I’m in Austria this week with my family. And while they sleep – Lucy is curled up beside me now – I can’t help but continue editing, sketching and writing.
Right now I’m near the end of editing David Savage’s “The Intelligent Hand.” It’s a most unusual book that will cause much gnashing of teeth and stirring of the trolls beneath the bridge (don’t let them snatch your Cheetos). I think you’ll love it.
At first, however, Megan Fitzpatrick wasn’t so sure.
She gave it a first edit two months ago and said to me several times: You’re not going to like what he says about workbenches. Or sharpening. Or tool steel. Or tools….
The truth is, I adore the book, and I especially love publishing books that don’t fit neatly my view of the craft or benches or tools. In fact, as an editor I consider it a joy and a duty – a noblesse oblige – to seek out perspectives different than mine. To promote them and give them time in the sun.
This approach is not intended to confuse you. It is, instead, an effort to illustrate that we are all myopic, no matter how open-minded we think we are. It’s easy (and perhaps comforting) to surround ourselves with people who see the world similarly. And ignore other perspectives.
But when we do this, it’s a hell of a lot harder to grow as a builder. Or as a person.
If you can look at David Savage’s designs and his 40-plus years of work and say he’s full of crap, then you need to take a critical look at yourself in the mirror. I have no lack of confidence in the way I feel about how I approach the craft. Neither does David, John Brown, Mary May, Don Williams, Peter Galbert, Andre Roubo or any of our authors.
If you let their ideas in, and if you try to see the world from their perspective, then hell, you might learn something.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. “The Intelligent Hand” is scheduled for a September 2018 release.
I finally “met” Richard Jones. Richard and I have been emailing each other, at times daily, since we began turning his opus on timber technology into book form 11 months ago. Richard lives in Leeds, a city in West Yorkshire, England. I live 3,800 miles away, in Fort Thomas, KY. And last week, we spoke via Skype.
I needed to interview Richard for an author profile, and instead of chatting on the phone Richard suggested we Skype. While I would have preferred working through Richard’s life history while drinking a beer or two with him at his favorite pub, today’s technology did allow us to see each other as we spoke, despite the distance.
We talked about how he was born in Shropshire, on the Welsh border in the West Midlands of England, and grew up on a farm. We talked about how he was one of the few students who, in the early 1980s, applied and was accepted in the City & Guilds program in furniture making at Shrewsbury College of Arts and Technology, and how every Friday Robert Wearing would come in to teach – always with jigs. We talked about his work as a joiner and a furniture maker and a business owner and his time living in the U.S. and how it compares to living in the U.K., and his passion for rugby – both watching and playing. We talked for a long time and during that time I just kept thinking how lucky we are to have Richard in our circle of authors.
Richard is one of those rare individuals whose life has led him down varied paths and he’s managed – through hard work and talent – to excel in all of them. In a way, “Cut & Dried” reminds me of a roundabout, its contents sitting in the middle circle with Richard’s various roads leading to it. His approach to the technical and sometimes tedious world of timber technology allows for an accessible read, offering the basics, if that’s what you want, and the nitty gritty, if that’s what you want. And that accessibility stems from his life experiences, as a joiner, furniture maker, business owner, researcher, teacher and writer.
Today, Brendan Gaffney called me to say that the books had arrived at the storefront. I immediately drove over – with one of my children – to see it myself. I feel a bit guilty about this – Richard’s books are on their way to him, but one can’t Skype deliveries. Hopefully he’ll hold his life’s work soon.
While admiring the dust jacket Brendan told me to look underneath – I ran my hand across the heavy hardcover boards wrapped in grey cotton cloth, stamped with a die from a hand-printed woodcut. And I thought, “I can’t wait for Richard to see this.”
The book is now shipping, so to everyone who has already purchased their copy (thank you), it’s on its way. I’m certain it will be well-loved on many bookshelves and in many shops. For while Richard easily incorporates stories throughout to make the reading enjoyable, it’s also a reference book, one you’ll reach for again and again, thankful for an author who dedicated 10 years of his life to making a topic so complex less so.
This is an excerpt from “Cut & Dried” by Richard Jones.
A tree’s form, looked at as if it was an engineered structure, consists of a column and cantilevered beams. The trunk is a column and the branches represent beams. The wood forming the structure of a tree, from root tips to the leaves, must simultaneously withstand vertical and horizontal loads, as well as twisting, flexing and shearing stresses. The trunk, for example, is anchored to the ground by the roots and carries a vertical load but it also experiences twisting and bending as the crown moves in the wind; the trunk itself is therefore a column cantilevered from the ground. The branches, cantilevered from the trunk and similarly cantilevered from each other, have to carry the weight of the leaves, withstand gravity and cope with wind-induced side-to-side movement and other forms of bending and flexing. The strength and mechanical characteristics of wood developed as a means to support the living tree, not as a material for the use of mankind; it is fortuitous for man that trees evolved into such useful material that we have been able to take advantage of for millennia.
To cope with the mechanical stresses life throws at them, trees have developed wood as their supporting structure. Wood is anisotropic because it has inconsistent properties in different directions. Essentially this means the inconsistencies exist longitudinally, radially and transversely within a branch or log. Secondly, wood is heterogeneous, meaning its composition varies. It’s easy to see these anisotropic and heterogeneous characteristics of wood because of the obvious irregularity visible in the grain structure. Steel and plastic, on the other hand, are homogenous and isotropic materials, being uniform in composition with equal properties in all directions. Some engineers of my acquaintance take issue with this and insist sheet steel, for example, has a “grain.” This suggests it is perhaps measurably stronger in one direction than another, and bends more easily one way than another. I cannot verify this claim independently but I am inclined to believe the word of those who work the material on a regular basis.
Frequently-tested Strength Properties The mechanical properties of wood indicate its strength properties. Testing of these properties takes place in both hardwoods and softwoods. The terminology used to describe the mechanical properties of wood identifies the applied stress, e.g., compression, tension, torsion (twisting) and shear and, secondly, the orientation of the stress to the wood’s grain direction. Briefly, the descriptions are as follows:
Compression Parallel to the Grain – This stress shortens the fibres lengthways, e.g., the weight of a building compresses the stilts (posts) of certain types of beach houses or boathouses, or the legs of chairs. A slim post can support a lot of downward pressure (weight) if there is a method found to prevent the post from either buckling or falling over, e.g., pedestal chairs with a supporting bracket-like foot.
Compression Perpendicular to the Grain – An example of this is a loaded shelf that sags unless the shelf has additional structural support. A shelf under compression (loaded on the top face) leads to tension (stretching of the grain) on the bottom face. Some woods are more elastic than others. Ash is comparatively elastic and will recover better than pine. The elasticity of ash is one reason for its suitability for hammer and axe shafts, and baseball bats.
Tension Perpendicular to the Grain – Cleaving or riving illustrates this form of stress (see figure 14.3), and is used to advantage in traditional country wood crafts, for example, those associated with coppicing such as fence and hurdle making and basket weaving. Riving or cleaving oak radially to create workable pieces of timber has a long tradition. Driving nails into wood applies the same stress, and some wood species require pre-boring prior to nailing to prevent splitting, whereas others generally don’t require pre-boring. Those species benefitting from pre-boring tend to be even grained but hard to very hard such as maple, or have distinctly soft spring growth and hard summer growth, such as some softwoods including Douglas fir, and ring-porous hardwoods such as ash and oak.