Impatient Patient

I’m an impatient patient. I’m anxious to get back to my work, my life, and my health – or what passes for health around these parts.

I’m also an experienced patient, and know to temper the impatience and to listen carefully to my body as I work my way through my various challenges. I haven’t needed a refined musical ear these days, though. There’s been a lot of pain coming in loud and clear from last week’s surgery to remove a kidney, and I’ve been taking it very, very easy. Let me clarify. There’s actually very little pain when I’m resting (shameless plug: my rocking chair is very, very comfortable, and this has been a very good test of that). Up and about is a different story. But the pain has been slowly easing, receding, dulling. The milestone yesterday was ditching the narcotic pain pills. I hate those pills. And getting rid of them is a big step on my road to recovery. I’ve also been out walking a fair bit. That does more than anything to restore my physical and mental well-being. I even made it in to the shop yesterday to check on things, and to do a tiny bit of very simple work. And then I rested some more.

All in all, this is pretty much where I expected to be. The really difficult part is over, and what comes next requires equal measures of patience and impatience; of listening to my body, and of ignoring it to push beyond my limits and get stronger. I’ve done this countless times before. I’m used to it. Here I am again.

I’m eager to get back to full strength in my writing, furnituremaking, and teaching. And I will be back. Soon!

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.

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.


Woodworking in Texas

I just got back from the Texas Furniture Makers’ Show in Kerrville, TX, where I was one of three judges (along with Asa Christiana of Fine Woodworking Magazine, and Omar Perez, a furniture maker in Houston); I also gave a talk on making chairs. The show has some amazing furniture, and is well worth a visit if you find yourself in the Texas Hill Country (it’s at the Kerr Arts and Cultural Center in Kerrville through November 30th). I first walked into the gallery where the show was set up on Friday evening, and I must admit I was a little taken aback; how was I ever going to be able to judge a collection of great furniture like this? Asa and Omar felt much the same way.

"Safari" Cabinet by Timothy Anz

“Safari” Cabinet by Timothy Anz

But getting to know each of the pieces a little better over the course of the evening and then Saturday morning, I began to focus on what made a particular piece really stand out. For me, the judging process concentrated on a handful of things. This may not always be true (different judges, different opinions), but it may give you some insight into what may go on in the mind of someone judging.

I think there are a few very important things that distinguish great furniture from good furniture. First and foremost is a design that demonstrates a good deal of thought. Every detail should have a reason for being there, and nothing should look like it was just an easy choice (or no real choice at all). I suppose I’m also saying that each of these choices should be a good choice; one that fits in with the work as a whole, and one that effectively serves some purpose. But I will also say that I tried not to let a particular style influence me. The piece needed to be outstanding in the area the maker chose to work in.

Jewelry Chest by Randolph Secrest

Jewelry Chest by Randolph Secrest

I looked for sensitivity to and mastery of the material. There was a range of materials, woods and styles (this wasn’t only woodworking, although most all of the pieces were in wood). Did the piece take advantage of the possibilities of the material? Did it avoid the pitfalls? I looked for short grain issues, cross-grain movement conflicts, etc. But I also looked for sensitive use of grain in creating an overall effect.

Then came careful execution. I looked to see if doors and drawers fit well, with even reveals and good action. I checked that details were crisp, joints tight, curves flowing smoothly, and all surfaces smooth and well prepared.

Table by Brandon Berdoll

“The Brazos Beauty” Table, by Brandon Berdoll

And finally, I felt that the finish should show as much consideration and care as the rest of the piece; no pebbly sprayed finishes, or poorly rubbed out finishes, or pieces that look like they needed another two coats of finish. Now, I’ve done plenty of shows before, and I realize that time constrains what can be done. But if you’re looking to put forward your best impression, you really need to leave time for the finishing!

When I looked over all the pieces, it was clear that a few really stood out from the rest; even though all were all extremely good. Deciding amongst these few stand-outs was not easy, and all were really winners in their own ways.

So congratulations to all of the participants, and to the winners!

I’m happy to be home, and happy to have a break in my out-of-town teaching for the year. Now it’s time to put together next year’s schedule in my shop and around the country. Look for more here soon.

Highland Woodworking Chair Class

Highland WoodworkingI just got back from teaching Chair Building and Design at Highland Woodworking in Atlanta. It was a class full of enthusiastic woodworkers, and we covered a whole lot of material.Chairmaking class The most fun for me was on Sunday afternoon, when we tackled designing a chair as a group, complete with building a full scale prototype. I was excited about this; it’s one thing to talk about what the various criteria for designing a chair are, or to go through construction techniques. But it makes it much easier to see what all of this means in the context of actually going through the process.

Chair sketches

The whiteboard during our group design exercise

So almost everyone sketched out an idea, a doodle, or just a seed on an idea of a chair on the whiteboard, and we discussed, made choices, modifications, and then started in on a prototype. And a few hours later, we actually had something we could sit in, walk around and critique.

I’ve got one more weekend of teaching/travel (the Texas Woodworkers Show in Kerrville, TX) and then I can stay put and start to think about getting more of my shop work done. It’s been a busy teaching season. I’m looking forward to the break!

Working on the chair prototype

Working on the prototype

Thanks to Bartee Lamar for letting me use these photos he took during the class!

Mortise and Tenon Joinery at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks

I’ve learned a lot about mortise and tenon joinery over the years. It’s my mainstay joint for chairs, and as I mentioned in my previous post, it can get pretty gnarly. But many of the techniques, tips and tricks I’ve learned can be a big help even on the everyday mortise and tenon joint. I’m teaching how to cut the basic joint and some of its variations by hand next month at a Lie-Nielsen Weekend Workshop (September 28th and 29th, at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, Warren Maine), and there are still some spaces available. Give the folks a Lie-Nielsen a call if you’re interested.


Toolboxes of the FORP

There was plenty of variety in the sawhorses here at the French Oak Roubo Project. Less variety was in evidence in the toolboxes; Chris Schwarz’s influence was readily apparent. But it was still fun to see what everyone brought, and I learned a few things over the course of the project. I want a slick, for one thing. It’s a great tool for paring the large mortise walls (thanks to Don Williams for lending me his – now I need to spend more money!). I admired all of the beautiful tool chests, and was impressed by how many tools people brought. But I still like the practicality of a limited selection of tools in a hard case with totally protective Kaizen foam.


I’m on my way back home now, with a van loaded to the gills with bench parts. I didn’t finish my bench (I wasn’t really planning to), but got one of the joints pretty well fitted. It may be a few weeks before I’m done; lots more travel in the next 4 weeks, and lots of work in the shop in the meantime. But it was a great week of work with a great bunch of people. Many thanks to all, but especially to Jameel Abraham (Benchcrafted) who organized the whole event, Bo Childs from Wyatt Childs who put up with the mayhem in his shop with extraordinary grace and generosity, and to Ron Brese, who put me up (and put up with me) for the week.

Day Four – French Oak Roubo Project

Panorama of the shop at Wyatt Childs Inc.

A panorama of the shop we’re working in. Check out the 16′-long bench-top at left!

Bases are together. Top to leg joints are in many different stages: roughly penciled in; carefully scribed; mortises cut; dovetails and mortises cut; or ready to be fitted. None of the benches are all together, and it may be that none will be completely finished by tomorrow afternoon. Some of us are leaving early. Others have to crate what needs to shipped home. We need to clean up and restore order and cleanliness to Wyatt Childs, Inc. And some have to load up benches, tools, sawhorses and supplies for the drive home.

The yards and buildings at Wyatt Childs Inc

The shops, warehouses and grounds at Wyatt Childs. The shop we’re working in is the brick building to the right