Tools Beget Tools

I have, lately, been reading Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens – a Brief History of Mankind” – a fascinating story about our evolution from simple and unspectacular members of the ape family to become the most powerful, dangerous, and innovative creatures on the planet. Imagining Harari’s description of Neanderthals and early sapiens who made tools (and weapons) with wood and stone, I can’t help but wonder if after making that first stone spear or cutting instrument, that early human might have next thought “maybe I can make a jig for that”? Or “Where can I find a new sharpening device for that”?

I am not alone in this thinking, Interviewing the new Chair of our local woodworker’s association, I was reminded of this theme when I asked how he came into woodworking. He told me his story about how his wife went to a wine convention and while she was away he decided to build a small wine box for her. He bought a few tools, built the box, and both of them were pleased with the result. So, he began to imagine other projects and bought more tools, and so on… and the workshop tool collection has continued to evolve ever since. I suspect that many woodworkers can tell a similar story.

A new Arrival

Just before Christmas, we were able to purchase a new cabinet table saw to replace our aging contractor-grade unit, a piece of equipment that had gotten us as far as it could but reaching its limits of utility. It was a significant investment for a small firm like ours but the thought was that we would not have to make such an investment for a very long time – maybe never again. What we hadn’t counted on, perhaps, were the other supporting investments that this one might require. For example, because the format of the saw top was very different than the previous unit, nearly every related jig and appliance we owned was now useless. So, time, money and material gets invested in building a whole new collection of tools to support the one I just bought.

Crosscut Sled
Crosscut Sled

Now I am not complaining about building jigs – as you will know if you have ever read my four-part series on the Joy of Jigs. Anyway, it was great to be able to take my cross-cut sled to the next level. But it doesn’t end there. Having a new powerful saw means a new dust collection solution, a few new blades, maybe a new dado set – and let’s not forget a new built-in router insert (since the old one won’t fit the extension wing) and, oh yes, I can finally get one of those nice adjustable clamping units that fit right over that new fence. And, by the way, since adding the new table means I now have almost all I need to do another kind of project I’ve been considering, I might as well just fill in that gap, too by buying the remaining things to finish up.

The Beast is Back

Thankfully, some of the existing jigs and tools could simply be re-configured like my favourite box-joint jig (aka The Beast) that really only needed to have the miter slider moved by about an inch to fit where the slot is located in the new saw. I’ve no doubt, however, that in the coming months I will find even more absolutely invaluable complementary devices and supports to acquire that will ultimately eclipse and surpass the initial investment in the saw. It’s just one of those unwritten “laws” of shop evolution (tools beget tools) – and just maybe, a primitive instinct – for woodworkers everywhere.

The Four C’s

We were delighted to be part of the first ever Surfside Studio Tour this past weekend – an event highlighting the artists and artisans of Highway 207 from Lawrencetown to Chezzetcook along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore. With the prospect of a new studio event we decided to innovate on our approach to this year’s tour. Reflecting on our values led to our choice this year to focus on four C’s – customization, collections, collaboration, and classes. The results have been very positive.

Customization: Art, for the sake of art, has its place and we love to be innovative and to use various media to express our creative energies on a unique artistic project. But we sometimes, necessarily, forsake our love for true art in favour of production volumes to sustain the ongoing costs and effort of being an artist – and preferably not a starving one.

OK – so if I make an interesting doodad that a hundred people would like to have, then maybe I should make a hundred of them and sell to those who wish to have it. Moreover, I guess there is nothing wrong with a customer coming in and picking up one of a dozen similar turned pens or identical cutting boards if they really like them. What we were trying to get folks to consider this week is the notion of intentionality and personalization in buying items for themselves and others. We are always happy to have the challenge of a client saying “Well my friend, Jane, is such a fanatic about xxx – can you put something together for her?” and then working with that client to come up with the perfect item that may be a one-of-a-kind product specially made for that recipient. In many ways it just feels right in terms of our philosophy of sustainability, to make things that are purposefully made to support the interests or needs of a person rather than trying to convince them why they need this knick-knack that probably isn’t all that relevant.

