Back Home in the Mountains

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I ended up going back to the MET one more time before leaving for Colorado. Here’s the tokonoma for the shoin style room. Is this alcove pretentiously wide? I wonder about the choice of the gilt paper as well. I love the way this room is presented, but its not a place you can live in. The good design I care about these days has more to do with a self-sufficient life. Where in that is space for a room of display and reception? In the splendor of viewing this room I forgot that the average carpenters house, for his entire family in Edo period Japan, would be about the same size.

I truly enjoyed seeing the re-created early American rooms  with furnishings and nick-nacks, because it gave me a feeling of the people that might have lived then. As a friend of mine has said, its the relation between the subject and the object that matters.

So, while I loved seeing a re-created shoin style reception room, I would get so much more out of the more humble carpenters room from a row house, perhaps with a workspace in one corner, and the furnishings of a lived in space.

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Back in the mountains of Colorado I’m awed by a different kind of beauty, one that has you not caring about bad design and life as a poor redneck. There was something greatly compelling and exciting about life in the city, the possibilities of it all, and the youthfulness and affluence. It was a real spin around and half of the time I felt like I could forget about the country and make do with a park…but really no. A man should be able to take a piss when he needs to. The great irony of a completely constructed space for human needs is that it is greatly inhuman.

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I finally felt human enough to get back to work on the closet cabinet build. As it turns out I’ve left the panel work alone for long enough to visibly swell in width, the story stick doesn’t lie.  I had planned to attach the bottom skirt that hides the caster wheels with sliding dovetails into the long grain of the panel. It hadn’t occurred to me that as the panels shrink and swell it would be putting constant stress on the dovetails for the skirt corners.

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So some re-evaluation followed, obviously the attachment needs to allow for the panel to move freely. Now the sliding dovetail keys are on the short edge of the cabinet, and will be mortised into the panel above with the cross grain to follow the direction of greatest movement in the panel. I had to draw out the various conditions that might occur to see how it would effect the sliding dovetails. I realized that if the panel is to move freely the sachi-sen doesn’t make sense. If I put it in I have to leave the dovetails with a gap either end, and then what is the wedge for if you can’t draw it up tight?

So forget the wedge, it’ll move freely and keep the panel above from splitting in the long run. I’m still not sure about leaving the sachi-sen out, I would have liked to use it. Chris Hall over at thecarpentryway is working on some Ming inspired cabinets and dealing with the support stand attachment to the bottom of the cabinet carcass as well. I hope to learn more as his work progresses.

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I spun a new silk line for my sumitsubo,  this one is about half the diameter compared to the one I have in my ink line now. I’m hoping that it will be fine enough for joinery work and timber framing.

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Apparently I didn’t forget how cut hand cut dovetails while in NYC, it felt really great to get back to work.

Paying Visit to Miya Shoji

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I took the subway after lunch yesterday down to West 18th street in Manhattan to pay a visit to the legendary woodworkers at Miya Shoji. If you’ve ever searched the term shoji online you’ve run across Miya Shoji right away, their presence looms large in the space around woodworking business and using traditional techniques and tools. The amount of press coverage they’ve received is staggering, but everything was very down to earth when I walked through the door. Chosuke Miyahira’s son is on the left holding that amazing slab of wood as it went out the door, and he was quite happy to talk with me a short while and share a bit of the philosophy that has kept the business working for all of these years. Truly, considering how they work it is nothing short of a miracle. As they say, only in New York City. (But honestly it is not only in the city, we can make this work elsewhere)

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He emphasized how they only worked with wood sourced locally, lots of linden, and walnut. Apparently good wood like this is also becoming more scarce in the North East, prices are very high (and customers don’t understand the vagaries of the hardwood lumber market).

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Here’s a nice slab of live edged walnut that greets you as you walk through the door. Besides the shoji this was the clearest statement of their design values.

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Some cool little lamps that have given me ideas. Apparently they’ve given other stores the same idea and the competition has become increasingly cheap and derivative.

