Moleskine confessional


I’m sorry, Circa.  It wasn’t you–it was me.  You were so flexible, so easy-going, and I took advantage of that, didn’t I?  Can we make it work, you and I?  Can I repair the damage, that broken trust?  There’s still so much to do.  You’re so well organized, and I? well, I still need you. 

It’s just that this other notebook, you see, I need it too.  Such a slim volume, with its creamy sheets.  It’ll be discreet, I promise. 

No, it’ll never be as forgiving as you.  How could it?  It’s so linear.  It shows me all my flaws, my missteps.  But it can also remember the moments of brilliance. 

Can’t it?

Exploring with the new router

I almost made it to Friday.  I purchased my new router, a Porter-Cable 895PK, and it arrived Wednesday morning.  My original plan was to wait until Friday to drive across the state line to the Woodcraft franchise in Lenexa, Kansas and pick one up in the store.  However, a free shipping offer from meant I could save myself the sales tax.  That, and having a need for the new tool in one of my current projects was all it took for me to talk myself into it. 

Feeling less than heroic, I told myself I could play with it after mowing the yard and getting the kids to bed.  (Bedtime was a must anyway, but throwing in the mowing made it seem like I was accomplishing something.)

the kitI unpacked the tool with a certain amount of ceremony, laying out each piece on my workbench.  It came in the fixed base, but immediately I switched to the plunge base and made sure I knew what the basic controls did.

My first impression was positive.  The controls were straight-forward and the plunge action was smooth–a concern since Fine Woodworking had faulted it for being slightly less smooth than the Bosch equivalent.

exploration 1I thought it would be interesting to try a Krenov-style through-tenon.  Using a 1/4″ spiral upcut bit in the plunge router, I cut the mortise.  Here I began to have concerns.  The router did not come with an edge guide, so I had to do some creative workpiece holding to arrange for the flat side of the router base to ride against a reference edge to get an accurate joint.  Luckily, there’s a mail-in rebate that makes the accessory free with purchase of the router.

The other thing I noticed about the tool was the absolute need to use a vacuum to keep the dust clear as I ran the machine.  The plunge base includes a built-in vacuum port, which worked beautifully once I plugged in the vacuum. 

The tenon I cut on the table saw with a tenon jig.  I rounded the tenon sides with a Nicholson No. 50 Cabinetmaker’s Rasp and sandpaper.  I used a Stanley No. 93 shoulder plane to tweak the tenon cheeks for a friction fit.  I then cut saw kerfs in the tenon to accept the walnut wedges.  Next I cut out the wedges and drove them home.  I finished off the wedges to match the profile of the tenon.

exploration 4
After sanding the test piece to 220 grit, I applied a linseed oil and beeswax finish for deep, natural color.  The maple tenon really pops in the walnut, especially with the wedges establishing a rhythm.

I can imagine this as the apron and legs of a table or the base stand of a cabinet. 

Overall, I was pleased with the router and the results I was able to achieve on the first try.  This is a significant upgrade from my first router, but more on that later.

exploration 5
The oil and wax finish gave a great depth of color to the walnut, something I was looking for. I especially like the gradient effect of the sapwood as it blends into the heartwood. 

I’m not sure where I picked it up, probably, but I used a piece of scrap maple from another project as my stir stick for the finish.  It really gave depth to the figured maple in the stir stick. 

These explorations are great uses for small scrap, and they also provide fodder for design choices later on.  Nights like these are less about moving my current projects forward, and more about charging my creative batteries.  View the pictures here.

David’s Bed

One of my current projects is a twin-sized bed made of walnut with birds-eye maple panels. 

 I envisioned this piece largely by imagining the combination of elements I wanted to incorporate.  I knew I wanted through-tenons in walnut, wedged with maple.  I knew I wanted square posts which stood proud of the rails, and I knew I wanted complementary wood tones.

You can keep up with this project here.

