Wearing out another keyboard….

It’s a good thing I tend to forget how much work goes into a book.

I’m now in the thick of writing my new book, tentatively titled (in my mind, at least) A Furniture Design Companion. Despite going through this process four times previously, I had forgotten just how much work goes into writing a book. Writing, writing, and rewriting over and over again, only to rewrite some more. And all this before an editor even sees it and starts the process going again. I really do tend to wear out a keyboard per book. But despite all of this work, it’s been very exciting.

This is obviously a book about furniture design. And in the first chapters, I’m attempting to describe how it is that we can create new and interesting things. The first chapter in particular deals with some of the mental processes that are at the root of creativity. And much of what I talk about, although geared towards designing a piece of furniture, is just as relevant to many other creative endeavors, including writing a book.

One of the most important aspects of designing something is becoming fully engaged in the process. You don’t design casually. You have to dive headlong into the process, and commit to doing a fair bit of work in order to find a creative solution. Designs don’t come to you unbidden; you put in your blood, sweat and tears to find and develop them. Of course, this is as true of writing (and any other creative endeavor) as it is of design.

Although I had plenty of ideas about where I wanted this book to go (and had outlined it thoroughly), I had to start writing seriously to make real sense of my ideas and to get them to take shape effectively. Not only that, but the first draft was something of a mess. But even that was a necessary step towards writing (or designing) something that works. It’s just as important to sift through all of the ideas and pick out the best ones as it is to come up with the ideas in the first place.

Another of the things I talk about in the book is that you often find yourself frustrated during the process of design. As painful as this might be, this frustration actually has a role in the creative process; it helps to engage more of the brain in the search for creative possibilities. There’s a catch, though. To access this additional processing power you usually have to step away from the struggle and stop thinking about the problem that’s causing the frustration. And that is often when you find a solution.

I’ve had many of these moments of frustration as I struggle to express my ideas. And most often, I make important breakthroughs not when I’m writing, but rather, when I’m doing something else: on my walk to work, before falling asleep, or even when planing a chair part smooth.

What this boils down to is that I’m writing about creativity as I create. And much of what I talk about is actually comforting as I go through challenging process of designing, developing and refining my book. And as I get closer and closer to expressing what I would like to say, I find these early chapters to be helpful in my own struggles. A good companion indeed.

2015: New Classes, new projects

I should have had my schedule of classes for the first half of 2015 posted over a month ago. But things didn’t work out that way. I wound up spending 10 days in the hospital with a double infection, and recovery has been slower than I expected. Unfortunately, the interruption forced me to hold off on getting everything together in a timely way.

N.E.W. StoolThe schedule has a bunch of exciting new project classes that I’ve been developing over the last year. First, there’s a stool project that combines traditional joinery (with a twist) and some really fun shaping. This is a piece that I developed for a class next July at the New English Workshop.

Next up is building a Shaker side table (or nightstand) using hand tools. We’ll prepare the kit of parts for you, but all of the shaping, smoothing and joinery will be done by hand. This is the subject of the online video I did last summer for Craftsy. If you want to get a sense of the project – or want a less expensive video lesson on building the table – click here. You can save 20% off the list price for the online class with this link.Shaker Side Table

The final new class is Building a Contemporary Cabriole Leg Coffee Table. This table incorporates a really cool leg/apron design that strongly harkens back to traditional Cabriole legs, but one that fits in with less traditional rooms as well. I wrote about these legs in the June 2014 issue of Popular Woodworking.Contemporary Coffee TableIt is worth mentioning that I’ve been teaching here in my shop for 18 years now, and prices for most of the classes have not really changed in all that time. As expenses have not remained nearly so constant, I’m finally raising prices on some of the classes. Given the small size of all of these classes, I’m trusting that you’ll still find them a great value.

Shaker Nightstand Online Class

Shaker Nightstand

 

I spent some time over the summer shooting a video class on building a Shaker style Nightstand (or side table) with the folks from Craftsy. The class is now up and running on their site.

This is a class on using hand tools to do the joinery and shaping on the table. I cover jointing and gluing up a top, and then flattening it by hand. I talk about hand chopping the mortises, sawing the tenons, and then fitting the joints properly. Also covered is shaping the bevel on the underside of the top and tapering the legs with hand planes, cutting table buttons and mortising the aprons for the slots so the buttons can attach the top, and assembly and finishing techniques. Underside of Table

The table itself is incredibly versatile. I think we have eight or ten of them (with some variations) in various places around our house. They work next to traditional as well as contemporary pieces. And although the design is so subtle as to be spare, done well, the piece has a lot of impact.

titleCard

Click here to get $10 off on this class!  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Act NOW to be included in FORP II

French Oak Roubo Project Leg ViseRegistration is now open for the French Oak Roubo Project part 2, taking place in Barnesville, GA, November 8 – 14, 2015. This is a truly unique opportunity to take part in a very well-supported build of an extraordinary bench. Leading the build will be Chris Schwarz, Jameel Abraham, Don Williams,  Raney Nelson, Ron Breese, Jon Fiant, Will Myers, and me. We’ll be hosted by Bo Childs, and working at his amazing facility.

