April 2013

The end of childhood

Jay Oyster's picture

Well, now I've done it. For an inexperienced woodworker and art aficianado, I have some serious opinions about design. And yet I've read little of a truly serious bent on the subject. Aside from reading a few of George R. Walker's blog postings and a few articles in Fine Woodworking and other such magazines, I really haven't studied furniture design much. I suppose my thoughts have been more of an, "I know what I like" simplicity. I view this as both a strength and a weakness. 

But now I've ordered "By Hand & Eye" from Lost Art Press, George Walker's and James Tolpin's treatise on furniture design.  Before I read it, though, I feel that I should capture some of my own naive thougts about the topic. I'm hoping that the way that my opinion changes between now and then might be illuminating to me (and perhaps others) on the evolution of design sophistication.

Added brackets for the No8 Stanley, the LV dividers, and marking gauges

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Tool cabinet bracket for No 8 Stanley planeThe slowest aspect of building a tool cabinet is building all of the brackets to hold individual tools. If I had the time to devote away from family and work, I'd have done the entire thing at once, but since that isn't possible, I completed the case, and have been building brackets for individual tools as I get to them. Recently, I completed brackets for my trusty Stanley No 8 plane, my LV dividers, and a couple of marking gauges. I like the way the marking gauge and plane brackets turned out. The dividers bracket still needs a secondary brace, so it doesn't swing around when I open the cabinet's inner door.

Bracket for a pair of marking gauges

The most precious commodity

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My wife and I watch our six year old son run around every day, from school to playing with his neighborhood friends, to spending time doing homework, and maybe watching some TV, when there's enough time left over, and we laugh when he laments how hard his life is. Sure, he's got time pressure, but when you're six, I don't think you have any idea what a harsh reality the pressure of time will be later in life. How could you? I know that I probably acted just the same way when I was six. And I felt how unfair it was that I couldn't stay up until midnight like Mommy and Daddy did.

A recent blog posting by Chris Schwartz that is Priceless

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On April 19th, 2013, Christopher Schwartz posted an important essay on his Lost Art Press blog called "On Technical Perfection". It asks the question of woodworkers, "Should we focus on being technically perfect, or should we instead focus on the design?"  It's a natural topic for him, since Lost Arts is currently preparing a book about just this topic. The book is by George Walker and Jim Tolpin and will be called "By Hand and Eye". It sounds as if it has the potential to be a seminal work.    

But even more impressive than the essay and the forthcoming book, is the discussion that follows his posting. What you can read there is a fascinating (and frankly, astonishing) discussion of the fundamental issues at play when it comes to the tradeoffs between technical prowess and design. Reading through this discussion seems to me to be a bit like sitting around in a room eavesdropping in about the year 1768 on a conversation between James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Locke about what it is about a government that would make it a better sort of government, one that would fulfill the ideals of the Enlightenment.  We aren't in a new golden age of furniture design, but if things go the way they seem to be flowing, we may see one flower within the next few years. (I suppose it follows, since we've only recently seen a new golden age of tools and craftsmanship. It's a natural evolution of an Age for the leading lights to go from the questions of 'How do we do this?' to ones of "What then should we choose to do?")

The Twibill, the English World's Besaigue

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I recently read (and reviewed) Maurice Pommier's children's bookabout woodworking called GrandPa's Workshop. It's a charming book and it introduced me to the uniquely French tool called the besaigue. To a modern American woodworker's eyes, it's an odd, ungainly looking tool, but after hearing how it might be used, I've come to see how it could actually be useful in the right situation. A besaigue, pronounced as best as I can determine as Bay-say-gwe', is a long, double-tipped chisel, with a mortising chisel on one end, and a broad, flat chisel or firmer chisel on the other end. In the middle is a long rod with a handle attached at the midpoint. The purpose of the tool is for timber framing. The long end not being used is placed on the shoulder, and the handle is used to pare down or punch down into a beam to create a mortise. From other reading, it seems to have been commonly used up until perhaps the 17th century along with a large brace and bit to create round-ended mortise slots for structural timbers.

Promotional artwork for Lost Art Press edition of Grandpa's Workshop showing the besaigue in handFrench Style besaïgue from the collection of the Ethnographic Museum of Geneva


French style besaigue, Ethonography Museum of GenevaWhat I didn't learn from this reading, however, is whether or how this tool was ever used in the English-speaking world.  

When Tech Writers get Loopy

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Zygiella web Orb-web by permission of: Laura Bassett, via WikipediaOnce upon a time, I was a technical writer. One particularly long, boring day, a software product manager asked me to write a procedure on how to uninstall a software utility on a particular kind of hardware. It was an academic exercise, since no one in their right mind would have installed it on such a system, and yet the PM still wanted it.

Poem: Saturday, February 10th, 2001

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I just read this poem again for the first time in probably eight years. Among the stuff I've written in my life, this is one of the few that I don't cringe when reading. From my own biased perspective, it's the single best poem I've ever written. But it's dense, and it's personal. To give a couple hints . . . it blends three scenes into a single sense of a cold end-of-winter day in Cleveland, Ohio in early 2001. The three scenes are Public Square in downtown Cleveland, Ohio in early February, my Slovak grandmother's kitchen in small-town Ohio, and the basement of one of those giant Ohio libraries that exist in all of the mid-level or larger cities in that state. Mix in a longing for a long-dead love affair, and a personal religion in which god is actually a puckish, Loki-like character whose primary goal is to laugh at us . . . and this is the poem you get.

Saturday, February 10th, 2001

A rainy, icy city square in February
when the leaves are paper-thin, muck-brown . . .

Design Idea Topics

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This is where I post things about my design aesthetics, from furniture design to graphic design. 

