If I wrote clickbait headlines, this one would be: “One Weird Trick to Really Understand Furniture Design.”
But I don’t. So instead, you’re getting some odd indie-rock lyric that works for me but does Jack Buddy for this blog’s SEO.
When I started working on “Campaign Furniture” more than a decade ago, I decided to create my own hand drawings for the book. My drawing process starts with tracing photos of originals, then modifying them in stages to show what’s important to me.
I thought I would some day advance past the “tracing” stage, but I found out something interesting about the tracing stage: It forces you to see things that your eye cannot. When you draw, your hands and eyes have to work together. But, unlike when I sketch, my hands appear to be more in control of the process when I’m tracing.
Put a different way, when I sketch freehand, my brain forces my hands to vomit out the contents of my brain. When I trace a photo, my hands force my brain to make sense of the lines and curves traveling up my arms.
Try it. Trace every detail you can see – not just the overall form. Cross-hatch the shadows. Try to make it something you would publish, which forces you to slow down. This process is in every way the opposite of sketching, which I try to do quickly (45 seconds or less at times).
After I finish a tracing (such as the stool above that I traced on Friday) I understand the seat shape and leg angles in a way that my eyes alone cannot. It’s a helpful technique with casework. With chairs, it’s invaluable. All of my recent chair designs began with tracings of pieces I like. And my deeper understanding of those chairs led to making my own original designs.
Somehow amongst all the chaos of moving, my daughter Katherine managed to make a good-sized batch of soft wax. You can now pick up a jar from her etsy store.
This might be the last batch for a while. We are taking her to college next weekend. And her cooking apparatus was damaged in the move. So I need to get her cooking pot repaired. And Katherine needs to focus on being a college student first and a wax princess second.
She’s (amazingly) sold more than 1,000 jars of wax since she started cooking it in our basement in Fort Mitchell. Thanks to the profit she made, Katherine was able to buy her own smartphone, XBox and other consumer goods that stimulated the local economy.
So thanks for supporting her all these years.
I hope she is able to continue making wax once she is settled in at college, but I can’t make any promises.
We sold out of copies of “The Anarchist’s Design Book” this week, so the pressure is on to complete the expanded edition as soon as possible. To that end, I have just completed the first draft of the chapter on the staked low stool.
If you own a copy of the current edition of the design book, you can download this draft chapter for free. No forms to fill out. No buttons to click to prove you aren’t a robot. Just click the link below.
Every draft chapter comes with caveats. Here you go:
If you see a typo or factual error, you can report it in the comments. Note that we use AP style and don’t use the Oxford comma. So don’t bother editing this for Chicago style and then sending us a stern letter about footnotes.
The illustration is a CAD drawing. The final illustration will be a copperplate etching by Briony Morrow-Cribbs. So please overlook its CAD-ness.
The final chapter will include challenging quotations in the book’s margins plus some images of elaborations on this stool’s design.
I am now wrapping up the new chapters – just a couple more to go. Briony needs time to create the etchings, and we need to clean up all the chapters and add the details that will make the book better than average. Look for it at the end of 2019.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. If you haven’t been keeping up with updates to this book, here’s a quick primer. If you own the current edition, you’ll be able to download all the new chapters when they are completed. It doesn’t matter where you bought the book – from us or from anyone else.
One influential tool that was unknown to me at the start of this project is a polissoir (polisher), which I call a corn straw burnisher. Roubo offers fewer than 100 words describing the tool and its use, yet that tool has fundamentally changed parts of the way I work. As the last tool to touch the surface prior to the application of finish, or in some instances the tool that actually applies the finish, vigorously scouring the surface with it imparts radiance to the substrate that cannot be adequately described. It must be experienced.
Fabricating your own burnisher is fairly easy, and the raw materials are no farther away than any straw broom.
The first step is to assemble a bundle’s worth of broom straw. My first efforts came from hardware store whisk brooms. Remove any straws that are too coarse.
Squeeze the assembled bundle of broom straw with hardware store hose clamps.
You will need a hank of straws between 1″ to 2″ in diameter. Take your bundle of straws and bind them together with several hose clamps of the appropriate size side-by-side, leaving about 1/2″ of straw sticking out at one end. Leave a little gap between the hose clamps about halfway down the length of the bundle. At this opening, wick in a copious amount of glue all around the circumference and let it sit overnight. Any glue is fine.
Prepare the binding cord with a noose at one end. Make sure to leave a 4″ to 6″ tail at the noose so that there is something to tie the wrapping cord to after the second wrap.