Full details at the Benchcrafted website. Don’t think too long about this. It will probably be sold out within hours.

Port Townsend and the Jig of the Week

Port Townsend School of Woodworking nightstandsI just got back from my week of teaching at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking. The class was on building a  frame and panel nightstand (or side table), with haunched mortise and tenon joinery (and half-blind dovetails for the upper stretchers), all of which was cut by hand. In other words, this was a seriously ambitious project for a 5-day class. But also a project that really put into practice the fundamentals of solid wood case construction.

The killer day was Wednesday, which was when we cut and fit all of the tenons to the mortises. It was a long, hard day, but that really put us on the path to completion on Friday. One of the things that helped get everyone through the process was a dead-simple jig.

The walnut block aligns the grooves in the leg and the rail.

The walnut block aligns the grooves in the leg and the rail.

Using the tool

Keeping the walnut block in place and moving the rail back out of the way, I mark out the location of the mortise at the bottom of the groove.

The “jig of the week” was a simple 3/8” by 1 ¼” by 3” block that fit into the grooves for the panel in the legs, the rails, and for the case bottom. This helped with mortise layout and was invaluable in fitting the tenons to the mortises (you could easily tell where to remove wood from the tenon to keep the grooves aligned by sliding this stick out along the tenon while still in the groove in the rail).

"Tool of the Week" in use

The walnut stick shows how much wood needs to be removed from the tenon for perfect alignment of the groove with the groove in the leg.

I’m not sure that this is something that would be as helpful in different situations, but here, where the legs and rails were not aligned flush but the grooves needed to be, it was something everyone used over and over. And everyone’s grooves lined up perfectly.

Port Townsend School of Woodworking Nightstand Class

Nightstand Assembly

 

Assembling the nightstand

Fitting the nightstand bottom

Handworks 2015!

Handworks BannerIt will be hard to wait for this one. Handworks, THE hand tool event to attend, is returning next May to Amana, Iowa. Last year’s Handworks was amazing; almost all of the important hand tool makers, along with a variety of hand tool teachers, authors, purveyors of antique tools, and more, gathered in the Festhalle Barn in Amana for two days of hand-tool heaven. Next year offers an expanded roster of makers, and an entire additional barn’s worth of green woodworking specialists, blacksmiths, and more. Oh. And Roy Underhill. And nearby, in Cedar City Iowa, an exclusive exhibit of the Studley Tool Chest and Workbench.

Plan to be there.

 

Completed French Oak Roubo Project Bench

French Oak Roubo Project Leg ViseIt’s been only 8 months since a group of us got together in Barnesville, Georgia to build reasonably close replicas of the workbench described and illustrated in A.J. Roubo’s L’Art du Menusier. And I can finally report that my bench is now complete. It would have been finished much sooner, but… well, there were lots of reasons. I did decide that I wanted a tail vise (a wagon vise, actually), and I needed to design it as a suitable complement to the massive leg vise with a vise screw from Lake Erie Toolworks and ironwork from Peter Ross. French Oak Roubo Project Bench; tail viseI went back to both of these craftsmen and had Nick at Lake Erie make a somewhat smaller (2” diameter, 3 ½ tpi, reverse threaded) vise screw and traveling dog block, and commissioned Peter to forge a smaller ring and handle. After a little bit of fitting my sliding dog block to the bench, I’ve gotten the wagon-style vise to work perfectly.

The reverse threading on the vise screw means that with clockwise rotation of the handle, the dog block travels away from the end of the bench and tightens against whatever you’re clamping on the bench-top,

Underside of Wagon Vise

Underside of Wagon Vise

Thanks to Jameel at Benchcrafted for pointing this out before I ordered the screw! I devised a hidden garter to secure the vise screw in place; it bolts on from the inside of the end-cap and is completely hidden under the end of the vise hub.

Other details: I’ve set too much of a precedent to not use hounds-tooth dovetails on the end cap of the bench. This now makes four benches with that detail (I think I can stop now). I also shortened up the vise handle for the leg vise. I felt that it was a little long in use, and then I noticed that on Roubo’s Plate 11 it seemed much shorter than what I had, so I went ahead and cut it down.