Collections: Our ability to create mixed media and diverse items allows us to deliver a multi-faceted gift or multi-use package of items that serve a similar purpose or can celebrate a special event.  A visitor to our open studio event has friends about to have their first baby. Seeking to find a great gift for their friend we suggested things like a custom baby quilt, a monogrammed baby bib, a hand-turned rattle, and a custom wooden mobile with various unique and colorful natural woods.

The mix of media skills we offer creates a one-stop shopping experience for that person and we anticipate her return to put together a package of gift items in a single purchase. Once again, we feel that this speaks to efficiency and sustainability and it feels good to present this idea as both an economical and environmentally responsible option.

Collaboration: ChezCraft, Gary Dumas, Brad Holley

Collaboration: We have many friends and colleagues with similar skills (and their own unique styles) in fabric and wood, but also others who work in different aspects of art & craft such as potters, jewellers, blacksmiths/ goldsmiths, photographers, stone carvers, to name a few.

This year we were able to match some of our own products with the work of Gary Dumas and Brad Holley in a special Asian-inspired collaboration. While our colleagues got additional exposure to a market they would not otherwise have been able to  access, we were able to present the talents of two exceptional artisans to extend our  collection and build our reputation for delivering high quality artisan creations.

Classes: The production of art and craft items is our primary line of business right now. But on its own it will not pay the bills of even a moderate shop like ours. Diversification of products and services is critical to our long-term survival. Although I feel the artisan and woodworker when I put on my apron, you just cannot take the educator out of someone who has been a teacher for any length of time, as Mary Elizabeth and I both have. This year we will leverage our educational background to offer one-on-one and small group training in the skills we have come to master. We are also hoping to launch a new YouTube channel with some short teaching pieces for specific projects and techniques. Based on our own custom patterns and plans, we think we can monetize the digital assets while offering some online instruction for free.

These four C’s really speak to a fifth one which is a favorite of ours – commissions. This is valuable as a revenue generation approach, but more importantly speaks to both our philosophy of sustainability, as well as our desire to get to know our clients more intimately – to develop deep relationships with Customers who are the most important “C” of all.

Tech Talk: Building Tradition with a Spokeshave

In April, Mary Elizabeth addressed traditional technology in one of our Tech Talk blog posts. Her post focused on hand planes, one of Mary Elizabeth’s (and my) favorite tools. The typical woodworker has at least four or five unique purpose planes (flattening, smoothing, shaping, profiling, etc.) of varying sizes – some so distinct from another that it is hard to reckon them to be in the same class of tools.

The spokeshave is ideal to shape this broadsword.

I was making a pair of replica broadswords for my son and grandson this week and – after preliminary cutting and shaping – had to refine the angles and surfaces of the swords’ blades. The right tool for this, in my mind is the lowly spokeshave and so I reached for one of mine to help me with this task. Evolving from primitive shaping tools like the draw knife and scraper, and considered to be a form of hand plane, the spokeshave has been around for eons in one form or another. Like all hand planes, a spokeshave may have a cap iron and a frog, is set up against the work with a sole , and slices off fine shavings using a fixed position blade that goes through the body. For me, that’s about where the similarities end.

Scrapers, spokeshaves, and hand planes.

I find that the spokeshave is much more versatile wherever practical, and, moreover, more tactile than typical flat-sole hand planes. This is in part because the motion is a pulling one using a set of handles at the side of the body (of course, there are many other planes that use a pulling motion). The sole may be flat, convex or concave depending on its function but, in either case, it takes practice to get the shave to address the surface for optimum effect. It also takes (and gives) a feel for the wood and the grain that is very special. When you have addressed the grain and surface well, long thin shavings feed out from the mouth of the unit with consistent dimensions, and the wood surface takes on a beautiful smoothness that is often ready for finish without any additional sanding or other surface preparation. The feel of that spokeshave slicing through the wood (as felt through those winged handles) is like no other tool I know.