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I really liked the proportioning on their shoji elements. Their kumiko mitsuke was especially thin, even on the towering shoji panels that went floor to ceiling in aragumi arrangement, quite daring.

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And of course, you need some decent glue for applying shoji paper, and there’s lots of different stuff to choose from, so use what works.

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I love how Chosuke Miyahira has this expression in all of the photos. He’s focused on his work, but not necessarily displeased that I’m fanboying out on him here.

Of Note:

1-Work with the local wood available around you.

2-Don’t step on your neighbors turf, that’s just not cool.

3-Its not weather or not you go out of business, its how you go out of business. Every wave has a beginning and an end.

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I ended the evening with a great meal and some mochi daifuku from Minamoto Kitchoan up on 5th Av/ 53rd Street, a real treat!

Meet Me at the MET

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In in New York city through the rest of the week, visiting some friends, and this is what you might find in the apartment of any aspiring young professional. Now, to be blunt, New York city is an expensive place to live, so these friends of mine are not broke or poor, which would be an acceptable excuse for having cheap furniture.  But the above photo speaks to the ubiquity of poor quality construction in the market today, even among the trendy Brooklyn set.

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For a little comparison, here is a piece I ran across in the Asian wing of the met, Ming period Chinese wardrobe with everything so fucking awesome you wonder how we could have descended this far in quality. Lets take a look at some of the details.

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Three way miter joints with wedged through tenon.

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And the bottom rail to stile connection with birds mouth notch and wedged through tenon. The money I spent at the MET was worth it just to look at this one piece!

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And then I ran across a shoin style Japanese room with black lacquered fusuma with gilt paper, and tokonoma on the opposing side that I didn’t photograph. Just really stunning. I mean, I am still stunned and I’m trying to relax drinking a bit of wine back with my friends, not working though. I could have stared at the ceiling in this room for fifteen minutes, the proportioning, the hand plane finish, beautiful!

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They also had a lot of period rooms in the American wing, here is a colonial room with a piece of furniture I’d never seen before to the left of the upholstered chair, a fire screen with lamp table. For all the wealth that was on display, this being the home of a well heeled personage, they still lived with the cold in a very present manner, and the furniture reflects that fact.

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Here’s a colonial niddy-noddy, a device for winding skeins of yarn and measuring length. I really like the lines on this one, its quite timeless and not over-wrought.

Wooden Mug

How about a coopered wooden beer mug? This gives me a creative emotion, like..awesome!

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And it was new to me to see blind mitered dovetails on American furniture, guess where?

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Cabinet legs! I had no idea.

My trip to the MET was an excellent learning experience and it has really changed my view of both Asian and early American furniture making, its so excellent to have seen this stuff in person, even if I wasn’t able to pull out drawers and run my hand over the wood grain.

The Flute Makers and New York

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I do some interesting work these day, you never know what might need to be fabricated. Here is a little press I whipped up the other day for hash.

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I finished fitting the mechi/stub tenons on the top shelf before flying out to New York to spend some time with a good friend of mine, Julian Rose, a Flutist.

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I got into the city in time to catch a concert of his in a small performance hall behind Beethoven Piano’s on 58th street, right below central park. I was struck with the many uses of wood in this space to achieve an acoustically desirable space.

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Grimaldi’s pizza the next day, the BEST.

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The next day Julian and I drove up to a couple of flute makers just outside Boston. Alan Weiss, the head of Wm. S. Haynes gave us a tour. They’ve been in business 125 years now, and have machinery that goes all the way back to the beginning. Most of the work is in gold and silver, really more of a jewelers trade than the work of machinists.

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Here’s a drop forge at Haynes from before 1900, still used for certain gold flute parts, one at a time.

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The craftsmen were very content in their individual work, very knowledgeable, not merely a cog in the production process. I used to do a bit of flute repair work, it stirred something in my heart to see so many with great skill. On the floor around their factory was piles and piles of gold and silver shavings, sort of the equivalent of a wood shop with planing shavings, definitely the kind of shop that I would like to work in, not some cold sterile factory.

