the pile further off the ground and to help level the foundation. Foundation blocks, posts or rows should be about 24″ to 36″ (61-91 cm) apart, and a minimum of 12″ (30 cm) off the ground. Figure 4-15 shows the proper construction of a pile of lumber for air drying. The width of the pile may vary, although 3′ to 4′ (.9-1.2 m) is ideal. Piles much narrower become tippy, and piles wider than 4′ (1.2 m) not only become hard to stack, but begin to retard ventilation, and should have a space or flue left in the center for additional circulation. As long as the pile is stable, there is no restriction on the height. In mill yards they are often stacked with a forklift to 35′ (10.7 m).
Place the first layer of boards about 1″ (2.5 cm) apart, with the ends of the boards even with the ends of the pile. Several shorter boards can be staggered to fill a row. Lay strips, or stickers, at right angles across the boards directly above the foundation planks. The stickers must be of equal thickness to provide equal support between the layers. They should also be dry to prevent sticker staining. Add layers until the desired height is reached with all stickers stacked above the foundation supports. Several heavy planks or cinder blocks can be placed on top for extra weight to prevent warping. Finally, add corrugated metal or plywood on top as a cover. Overhang is desired on all sides for shade.
Air drying is not without risk because the weather cannot be controlled. If drying takes place to rapidly, especially in full sun, surface and end checking may occur. On the other hand, if drying is too slow, mildew and fungal staining may result. Following these rules closely will increase the chances of success: high, well-ventilated foundation, dry stickers, proper spacing of boards, sealed end grain and weighted cover with good overhang (Fig. 4-16).
Those who dry wood regularly sometimes prefer to build a drying shed. A very simple shed consists of four posts and a roof, and takes little time and materials to construct. A lean-to behind a barn or shop also serves the purpose. An ideal drying shed would be oriented toward the prevailing wind, and have large doors on either end. These would be open during dry weather, and closed during inclement weather.
Figure 4-17 shows a lean-to with a few piles of wood stacked and ready for end coating. Some of the wood is stacked in sawn order. This makes it easier to select wood from the same tree, and facilitates color- and book-matching. Under the best of conditions, outdoor air drying will yield an equilibrium moisture content of 12 percent to 18 percent. At this point, the wood should be moved indoors to an area of artificial heat for further drying: a loft, shop, warm attic or basement. A look back at Figure 4-9 will enable review of the necessary temperature and humidity levels for wood to reach the desired equilibrium moisture content.
Ideally, this last drying step to reach the intended indoor EMC should utilize existing space and heat sources to avoid any additional costs. The biggest advantage to air drying is the low cost because there is no need for fancy equipment or energy.
Anyone can air dry wood, with most of the energy supplied by the sun and wind.
CALCULATING MOISTURE CONTENT The woodworker must always be aware of the moisture content of the material, especially during the drying process. Careful monitoring of the rate of drying will determine when the wood reaches the EMC for a given location and climate. The wood can then be moved to an area of lower humidity or higher temperature, so the moisture content can be further reduced. When the wood finally reaches the desired level of moisture, it will be ready for use.
Several methods can be used to determine moisture content. A rough, yet simple procedure for tracing moisture content (by way of EMC), is by weight. A few pieces of wood are designated as samples, are weighed and recorded when green, and then weighed again every few weeks thereafter. Depending on the size of the sample, weighing can be done on a bathroom, baby or food scale. The samples should have the same drying treatment as the rest of the wood. Weights are recorded as a graph to give a visual representation of the moisture loss and the approximate point at which the wood reaches its EMC with its surroundings. At that point, the sample will no longer lose weight under the present conditions. Figure 4-18 charts the weight loss of a large ash board over a period of almost two years.
If the prevailing temperature and humidity are known, a glance at Figure 4-9 will give a rough idea of the moisture content. For example, if the weight has remained more or less constant for the previous 8-10 weeks, the temperature has been averaging 60°F (16°C), and the humidity about 80 percent, then the moisture content would be about 16 percent.
A more precise method of moisture detection involves the use of an accurate scale and an oven. A lab oven, kitchen oven or toaster oven with accurate temperature control will work. Cut and weigh a sample small enough to fit into the oven. Place the sample in the oven at 212° to 220° F (100° to 104° C), and remove every hour for re-weighing, until no more weight is lost. At that point all the moisture has been driven off and the moisture content reduced to 0% (oven dry). The moisture content of the sample can be determined before baking with the following formula:
MC = Initial weight – oven-dry weight x 100 Oven-dry weight
Other samples can be baked at any time, their weights used in the formula to determine their current MC.
