Blinded By Aesthetics

Conservation involves creative thinking, but mainly in a problem solving sense; how to accomplish a clearly defined goal when dealing with a unique object.  Respecting the object, not self expression, is a guiding principal. Even with bookbinding type projects, which I sometimes do, they often involve working with a designer or art director.  I do have some input, but  more often am hired to realize a preexisting idea.

So I am an amateur woodworker to satisfy a creative urge.  Tools for working wood (link on the right hand side bar) sells the metal hardware and blade to make a turning saw.  They also supply free plans, all you need to do is supply the wood.  Did I follow the plans?  Of course not!  As I spent a sunday afternoon spokeshaving the three main pieces, I became more and more interested in emphasizing their thin curves, thinking how elegant looking they were becoming and not thinking about how much tension they would be under when I tightened the toggle.

 

Did I loosen the tension when I was storing the saw?  Of course not! I wanted to be able to grab it and use it.  I did use a natural hemp to twist the toggle, which I was hoping would counter act some of the changes in humidity and keep the tension even, however it is apparent there was simply too much tension for the extreme curve.  The wood was a clear quarter sawn white oak, that I air dried myself.  

About 2 months after I finished the saw, I picked it up to use it and noticed that the wood had split right along the grain.  Looking at it now, the weakness in the curved area seems obvious.  I didn’t give it a thought when I was involved in the act of spokeshaving.

Often, the most common mistake beginners in any craft make is to overbuild, and they end up with a clumsy, heavy, wasteful and amateur looking product.  I went the opposite direction.  Lesson learned. Time to make another one, this time a little straighter and thicker.  Will I follow the plans?  

 

 

 

Leave it to Beaver

 

I found this stick while I was walking in upstate New York, and was amazed. It is remarkable how close the beaver came to eating all the bark and cambium, without biting too deeply into the sapwood, which are the slightly rougher areas. The marks reminded me of a David Pye bowel– using a hand placed gouge as an example of “workmanship of risk”. But this was teeth/paw/eye corrodination.

This stick is not craft, because craft is a learned human activity. This stick is the left over activity from a meal, the bones of a beaver brunch.   If this stick were used by the animal for some purpose, we might consider it a tool, if shaping enhanced its use.  Could we consider non-purposeful shaping a kind of animal art?

An average sized beaver is about 60 lbs. They can swim underwater for 25 minutes, and eat through a 5 inch diameter willow tree in about 3 minutes. To chew, they hold the stick in their front paws, much like we hold corn on the cob. The stick below was about 2 inches in diameter.  Look at those crisp bites through the endgrain.  

 

I started thinking how many tools I would need to replicate this stick– a somewhat dull chisel to get the bark off, a small gouge for the cross grain slices,  a curved bowel adz to slice the endgrain.  I would most likely have to make a miniature scrub plane to get this high degree of regulation on the surface.  And even with these tools, I doubt I could do such a good job. And it would take me much, much longer. 

I realize that teeth are not tools, and that a beaver is not a craftsman.

But looking at this stick reminds me that the skillful use of simple tools is an efficient, beautiful expression of craft.