WIA 2011 – After the Storm

Wow! It’s been a week since returning from Woodworking in America 2011 and I’m just starting to recover. After 4 straight days of early mornings and late evenings at the conference, followed immediately by a full week of work (I got exactly 3 hours of sleep last Sunday before having to get up for work at 5 AM last Monday morning), I needed a weekend to sleep in and do nothing. Now that the coffee is starting to help again and I am beginning to think clearly, I can recount some of last weekend in Covington.

Teaching DovetailingI spent most of the weekend at the Hand Tool Olympics booth helping out with the events, and teaching hand tool skills when requested. Some folks were serious about picking up a few pointers while others just wanted a laugh. In all cases, folks had fun, which is the whole point anyway. I think we may have even planted the bug in a few new woodworkers as well. For me, it was great to meet so many of the folks who read the blog and watch the podcast face-to-face. I think getting to connect with all the friends I’ve made through the site and past events is probably the best part of the weekend. I regret that I didn’t get to spend more time chatting with a lot of the other exhibitors and attendees at the event (Adam Cherubini and Larry Williams come immediately to mind because the booth always seemed to be mobbed whenever one of them stopped by), but I guess there’s always next year.

Don Williams & Mike Siemsen Sawing VeneerOne of the highlights of the show had to be the 4′ frame saw that the guys from the Minnesota chapter of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers brought with them. To say the least, the saw was impressive. Holding this saw, it is near impossible not to grunt at least a time or two. It is a near copy of the veneer saw from the plate in one of Roubo’s volumes, with the only difference being the width of the saw blade. With a 4′ long web, filed at about 3 teeth per inch, the saw simply devoured anything in its path. The billet that was set up for sawing was 10″ thick, and the saw had no trouble moving 1/4″ to 3/8″ per stroke. When allowed to work without outside influence (other than moving the saw of course), the saw tracked dead straight. My friend Dean and I managed to saw off about a 1/16″ thick sheet once I got the hang of the saw. If you tried to force the cut or steer the saw however, it didn’t respond so well. Using this saw will definitely teach you to let the saw do the work and not force the cut. In addition to the obvious resawing tasks, I can see a saw like this being extremely handy for efficiently ripping 12/4 and 16/4 stock for large turnings and furniture legs.

For most attendees, the classes were the reason they were there. I didn’t get to sit in on many, but the few that I did were worth the wait. Chuck Bender’s talk “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” was a great discussion on design and what makes one design work well while another not so well. I didn’t agree with him on everything (mainly the historical importance of the column orders in designing furniture), but for the most part, I think Chuck was spot on and gave a fantastic talk. The pieces he brought with him only served to help drive his points home and solidify what can be accomplished when we stop over thinking things and simply start working with the wood. By letting our own eyes tell us what looks good and what does not, we are free to explore the craft in our own way and not be bound by some one else’s “rules”.

The other talk I got to sit in on was Adam Cherubini’s talk on nailed furniture. I’m not going to say much about this class right now, because I have too many thoughts about the subject, and this post has gone on long enough. However, what I will say is “Finally!”. Adam’s topic was a subject that, in my opinion, has been needed for a long time. In a craft full of perfect dovetails and lighter than air shavings, building fine furniture with nails seems like a complete antithesis. It was eye opening for some, somewhat intriguing for others, and perhaps even a bit controversial in the eyes of a few. However, it is a subject I have great interest in and want to expand upon in a future post.

All in all, the conference seems to get better every year. I’m already looking forward to next year’s event. Start planning now!


WIA 2011 – After the Storm — 12 Comments

  1. Bob,
    This statement caught my interest:

    “I didn’t agree with him on everything (mainly the historical importance of the column orders in designing furniture),”

    I have always had questions about the importance of the column orders. Could you expand?

    • Tom,
      During the talk, Chuck basically stated that he didn’t feel that cabinetmakers historically cared about the column orders when it came to designing furniture (I’m paraphrasing of course). In my opinion, I don’t think this was necessarily true. Chippendale, in his “Gentleman & Cabinetmaker’s Director” starts right out by describing the importance of the orders and then goes into detail on how to proportion them. He even superimposes a column order next to one of the pieces (a chair I believe) on one of the plates. Chippendale was not the only one to discuss the orders. We see it referenced in other places as well.

      However, I don’t think cabinetmakers relied on the orders as a proportioning “rule”. Simply using the proportions of the orders does not in itself make for a good looking piece of furniture. My guess is that they used some of the proportions of the orders as guidelines when proportioning parts of a piece. However, I think they were simply used as design aids and the builder’s eye was the final determining factor regarding what looked good.

      Chuck’s main point was to not get bogged down in design “rules” like the column orders, but instead let your eye tell you what looks good. For the most part I agree with him. I don’t think we should design only based upon these perceived “rules”. I think a lot of the discussion about proportions and golden ratios and column orders gets taken way too literally (I’m guilty of this myself). However, I think using some of the simple proportions from the column orders can be helpful when used as a tool to help guide our designs in the right direction. For example, proportioning a cornice molding. The proportions of the cornice on a classical order could be used to help begin proportioning the parts of a furniture cornice. After employing the general proportions of the column order to get close, the design could then be slightly modified if necessary to better suit the designer’s eye.

      • Bob,I’m going to have to agree with Chuck. While I believe that the “Director” was available in 18th century America, I would question how many would have read it or how many could read at all. I don’t know the answer to the questions, but you would think if it were wide spread there would be many more examples of work that followed the rules exactly, most don’t. Many pieces are close, but not exact. I think that most pieces that mimic the column orders are just a coincidence. You would also think that if they were designing pieces using the orders, there would be shop drawings or note books or some evidence out of the shops.

  2. Bob, it was great meeting you in person, even if it was very brief.

    One question… I picked up a moving fillister at the conference, and the sole is worn down a bit. Does the sole need to be at a 90 degree angle from the side of the plane and fence?

    Thank you for your thoughtful blog.

    • Hi Caleb! It was great to meet you too! It’s a shame we never caught up at the Roubo dinner.

      In a moving fillester, it’s helpful, but not absolutely necessary for the sole to be square to the side. What you don’t want is an angle greater than 90 degrees at the leading corner. More acute than 90 is ok, but if it is obtuse, you won’t be able to plane a square corner in the rabbet.

  3. It was nice to meet you Bob.

    Adam’s talk about nailed furniture also struck a chord with me. And I’m nailing together a new piece (of what remains to be seen) this week with much of what he said fresh in my mind.

    • Was good meeting and working with you too John. The HTO booth is always a good time. Already looking forward to next year. So what kind of piece are you working on? I’ve done some nailed up stuff before, but I’ve got some ideas for some other pieces I want to do too. I’m thinking about shooting for sheer speed this time though. I really want to see just how fast I can build a piece like Adam’s from start to finish. Something like the piece he made would be a great little piece for my daughters’ rooms.

      • I’m building a little free library. When my wife saw this article http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/131344168.html in Sunday’s paper she said, “I want one of those for my birthday,” which is tomorrow.

        My one goal is to keep my day-job and still have this as complete as possible by tomorrow. I don’t care if I have to build a new one in a year or two. So it’s from 1″ x 12″ pine from the borg, no glue, rabbets, dados or anything. The only thing this has going for it is I’m using Tremont cut nails. It should be a good test of the viability of nailing, which is great fun for me because I have a tendency to over-build things.

  4. Bob,

    Please tell me you will revisit Adam’s talk at a future time. Personally, I was very interested in the content of that talk but was stuck down in Georgia, hoping and praying someone would blog about that discussion.

    Frankly, I’m a little fascinated by the whole concept and want to know more.

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