December 15, 2008

A Season of Giving
I am known as warm and cuddly around the Studio. Huggable. A warm soft quiet teddy bear. A giver. Perhaps not so much. Better ask the beagle.

In this spirit of the season, and feeling so warm and gosh and golly it’s Xmas time again, I felt I needed to follow up on my last blog on the subject of value. How we who spend our time working at the bench perceive it so differently from the rest of the world. For us a retreat into the basement or out to the garage, a drive to the shop, is worth all the rest of the world’s riches combined. It is our place to hide from the nonsense of the world, to make some peace within ourselves so we can continue to function in this maelstrom of lunacy. This has value for us. It is not the Zen approach, the Pirsig approach I fear, although it’s been some 30 years since I read him. No it is our woodworker’s approach. For better and worse. Attaching value to some things around us, to some work that we do, to the time that we spend in our quietude.

So in this holiday season I think it appropriate to point out the need for us to share our gifts. To let people share our passion and our joy. It is called teaching.

Imagine when we lost the library at Alexandria, how much gathered knowledge we lost? We as woodworkers gather knowledge. Hoarding it, hiding it is as much a mistake as losing a library. There are days when I’m discovering something about wood or about metal, tools or techniques, and I think to myself, Wow this is so cool. But I am one damn fool if I think I am discovering something new. New to me, yes. New to my students, perhaps. Stunning, usually, in its simplicity.

These skills which we keep alive, these traditions we practice, these discoveries we make are so new to us, so filled with aha moments. These are things we must keep alive in our bumbling stumbling way. Things we must pass on to the collected knowledge of the world. And not in a file, not in a folder, not in an html file. Not in a download or a podcast. But in actual sitting with someone else and saying, look here. Look at this. This is something I learned. I want to show it to you. For if we don’t, if we let this stuff pass on, then it will be lost.

Many years ago, a brilliant woodworker name of Steve Voorheis, the late Steve Voorheis sadly, was in Portland to show his work and take part in a meeting of woodworkers at the time. I remember talking to him about his school in Missoula, Montana and the value of teaching these skills. He told me and I remember it so clearly, he told me it’s up the amateur to keep these skills alive. The professional woodworker can’t afford to do so. But the amateur, the putterer, the dedicated eye-poppingly skilled woodworker in the basement needs to keep practicing these dying arts. For few can afford to do things the old ways, not in the market of the 1980’s, not today.

This is the season of sharing then. When we can share our knowledge, our discoveries with others, and I want this to include the young eyes, the young ones, who will never in their schools put hands on real tools. They will touch mice, joysticks, and the Wii surrogates for actual activity. But never will they touch actual tools in their schools. I hope it is with these little folk that we can show them something and say: See the world is much bigger than you imagined. It is much bigger than I imagined. And the joy of living is to keep discovering. Learning is the happiest of activities. Share this joy of learning that you have with others and we will try however vainly to keep the fire going in the night. When the beasts howl, when the electricity dies out, when there’s nothing to do. It’s then we can show someone something dazzling. Share your value.

Gary Rogowski is the Director of The Northwest Woodworking Studio. Visit us at

Published in: on December 15, 2008 at 5:15 pm  Comments (2)  

The Value of Things

November 19, 2008

I think one should be very careful when discussing this stuff. This value stuff. It’s not like there’s an arbiter out there. Oh yes, there are bloggers of course who proclaim themselves as the keepers of the flames of truth and beauty and knowledge. There are plenty of those folks about. Ahem.

There are critics too. Those who pronounce themselves smarter, keener of eye and wit than you, more able to see clearly and so discover the truth, the value of things. So too are there writers and lecturers who have pedigree on their side, initials to follow them up. [Personally I prefer the mutt, beagles aside of course, to the pure breed. They have so much to offer than the lily white hands of the preferred.] These must of course be heard if only to get another good head shaking in.

But in truth there is no one way of discerning beauty. In the eye of the beholder? What about in the ear and the lips, the tongue, the nose of the beholder? So many senses, so many ways to create value. But who’s to say that my value is a better one than yours, besides me of course. This is the problem with assigning value. Who is to say?

