Tag Archives: woodworking

unchopping

“Tree Down!”   Jeff Peachey, 2013.

“Start with the leaves, the small twigs, and the nests that have been shaken, ripped, or broken off by the fall; these must be gathered and attached once again to their respective places. It is not arduous work, unless major limbs have been smashed or mutilated. If the fall was carefully and correctly planned, the chances of anything of the kind happening will have been reduced. Again, much depends upon the size, age, shape, and species of the tree. Still, you will be lucky if you can get through this stages without having to use machinery. Even in the best of circumstances it is a labor that will make you wish often that you had won the favor of the universe of ants, the empire of mice, … .” (the rest of the poem)

W. S. Merwin’s “Unchopping a Tree” is a wonderfully meditative poem/essay that will resonate with anyone in craft, conservation, technology, or environmentalism. It articulates the hubris of humans when working with natural materials by emphasizing the complex and one-directional time-bound nature of growth and craft.

There is not a backspace key for craft. Only starting over, or more rarely, working around a mistake. A second of inattention can create hours or days of extra work when dealing with physical materials. Possibly even failure. Chopping is quick. Unchopping takes a long time.

We can all appreciate the section on the structural inappropriateness of trying to glue back the severed fibers of the tree, which will never function as the original. It is as futile as gluing a spinal cord nerve.

The poem ends by zeroing in on the insecurity at the heart of all art and craft. How can any human construct even begin to compare to Nature?

Two Ways of Reinforcing Splits in Wood

Walnut board with splits

I inherited this lovely walnut board, 16.25″ wide, 24″ long. Unfortunately, it was starting to crack in two places. I repaired the larger crack with an ash bowtie (aka butterfly), which I rounded to echo the grain of the board. It it is the full thickness of the board. In the image you can see how it has pulled the crack together next to it very tightly, so that it almost seems to disappear. I tried a different repair on the smaller crack, an end-grain insert, also ash, that has two wedge shaped legs on the inside. I’m hoping this will keep the board from splitting more, though it didn’t seem to affect the appearance of the current crack.

In both cases, I drilled the walnut to remove the majority of the wood, then cleaned it up with chisels. Working on something I own is a pleasant change from the ethical constrictions of performing conservation work on wooden book boards. It is also a good chance to experiment a bit, since I will be able to monitor any changes. On a related note, a version of the article Alexis Hagadorn and I wrote, “The use of parchment to reinforce split wooden bookboards, with preliminary observations into the effects of RH cycling on these repairs”  (Journal of the Institute of Conservation, Vol. 33, No. I, p. 41-63) should be available soon online at Columbia University’s repository. I’ll post a link when this happens.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

 

Note: This woodcut has been made into an open edition, and is for sale, see tool catalog.

The Joiner and Cabinet Maker

AQ-1135XX


“A joiner’s or cabinet-maker’s apprentice would find some instructive reading in this [The Joiner and Cabinet Maker] little work. It contains, in addition to certain rudimentary information, some hints to apprentices of how to turn their leisure hours to permanently useful account. The book is a good shilling’s worth.”

-The Furniture Gazette, Sept. 29, 1883.


Christopher Schwarz, editor of Popular Woodworking, and Joel Moskowitz, founder  of Tools for Working Wood, have teamed up to reprint, expand and annotate the 1839 edition of The Joiner and Cabinet Maker.  I also contributed a chapter,  “Contextualizing ‘The Joiner and Cabinet Maker'”, so am unapologetically biased about this book!

The first section reproduces the complete 1839 edition, which consists of a fictional boy describing his apprenticeship, accompanied by a large amount of historical information about cabinet making in the mid to late 19th century.  The next section consists of Chris following the textual descriptions in the book and builds three projects; a packing box, a schoolbox and a chest of drawers.  In a conversational writing style, he adds his own knowledge of woodworking techniques, bits of history and documents building the projects photographically–the overall effect is like having a private tutor guide you through the project.

I examine three editions of this book (1839, 1841, 1883), relate them to the history of book structure, then investigate how their physicality influences our interpretation of the text.  I am very interested how craft based information gets transmitted through descriptions and manuals. The hands on explication of  historic texts, rather than just reading, is invaluable to a deep understanding, and often opens up new areas of inquiry.  Also, I attempt to make a case for the value of primary sources and their conservation, written for the general public, rather than preaching to the usual conservation and rare book choir.

For readers who haven’t attempted any woodworking, this book has enough general information, historical details and how-to information to serve as an wonderful introduction.

The book is available for sale from Tools for Working Wood. 373 pages, tons of photos, acid free paper, sewn signatures, hardcover. One shilling. $28.95

I should be getting copies in sheets later this month, that I will be selling, and well as providing it for students in the historically oriented Cloth Case Binding  class I am teaching at North Bennet Street School, Boston, February 19-21, 2010.

I also want to credit Matt Murphy for assisting me with some  research, especially concerning Charles Knight & Co. Thanks Matt, librarians rule!