Posts Tagged ‘joinery’

Exercising Your Joints

March 29th, 2013 by
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I got an email from a friend this morning asking me what I thought about Festool’s Domino joinery system. I told him I thought it was an incredibly ingenious solution for rapidly cutting mortises and that the machine itself is a marvelous (albeit expensive) tool. When I reread his email before sending my reply, it was interesting to find out that he wanted to buy the Domino specifically because he had to make a dozen or so mortise-and-tenon (M&T) joints for an upcoming project. I asked if he planned to do a lot more M&T work in the future and he said he suspected as much, but wasn’t sure.

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised by my friend’s readiness to buy such an expensive tool, possibly for a single use. After all, if you have a task to do on your computer, iPad, smartphone or other electronic time muncher, you simply buy the right software, application or peripheral device, right? I suppose it follows that when a modern woodworker needs to cut a particular joint, they buy the machine or device that’s designed specifically for that purpose.

But has modern woodworking really come to this? I remember when I was a teenager just getting interested in furniture making, I read a story about a church on an island in Lake Onega, Russia. It is said to have been built by an anonymous master craftsman using nothing but a simple axe. The story goes that after he finished building this amazing structure, he looked at his hand holding his axe and, unwilling to consider that this same axe might create such beauty elsewhere, flung the axe into the lake! Although the story is almost certainly apocryphal, I found its tale of doing great work with simple tools inspiring.

Making something with only the tools you have on hand is not only challenging, but it can help you to become a better woodworker. This certainly has been my experience. Way back before there were fancy mortising machines, we learned to chop decent mortises with a basic chisel and mallet. I remember drooling over the cool dovetail routing system that the Canadian company Leigh introduced some decades back. As a fledgling furniture maker, I was perpetually broke, so I had to cut all my dovetails by hand. It took a lot of practice, but let me create dovetails in sizes and proportions that fit the furniture I was building — not just the capabilities of the jig.

Speaking of which, lack of money and special tools also led me to design and build many of my own jigs and fixtures. For example, I had a commission to build a sleek mahogany frame for a daybed. I wanted the piece to feature box joints in all four corners. But since the members were way too long to cut on the table saw (using a dado blade), I created a router jig to guide all the joint cuts. The jig worked so well that I ended up using it on dozens of other projects, eventually making miles of tight-fitting joints before the jig wore out.

Such circumstances not only helped me develop better hand-eye coordination, but cultivated my concentration and patience as well. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have acquired the majority of my woodworking skills if I could have just gone out and bought a new tool or ready-made jig every time I needed it. And as an added bonus, you get a lot more physical exercise sawing, chiseling, drilling and planing your joinery into existence than you do simply pushing a router around. That’s a lot more important nowadays, as I’m not as skinny (or as poor) as I used to be!

Strange Projects We Have Made

October 31st, 2012 by
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One of the things I love about my wife Amy is that she shares my appreciation for beauty in what some might see as macabre. But it can lead to strange souvenirs that present opportunities for unusual projects. And here’s a good example for you. A couple of months ago, Amy took our daughters on a vacation trip to New York. While there, they visited the store Obscura Antiques and Oddities in Manhattan. If you’ve ever watched the show “Oddities” on the Science Channel, that name should immediately ring a bell. The proprietors buy and sell just about anything and everything that’s, well, odd. It’s an amusing and often hilarious program that’s become a family favorite.

She came home with this bat specimen from Obscura encased in a block of resin. And her request of me was this: “Please build a frame for it so I can hang it on the wall.”

Now there’s a project you don’t get every day! So, I got on it straight away. The frame has bridle joints on the corners and is made of cherry. It actually doesn’t hang on the wall; she sets it on a deep windowsill in her office so sunlight shines through it. Makes a pretty good shadow.

It seems an eerie and fitting project for October — and one to offer up to the following theme: “Strange Projects We Have Made.”

I’m sure I’m not the only woodworker who builds something weird from time to time. Do you have a project or two from your past that you’d chalk up to “strange” in some sense of that word? It doesn’t have to be Halloween appropriate, just funky somehow. Why not tell other readers about it here by leaving a comment below?

Let’s see what sort of oddities we’ve conjured up from wood. As far as I’m concerned, “off the beaten track” is a refreshing path to follow now and then, don’t you think?  If it’s possible to improve on a plastic-dipped bat, I tried to do it justice here! Amy thinks so, anyway.

I hope you’ll fill us in on your “oddity” project! And spill the details of its “backstory,” too.

Catch you in the shop,

Chris Marshall, Field Editor