I know when I studied literature in college that my professors had a sure test for value: longevity. If a piece stood the test of time, it had value. If it could speak to people throughout the years, it had a universality that made it more potent, more valuable, more real. Never mind that Wordsworth was as bad read aloud as quietly, grieving, to oneself. If the work lasted for centuries it had value. Nowadays value is assigned largely upon dollars spent. A piece has value if it grosses so much at the box office. A book has value if its on a top ten list somewhere. Your work has value if you get a grant. But what about next year? Will it still have value then? Or has value become as ephemeral as newsworthy?

But what about value itself? Value I fear comes from within. It’s where we feel it and from where it is assigned. If I do 20 hours of work and I hate every minute of it what’s the value of that? But I spend two hours working on a delicate piece of inlay and I enjoy every minute of it, lost in that tiny little world, how much more value is there for me? And to put a price tag on it almost besmirches it although we must.

I fear this value from within because the inside arbiter can be so capricious. At times loving my work, at others thinking I made another mistake. So we look for validation from others.

I had a student in class once. A big guy, biker type. Sweetheart guy though and we were having a beer one day after class and talking about writing. I like to talk about writing. Here he was telling how important it was to get his book published. And my response was something along the lines of well, it doesn’t really matter if your book gets published does it? The important thing is that you like writing it. If someone else gets to read it and likes it too, well that’s gravy. Just good gravy. His feeling was that you needed to get published, your work has to see the light of day to be worth anything. Who’s right? I don’t know. I have raised more questions. But remember that you’re the one setting the table and eating the meal. Might as well enjoy the making of it too. That’s real value.

Gary Rogowski is the Director of The Northwest Woodworking Studio. Visit us at

Published in: on November 19, 2008 at 8:59 am  Comments (7)  
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November 6, 2008

It shouldn’t be a mystery. It should come as no surprise. There you are, racing through your life, your day, busy with your driving or driving behind an idiot muttering to yourself. Navigating your iPod or navigating the message from your spouse. [You have so many talents. Maybe both jobs at once.] There you are negotiating a business deal or writing that paper. You are driven to succeed and to do every job well. You move at a pace that is fast and efficient. Sure there’s a hiccup every now and then. A bump in the road put there by the fools who would hold up your fantastic progress. But you know your job and you do it well.

Then you take on woodworking.

Woodworking is not like your normal life. It is not a normal activity. Oh sure, if you’re a carpenter all day, then the shift to the work bench isn’t that hard. But how many of us make our living swinging a hammer? Not many. No, most of us spend our time tapping furiously on keyboards not nails. We spend our time processing information not staring down the crooked edge of a 2×4.

Then you walk into the wood shop.

It’s different there, isn’t it? Stuff everywhere, parts and pieces of projects placed carefully about. Or in the case of the rest of us, strewn about like the aftermath of an experiment in centrifugal force. It’s a place where the pace is different. The expectations higher and lower both at the same time. It’s a refuge, a haven, a place where you think you know where everything is put.

Then you start to work.

Now it’s not really surprising that things do not go well for you. You are too much of a perfectionist for things to feel just right. You want every act, every technique to work just so. When they do not, you are understandably disappointed. What can be done? Learn to warm up. I think it’s the most overlooked aspect of walking into the woodshop and it leads to such disappointment, such continued disappointment.

Why is this? It is because you are not in the flow yet when you walk into your shop. Your head is somewhere else, your hands aren’t used to these operations, and yet you expect, think of it, you expect perfect results right from the start! So it’s a bit of a blow when things do not go well. It’s a bit of a come down when your hands seem to be at cross purposes with your goals. You can’t hold the drill in the right position. Your arm hurts when you do hold the drill in the right way. The screws don’t pull everything in tight, the finish goes on splotchy. All you want is a little satisfaction. [Do not have The Stones playing in the background now, please.] A little bit of forward progress.

You want to pick up right where you left off. Isn’t that a pretty thought. You can’t. You need to bring your head and your eyes and your hands all down into focus. A focus that your normal life does not have. A focus that is relatively precise and very small by comparison to everything outside the shop. If you don’t have that focus, you will never move forward.

