The Foundations of Better Woodworking!

The Foundations of Better Woodworking

I got an advance copy of my new book yesterday evening! And pre-ordering is now available at:

I’ve been through the text and the proofs so many times in the last few months that I really couldn’t bring myself to do more than glance through the actual book. I saw enough to tell that it looks great – it’s beautifully laid out and well printed. I also discovered the first typo (a very insignificant one that I will not identify here). Finding this was actually a relief. The first typo is sort of like the first dent on a new car; it makes it a little easier to live with anything else that comes up. It’s amazing that any mistakes get through the multiple checks that go on in the editing process (especially with an ace text editor like Megan Fitzpatrick), but things inevitably do get through.

The book is my attempt to address a major lack of attention paid to many of the most basic things that woodworkers need to know. It often seems as if we woodworking writers and teachers forget that most woodworkers don’t know what we do, and don’t even think to mention these essentials. But years and years of teaching have demonstrated to me that students don’t come with this knowledge and these skills already in place and ready to use. It’s important to talk about how to actually use your body to plane, or saw, or even to work at the tablesaw. It’s equally important to understand just what’s going on when one of your tools interacts with a piece of wood. And just what you’re trying to accomplish during the layout process (and how best to accomplish it). There’s much more as well, and I’ll post about a bunch of these topics over the next few months.

October 1, 2012 – Check out Andy Brownell’s review of The Foundations of Better Woodworking at:

13 Students, 15 Chairs

Slat-Back Chairs completed at Marc Adams School of Woodworking

12 of 13 Students with their chairs

We got 13 completed chairs together during the Slat-Back Chair class at Marc Adams School of Woodworking this past week. And two of the students actually made parts for two more chairs while they were at it, but didn’t get all of the joints fitted. I’m not sure that any of the students believed they would finish earlier in the the week, but we had many of the chairs standing by Thursday night, and all of them together before lunch on Friday. Lots of hard work.

The major problem we had in class had to do with left/right issues. Left as you’re looking at the chair? As you’re seated in the chair? I take the “as seated in the chair” approach in my shop, but some of the students preferred the “as looking at” approach. After some discussion, and ultimately, confusion, I decided to change the official terminology to something a bit less ambiguous (so long as I don’t have anyone from a country where they drive on the left side of the road in my next class) and started to refer to driver’s side vs. passenger side of the chair. Yes. I know. No passengers. Or driver for that matter. But it minimizes confusion. And it’s easy to remember.

One other revelation is that I need to collect all of the regular  #2 pencils at the beginning of a class. A .5 mm pencil makes a decent line; a marking knife, an even better one. But a dull pencil really doesn’t cut it for layout.

A scribed line is best when accuracy really counts, and it can be used to start the actual cut as well. The .5 mm pencil takes a little getting used to, but it’s consistent and reasonably accurate. A typical #2 pencil (if not recently sharpened on fine sandpaper) is just too unreliable.

The curves and angles of chairs can be confusing!

No glue yet, just a dry fitting

Another interesting dry-fit!

We’re just about finished with all 13 Slat-Back chairs at Marc Adams School of Woodworking. Monday was an intense day of form building (for the slat laminations) and learning to shape and smooth the back legs. Tuesday we jumped into the joinery fray, but with straight mortise and tenon joints. Wednesday, the real fun began, and we cut and fit the slats to their mortises, and we started to tackle the angled joinery on the side rails. This chair has particularly interesting joinery there; compound angled mortise and tenons. Today the chairs started coming together, but not before a little bit of confusion set in. Everything got straightened out in the end, but not before we discovered that the back can actually go on four different ways, and only one of them is correct. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about fitting the seat, how to deal with making a set of chairs, and various other details before we finish up.

Another mist-fit chair

There's a wrong way...

Loading back slats into a vacuum press

Loading back slats into the vacuum press

Walnut and maple slat-back

... and a right way!

Artfully arranged cut-offs

Some of the cut-offs from building the bending forms

Slat-Back Chairmaking Class at Marc Adams

Teaching at Marc Adams School of Woodworking

The Van Loaded for travel

Loaded for Travel to Marc Adams School of Woodworking

This is how my van looked yesterday, after I loaded it up for the trip to Marc Adams School of Woodworking. I’m teaching a class this weekend on mortise and tenon joinery, and this coming week it’s a class where everyone builds a Slat-Back Chair. It’s fun to be back here. Marc has a great facility, a great team, and great students.

Slat-Back Chairs - J. Miller Handcrafted Furniture

400 years before Roubo, a folding book stand

Stand for Quran

400 years earlier than Roubo, a beautiful folding book stand from a single large board

On a recent trip to New York, I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You could get lost for days in there, and it’s definitely worth doing that once in a while. Wandering around in the relatively new Islamic art wing near the European painting galleries I came across a fantastic, much earlier version of the folding book stand described by Roubo and popularized recently by Roy Underhill. This large stand for a Quran dates from the year 1360, some 400 years before Roubo! It was not a crude version, either; it was beautifully designed and exquisitely crafted, with multiple layers of rich carvings and piercings. The stand was made by Hasan [ibn] Zain ibn Sulaiman al-Isfahani.

Just in Time for Labor Day: The Tastiest Woodworking You’ll Ever Do

Plank grilling a piece of slamon

Plank Grilling Salmon on a Cherry Plank

Plank-grilling is one of the best uses for a piece of scrap wood that I’ve come across. Take a piece of cherry (or maple, apple wood, alder, or cedar), and soak it in either water or wine for half an hour. Then place it on a medium/hot grill. Once it starts to smoke, place a salmon filet (I marinated mine in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, vinegar and lemon juice) skin down on the plank. Twenty minutes or so later, and you’ll have a smoked yet tender and moist filet. Yum.

Details? I found that the plank should be at least 5/8” thick. At that thickness you might not get more than one or two uses out of it. A thicker board can be reused more – but it may also cook your food a little slower. Just wash off the board after it cools like as you would a cutting board, and put it away for next time.

Not surprisingly, the board will cup rather significantly as the wood dries out (and chars) on one side, but not the other.