Since this blog seems to be transitioning from all-workbenches-all-the-time to all-stools-all-the-time, I thought I’d pass along something I came across recently. The Batonga people, of present-day Zimbabwe and Zambia, have traditionally carved stools out of single log sections. The stools range from very simple:
to much more elaborate:
They sometimes incorporate a carrying handle, as the latter image shows.
Designs vary quite a bit, although there are some recurring themes. I do wonder about the long-term viability of a stool whose supports incorporate a sharp, cross-grain right angle:
Then again, the people who carve and use these probably don’t have BMI levels in quite the same range as our own.
If you do a search on “batonga stool” you’ll find quite a few for sale.
Although there are many occasions when sliding doors can be used with advantage it should be pointed out that they should not be fitted where hinged doors can be used satisfactorily; the chief reasons against their use are that they give only limited access to the interior, and entail increased cost, due to the extra depth required over-all.
Consider Fig. 1 for example. Sliding doors are shown, but imagine that hinged ones had been used. With these wide open, access to the interior would be carcase-wide. This is impossible with sliding doors; when the right-hand door is pushed in behind the left, access to the interior is provided for approximately half the carcase width only. To get at the left-hand side of the carcase it is necessary to push both doors right over to the other end. Take note as well of the cost of the extra inch or so required on the depth of the carcase all round, and also the additional work involved in fitting the running tracks.
What then determines the use of such doors? Call to mind those tiers of sliding door showcases so often fitted behind a shop counter; probably assistants have been passing busily to and fro attending to customers. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if such doors were flung open on hinges, thus effectively blocking all the available passage way behind the counter. Again, in a minor way, it is essential to fit sliding doors to cabinets in some modern kitchenettes, where the swing of a hinged door might foul some other member of the kitchen equipment. To sum up, sliding-door cabinets are at a disadvantage where immediate and complete access is required, but are ideal when utility and passage room have to be considered.
The cabinet in Fig. 1 is given to illustrate the methods of fitting sliding doors. It would, however, make up into a handy article for the kitchen, and could be carried out in birch and afterwards painted or enamelled. Alternatively, as a shop fitting, fumed oak would look well. All references to patent metal sliding tracks have been omitted; these are usually somewhat expensive and cannot always be obtained through retail dealers. With a little care, no difficulty should be experienced if made entirely in wood. The over-all sizes can be amended, of course, to suit individual requirements.
FIG. 3. HOW CARCASE IS MADE
FIG. 2. SCALE ELEVATIONS AND PLAN WITH MAIN SIZES.
CONSTRUCTION The sizes for setting-out are given in Fig. 2 and the construction in Fig. 3, whilst Fig. 4 gives four methods of arranging the sliding doors, any one of which will prove satisfactory in operation.
The methods are lettered A, B, C, and D.
Method A is the simplest. Note that only one groove is required in the top and bottom for the parting beads which separate the two doors. The back door is retained in place by means of fillets, 1/2 in. x 1/4 in., glued and pinned to the top and bottom and positioned parallel with the parting beads. The front door could be held in place by means of facing strips, cup-screwed on to the edges of the top and bottom. Note that these facing strips are flush with the ends when fitted and should be neatly shouldered between them.
Method B probably gives the best finish and is shown in Fig. 2. This gives the same thickness of ends, top, and bottom all round; in addition, no screws are required for fixing the front facing strips.
The top and bottom must be rebated down 1/4 in. for the doors and then grooved again for the parting beads. Finally the front edges of the top and bottom are grooved for the tongues of the facing strips. These again are neatly stepped between the ends.
Method C follows closely to that of B, but one important variation is that the bottom edge of each door is shod with a piece of strip brass, approximately 1/8 in. thick. These strips run full length and should be screwed up to the undersides; make sure that the screwheads are well countersunk. The running tracks are also provided with full-length strips of brass sunk flush and screwed into the bottom. Thus we have brass running on brass, which has proved very satisfactory in use. Needless to say, all sharp burrs on the metal should be removed with a file. Alternatively, a hard fibre could be substituted for brass.
Method D hardly needs comment. The top and bottom edges of the doors should be grooved to receive half-round beads, the latter being pinned to the carcase top and bottom. At the front in order to give a finish, quarter-round beads are pinned right around the carcase. The plan details given in Fig. 4 will also be found easy to follow. The door stiles which adjoin the ends could be beaded or rebated in to the latter. Alternatively, a tongued facing strip might be carried right up the ends, thus following on the idea given with method B. Or, again, a quarter-round bead could be pinned on. Note the fillet (L) which is screwed to the back door stile. This effectively closes the gap between the two doors and should be shaped around the parting beads at the top and bottom; it will not be required, however, if method D is adopted.