But wait. Wait for it. It will come. It just takes time to get calm. To slow down from the world. So go easy on yourself. It may take several hours before you become productive. That’s okay. You’re in the shop. That’s a good thing. Putter, clean, sharpen. There are a half dozen jobs I can think of off the top of my head that  will be well served by you putting your mind to them now. And then these jobs will help you prepare yourself for the important work that you really want to accomplish.

Gary Rogowski is the Director of The Northwest Woodworking Studio. Visit us at

Published in: on November 6, 2008 at 12:59 pm  Comments (6)  

Caveat Emptor

October 28, 2008

It’s a world of consumers. Consuming so that we can consume even more. Lovely cycle this. And you can see how well it’s doing these days in the financial markets. Never you mind. Remember that everyone’s livelihood depends upon somebody else buying their stuff. So as a result of the need for buying, there is selling.

I began furnituremaking out of a misguided sense that at least I wouldn’t have to be selling. That what I was doing somehow wasn’t commerce. The work would sell itself. People would recognize its inherent quality and it would be a simple thing as people saw the value in my work.

What a dope.

As I learned, as every maker learns, this work needs hard work in the selling of it. It does not sell itself. No one needs a chair that will last 100 years. A lifetime is good enough for most folks. For most of the market 10 years is more than good enough.  What we have to sell is difficult because it is so unneeded. But I think the approach may be off if all that you try to sell is your work.

What I think we actually try to sell is not so much furniture as the idea of making hand made furniture. The furniture of course is a part of the deal, the outcome of our efforts. But what we are really trying to sell is the idea that the customer is going to become part of a process where someone, someone they can shake hands with, this someone has gone out and chosen the wood, and figured out a design, and cut up the wood square, and joined it together well, and polished it to within an inch of its life, and finished it even further. They will become a part of this process and will be able to see it unfold before them.

The difference between this and the box of cereal they opened this morning in hungry consumer fashion is that they will know the maker. They will be able to see his progress, depending upon how open your studio policy is, they will see the plans and see the outcome of these plans. For most customers, this is akin to looking into the heavens to see the sky operate. What marvels that these makers can do, creating things from sticks! And this is what we do. We create magic for this non-visual folk. These folk so buried in their laptops, their spread sheets, their money making lives selling something that people really value highly. For these folk we create something that is not so highly valued although it comes with a high price. [Albeit a high price that still doesn’t cover your ends.]

We let these movers and shakers see the hand of god at work instead of the hand of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, the nameless engineers who created this world of effect. What causes this world? Who can say? The computer causes it somehow. But us furniture makers, we actually do the work. We do the creating. This is marvelous stuff worthy of wonder. So let the buyer beware of other work. Let them know that they are about to witness the creation of something of value. That can be passed from hand to hand, from this generation to the next. Tell me you want to do that with a computer file.

Gary Rogowski is the Director of The Northwest Woodworking Studio. Visit us at

Published in: on October 28, 2008 at 4:51 pm  Comments (2)  

More Habits for Your Stupid Days

October 14, 2008

Continuing on about the table saw and the habits you should have in place for your stupid days in the shop.

My rule of thumb on the saw is to use a push stick for ripping if my fist cannot fit between the fence and the blade. This minimum width forces me, even on one of my stupid days, to go find a push stick. Now I know you’ve ripped small pieces, as have I. But why risk it? It’s so easy to grab a push stick instead of hugging the fence with your claw of a hand. You know the risk. Just put this habit in place.

Also always make sure you have push sticks, within reach, on the saw. So if in the middle of a cut that you have started and then in a flash of realization say, I am an idiot!, you can stop the cut, DO NOT MOVE THE BOARD, and reach over to grab a push stick and then use it to finish the cut.

When feeding stock through on a rip cut, stand just to the left of the blade so any debris flies by your head and not into it. Push with your hands down and into the fence. This position lets you see what’s going on more easily than hiding on the other side of the fence. You won’t know when your workpiece might come off the fence and into the back half of the blade.