Weight and moisture content are directly proportional. The wood material never changes weight, it merely takes on or releases moisture, which accounts for the weight change. This relationship allows for the use of a graph for determining the approximate MC of identical samples. The samples should be from the same board, and the same size and weight. To do this, bake the first sample and record both its initial and oven dry weights, as shown in Figure 4-19. Draw a straight line between the two points. For example, if the initial weight of the samples is 48 ounces (1.36 kg), and at a later date the weight of a partially dry sample is 40 ounces (1.13 kg), then the current moisture content of that sample is 52 percent.
The fastest and easiest method of determining moisture content is with an electric moisture meter. Two types are most commonly available. The first, dielectric meters, generate a radio frequency that penetrates to a predetermined depth when placed against the wood. The power loss is translated and read as a moisture content percentage on the meter. The second type, pin type, is an ohm meter that measures the resistance of wood to an electric current. Wood is an insulator, and water a conductor, so the resistance to passage of electricity is a function of moisture present in the wood. Damp wood offers a better path for electric current and gives a higher reading than drier wood, which offers more resistance and yields a lower reading. A deflecting needle shows the MC on a scale. Most meters read between 6 percent and 30 percent (Fig. 4-20).
Using the instrument is fairly simple. The electrodes are pushed or driven into the wood so that the current flows parallel to the grain, a button is pushed and the needle shows a reading of MC. A chart is included that allows for different electrical properties of various species, as well as temperature. Several readings should be taken at various points, and averaged for greatest accuracy. Moisture meters are useful not only when wood is being dried, but also during the process of building furniture. The meter gives a clue as to the amount of expansion or contraction to be expected in backs, doors, panels and drawers (see Chapter 5). Any serious woodworker should have a moisture meter.
My daughter Katherine has posted a small batch of Soft Wax 2.0 in her store. (The lipstick maker’s switch crapped out, so she had to use a nacho cheese maker, which mixes smaller amounts…for reasons we fail to understand. Who doesn’t want to make 8 gallons of nacho cheese at a time?!)
We love this finish. I use on my chairs and casework; Megan uses it for chest innards. I adore it. Katherine cooks it up here in the machine room using the raw ingredients of yellow beeswax, raw linseed oil and a little bit of citrus solvent. She then packages it in a tough glass jar with a metal screw-top lid. She applies her hand-designed label to each lid, boxes up the jars and ships them in a durable cardboard mailer. The money she makes from wax helps her make ends meet at college. Instructions for the wax are below. You can watch a video of how to use the wax here.
Instructions for Soft Wax 2.0 Soft Wax 2.0 is a safe finish for bare wood that is incredibly easy to apply and imparts a beautiful low luster to the wood.
The finish is made by cooking raw linseed oil (from the flax plant) and combining it with cosmetics-grade beeswax and a small amount of a citrus-based solvent. The result is that this finish can be applied without special safety equipment, such as a respirator. The only safety caution is to dry the rags out flat you used to apply before throwing them away. (All linseed oil generates heat as it cures, and there is a small but real chance of the rags catching fire if they are bunched up while wet.)
Soft Wax 2.0 is an ideal finish for pieces that will be touched a lot, such as chairs, turned objects and spoons. The finish does not build a film, so the wood feels like wood – not plastic. Because of this, the wax does not provide a strong barrier against water or alcohol. If you use it on countertops or a kitchen table, you will need to touch it up every once in a while. (I have it on our kitchen countertops and love it.) Simply add a little more Soft Wax to a deteriorated finish and the repair is done – no stripping or additional chemicals needed.
Soft Wax 2.0 is not intended to be used over a film finish (such as lacquer, shellac or varnish). It is best used on bare wood. However, you can apply it over a porous finish, such as milk paint.
APPLICATION INSTRUCTIONS (VERY IMPORTANT): Applying Soft Wax 2.0 is so easy if you follow the simple instructions. On bare wood, apply a thin coat of soft wax using a rag, applicator pad, 3M gray pad or steel wool. Allow the finish to soak in about 15 minutes. Then, with a clean rag or towel, wipe the entire surface until it feels dry. Do not leave any excess finish on the surface. If you do leave some behind, the wood will get gummy and sticky.
The finish will be dry enough to use in a couple hours. After a couple weeks, the oil will be fully cured. After that, you can add a second coat (or not). A second coat will add more sheen and a little more protection to the wood.
Soft Wax 2.0 is made in small batches in Covington, Kentucky. Each glass jar contains 8 oz. of soft wax, enough for about five chairs.
When I came to “A Vampire Chair,” while copy editing Issue No. 1 of The Stick Chair Journal, I side-eyed my own stick chair in my house. Without even reading the first sentence, I thought, There’s more than one?
Turns out the story in The Stick Chair Journal is about a fabled chair in Tennessee that was broken apart to murder its owner and, once repaired, begins acting odd. Although my chair was never broken apart to murder anyone, my entire family insists it’s hell-bent on trying. And I’m to blame.
