3.15.12 (Warming the coffee cups)
Had coffee at a my teacher’s friends’ house. Before serving the coffee, the host poured hot water into a cup and poured that same cupful into all the cups, to warm them. That water gets colder, cup by cup, but, at the same time, the first cups to be warmed are cooling down—you end up with equal cup warmth all around.
8:36 am • 15 March 2012
3.15.12 (Christian Becksvoort)
Last few days reading In Harmony with Wood by Christian Becksvoort. He talks about how wood is structured, how to identify trees and wood, the working characteristics and limitations of North American species, how to manage a woodlot, how to prepare and store wood you harvest yourself, how to build structures keeping in mind how wood moves throughout the seasons—it’s been extremely helpful but I think my favorite part is Becksvoort’s writing. Here’s one example, it’s a doozy:
Warps are usually characterized as cups (curvature from the wide face of the board to the other); bows (curvature from one end of the board to the other with ends remaining straight); crooks (curvature from one end to the other with the faces remaining flat); and twists (airplane propellers).
He quotes an Appalachian saying that I like: “Locust lasts two years longer than stone.”
He also has like a kind of gentle judgment mode that comes out in a few places. One example is: “Stains are something the honest woodworker may wish to avoid.” My favorite example, though, and my favorite sentence in the book, is what he says about polyvinyl acetate glue: “Its short clamp time, about thirty minutes, makes it ideal for those with a small number of clamps.” Christian Becksvoort, calling it like he sees it.
5:26 am • 15 March 2012
3.11.12 (Techniques: Saw 1)
A Japanese saw has a long, cylindrical handle wrapped in bamboo. It’s extremely light and sensitive. Subtle control is possible but an unsteady hand can run into trouble, fast. The blade fits in a metal slot at the handle’s top and a bolt fixes it there. Dull blades get replaced. Mostly the carpenters use one of two saws, the ryoba noko (“double-bladed saw”) and the douzuki noko (“tenon shoulder saw”). The ryoba noko’s blade is bendy and trapezoidal and it a set of crosscutting teeth and a set of ripcutting teeth, one on each side of the blade. The douzuki noko has only crosscutting teeth. The teeth on a douzuki noko are finer than on the crosscutting side of a ryoba noko, and a metal lip runs along the blade’s untoothed side to keep the saw rigid. That lip and the finer teeth make the douzuki noko more precise than the ryoba noko. The lip is wider than the rest of the blade, though—it can’t fit into the saw’s kerf, so the douzuki noko can’t make cuts deeper or longer than the distance between the teeth and the lip. The ryoba noko is for long or deep cuts.
American handsaws cut when you push. That can be a problem because pushing sends a lot of force down the thin, flexible blade and because the blade’s meeting resistance from the wood it’s moving over. The result is the blade can buckle and wobble and it’s hard to cut straight. Japanese saws cut when you pull. The blade between the teeth touching the piece and the saw’s handle, between the cut and the force being applied to the saw, is too short to bend much. For me, it’s easier to make a straight cut pulling than pushing.
Crosscutting—cutting perpendicular to the grain—is kneeling work and ripcutting—cutting parallel to the grain—is standing work. Crosscutting you secure the piece against bench with your left hand or left knee. The right hand holds the saw and the right arm is held as close to the body as possible, still. The left hand is next to the saw for stability and so that a L.H. finger can help guide the blade. One carpenter uses his L.H. pointer finger to steady the blade’s cut path, the pad of the finger and the fingernail. It’s easy to slice your finger though when the cut starts so my teacher uses his thumb: his L.H. is palm down and the tip of his thumb rests on the board, nail to the right and bent so the knuckle rests on the blade above the teeth. Finger or thumb, though, one contact point on the blade isn’t enough to guarantee a straight cut. You’d need two points. I think keeping a finger on the blade’s about information gathering. Uneven motion in the path is easier to feel than to see.