Make sure you always push your lumber completely through the cut as well. The habit you should have is to push the board past the blade and off the table insert. Yes, I know this is much farther than you need. But as a habit that you put in place, it will save you from a moment’s laziness and catching the back half of that saw blade. Touching that part of the blade is always risky. Move all the way off the insert each time and you’re safe.

Have some kind of a run-off table in place. It can be as simple as a garbage can with a piece of plywood on top of it. But as long as it supports your board on the outfeed side of the cut, it works. It prevents you from reaching around in the middle of a cut and trying to hang on with your left hand. Never do this.

Don’t be lazy and crosscut freehand on the table saw. You might push a sawn board into the blade and it could come flying back at you. The same is true with crosscutting with a miter gauge and the fence or trying to crosscut a narrow piece against the fence. Don’t. It’s too easy to catch the back half of the blade. Any time you or your work comes into contact with the back half of the blade, very bad things happen on the table saw.

You are of course always wearing safety glasses at the saw. You cannot blink fast enough to keep a piece of debris out of your eye. Habits, develop habits.

When clamping things to your crosscut sled or miter gauge, make sure the clamp handle is out of the line of the cut. Oh, do not snicker. I have had two students run cold hard steel through a saw blade and then look up, with innocence dripping off their faces, saying “What?”

The jointer is another tool that is relentless in its cutting. If your stock is too thin or too narrow use a push stick. After tickling the jointer knives once long ago, I made about 4 push sticks that always live by my jointer. If your hand touches the blade guard in a cut, back off and grab a push stick. On very thin stock, take light passes and never use your thumb to push the stock through. It could end up much shorter. Use a push stick.

Do not think that only power tools can hurt you either. Your chisels, sharp or dull, can nick you pretty good. One simple habit, okay two habits to keep in mind. Clamp your work down so you can work with both hands on the tool. Then keep both hands behind the business end. This way you cannot get hurt. Get in front of the chisel and all bets on your safety are off.

If you keep these habits in place and develop your own for there are many more you could use, then on those days when you’re the least vigilant, on those days when you’re sleepy or distracted or just not yourself, on those days, you will be protected.

Gary Rogowski is the Director of The Northwest Woodworking Studio. Visit us at

Published in: on October 14, 2008 at 9:37 am  Comments (1)  

Habits for Your Stupid Days

September 30, 2008

What are the habits you need when working in the shop on one of your Stupid Days? These are the habits that will protect you when you have your accident.

You see everyone believes that accidents only occur elsewhere. They think that if they think they are safe that they will avoid an accident. Nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone will have an accident in the shop. The question is: how bad will your accident be?

Woodworking and woodworking with sharp and powerful tools has an inevitability attached to it. The inevitable is that you will have an accident. The question is whether or not you will walk away from it with all your fingers, eyes, and organs. If you do not have habits in place for your stupid days, you are at great risk in the shop.

Woodworkers also believe that if they have always done something one way then nothing can go wrong with the process. It never occurs to folks that they may have just been lucky. But it’s on one of your Stupid Days when you aren’t paying attention and thinking about a thousand other things that you are most at risk. Those are the days when you need to have habits in place to protect you.

Let’s first go through some set-up stuff that will help. First, on the table saw.

On the table saw, make sure that your miter gauge tracks are set parallel with your saw blade. Dead on. Follow your owners manual for the right way to do this for your saw. But make sure they’re parallel. Usually there’s three or four bolts holding the table onto the cabinet base or stand that holds the blade.

Loosen those up and adjust the table. Use a combination square to check the distance to the blade adjusting as needed. You can put a chalk mark on one tooth and check it with the tooth almost disappearing into the front of the table. Then rotate it to the rear of the table and check it again there. [Saw unplugged of course.] The distances should be the same.

Then you want to make sure that your fence is out of parallel with your miter gauge tracks. I set mine out by about 1/64″ to 1/32″ away from the rear of the blade. This way the fence will be closer at the front of the blade and farther away at the rear.

What does this do? This ensures that your cut will be moving away from the blade at the rear of the cut. This is where you get most of your saw accidents. By contacting the blade at the rear of the cut, your wood now has the potential to move up and at you very very quickly. Or it can be thrown across the blade and at you. Nothing good comes from contacting the back half of the blade. That’s why I run my fence a little bit out.