In late 2004, I was an editor at Popular Woodworking Magazine, and in between copy editing, they’d throw me into woodworking classes. Given that this was almost 20 years ago, the details are a bit fuzzy, but I do remember I got married in October 2004, and soon after I returned from my honeymoon I was building a Welsh stick chair with Don Weber and several other editors at the magazine in a week-long class. I remember Chris being particularly excited about this opportunity, and I knew it was a big deal.
So I tried to soak in everything Don said. And not just about building chairs. I was going to start doing yoga every morning on a beautiful rug in a stream of sunlight! I was going to start making my own lemon curd! I even considered wearing vests.
I was also a nervous wreck. I was 25 years old, had majored in magazine journalism, and was finally getting used to rabbets being spelled with an “e.” But everyone was more than kind; I had a lot of help, and I built a stick chair.
I’m pretty sure I was behind everyone else in the class because I think Chris was done and helping me finish my chair when he told me I might want to break my edges a bit.
“No,” I said.
Why? I don’t know. I was a stupid stubborn 25-year-old. Or maybe it was because he had presented it as a choice instead of an order. Still, Chris was my boss, and to break up the awkwardness, I think I said something along the lines of, “I want it to look crisp,” as if I knew what that even meant/how Welsh stick chair edges were supposed to look/what I was even talking about.
Chris just let me be, which he always graciously does.
So I brought the chair home, which, looking at, y’all will probably criticize, but I was (quietly) proud of this chair. Crafting letters into sentences came naturally to me. Crafting wood into something sturdy and useful did not. And as young, broke newlyweds, this chair was, by far, one of the nicest, and most useful, pieces of furniture we owned. Even if it looked a little wonky.
My husband, Andy, and I painted the chair. (If you ever want to test a marriage early on, take two very different personality types, add a can of milk paint and paint a stick chair together. We are still married. I’ll leave it at that.)
Beforepainting, Andy asked if I wanted to break the edges a bit.
“Why does everyone keep asking me that?” I asked/yelled. “They look so good sharp! I want them crisp!”
I’m pretty sure I let out an exasperated sigh, as one does in your mid-20s, thinking no one understood me or my good taste.
My chair listened to my mulishness and responded in kind. It had no mercy.
It cut everyone it encountered.
Friends would come over and, looking at it, a bit perplexed, Andy would say, “Kara made that!” which was very kind and loving. And I swear the chair, in response, would magically beckon them over because the next thing I know, they would be touching it/sitting in it and then there would be blood and then I would be apologizing and getting them a Band-Aid.
But I was stubborn.
“You could still break the edges,” Andy said.
“Everyone is just sitting in it wrong,” I said.
Then we had kids.
First Sophie. Then two years later, twins, James and Owen. Once they were old enough to walk and talk, they didn’t call it The Vampire Chair. They called it The Evil Chair. Anytime they bumped into (or, as they claimed, the chair reached out and bit them), they carried on about how this chair was trying to kill them.
For a while, the Vampire/Evil Chair lived in our attic.
There are benefits to accidentally building a Vampire Chair:
1) If you ever find yourself parenting a 4-year-old and two 2-year-olds in a small home, and you are tired, and they are (always) not tired, you will eventually learn the only way you can keep them from (literally) swinging from the dining room chandelier is to put all the dining room chairs up on the dining room table when not in use. We did this for over a year. Because our kids refused to engage with my Vampire Chair, if all our dining room chairs had been Vampire Chairs, we wouldn’t have had to go to this trouble.
2) We like to have people over and especially when you’re young and broke, seating is limited. We’d bring out everything we had – the random rusty folding chair in the garage, plastic outdoor chairs, pillows on the floor for cushions. Sometimes my Vampire Chair, which had gotten a bad rap, would sit empty. This would annoy me to no end and I’d usually sit in it to gently prove a point. (No garlic, I simply had a whole move down I made so I could sit without drawing any blood.) But every once in a while a friend or family member would visit and despite a still very-present scar on their skin they would, unafraid, make way for the Vampire Chair and settle in. Respect.
3) If no one is sitting in a Vampire Chair, you always have a place to put things – your coat, your bag, the mail etc.
If I’ve learned anything since accidentally building a Vampire Chair 20-plus years ago it’s that if something you love keeps biting, it’s easy to place blame. “The edges are fine – everyone just needs to be more careful. What were you thinking, wearing shorts?” But love doesn’t have to (nor should it mean) perfection. You can love something you created and admit you made (sometimes many) mistakes.
Also, does this mean I think you should always listen to what others tell you should do?
But I do believe we’re all stupid stubborn 20-somethings and stupid stubborn 70-somethings. Real growth happens when we learn when to ignore advice and when to listen. Now in my 40s, I think that’s a lifelong thing.
(For what it’s worth, our Vampire Chair is no longer in the attic and it has stopped biting! Or, the edges have been broken finally. On flesh.)