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From left to right: Julian Rose – flutist, Gabe Dwiggins, and Alan Weiss – Flutist

Carpentry and the Cold

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Hi Folks! Back for more joinery on the cabinet piece, this time working on the middle shelf dados that house the sliding doors. I’ve been nursing a cold for the past couple of days, and just got through fixing my truck which had broken down again. The truck was an easy fix, two new batteries, just throwing a bit of money at the problem. The cold is harder, and I’ve been walking around in a bit of a daze.

Before I had taken off for Thanksgiving I finished the grooves in the photo above, working through an almost-knot with heavy reversing grain. To get through with out tearing the side walls to bits I used a chisel to score the line and a bunch of relief cuts along the length.

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My home next to the shop, “Challenger”, haha. Just what am I a challenger for? If this were farther north I’d be a challenger for the Darwin award, these travel trailer are not meant for the winter.  An RV has all of the downsides of living on a small boat without the romance of wind and water, though the wind does rock it quite violently from time to time. I should say a small shack would be a lot better if it had a small wood stove in it, too bad everything is illegal these days. Heck, this trailer is technically illegal for the length of time its sat here. Ever shared my fun of living in one of these? Its a learning experience, I assure you, if for no other reason that everything constantly breaks. Entropy is a cold bitch.

Lets review how it fits the three ethics of permaculture.

Care of earth:

Piece of landfill trash in twenty years, every component made to maximum cheapness. The mice seem to like it though, haha. Care of mice? I think not…

Care of people:

We’ll, if it were well made it would be suitably habitable. Back to things constantly breaking though, and the extra margin of expense shopping for parts at ‘RV’ stores where everything costs 20% more than for a conventional home. So not only do you end up with a rodent magnate, but a home where you’re constantly smacking your head on something.

Return of Surplus:

Here I suppose you could throw together a composting toilet (bucket and sawdust) in and at least you meet return of surplus as an individual. If you’re lucky you have a septic hookup, not so lucky is a truck that comes to drain the shit holding tank, running a log distace on diesel, to be disposed of by a local public sanitation facility. The trailer is then really only as good as the systems that you build up around it to service it. An advantage of readily accessible plumbing makes it reasonable to retrofit a greywater system, too bad its illegal. I should point out that humanure composting is also illegal here.

In the end, lets just say that it is better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.

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Rabbited the back edge after cutting each edge to the shoulder line, which was done so that the shelf would fit in the cosmetic dado cut in the cabinet sides, allowing the tenons to be scribed directly from the mortises.

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Scribing was easy, though I continually find myself wishing that my marking knife was thinner and more maneuverable in tight spaces.

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The world cast in monochrome from the recent winter storm.

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Chopping back to the shoulder line after cutting the cheeks of the tenons.

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And the fit was good. I still haven’t decided weather to leave the tenons protruding or to cut them flush with the cabinet side after wedging.

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It came time to make the saw kerfs in the tenons for the wedges and I had one of those dumb confused moments where I realized I hadn’t considered the difficulty of making these cuts. I wish I had a nice thin azebiki noko. My dozuki worked, but it was difficult.

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Yesterday morning I felt like shit, really under the weather, so I didn’t want to exert myself too much, only a half day in the shop making a clothes drying rack for my brother. I first saw one of these racks watching a cool BBC programme called “Coal House”, a recreation by three Welsh families of life as 1927 coal miners.

All heating and cooking happened at a central coal fired stove, and with the often damp weather there it was important to be able to dry clothes in doors.

I feel very acutely the poorly made nature of things around me, with the cold bitch entropy entering again to break the clothes dryer. But the problem is the solution, right? The solution then is not to need the clothes dryer or the energy it consumes.

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I found a seller in the UK on etsy making these, but with birch ply for the curved sides. I used white ash instead, and some leftover red oak flooring for the hanging rods. A 1/4″ round over bit in my router table featured prominently in the making. I had some heavy eye bolts lying around that the rack hangs from, and can be raised and lowered by pulling on the rope, getting the clothes up out of the way and in the best heat by the ceiling.

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And lastly the appliance in its context by the lovely little woodstove, ready to dry some clothes with renewable heat energy.