Now some will say what happens when the fence is now on the left side. Well in 30 years, I’ve done that twice so it’s not too hard to adjust for that contingency. Also with the T-square fences it’s a fast adjustment either way. If you do adjust the fence out away from the blade at the rear, you will notice that there also will be no burning of your wood, and less risk of kick-back.

Another simple safeguard is to have a splitter in place. Now regrettably most splitters are poorly designed and if you don’t use your blade guard then you probably don’t have a splitter in place. But the whole point of that splitter is to prevent your wood from touching the back half of the blade. It’s worth having. So if you don’t use your blade guard [shame on ya] and haven’t bought an aftermarket splitter to attach to your table, then you can make one.

If you make your own table inserts, which is easy to do, then you can add a splitter to one of those. All you need to do when you make a new one is to put it in place and raise the blade up to its full height. [Make sure you have a secure hold on the insert with either a pushstick or even your fence, but away from the blade area.]

Great, where does the splitter go? Do this: take the insert out and flip it 180 degrees so the back is at the front and the down side is now up. Now raise the blade back up and through the splitter again. This will cut a slot down the back side of the groove you first cut. In this space you can fit a wooden fin. Glue it in place and there’s your splitter. It obviously doesn’t raise and lower with the blade. But it will provide another small measure of protection for you. Just make sure it’s a hair thinner than your blade kerf so that all your work will pass easily by it.

The splitter will prevent any board from closing up on the back half of the blade in the middle of a cut. It will also keep a board that bows in cutting from contacting the blade. Also if you move your stock away from the fence as you cut, a big no-no, but if it happens then the splitter will help to prevent kick-back.

These are simple things that you can have in place to protect you on the table saw. There are a few others I will discuss in the near future.

Published in: on September 30, 2008 at 8:25 am  Comments (2)  
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Your Stupid Days

September 10, 2008

My apologies for ignoring the blogosphere. I’ve been working and soaking up September’s sunshine. The best time of the year in Oregon.

Let’s continue on about Safety.

Rule #2: Don’t stick your fingers into the blade.

I know that was Rule #1, but there are lots of ways of sticking your fingers into the blade. And the only way you’ll be safe is if you have a SawStop saw and that’s another story. I had a student one time, an orthopedic surgeon no less, and when I walked into the shop that first day of class, he very proudly showed me the compression bandage on his finger. “See, what a great bandage.” Well I had to ask why he was wearing a bandage, and he told me that he had had the table saw on and he was working on it and then he just stuck his finger into the blade. Go figure.

Please do not judge this man. Stuff like this happens all the time. Your brain disengages and you do something stupid. Please, do not think that you are smarter than this physician. This man who spent a good part of his adult life studying the science of healing. His education did him no good because he had a stupid moment. Stupidity plays no favorites here. Stupidity descends upon us all equally like the morning dew descends upon the flower and the cow pie.

Therefore I have developed rules for working in the shop.

1) Do not drink any alcohol and go to work in the shop. I have discovered that the best thing that beer helps me to do is to drink more beer. It is perfectly suited for that job and no other. Not a smart move on my part to drink beer and try to think. A stupid hat comes down on my head and in the midst of drinking beer, [this is how stupid you get], you think the stupid hat looks good on you. And even one beer can make you do stupid things. My worse accident ever in the shop happened after one beer.

2) Develop habits for your stupid days.

Everyone has stupid days. Days when your energy is low, your concentration is worse, or your mood is bad. Everyone has these days. These are days when you should not be anywhere near a moving saw blade. Yet there you are. Working close to several horsepower of spinning danger and you are brain dead. You know these days. You know, usually too far into them, that you are stupid that day. That everything you pick up falls out of your hands or you are constantly knocking things over, losing stuff, not paying attention.