Study Time

Frame and PanelOne of the lessons GTD has taught me is that at any given unscheduled, unoccupied moment, I should take on the task I have time and energy for, the task that’s appropriate for the current context. So for example, I have a list of the phone calls I need to make when I have time and access to a phone, and a list of tasks I need to perform in the workshop to move my woodworking projects forward.

But it pays to think carefully about context, and how we really define it.  Lately I’ve begun thinking of my workshop more as a studio: as a place to explore, to express my creativity; as Merriam-Webster defines it, “a place for the study of an art”.  The interesting thing about seeing a woodworking shop as a studio is that it invites one to explore.  So if I don’t have an opportunity to move projects forward in my studio because I’m waiting for a finish to dry or glue to cure, what do I do in the studio?

A few nights ago, I had such a moment: It was too cold to finish or glue, I was too tired to do precision joinery, but mentally I was still engaged.

I began exploring, experimenting with my tools and materials: a scrap of cherry clamped in the vise, a spokeshave with a throat made fine with a thick aftermarket blade. Could I imagine an edge treatment more subtle and more sensitive than I could produce with a router? Could I make it curve gently this way, slope inward that way?

What other tools might complement the process? A few wooden planes, received gratefully from a friendly chap in Britain who keeps his eyes out for such things… They were so crisp and well cared-for that I nearly didn’t sharpen them for use, but this night, I realized they were begging for use. I sharpened them, working the concavity with a slipstone as one would a carving gouge. Sharpened, I put them to use in my experiment, the shavings spilling off to the right.

I didn’t move my projects forward at all that night, and I didn’t cross any task off my list. However, I developed an idea for a future project, and explored the potential methods for achieving the results I might want. Best of all, I did it when I had the energy and enthusiasm for that particular task, not when I was committed to some larger project with other tasks.

Creativity and corporate life

I was talking with a friend today about blogging, and realized I had a few topics simmering just below my level of conscious awareness.  I love that part of the creative process: ”cogitatio”, as I’ve come to regard it. 

Working in a corporate environment, I realized I was a self-conscious blogger in two ways.  As a cubicle dweller, I’ve had a certain reluctance to let down the boundaries between my work life and my creative life.  These are such vastly different parts of my life.  I am equally passionate in each pursuit, but I’m reluctant to discuss work issues here out of respect for my employer: I’m not authorized to speak on their behalf, and I wouldn’t want to. 

That said, there’s a certain impulse in corporate life to be “hard core”, and it’s too easy for some in that environment to dismiss the creative process as somehow “soft”.  Fortunately, I believe, the realities of the knowledge economy, whose primary product is intellectual capital, have forced the corporate world to begin to embrace the creative process as another way to work, equal to the regimented production line and buttoned-down cubicles.  Leaders of vision know to measure the value of a person’s creative output without regard for the path they took to get there.

On the other end of this relationship between the corporate career and the creative life, I find myself at times fretting over my credibility as a creative:  I haven’t made the ultimate commitment to my art, trying to earn a living from my creative work. 

In my more lucid and thoughtful moments, though, I dismiss the concern over credibility. 

As fantastic long-time mentor Priscilla Riggle reminds me, there’s plenty of precedent for the non-creative career both stimulating and funding the creative life.  I can let the non-creative daily routine lead to creative expression that ebbs and flows in a natural rhythm.

That I don’t feed my kids through my creative work is actually liberating: I can focus on what’s in me to create with little concern for what is marketable.  If I want to write a poem, I write a poem.  If I want to make a desk, I make a desk.  I can be, in Jim Krenov’s words, an amateur of a certain sort, doing my best work without regard for salability.

That seems to me to lead neither to a complete embrace of the avant garde nor to a satisfaction with rear-guard recitation.  I find a coherent inner dialog pointing toward a third way.  Mostly, I don’t want to say something obvious.  I have little patience for the obvious.  I want to create interesting things, whether its in words or wood.

Living at the intersection of corporate work and creative life, another of the benefits I find is in the field of productivity.  Strategies such as Getting Things Done work wonderfully in both creative and corporate settings.