Friday, October 31, 2008

The Art of Joinery

I Just finished reading The Art of Joinery, originally published as a series of instructional pamphlets in 1678 by Joseph Moxon.

The complete series of pamphlets, titled Mechanick Exercises or the Doctrine of Handy-Works, served as an introduction as well as instruction for various professions, such as blacksmithing, house carpentry and bricklaying. The Art of Joinery deals specifically with the craft of woodworking.

This edition of The Art of Joinery was recently published by Lost Art Press and updated by Chris Schwarz. Each chapter ends with an analysis by Chris Schwarz which summarizes the text. New photos were added alongside the original engravings to provide a clear understanding.

It is surprising just how little woodworking with handtools has changed. From the introduction:

"Joseph Moxon's 'Mechanick Exercises' is more than just a curiosity for historians of the craft of woodworking. The woodworking tools that Moxon describes and the processes he explains have remained remarkably unchanged during the last 330 years. To be sure, we might use fancier materials for some of our tools-investment-cast bronze, ductile iron, A2 steel. But a fore plane is still a fore plane, and it is still used in the same manner to make rough boards into smooth ones.
In fact, I consider Moxon to be an excellent introduction to most hand-tool aspects of woodworking."

As someone who is incorporating handtools more often in daily practice, and as someone who is interested in the history of woodworking, I found this book useful and educational. Hats off to Chris Schwarz for bringing this book back in print, and making it clear to the modern reader.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Reclaiming Lost Space

As I write this in my notebook it is early morning, just before sunrise. The wind is blowing powerfully, and with each gust I hear pecans being shaken from the tree, hitting the tin roof of the shop as they fall.

I don't know what it is, the perfect weather, the changing leaves encouraging me to follow suit, or the oncoming of winter, but I have been fostering an uncontrollable urge to work. The kind of work where muscles are stiff and sore at the end of the day. The kind of work that you can look back and say that you have achieved something positive and long lasting.

With the exception of a brief trip to New Orleans to witness the marriage of our good friends Pen and Adam, I have been in the shop, gutting a back room and rebuilding it.

My hope is that this new room will serve as an assembly room of sorts. Where I can work without as much sawdust, on the finish, assembly, gluing, etc.

Here's a photo of the room. It was added to the shop by my Grandfather, and was used for garden equipment. After my grandfather passed away it was used only for storage of things long forgotten.

The floor was rotten and had fallen in.

First I gutted the room and then removed the floor.

Then started rebuilding. I didn't take many photos of the process, simply because I didn't want to stop.

And here is the new space. Much more needs to be done, but this will get me started. Now I can happily listen to pecans fall on the roof as I whittle away on a new banjo.

John Brown, the self proclaimed "anarchist woodworker," passed away last month. I've been reading some of his writing recently and thought that I would share this, it seemed appropriate.

"When I had completed the chair I sat down and looked at it. I always have a notepad nearby, and I felt that I had to capture the moment. Here, for what it's worth, is what I wrote.

'This big chair was completed on December 9th, a Friday. It is as good as I can do. Perhaps if I live a while longer and work, I will develop greater skills. My mystic self tells me that everything is just right, the angles, and lengths of the parts seem to be in harmony.

This chair marks the recovery of my powers. I have no pain of discomfort, my mind is active my *lighted candle and the flooded fields around me seem to balance my mind and spirit. I know I can work and make a good chair, nothing else matters and I am stress free'"

John Brown. Good Woodworking March 2001

Amy and I enjoying the New Orleans weather.

*"...noticed a candle burning on my bench from the photographs of my workshop, even in broad daylight. The candle reminds me to concentrate, like tying a knot in your handkerchief as a 'remembrancer.' If I don't concentrate, sawcuts go awry, gage marks appear in the wrong place, in fact, lack of concentration lets the gremlins out of the cage."

John Brown. Good Woodworking September 1997

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Make Nothing But Music

The weather is slowly changing here in Alabama. The leaves are just beginning to turn and the nights seem to be made for sitting on the front porch swing.

And there is the pull of winter. Every once in awhile I feel it when I least expect it, that ambiguous comfortable feeling that winter is on it's way. It's nice to feel the simple pleasure of the tug of winter in your soul. It is time to hunker down, enjoy life, and make nothing but music.

Amy and I traveled to Scottsboro, Alabama to the Hardwood Center, where I get most of the wood for the banjos. They have the most beautiful selection of wood. I spent the day Friday thumbing through every piece of of maple they had in order to find the perfect piece. The photo above is what I brought home.

The darker wood on the left is Walnut, next to that is some nice curly maple. Beside the maple lay the most beautiful piece of Honduras Rosewood that I've ever seen. I thought that the Rosewood would make nice fingerboards. Next to that is a big chunk of ebony that I'll also use for fingerboards. On the end is a stack of maple that has already been cut down and ready to steambend into pots.

I've got the shop cleaned up and organized, and enough wood to last me through the winter.

I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Have you ever had that strange feeling that someone was watching you as you worked?

I had an email request to show how I create the curvature of the neck to match the pot.

I create the curvature of the neck with a sanding drum mounted to a drill press. The bottom of the sanding drum has a guide attached to follow a pattern.

The neck is set on a 3 degree angle, this assures proper string tension.

I created a guide for the sanding drum to follow. I transferred the curvature of the pot to the guide.

The form is the length of the neck.

On the guide I have marked a center line. I match the center line of the guide with the center line of the neck.

Clamp the neck at the center...

and sand away the waste...

to create the correct curvature.

I use a router to create the curvature for the tension hoop.

This jig replaces the router fence. It is the same curvature as the bracket band. By adjusting the fence, I can control the depth of the cut.

I clamp waste blocks to the neck to control tear out.

And a photo of the completed neck.

I still have to do some cleanup with sandpaper, and sometimes with chisels, but for the most part this system works pretty well.