“After he moved to Indiana, and from there to Ohio, Chester (Cornett) again held his raw materials in a gentle embrace as he shaped them, once more using hand tools which were extensions of himself and with which he caressed his loved ones. He could express his feelings and emotions in the things he made, but he seldom displayed affection for people or for those things in the world that seemed beyond his control and inferior in importance to his immediate concerns. The more strongly he attempted to dominate the objects in his environment, the more enslaved he became by them. Freedom was withdrawal. The day would come, however, as he mistakenly thought it had on several occasions in the past, when he might step forth in the world of men bathed in the glory of his brilliant creations. With his wife gone again for the third and apparently the last time, Chester had only himself and his work, with nothing to divorce the two.”
— “Craftsman of the Cumberlands: Tradition & Creativity” by Michael Owen Jones (University of Kentucky Press)
Most students in woodworking classes fall into three categories:
1. Diligent but slow learners. This is the biggest category, and I include myself as a proud member. Nothing about the craft comes easy to these people. Yet, if they spend enough time in their shops building things and refuse to give up, they improve inch by inch.
2. Golfers. This is a small group, but they exist. Every so often I want to take one of these students aside and suggest they take up golf. Usually this is because of an unholy combination of a lack of dexterity, a lack of gumption and (most confusing) a lack of interest in the work itself. I wonder if these students have been assigned to the class on work-release from prison.
3. The naturals. I hate these people (no, not really). Every so often there is a woodworker who is so at ease with the work that everything comes quickly to them — even if it is their first time picking up a chisel. They cut perfect dovetails their first time with a saw. Their mortises and tenons fit without any tweaking. Their breath is rosy even after a dinner of garlic chicken.
Sam Cappo, one of my recent students at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking, falls entirely into category 3. By day he works in the petroleum industry. But with every other waking hour he’s working on his house in New Orleans or building furniture in his tiny shop.
His dexterity with the tools and the work was impressive. And while you could chalk that up to previous carpentry experience, I think that would be selling him short. The kid is a natural. While everyone else was wondering how they were going to get their tool chests assembled in time, Sam was playing around with different dovetailing techniques that would make his work require fewer hand motions.
To my delight, Sam has started a blog called planedetails.com. It is in its beginning stages, but I hope he will persevere and show us his shop and more details of the historic house he’s rebuilding.
Check out his site, and leave a comment to show more cat photos. It will make Megan Fitzpatrick so happy (Sam and his girlfriend make and sell cool cat furniture).
Let’s say that George Nakashima traveled back in time to the early part of the 20th century and landed in southern France. And he traveled there with a giant drill press.
This bench is the result of that ripple in the space-time continuum.
Take a look at the way the legs are attached to the top. Yup, those mortises and tenons are rounded at the ends, like what you would see if they were made by the Domino XXXL or a super-long Forstner bit. It is so contemporary, it’s shocking.
Second, check out the shape of the benchtop. It’s one slab of oak (according to the seller), and it has a free edge up front and incorporates sapwood. Again, it’s so contemporary looking that I first thought it was fake.
The other details of the workbench are more traditional. My favorite part is the leg vise hardware. It’s so simple, robust and perfect – I wish that piece of hardware was an option for us modern bench-builders.
If you want to buy the bench, here’s the link. It would indeed look great behind the sofa.
Here are some short updates on projects in the works at Lost Art Press.
1. “Grandpa’s Workshop” is in its final stages at the printer and should be on its way to us in the next week. Free shipping for this title will end at midnight, Friday, Sept. 28. After Friday, shipping will $7.
2. Leather editions of “Mouldings in Practice” are still at the bindery. They should be ready any day now. When they are released, copies will be $185 (which includes domestic shipping). They will be first-come, first serve.
3. Lie-Nielsen is putting the final touches on a DVD opus I filmed there last year. The four-hour (you read it right) DVD will cover how to build a Shaker side table entirely by hand. This is the Shaker side table from Issue No. 2 of Woodworking Magazine God Rest its Soul. The design is based on a table from Thomas Moser’s book on Shaker furniture.
4. This morning I head up to F+W Media to film a DVD on restoring and tuning handplanes to a very high level. I bought a Stanley No. 4 Type 11 to fix up. It should be a good DVD for those woodworkers who struggle with their planes.
As a beginner woodworker, I’m always gathering knowledge about the craft. While books have been insightful, and the Internet has been decent, nothing has taught me more than the couple of hours I spent with an old master this week.
Frank Tashiro, an American of Japanese descent, runs a small retail web site and showroom from his home in Seattle. Tashiro Hardware is a place where one can find a good selection of Japanese-style kataba and dozuki saws. This 90-year-old retired blacksmith made chisels, plane blades, knives and chains, among other things. When it comes to steel, you could say he’s got a handle on things.
With its door surrounded by bamboo, you could almost walk by his home/office without noticing the little doorstep, with “Frank Tashiro” lettered on the mailbox. He greeted me at the door and brought me in to see his wares. The front room is his showroom; the back room, his office. His full line of his saws and handles are on display boards, with merchandise organized in racks. He directed me to sit in a chair, and we small-talked for a moment. I told him I was looking for a dovetail saw. He was quick to locate a suitable specimen, then he asked me how much time I had. Because I was a stranger in town with nowhere to go that evening, my night was free.
He posed me a question, “How do you sharpen?” I responded that I used a pair of ceramic stones and free-handed things. He followed up with a, “But do you know how to sharpen things?” Indeed, I thought I knew how to sharpen, but had a feeling he would soon show me the error of my ways. Inside I was giggling like a little girl. “Sit here, in front of the workbench,” he beckoned, as he stooped to grab an old pail filled with tools. “Would you like to see how I sharpen?”
“What does it mean when we cut something?” I did my best to fumble through what I thought was correct, as he grabbed a small chalkboard to illustrate. He drew a row of dime-sized circles, and asked me to think on a molecular level about this.
“Does not the edge of the tool enter and divide the material?” He pushed a wooden wedge through his row of chalk molecules. A light came on in my mind. “Even if it is water or oil, at the moment the tool enters, it has divided the material, no?”
He explained tool edges this way: They all can be illustrated by drawing a mountain with its top lopped off, which is the tip of the tool. He drew this on his little chalkboard on the bench. Some have longer, shallow sloping sides. They are tough and last long before sharpening, but they may not cut the material as easily. (Enter and divide….) Other edges are steep and can cut well, but they may roll over or crumble at the edge.
He then demonstrated how to hold a tool at the correct angle to sharpen using simple handmade jigs. I would illustrate, but will simply say that none of his jigs have moving parts. “The most accurate method is to have no moving parts,” he emphasized. “Nobody can sharpen this better because it is based on a principle.” Another light came on for me.
On sharpening stones: He said it didn’t matter what one used. As long as you can get an edge that is too narrow to reflect light, you are sharp. His stone looked to be an ordinary oilstone. He said a great edge comes together at maybe three-ten-thousandths of an inch (.0003”), if we could measure that.
I also learned how to find square to a surface, using nothing more than a mirror. “You can even set your table saw blade or drill press square this way.” Light bulb.
He challenged me every step of the way, asking questions to make me think. I spent almost two hours mesmerized, feasting on his knowledge. What originally began as a trip to look at dovetail saws turned into a life-building experience. I was able to feel, maybe for a couple of short hours, like an apprentice learning from a dedicated master.
I asked if it would be OK if I made a recording of some of his teachings so I could refer to them later. He said that was unnecessary.
“Once you have been taught, you will know this forever.”