Now, I'd like to mention a couple of the guiding principals I have about design, as well as my approach to writing about these topics. These are fairly important things to keep in mind if you happen across my writings here from out of the wilds of the internet. I am NOT a design professional. I'm an amateur. I've deliberately kept myself an amateur. Probably a mistake on my part, but that's where I am.  There is an obvious debate between the freshness of the tyro versus the well established designs of the pro.  Mostly, the pro wins, in terms of design language and aesthetics. But in some instances, the language of the unencumbered eye brings some value.  That's what I'm attempting to do.

A lot of the woodworking and design writing I've seen on the internet in the last few years has taken the stance of "The Instructor". People write in the manner, that "I am the person who will impart wisdom to you."  I don't feel that I have the luxury of that role. I'm a guy trying to figure out my design language, and I've decided to do it out in the open. If anybody wants to look over my shoulder while I'm figuring this stuff out, you're welcome to do so. Just don't make the mistake that I know what I'm talking about.


This is stuff that I have loosely grouped under 'creativity' or 'inspiration'. They include my writings on furniture design, my creative writing efforts, and the various people and creations of others that have provided me with inspiration over the years. 

Creative Writing - My own efforts at fiction and poetry

Design Ideas - This is where I write about design as it pertains to furniture creation, architecture, and graphic design; the three areas which I have at least attempted to formulate such ideas

Inspirations - These are links to people and/or works that have inspired me over the years


Furniture that's Selling - Design Input

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As an input to the design trends discussion, I found this blog posting on the Apartment Therapy website. It's a take on the 'top 100 US Furniture stores by sales' story that was evidently posted as a Furniture Today article. This is about 2 years old, but it seems a valid source of info for what furniture is selling and by whom.

Spring 2013 Pendants

Spring 2013 pendants for the Kirkwood Spring Fling

Each piece is approximately 1 1/2" to 2 1/2" in diameter, with one smaller one that is only 1/2" in size. They're all glued up as multi-wood blanks, then cut out to the rough size and shape on a scroll saw, then sanded down to the basic outline. I use a dremel to shape to the final design and then sand to a finish. 


Friday, March 15, 2013 to Friday, May 10, 2013

Finished project?: 


Lucas' Train Table

Lucas table for playing with Thomas the Tank Engine trains

it's about 15" tall, almost 4 feet long, and about 30" wide. These were mostly determined by how long my 2 year old son's legs and arms were as of February 2013. Such design considerations have a tendency to clarify one's thinking. That and the need to have no 'sticky-out-bits' for him to trip over or cut himself upon. The paint is that same light green latex I bought for my shop tool cabinet that was intended to look like milk paint. It does, but I think it's going to be more durable for all of the scuffing and marking that Lucas will subject the surface to.


Friday, February 15, 2013 to Saturday, March 2, 2013

Finished project?: 


Woodworking Skills Assessment

Jay Oyster's picture

Stanley No 8, Type 11 Tote and adjusterI'm a numbers guy. It's how I'm wired. And I know I'm going to catch flack for this, but I have been wanting to find a way to attach a number to my woodworking skill level. I've wanted to do this for several years. As a slowly progressing amateur who largely interacts with other woodworkers only through social media, I have no other way to judge my own progress.  

I've built a spreadsheet in which I have attempted to score myself in 10 categories of woodworking skill, with as many subsets of each skill as I could identify. The categories I chose are:

  • General Woodworking skills
  • Measuring and Marking
  • Power Tools
  • Hand Tools
  • Joinery
  • Carving
  • Turning
  • Veneering/Marquetry
  • Finishing
  • Specialty Skills

The Importance of Roger Ebert and Sneak Previews

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Roger Ebert, 1970, GNU Free Documentation LIcense from WikipediaAs I've seen similarly reported by many people this past week, the death of Roger Ebert hit harder than I expected it would, especially considering everyone knew that he hadn't been well in recent years. The outpouring of remembrances and testimonials is impressive, and most heartfelt, it seems to me.  Since Roger was the consumate newspaperman, I've kind of made it a hobby of judging various journalistic organizations by how they handled this story. NBCnews.com and the New York Times did it with skill and care. CNN and CBS seemed a bit sloppier. I didn't even bother to read the NY Post, Washington Post, ABC News, and Fox News, which kind of says how far they've fallen (at least in my own estimation.)

The personal writings about him have been even more impressive, as they can be on occasions such as this, since they don't need to hold to some journalistic standard when it was a friend and a colleague they lost. James BerardinelliAndy Ihnatko, and Leonard Maltin, in particular, wrote very well about him. The loss was felt keenly by many.   What sort of surprised me was that the loss was felt keenly, also, by me.

For Wind Power, 2012 was a Good Year

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Wind Turbines at Holderness, Wikipedia, Creative CommonsI like to follow news about alternative energy. I have ever since I was a kid and the only people who installed windmills were farmers on the prairie to pump water to their cattle, and those weirdos in California. We've come a long way.  Last year was the first year in history in which of all of the new electrical generating capacity installed in the United States, more than half was wind turbines.  We, humanity, are finally learning, I guess.

The best place I've found to find info about wind generating capacity worldwide is what's now known as Wind Power Monthly. Although they've closed off most of their content now to only subscribers . . . a natural outgrowth of the fact that the industry itself is becoming more real as a business, they still provide some basic statistics to the unwashed masses. Being one of the most unwashed, I like to read their year-end reviews. This years', in particular, is outstanding.

More than 51GW of new electrical generating capacity was installed around the world in 2012.  To put that in real-world terms,  (at least terms that are real in my world)  that is enough new power generated annually by wind turbines to send a Delorean time machine on 42 trips through time.  Emmett Brown and I are ecstatic about this.