Bill Howe’s presentation to the Atlantic Woodworkers’ Association in April inspired me to think about and use the spokeshave more and so I find I am increasingly going to it in projects of this nature – not only because it is an effective tool, but also because the feel of working with a spokeshave is extremely gratifying.  For me there is also a sense that I am working with an ages-old technology/ tool using traditional techniques – and that, in itself, is certainly appealing.

Replica broadsword.

In the current project, this sense of building and preserving tradition is even more enhanced since what I am making is a traditional weapon that dates back to the 6th century and which endured for centuries.  The broadsword was used in battle by medieval knights and was considered one of the knight’s most prized assets. For training and tournaments, rebated (blunted) and wooden swords were used to limit injury and so there must have been a time when wooden swords like this were being made to closely replicate the look and feel of their iron counterparts. I can imagine some 11th century woodsmith or swordsmith sitting down to a similar task with a spokeshave or draw knife to carve those same sword facets for a Lancelot or a Galahad.

Anon, with spokeshave at hand, I must away to this labor of love.

New Life – Small Scale

Our woodworking challenge for November was to work on a small scale.  I decided this would be the perfect time for a refinishing project that I have had on my list.

My find after general and basic repairs to drawer fronts.
My find after cleaning and basic repairs to drawer fronts.

The Original Find

This was one of my ‘street finds’ that someone had thrown in the garbage.  When I found it, there was no top and the drawers were stacked beside the carcass.  Continue reading New Life – Small Scale

Progress Not Perfection

Finished is better than perfect

We have had another gap in our blog posting.  That is partly because we have been crazy busy with business and reorganizing our living and work space.  As a result, we have made progress in those areas but  haven’t had much time for playing with our art so, when we have had some time, we have been in the shop or studio making something or on the computer creating. Continue reading Progress Not Perfection

Playing for inspiration

Breaking a Creative Block

Last week I was working on a challenge quilt that was giving me trouble because I was way over thinking. I can almost hear some of you saying “Wow, that is not at all like you”. To which I reply, that there is no need for sarcasm.   So back to my point.  I started several times but rejected idea after idea for a variety of reasons – too complex, too simple, too uninspired (or uninspiring), too cliché (I know, what does that even mean?). Continue reading Playing for inspiration

2×4 and Tech Challenges

 

The 2×4 Challenge

This week, I have been finishing a 2×4 Challenge through  Taylor Timber Mart in Musquodobit Harbour.   If you are a woodworker, you might be familiar with the 2×4 challenge idea, which is popular with guilds and online woodworking groups.   The challenge is to create a unique project from a single 2×4, usually construction-grade wood.  This is not the best wood to work with but its availability and low cost making this contest great for woodworkers of all levels.  Rules can vary.  For this contest, rules are simple– you pick up a free 8’ 2×4 and create anything you like as long as it is comprised of 90% wood from the supplied 2×4 and no more than 10% of any other elements (adhesive, fasteners, decorative features…), determined by weight.
Continue reading 2×4 and Tech Challenges

Patchwork Stories

My Patchwork Story

I have mixed feelings towards making patchwork quilts.  I enjoy the history and tradition of the art and it does appeal to my perfectionist tendencies.  Ironically, these are the same things that can contribute to my more ambivalent feelings toward this type of work.  Sometimes the number of traditional patterns generated makes it feel harder to do something new or unique.  This, of course, is not true as talented designers are constantly created new approaches and new variations. Continue reading Patchwork Stories

Tech Tuesday – Longarm Quilting

Introducing Songbird Quilter

The Eastern Shore has a great new service for quilters.  Wendy Pehrsson has opened Songbird Quilter in Lawrencetown. Songbird offers longarm instruction and rental services to help people finish their quilts without the expense of purchasing a longarm.   After a short orientation session, quilters can rent Wendy’s machine by the hour  to complete projects at a very reasonable rates.

Continue reading Tech Tuesday – Longarm Quilting

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