The cut starts on a push stroke. Even though the saw teeth’s business ends face your body, their backs are sharp enough to start a shallow cut. I don’t know why the carpenters push to start. My hunch is that it’s to force the kerf to start small: the saw’s first cut won’t go too deep or too far. Each cut starts slow and accelerates and should be as long as possible. The lower body is positioned to the blade’s left and the upper body and head lean to the right so that the saw and right arm and nose are all in the same vertical plane. The hand that holds the saw is positioned almost at the end of the handle. The grip starts loose and closes as you pull.
The same body principles apply to the ripcut but the body position is different. The piece rests over the workbench’s edge and is secured by your foot—right or left foot, depending on where the cut is. Knee to the left. You can start a ripcut with the crosscutting side of the saw, it’s easier that way. I like to bend down and kneel over the piece, knee on it and L.H. pointer finger or thumb on the saw, to start and then stand up when it’s time to start sawing the piece’s underside. Standing up, the left hand can’t touch the blade at the kerf or your body’s angles and weight distribution will make straight R.H. movements hard. Instead, the left hand rests on the handle close to the blade. It doesn’t do much pulling, it’s mostly for guiding the line. Sawing standing up looks like standing in a stern trying to shake debris loose from the rudder.
7:31 am • 12 March 2012 • 1 note
[You not alone, when you are still alone,]
You not alone, when you are still alone,
O God, from you that I could private be!
Since you one were, I never since was one;
Since you in me, my self since out of me,
Transported from my self into your being;
Though either distant, present yet to either,
Senseless with too much joy, each other seeing,
And only absent when we are together.
Give me my self and take your self again,
Devise some means but how I may forsake you;
So much is mine that doth with you remain,
That, taking what is mine, with me I take you;
You do bewitch me; O, that I could fly,
From my self you, or from your own self I!
-Michael Drayton, 1594
9:10 am • 7 March 2012 • 1 note
15 minutes before the shop closes it’s cleaning time. Everyone helps sweep the machine tools room together. The shop’s got squareish metal buckets cut open on the side as dustpans and the buckets have hands at your sides height wooden handles attached. The handles have carved jaws that receive a broom handle. All the wooden waste goes into giant rolling wood bins. The brooms are flat brooms, 3D-hinged heads and custom handles, and their heads are wider than the bins are. I’ve never been sure how to sweep the sweepings into the bin. The tactic I used before today was to turn the broom diagonally as it approached the bin’s mouth. A lot of the broom head fit into the bin that way and it would propel most of the sweepings in with it but everything on the diagonal’s far side’d get left on the floor, a long, gray line. Today one of the carpenters laughed to see me sweep that way. He showed me how to make a pile at the bin’s right front corner and, holding the bin’s handle in my left hand and the broom’s in my right so that the broom’s head’s middle meets the bin’s right corner, spin the left half of the head around and into the bin, sweeping the sweepings in all at once.
He was friendly about it and I laughed at myself but I felt embarrassed because it happened in front of everyone. I can’t say much and I can’t do a lot, carpentry-wise, so I put a lot of pressure on myself to be organized and neat, considerate, etc., b/c that feels like the only way I have to communicate. Feels like a way to try and let everyone know I’m grateful and curious. I know messing up’s how you learn but when sweeping’s all you’ve got going for you, messing up sweeping’s a downer.
I was thinking that when I got stopped again and my teacher pointed out—he was very kind about it—my ridiculous hand position. I was holding the broom handle in my right hand, palm to the left and thumb up, like a hitchhiker or opening a refrigerator. He suggested palm down, like holding onto a banister. The wrist has a greater range of motion in the palm to knuckles direction than it does in the thumb to pinky direction.
The carpenters have spent their adult lives sweeping up daily and they’ve got it down I think. Tools and method, body. That feeling, witnessing having it down, I’ve been trying to think about recently. It’s the feeling that that a kind of patient technique and generous intelligence could be brought to bear everywhere. There’s a phrase that comes up whenever I think about it and it is (when it’s on its own I like it with a capital t): “Things going as far as they can.” Everything gets more person friendly. A chair can feel right to sit in. A drawer can open smoothly. A garden. How are you going to tie your shoes? I don’t have it down but having it down’s my goal. Is that the right tool for the job? How high a desk is it comfortable to work at? What about eating?
7:17 am • 28 February 2012