Core77, a website for industrial designers, just published the first part of an interview with me on my research methods for my designs plus about 100 other little topics.
If you’re wondering what the next book in the “Anarchist” series is, that’s in the interview. My favorite museum? Yup. What breed of goat I prefer….
The interview was conducted by Senior Editor N. Rain Noe, and in the second half of the interview we’ll dive into the questions of anarchism, consumerism and the designer.
Core77 is a great place for woodworkers to wander about because it’s about the built world and filled with little tidbits such as this piece on vault lights. Definitely a better place to spend your lunch hour than that blog on sausage-making you’ve been reading.
My next book, “Ingenious Mechanicks: Early Workbenches & Workholding,” is about one-third designed. As with all my books, it is wrestling with me like an alligator in a vat of Crisco.
Suzanne “The Saucy Indexer” Ellison has turned up a number of new images of old workbenches recently that have reinforced and nuanced some of my findings and conclusions about early workbenches.
The image at the top of this blog entry is not one of them.
Suzanne plowed through about 8,000 images (a conservative estimate) for this book. And some of the images were dead ends, red herrings or MacGuffins.
In the image above (sorry about the low quality), we have a bench that is off the charts in the odd-o-meter. It is from Corsica, sometime between 1742-1772, and was painted by Giacomo Grandi, who was born in Milan but lived on Corsica.
Here’s what is strange:
It is a low workbench with the screw-driven vise perhaps in the end of the bench. Or the benchtop is square. Either way, that’s unusual.
The screw vise has only one screw and one vise nut.
The vise’s chop is weird. It is longer than the bench is wide.
The chop is being used in a manner that simply doesn’t work (I tried it on one of our lows benches). This arrangement offers little holding power.
So instead of saying: “Hey look we found a bench that makes you rethink end vises,” we are instead saying: “Hey I think this bench is the result of the painter trying to create a workbench to assist his composition.”
As I am typing this, Suzanne and I are trying to figure out if we’ve found a tilted workbench from Corsica that is similar to Japanese planing beam. Or if it’s a victim of forced perspective. Or something else.
At times such as this, I can see how a book could fail to be published. There is no end to the research, the new findings or the greasy alligators.
Late in 2015, Joshua Farnsworth(Wood and Shop) and I traveled to Hancock Shaker Village to film the openings of a couple videos. While there, I measured and photographed the two projects in detail with the intention of reproducing them as accurately as possible.
While I was holed up in the brick dwelling that day measuring and taking pictures of the projects, Josh wandered around the village taking pictures and video.
When we got back to the hotel that night we looked over the pictures we had taken. Josh’s stuff was great. He has a good eye, and Hancock is a beautiful place. My pictures, on the other hand, looked pretty lame in comparison. The photos were of the insides and undersides of the two projects. Mostly, tool marks of all kinds, intersections of joints, writing, mistakes (yes, the Shakers screwed up, too) nails, screws and layout lines. Most people would not even know what the pictures were of. I was trying to photograph how the pieces were made.
As time goes on, I find these ugly photos provide more and more information on a project than I realized. Whenever I look back over these pictures I always see things I did not notice when measuring the actual artifact.
Today as I was reviewing the ugly pictures I had taken on my last trip to Hancock of a chest of drawers that I am preparing to build, a little tidbit of information showed up.
I said all that to say this: If documenting a piece of furniture, take the time to measure accurately and take good overall photos of the piece. Most of all, take lots of high-resolution photos of the insides and undersides of the piece. When it comes time to build, you will find yourself referencing the ugly photos more than anything else.
Popular Woodworking Magazine has just a launch a new podcast that….
Wait, wait. Where are you going? Give me a few moments to explain. Look, we know the woodworking world has enough podcasts. So when Scott Francis decided to create “The Afterlife of Trees,” a lot of the discussion was about what the podcast wouldn’t be about.
It’s not shop talk. It’s not answering the questions of listeners. It’s not about the projects we’re working on or discussion of our favorite tools. All those are great topics for podcasts that already exist. But the world doesn’t need another one of those.
So what is “The Afterlife of Trees” about? It’s about stories.
If you like shows such as “Radio Lab,” “This American Life,” “Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History” or “Stuff You Missed in History Class,” you might like this podcast. We want to tell the stories behind the craft. And if they’re a little odd, then all the better.
In the first episode we tell the story of Eugene Sexton and our efforts to publish an article about his miracle process called ESP-90. This process allowed Sexton to (among other things) dry wood quickly without it checking. In other words: It didn’t matter if the pith of a tree was in the board – it wouldn’t crack.
Many people have dismissed Sexton. But perhaps there is something to ESP-90. We have some wood treated with the process that is puzzling and seems to defy the rules of wood movement. Oh, and we discuss the “green bean of immortality.”
Step into Roy Underhill’s bathroom at The Woodwright’s School, and you’ll encounter a poster of Albrecht Dürer’s “Melencolia I,” a puzzling image filled with mysterious symbols and woodworking tools.
Whenever a student goes missing in the bathroom during the classes at Roy’s, it is for one of two reasons: the pork chop sandwich from lunch is troubling their innards, or they are studying “Melencolia I” and have lost track of time in the loo.
The exhibit tracks the progression of Dürer’s work using dozens of original prints he created using engraving, etching and drypoint. And the museum supplies magnifying glasses so you can view every stroke and get within about 1” of the original works.
This was the first time I ever got to see an actual print of “Melencolia I.” Like always, seeing the original is much different than seeing it on screen. The texture of the paper, the resolution of each line, even the physical edges of the image stir up a wilder set of feelings than pixels.
It was great to see the square and straightedge, both of which I’ve built many times for myself and customers. (Free plans for the square are here.)
I also spent some time hunting down other woodworking and tool images in the prints. One of the prints, “Sojourn of the Holy Family in Egypt” (1501-1502), depicts a sawbench much like the one recovered from the Mary Rose shipwreck. And it features a birdsmouth or ripping notch. That might be the earliest depiction of the birdsmouth I am aware of. (Correction: Suzanne Ellison pointed out the earliest one she’s uncovered is 1390.)
On the more gruesome side of things, there’s “Martyrdom of the 10,000” (1496-1497) in which someone is boring out the eye of a bishop with an auger. This image sent me scurrying to my archive of images. Somewhere in there is an image that Jeff Burks dug up that shows the eyeworker alone, separate from the chaotic scene.
My favorite part of the exhibit was an excerpt from the colaphon of the book “Life of the Virgin.” I wish we could print this inside all our books, instead of the dry copyright notice.
Woe to thee, fraudster and thief of someone else’s labors and invention, let thou not even think of laying thy impertinent hands on this work. For let me tell thee that Maximilian, the most glorious emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, granted us the privilege that no one might print copies of these pictures, and that no such prints might be sold within the imperial domains. But should thou still transgress, whether out of disregard or criminal avarice, be assured that after confiscation of thy property the severest penalties shall follow.