‘The Intelligent Hand’ by David Savage

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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.

— David Savage

Posted in The Intelligent Hand, Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Photo Gallery – Lie-Nielsen 35th Anniversary

Lie-Nielsen Toolworks Summer Open House 2016

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.

—Jeff Burks

 

Posted in Personal Favorites | 1 Comment

Printing Complete for ‘Roman Workbenches’

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Brian Stuparyk at Steam Whistle Letterpress reports that he (and his family) have completed printing the letterpress pages for “Roman Workbenches.” Soon (I hope this week) the sheets will be packed up and trucked to the bindery in Massachusetts.

As you can see from the image from above, the paper and letterpress printing have a texture that I think you’ll enjoy, especially if you grew up on offset printing like most Americans.

I don’t have a date for when the bound books will be ready. Once the sheets arrive there, the bindery will be able to give me a better idea. But it won’t be long.

We have long been sold out of the entire run of “Roman Workbenches” in letterpress version, but we’re hoping that not too many sheets will get spoiled during binding and we’ll have some extras to sell. Stay tuned.

In other shameless product news, the deluxe version of “With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture” has been sent to press. We’re on track for a summer release.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Free Download: A Closer Look at Roubo’s Workshop

Are you a little bit obsessed with the workshop in Roubo’s Plate 11? Do you need a new poster for your shop or new wallpaper for your computer screen or tablet? Do you really, really want to see the wood shavings in the foreground and all the stuff leaning against the back wall?

Here’s a higher resolution scan of the workshop for your viewing pleasure: Atelier Roubo

Suzanne Ellison

P.S. My test rabbit (thanks, KP) used the scan for wallpaper on his PC and was very happy.

Posted in To Make as Perfectly as Possible, Roubo Translation | 11 Comments

Eyes Wide Open

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My job at Lost Art Press is basically this: wrangling content. I read it, edit it, listen to it, transcribe it, write it, find it, scan it, organize it, cut it, extrapolate it, link to it, contract it and share it. And through this wrangling, no matter the author or topic, universal themes emerge.

Often an 8-5 occupation, by nature of design, is one of repetition. And perhaps that’s part of the appeal of woodworking, both as an avocation and vocation—it requires constant learning, no matter the skill level. There’s always more to learn, new paths to take, ways to improve. There’s a scholarly aspect to it, and always the feeling of the possibility of a new discovery, with only the turn of the page or an afternoon at the bench.

And so I see the theme of lifelong learning emerge, over and over, from masters of the craft, in both written and vocal form.

In many ways it’s why Lost Art Press exists—as well as the many magazines, books, forums, guilds, classes, schools and DVDs that delve into the intricacies of woodworking.

There’s always more to know.

Here are some quotes, both formally written and in the form of snippets of conversation, that I’ve gathered during my more recent content wrangling from a few masters of the craft who still, to this day (or did, until they died) foster a love of learning.

“It’s interesting to speculate as to exactly when in one’s career one writes a book. I wrote ‘Welsh Stick Chairs’ three years ago, but I am still on the learning curve, and I’ve moved on. In theory, I suppose when one is 99, lying on the death bed, then you write about what you’ve learnt. No. I think the important thing to remember is that not all information in print is law, even if you don’t agree with what you read, it should stimulate thought.”  —John Brown, Good Woodworking, 1994

“I’ve mainly been doing sculptures and some new chair stuff. I’ve had a great time and want to continue the ball rolling. I also want to further my chairmaking so when I get home I don’t feel I’ve done nothing in terms of my main craft. So I’ve pursued a couple different [ideas], and I’ll see how these things develop and hopefully [they’ll] become a part of what I do.”  —Peter Galbert, on life as a resident artist, 2016

“I’ve often said, only sort of whimsically, if you had to distill down my job it would say, ‘Be productively curious.’ I was productively curious.”  —Don Williams, on his almost three decades as Senior Furniture Conservator at the Smithsonian Institute, 2017

“For me, it’s really just keeping engaged, keeping really interested into what’s going on because we can never completely know it. And I hate and love that at the same time. I love being in the position of not knowing but maybe going to find out. And so it’s basically about keeping my eyes open and not taking myself too seriously, because nobody else does. And that’s really it. Not taking things personally in terms of interpreting the world as being against me or for me or any of that. I’m just here observing slowly, with my eyes as wide open as possible.”  —Jim Tolpin, 2017

“Neither of us are trained designers, bur rather experienced builders with a healthy curiosity. We both began experimenting with the practices and suggestions laid out in the period design guides. We set aside tape measures and began using dividers. We opted to use geometry to trace layouts, even when precision tools were easier and more convenient. Our goals were to learn to see, and to discover if the tradition might reveal relevant information for today’s builder.” —George R. Walker, in his preface to “By Hand & Eye,” May 28, 2012

“There is a point where a craft becomes an art, and he can find enough to learn about woodwork as an art to last him for a lifetime.” —Charles H. Hayward, “Chips from the Chisel,” The Woodworker, 1936

— Kara Gebhart Uhl

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Hello Perdix, You Old Friend

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Today Narayan Nayar and I took the train to Pompeii to look at a fresco that features Perdix, a Roman workbench and some adult content suitable for Cinemax. (“Oh my, I don’t think I have enough money for this pizza.” Cue the brown chicken, brown cow soundtrack.)