The bench functions beautifully, and looks great. It’s exciting to add this to my collection of great benches. Will it stay perfectly flat? Probably not. But I’ll just flatten it again when it needs it.  I’ll have more information after another couple changes of season.

 

Workbench BaseNow that I’ve got yet another killer bench, I’ve actually got some spare bench stuff available for sale. I made rock-solid a trestle-style workbench base out of ash a couple of years back. The base is 28” by 59” and 33” high. It bolts together, and is easy to transport. No top. $250

 

Garrett Wade Bench

 

I also have a bench that I purchased from Garrett Wade many years ago. The vise is a little wonky, but the bench 16¼” by 53” by 34¾” high) is in decent shape. Base also unbolts for easier transport. $150

I’ve also got what is essentially a butcher block top with two Jorgenson vises on it, with a row of ¾”dog holes drilled in it. 30” by 60” by 1¾” thick). (not pictured) $425

The Hidden Agenda

I have a few classes coming up that offer interesting opportunities to learn some of the less commonly taught skills.

The Slat-Back Chairs from J. Miller Handcrafted FurniturApril 21st through 26th in my shop, I’ll be teaching how to make  my slat-back chair. This is both a chair basics class and a class in some really sophisticated techniques. And it’s all very do-able. You’ll learn about cutting and smoothing curves, and also about lamination as a way to make exceptionally strong, thin curved components. The joinery on this chair covers what you’d need for almost any other joined chair; and I’m excited to be able to show off all kinds of methods for making even the most complex mortise and tenon joints simple. Chairs have been my focus for the last 30 years, and this is a chance to tap into the insights, techniques and tricks that I’ve learned.

Stool/Table for the Wortheffort Woodworking School ClassOn May 9th – 11th, I’ll be at the Wortheffort School of Woodworking in San Marcos, Texas. The project here is a small stool or table (it works and looks good either way). This is an opportunity to master hand-cut mortise and tenon joinery, and there are a few dovetails thrown in just for fun. Mortise and tenon joinery is the backbone of all woodworking; it’s the best joint for joining parts in most furniture projects. But it somehow gets short shrift compared to the dovetail (its showy, and much more famous sibling). I’ve been cutting mortise and tenon joints using countless different methods since my very first days as a woodworker. And I’ve been teaching what I’ve learned (and continue to learn) for almost 20 years.

And then on May 19th through 23rd, I’ll be at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking, in Port Townsend, Washington (a spectacularly beautiful town on the Puget Sound) I’ll be teaching a class on building case pieces. The project is a small nightstand, but the fundamental construction techniques apply to all kinds of traditionally joined casework. We’ll cover frame and panel construction, mortise and tenon joinery, and half-blind dovetails; along with gluing up and smoothing panels, ship-lapped backs, and more. This is an ambitious project, but it all comes together beautifully, with lots of methods that make the seemingly difficult much easier.

So what’s the hidden agenda? Throughout each of these classes, I’m secretly trying to make you a significantly better woodworker. I’ve been pretty focused over the past few years on what really makes a difference in a person’s woodworking abilities (leading to the publication of my book, The Foundations of Better Woodworking); stuff that doesn’t get a whole lot of play in your typical book or article. And I’ve found that this foundational stuff makes a huge difference for my students. I’m constantly looking out for little things that I can help you to understand what you’re doing better, and ways you can use your body more efficiently and accurately to get the work done.

And don’t miss the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event taking place in my shop this coming weekend (April 11th 10 am – 6 pm, and April 12th, 10 am – 5 pm).

New English Workshop

British flagI’m excited to announce that I”ll be teaching at the New English Workshop in March of 2015. I had met Paul Mayon (one of the founders of this new British woodworking school) at Handworks last May, and Paul recently invited me to come over to teach. In my excitement, I somehow promised I would come up with a new stool design for the class; I’ll write a bit about that process next time.

Paul has put up a couple of great blog posts on the New English Workshop website. The most recent of these relates his reaction to our recent, wide-ranging phone call, and continues with a bit of a review of my book, The Foundations of Better Woodworking (Paul also gave the book a great review in the British magazine, Furniture & Cabinetmaking). The earlier post is a little harder to characterize (Charles Bronson? I’m cool with that). You’ll just have to scroll down to see.

Talking about chairs….

This past fall the folks at Grainger stopped by to film a short video for their “Everyday Heroes” series. I had a lot of fun talking about my work with them, but we concentrated on my rocking chair. Don’t worry… no promotional stuff; just some talk about chairs.