The end result of simple materials and a simple process is an elegant tool that can change your approach to finishing. The tool should be so tightly bound that it makes a crisp sound when striking a hard surface. Simply snip the ends of the wrapping cord, trim the ends of the bound straw bundle, and the tool is ready to use.
Then take a string and tie a loop at one end of the cord. I simply double up the end and tie it into a knot leaving 3″ or 4″ inches of tail. Make a noose from the loop and the string leading to the ball. Place this about 1/8″ from the end of the straw bundle, cinch the noose and start wrapping it as tight as you can without breaking the string. Remove the hose clamps as you work your way down the bundle. When you get to the other end of the bundle (about 1/8″ shy of the end), hold the string in place with a spring clamp. Soak the string wrapping with dilute hide glue and let it set until dry. You can skip this gluing step if your burnisher will be cooked in molten beeswax as the final step. Then reverse the direction of your wrapping (same rotation but now you are working back toward your starting point) to return to the starting point. When you get there, tie off the wrapping string with the tail I mentioned earlier.
The effect of the polisher on well-prepared raw wood is readily apparent and almost instantaneous.
Soak the whole string surface with white glue or cross-linked hide glue and let it sit. Trim the straw bundle ends as needed. If your goal is to make a dry burnisher, you are done. If you want a wax-impregnated burnisher, melt some wax in an appropriate vessel and allow the wrapped bundle to soak in it until it is fully saturated. Remove the burnisher from the molten wax with appropriate caution and wipe the excess wax off. As soon as it cools to hardness it is ready to be put to work.
Pretty much every time we announce an event here at the storefront, people request that we stream it live on the web or create a video we can post on the blog or YouTube.
We don’t do this for a variety of reasons.
The storefront is a nightmare for audio recording. We have high ceilings and tons of hard surfaces. Even with good audio equipment (a TV station was here) and ideal conditions, the audio sucks.
We don’t have the equipment or people to do a good job. I am so picky about video. If we’re going to do video, it’s going to be a high-quality production. That means at least two cameras. So there will be some editing, which takes up time we don’t have.
I don’t want the videotaping to interfere with the actual live experience. People travel here from all over the world. Their visit here is tacked onto their vacations. Or they travel here specifically to come take a class or visit our open day. Real life is real important to me. I’d rather reach just a handful of people and do it well than reach a thousand people in a halfhearted way.
We have about 10 other projects that are a higher priority than streaming video from the shop. I know this means we are out of step with the rest of the world and all the videos on YouTube. But I’m OK with that.
So until I find a way that we can produce high-quality video (and audio) in a way that doesn’t gobble our time and doesn’t interfere with the people who traveled hundreds of miles to be here, I’m afraid the best way to visit here is to come here.
I know that not everyone can manage a trip – financially or time-wise. Sadly, we also can’t manage filming events – financially or time-wise.
I don’t have a lick of formal training in furniture or industrial design (my only design schooling was in graphic design). And yet, after reading the book “The Old Way of Seeing” by Jonathan Hale in the 1990s, I decided to give it a go.
Please consider the above paragraph to be a “surgeon general’s warning” for the next paragraph.
You can now read how I design furniture and other objects in my latest column for Core77. My process starts with becoming organized and disciplined about the visual world and how I experience it and preserve it – my image library is the backbone of my designs. Then I move on to sketches, models and prototypes. And I take different approaches depending on whether I’m building a platform or a box (the two major forms of furniture).
I don’t consider my process unique. But I do hope that explaining it might give you some tools to try out on your own designs, just like “The Old Way of Seeing” did for me.
The event hours are Friday, Sept. 20 from 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 21 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. We’re located at 837 Willard St., in Covington, Ky., 41011. Parking is free on the street.
From the press release: “We started these events to expose more woodworkers to the improvements in quality, environment, and enjoyment that handtool work can offer,” says Lie-Nielsen founder and president Thomas Lie-Nielsen, “and over the past decade we’ve seen their popularity explode with new and experienced woodworkers alike. Incorporating traditional tools and methods can offer even die-hard machinery users ways to bring their work to the next level. The fact that our tools don’t require earplugs or respirators just adds to the appeal.
“Lie-Nielsen staff will help demystify the world of hand tool woodworking and cover topics like sharpening, tool setup and use, and joinery. Visitors are encouraged to get hands on and ask questions.”
Christopher Schwarz, Brendan Gaffney and I (along with guest demonstrators yet to be announced), will be there, too. Like the Lie-Nielsen show staff, we’re happy to demonstrate and/or help you use any of the tools, reveal our “tricks” (ask Chris about his Magic Half Pencil!), answer questions about the Lost Art Press books, and more.