On those days you shouldn’t even be in the shop but there you are anyway. You have to develop habits for these, your stupid days. Because on your smart days you can get away with anything in the shop. You could rip things on the table saw with your elbows holding the work and you’d be fine. But on your stupid days, oh my, on your stupid days, you shouldn’t even be driving a car. You should have stayed home and there you are muttering to yourself about traffic or cursing your luck in choosing a color blind spouse, or lamenting the Cubs blowing another lead [just wait, just wait, it’s ain’t over, till October] Instead of concentrating on the work at hand, you’re thinking about a hundred other things. But we don’t usually know which day is our smart day or our stupid day. Which day will be better. We press on regardless of all the warning signs.

Therefore you must have habits in place. Habits that will protect you on your stupid days.

Published in: on September 11, 2008 at 8:26 am  Comments (2)  
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…”for a dumb as dirt newbie we need more help. What if we can’t figure out what went wrong? What if we don’t even have a clue about the typical “bad practices?”

I subscribe to dozens of woodworking blogs and forums. Many warn about safety often enough, but I have yet to find a good, concise, list of practices to avoid. Yes, there’s the generic advice that says avoid pinching the workpiece into the spinning blade. That’s too generic, and newcomers won’t have either the practice or analytical experience that helps them recognize the condition *before* it happens.

Writing that list (along with illustrations) would be a really good contribution. I’m envisioning something like “Hazardous practices with table saws” as a starter. They seem to be the source of most injuries. Show us the setups that should never ever be attempted, the ones that are guaranteed to kick a piece back into the operator’s gut, or across the street into the neighbor’s yard. Then show us the next more dangerous, the ones that throw the workpiece away from the operator. Show the setups that might work with careful setup and good procedure. Then show us all the safe procedures (i.e. moving the workpiece through with good push / holding tools).

If there’s something “out there” like this, I haven’t found it yet. I think it would be an excellent compendium for a good teacher to build, a resource that might save some injuries, pain, and suffering.

Now, I’ve got some drywall patching to do.Now, I’ve got some drywall patching to do. …Bob


August 6, 2008
Okay, I may be slow, but I’m also late. Bob wrote in and wanted to know, many many weeks ago, about generic safety advice like: Be Safe. And more specific advice, like: Don’t do Stupid Things. So here is my partial list.

Rule #1:  Don’t stick your fingers into the blade. Oh you scoff. You say: who would be so stupid? Well I have a friend who used to work in a cabinet shop. The owner was an old timer you see. He was gruff, irascible, hard as nails, tougher than dirt, meaner than a stuck zipper. You get the picture. He’d been around for awhile and no dang table saw was gonna slow him down. He was right.

Anyways there he was working one day and when the top of his table saw started to fill up with sawdust, like it always did when he was working, he cleaned it, like he always did, wiping it off with his hands. With the blade running.

Now you who are across the room can see this coming. You can see that this is a bad idea to be moving quickly with your hands around a saw blade. But the old guy didn’t see this as clearly and left some quick red evidence behind him on the table.

Corollary #1 to Rule #1: No sudden movements around a moving blade.  If it can cut wood, it can cut you.

Corollary #2 to Corollary #1: Keep your movements around a moving blade exaggerated and conscious. Make big movements around the danger zone that a moving saw blade creates. Exaggerate and it will help you to pay attention to that beast.
The Conclusion: Use a brush to clean off your machine surfaces, AFTER, turning off your machines.
{Note: most of the rest of the advice to follow will be just as obvious.}

Published in: on August 6, 2008 at 1:41 pm  Comments (1)  

The Charming Woodwright

July 17, 2008

Roy Underhill came out last week to the Studio. He came, he saw, and conquered us all laughing, as he must do everywhere. What a delight to have the charming woodwright in our midst. Roy of course hosts the Woodwright Show on PBS and has hosted it, get this, for the past 28 years. My goodness, that’s a heck of a run. Well he’s on to teaching in person now and he taught a class for us on building a foot treadle lathe. But he did more than that as he warmed hearts and won over new friends. What fun to have him here to share his love of traditional woodwork.

It’s not every teacher who can proclaim to his class that they have stemmed the tide of the norm. That in  their three days together they have managed to put another 13 foot treadle lathes onto the earth.  A magnificent if perhaps ultimately fruitless gesture, a gallant shake of the fist at the microchips of the world. But no matter, Roy would get up every morning and pronounce: We will slay bad woodworking today!