Today I crashed back – hard – to the United States with little sleep, folders full of photos and memories of the best pizza I’ve eaten. And as I twitched to sleep on the airplane this afternoon or morning or whatever, I wondered if I had enough information for a book.
I don’t. But I think I will soon.
If things go well this summer in Germany. If a package arrives in Kentucky. If a translation pans out. Then I’ll have an expanded book for you this fall on so-called Roman workbenches that will probably have to be called something else other than “Roman Workbenches.”
While these benches have their roots in Greco-Roman culture, the form is ubiquitous in the West and the East in both modern times and those of two millenia ago. These benches, and the techniques to use them, have been hiding in plain sight. Recorded. Written down. And mostly ignored.
I don’t have many more words for you this evening (or is it early morning?), so instead enjoy these images taken by Narayan Nayar during our trip to Pompeii.
Editor’s note: For several months I’ve wanted to tell you about a book that furniture maker David Savage is writing for Lost Art Press called “The Intelligent Hand.” But each time I tried to frame the book in words, I stumbled. It’s not a how-to book, but then it is. It’s a book about why we do things, though that’s a laughably weak description of it. It’s about working wood at the very top limits of design and craftsmanship, though it will appeal mightily to beginners.
And so I decided to cop out and share with you a small section of the first chapter – the part that really grabbed me. OK, that’s a bit wrong as well. The first paragraph of this book might be the most arresting thing I’ve read in woodworking. So we’ll save that bit for later.
David is working hard on the book and a good deal of the text has been fleshed out. I don’t know when it will be complete. Like all Lost Art Press books, it will be done when we can’t improve it any more.
— Christopher Schwarz
Way back in the early 1980s I read books by James Krenov that inspired me to take up working with wood, making furniture. He inspired a generation to hug trees, love wood and make as beautifully as one could, but from the position of a skilled amateur. Jim never sought, I believe, to make a living from this. That was my madness. What Jim did do, however, was touch upon the reason that is at the core of this book. Why do we go that extra mile? Why do we break ourselves on that last 10 percent? This is the 10 percent that most people would not even recognise, or care about, even if it bit them on the leg. This is the bit that really hurts to get right, both physically and mentally.
But get it right, deliver the piece and she says: “Wow, David, I knew it would be good but not that good.” Get this right, over-deliver and soon you don’t need too many more new clients, for she will want this experience again and again. We have been making for the same clients now for most of my working life. They get it, they like it and they have the means to pay for it. Your job is to do it well enough to get the “Wow David,” have the satisfaction of doing it right, get the figures right and feed your children. Not easy I grant you, but for some of you it will become a life well lived.
This is the quality thing at the centre of our lives. This is the issue that brings people to Rowden from all over the world, each with some form of bleeding neck. Each knowing they can do more with their lives. They come with a damage that they feel can be fixed with a combination of physical work and intelligent solutions. Both are essential.
Work is unfashionably sweaty. We generally now sit at terminals in cool offices. We are bound by contracts of employment that would make an 18th century slave owner look benign. The only exercise we get is the twitching of our fingers and the occasional trip to the coffee machine. Our bodies, these wonderful pieces of equipment, are allowed to become indolent and obese. We feed up on corn starched, fast food and wait for retirement. Exercise, if we take it, has no meaning. We don’t exercise to do anything we run or jog, but we go nowhere. We work out in the gym and get the buzz, the satisfaction of the body’s response to exercise. But we don’t use the energy constructively to make stuff.
White collar work has become what we do, almost all of us. It pays the bills and keeps us fed, we get a holiday and our children are kind of OK. And that is fine for most of us. But there are some of you who know that something is missing. Something creative, some way to spend your day working, physically exercising your body and your mind. Thinking and revising what you are making, as the consequence of the quality of your thoughts. This is intelligent making; this is The Intelligent Hand.
This then is written for you. This is to help, encourage and support a decision to leave a world where thought and work are separated. This is for the brave souls who need to plough a contrarian furrow, where intelligence and making exist together, and you are in control of your life. Don’t be scared but don’t expect it to be dull or easy. But a life well lived never is dull or easy.
Last summer I attended the Lie-Nielsen Open House and intended to publish a photo gallery when I returned home. For various reasons beyond my control that project was shelved. I thought I would finish the project to help fill in for a slow week here on the blog. If you have never attended the open house at Lie-Nielsen I would highly recommend it. Consider making room in your schedule for the next event this July.
The gallery contains 1325 photos from the event and will use ~400MB of bandwidth per viewing. For that reason I would not recommend browsing from a cell phone unless you are connected to WiFi.
I have tested the gallery to work with all manner of desktop computers, tablets and smart phones. A direct link to the photos is available if you would prefer to just download the whole set and view them on your preferred device offline.
This is the first gallery I have posted in a long time. The software and hosting is new. The website is just an empty shell that may have unresolved bugs. If this test goes well I will be adding more galleries from other events when I get time.