As we got off the train, my heart was heavy with dread. Yesterday, our visit to Herculaneum blew my mind but was disappointing in one small way: The House of the Deer was closed that day to visitors. The House of Deer had once housed a woodworking fresco that has since been removed and has since deteriorated. So all I was going to get to see was the hole in the wall where the fresco had been.

But still.

So as I got off the train this morning, I fretted: What if the House of the Vettii is closed? After a not-quick lunch that involved togas (don’t ask), Narayan and I made a beeline to the House of the Vettii. And as I feared, its gate was locked. The structure is in the midst of a renovation and was covered in tarps and scaffolding.

I peered through the gate and saw someone moving down a hallway inside. He didn’t look like a worker. He looked like a tourist. Then I saw another tourist.

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We quickly figured out that a side entrance was open and they were allowing tourists into a small section of the house. I rushed into that entryway and waved hello to Priapus. After years of studying the map of this house I knew exactly where to go. I scooted past a gaggle of kids on spring break and into the room with the fresco I’ve been eager to see for too long.

It’s a miracle this fresco has survived – not just the eruption of Vesuvius but also the looters and custodian that decided (on behalf of Charles III) which images to keep and which ones to destroy. (Why destroy a fresco? According to the Archaeological Museum of Naples, many were destroyed so they didn’t get into the hands of “foreigners or imitators.”) The royal collection preferred figurative scenes or ones with winged figures. For some reason, this one stayed in place and has managed to survive.

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Narayan spent the next 40 minutes photographing the fresco in detail. The photos in this blog entry are mere snapshots I took with my Canon G15. His images will be spectacular.

OK, enough babbling. I need some pizza. Thank goodness they’re only about 4 Euro here.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Roman Workbenches, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

A Well-furnished Roman Sarcophagus

Although Roman furniture is well represented in frescoes, mosaics and sculptures few pieces of wooden furniture survive. The pieces we have for study survived in wet environments such as ship wrecks and wells or were carbonized and buried during the eruption of Vesusius in 79 A.D. Most of the carbonized pieces are from Herculaneum and were preserved and sealed in place by meters-deep pyroclastic material. Pompeii was not entombed as deeply as Herculaneum and contemporary records tell us that some residents (and looters) were able to go back and retrieve household valuables. From Pompeii we have a few plaster casts of the impressions left behind by wooden pieces.

Another source of Roman furniture came to light in 1930 in Simpelveld in the Netherlands when a man digging a foundation for a house uncovered a sarcophagus. The outside of the sarcophagus was not decorated, but the inside revealed a furnished villa for the deceased.

The Simpeveld Sarcophagus is in the collection of the Rijiksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden, is dated between 175-225 A.D., made of  sandstone and measures 205 cm (about 81 in) in length. It is presumed the sarcophagus was made to hold the (cremated) remains of a wealthy woman.

Our reclining resident.

The woman is resting on a three-sided paneled couch, or lectus. Each end is angled outwards to facilitate a cushion and aid in the comfort of the recliner. A lectus (with variations to the number of sides) might be used for sleeping or dining, or both. As you can see they had turned legs.

At the end of the lectus is a roofed structure that some researchers think may be a depiction of the deceased’s villa. It may be something else entirely. The last piece is some type of open cupboard.

On the other side of the sarcophagus there is a sturdy stand with three large containers, an ornate round table, another stand with crockery and jugs (one with its neck turned outwards), a cupboard with doors, an open space and a cupboard with five niches.

The round table is a mensa delphica with three legs ornamented with lion heads and claw feet. In the photo above, right, is a similar table from Herculaneum.

The cupboard has frame and panel doors. Here also we have a similar example from Herculaneum with hingles made of a series of wood cylinders, similar to a piano hingle. And a drawer!

At the end, closest to our resting resident, are a curved-back chair and a chest with a keyhole. The chair may be a cathedra, which was known as a woman’s chair. Based on other sculptural evidence a cathedra may have been made of wickerwork.

Every home had a chest for storage of valuables. They were often bound with iron straps and were locked. Above is a chest found in Herculaneum.

I did not find any full photos of the opposite (short) end of the sarcophagus. It looks as though there are two other open pieces.

Without all the missing contents we don’t know which of the pieces would have been the lararium, or household shrine. If I had to guess my choice would be the open cupboard with the the five niches to accomodate a lamp, incense, salt and dishes for offerings.

One thing to consider is each piece of furniture may not be to scale. For instance, if the cupboard with the frame and panel doors were of a larger scale it might be an armarium, for the storage of arms, and would typically be found near the entrance of a home. The armarium is the ancestor of the modern armoire.

The Simpelveld Sarcophagus is unique. Usually the decorative work on the outside of a sarcophagus is what interests us. There are often depictions of heroes from mythology, a bacchanal in progress, or scenes from the life of the deceased. For the Simpelveld Sarcophagus we have to look inside the thing and what do we find? A cosy Roman home packed with household goods and a reclining resident.

Suzanne Ellison

Posted in Furniture Styles, Historical Images | 11 Comments