And not in false hope I truly think. As Roy said, working wood is what makes us human. We are too used to this wood. We have it, here comes the pun, ingrained in us. We have worked with wood as long as we have held tools in our hands. And this close connection with a material is not just a history of our time on earth although it can be viewed through that lens as well. It is part of our being, part of our living here on Earth. If we have forsaken it in the past 30 some years, it still does not diminish its sway on our being. We would dismiss it if we could but even the printed surfaces at our fast food restaurants show wood grain, not the grain nor hide of the nauga. Wood speaks to us with its warmth, with its utility, and with its beauty.

I believe this is true: that working with wood and tools puts us in touch with some ancient place inside of us. Some place that is calming and satisfying and right. Building or making is a common and necessary fact of life and when we make things with our hands it gives a kind of satisfaction that is unmatched by, for instance, finally reading the rest of my e-mail for the day.

So, Roy came among us and reminded us all of our past, of our connection to the world, of our connection to wood. He did it with grace and humor and I thank him for that. It was a fun weekend and we hope to repeat it again soon.

Published in: on July 17, 2008 at 7:01 pm  Comments (2)  

Taking a Class

June 30, 2008

We have just finished up two weeks of Joinery Concentration classes. We being 12 students and me, my two assistants, Virginia, and the beagle Jimmy. The only casualty I think was my ham sandwich the last day of class. Jimmy got that. My fault, it was my fault of course. I didn’t take him for that lunch time walk and then left the temptation too close to him. Still and all, Jim leaving me just the cucumber and one half chewed piece of bread seemed a bit cold.

Class at the Studio is an amazing slice of life. You come there, master of your own world, fluent in its nuance, trained by years of practice, and then you decide to try something completely different and take a class. Or maybe not you’re not quite new but you’re untrained. It doesn’t matter how much time you have spent in your own shop. It is odd being in someone else’s shop surrounded by new people, trying at the same time to deepen your knowledge of this woodworking stuff.

It’s hard to do. This I understand. You work side by side with folks you have never met. Working on projects or techniques, trying to remember that class like this is not a sprint but a marathon. And that keeping up with anyone else is always a losing battle. You have to remain true to your own beacon, true to your own pace. Trying to remember the important issues for you and what you really want to leave with. Of course, Mom or your sweetie at home will want to see the lovely trivet or Philadelphia Highboy you made in one week of class. But it’s the information, the practice, the techniques, and the shared experience that really make it worthwhile.

I took a class once in pewter work. At that point in time, the extent of my metal working knowledge consisted of knowing how to put a hacksaw blade on a saw. ‘Bout it. I had never worked bronze or copper and knew even less about pewter. Well we got into class about 14 of us and the teacher had us talk about our experiences and this one guy pulls out this pewter tea set he had done and everyone’s jaw just dropped and here he was in class with us and then too soon it was my turn to talk.

You know those naked on the stage dreams you get sometimes. Where you forget your lines, or forget your pants, or forget where to stand or something awful like that and you feel tiny and small? Well this would have felt good compared to how I felt when it was my turn to talk about my experience as a pewter smith. All I could say was, “ I like playing with the big kids. I have no experience at all with pewter.” That was it. I like learning new stuff. And I had fun melting giant holes in that incredibly soft tin. I also liked watching someone else teach because it’s always so instructive to see someone else leading and how they do it.

I told my students the story about one of my Mastery students who ran a flooring business. He was running at the time a big crew of about 20 guys or so. And invariably he would get someone who came in and talked a good game but didn’t know squat. Then this guy would work for a year or so and pretty soon he knew everything. Or he would talk like he knew everything. And then, if he stuck around, if he stayed with it for another five or ten years, he would finally come to the realization that he didn’t really know that much. That there was still a bunch to be learned. Always something to be learned. That’s the fun part.

Anyways, we had a good week doing joinery. We covered a lot of ground and left a lot more that needed covering. But that’s how it is. It’s a long long race. All I can say is thanks to my students, it was fun again.

Published in: on June 30, 2008 at 5:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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