Category Archives: Woodworking

Today in the studio…

One of the first real pieces of equipment I got for the shop was this small Delta Bench Top Bandsaw. We bought it from a retired doll house maker and it’s purchase made me feel like we were on our way to setting up a real shop. Took a little bit to get the right blades and even longer to figure out how to properly put a new blade on. I had never done it before and was intimidated by handling something that could cut me. Watching a handful of unhelpful tutorials online I replaced the old blade but was having issues with getting a straight cut. 

Finally, today I was able to sit down infront of this little miniature cutie and find a video that beautifully illustrated what it looks like to have a properly seated blade as well as how to adjust your bandsaw if the blade was not staying in it’s proper seat. So if vague terms like ‘just get it on there’ or ‘pop that sucker in’ or ‘just set that blade in there’ without ever showing you the properly postioned blade before slamming the bandsaw door shut hasn’t cleared it up for you then this is a video for you, my friend. 

How To: Bandsaw Tracking & Coplaner Adjustments 

As always thanks for reading,

-r.n.a. 

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It’s subtle…

I am currently in a great show called Art // Service in the Artist at Work Gallery at Maine College of Art in Portland, Maine. All of the work was created by veterans who are attending or graduated from Maine College of Art. Its a really amazing show and so great to be able to see how serving has effected the work we make. For some it is very obvious and for some of us it is more subtle.

For me, its subtle.

Prior to being asked to be apart of this show I never would have thought that my time in the military had any effect on my work. If anything I would say that it hurt my ability to think creatively. I really struggled transitioning from the military mindset, where I worked on computers on an aircraft carrier, to the more free thinking self guided mindset of art school. While in the Navy I was given a very straight forward task, success came when I completed it how I was told to complete it. Art school I was given loose guidelines for assignments, encouraged along the way to interpret them how I wanted, and to be open to exploring new approaches to that assignment. I had to think for myself, create my own guidelines. I found myself spending more time trying to make the work I thought my professor was looking for instead of finding my voice as an artist. It was not easy for me to let the military mindset go.

Taking a Surrealist Drawing class really helped me break free of that thinking. Working intuitively with materials, without a plan or goal, I was finally able to stop thinking and just create. I think it wasn’t until my senior year that I finally started to figure out how to express my own voice instead of trying to be the voice I thought was expected of me. I began to look for direction in how to express what I wanted to express instead of looking for direction in what I should be expressing.

Subconsciously the time I spent stationed on board the aircraft carrier had a big effect on the type of work I want to make. Spending a majority of my time for three years in a floating steel box was depressing. Everything was haze gray, deck gray, off white, black, or blue. It was cold and ugly. The carrier was so old that no matter how hard you scrubbed and polished or how recently you painted everything looked dingy.  Even the air felt dingy and old. Ironically the only time I felt like I could get fresh air was by walking out to the crowded smoke deck where I could feel the sun and see the water. Although it happened without realizing it I do not doubt that living in such a cold environment is what fuels my passion for creating work that is inspired by the lines of nature.

Talking to the other veterans about their work, individuals that understand and can articulate better than I can about why they make what they make, really inspired me to reflect on whether or not my time spent in the military has left its trace in my own work.

It may be subtle, but I can see it.

 

As always, thanks for reading.

-r.n.a.

 

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The Nick Offerman Effect…

One of the gifts I found under the tree this year was Nick Offerman’s book Paddle Your Own Canoe. I started reading it immediately. After months of researching my art history minor thesis topic on how motherhood and societies view of motherhood effects woman artists, I was happy to read something that had nothing to do with any of it. I knew the book would be funny but I was not expecting it to be so well written.  I mean this guy is a really good actor and I love the stuff that comes out of his woodshop, but great author too? I should have given him more credit.

Like most of America, I didn’t know who Offerman was until I started watching Parks and Rec, easily one of my favorite shows on TV right now. I was hooked by Offerman’s character Ron Swanson…

Actually If you have never seen an episode of Parks and Recreation stop reading this and go watch it, seriously don’t even finish this blog. You need to laugh.

Apparently I talk about Ron Swanson a lot which led to a teacher sending me a video of Nick Offerman giving a tour of his wood shop. At the time I was only a few months into pursuing woodworking. After two years of studying photography, I had decided that I wanted to switch gears. I had carved a spoon out of a piece of walnut and realized that my life would not be complete just being a photographer, I needed more. I needed to get my hands dirty and build things!! When I made the switch over to woodworking I had a hard time starting over. I understood photography, it’s history, who its key players were, who I liked, who I didn’t like. I did not have any of that with woodworking, so finding out that this funny guy also built things and appeared to be someone who I thought I could sit down and have a glass of whiskey with was encouraging at a time when I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into.

Reading his book sealed his spot on my list of artists I draw inspiration from. It’s part bio part giving hope to young actors not sure they can navigate show business. The later doesn’t really apply to me. I would say that if a director or whatever came up to me on the street and said, “Oh my, be in my film!” I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to try my shot at the hollywood big screen. The problem is that I have worked really hard to cultivate a don’t-even-look-at-me-let-alone-attempt-to-speak-to-me vibe when walking down the street and would be so annoyed by someone trying to talk to me that I wouldn’t hear anything they would have to say. (hey, don’t judge! This is what happens when you live alone in Philadelphia and are a petite young lady. It’s a scary world out there.) Plus there is no way I would believe they were anything more then a perv with a video camera in his mom’s basement. So like I said, I have no reason to ever need to know how to navigate show business.

It was still fun to read his advice since it easily translates to the pursuing of any profession. He matter of factly states that we need to live life and pursue what makes us happy so we can enjoy the life we are living and be happy. Unlike many of the self help e-card crap out there, he also makes it clear that following your dreams isn’t always a walk in the park. Although highly rewarding, there are times throughout the pursuing of said dream that will ultimately really suck regardless of how many people tell you that ‘every situation is what you make it.’ I think if more people were aware of the inevitability of suckey parts that come with dream pursuing, they would be more likely to push through the suck and achieve their dreams.

I could probably write a book about all of the reasons why you should also read this book. And don’t just think because you are a lady you won’t get anything out of this. The whole second half is basically a love story. This man is MADLY in love with his wife, the funny and gorgeous Megan Mullaly. In a world with failing marriages more common then happy ones and a society that promotes the ban of emotional expression by heterosexual manly men, it is beyond awesome to read page after page of this manly man talking about how great his own wife is and openly talking about how they have prioritized their marriage above their careers. Our society needs more of this. Men and women both need to read more about these types of relationships.

Basically, you should really read this book. It was no.8 on the New York Times BestSeller list so I am not alone in this thinking. Check out the videos I linked below. Laugh and enjoy life for a few moments instead of being so gosh darn serious all the time. When you are ready to be kinda serious, go to Nick Offerman’s website to check out the stuff coming out of his wood shop.

Ode to Bacon

All the Bacon and Eggs

Tour of the Offerman Workshop

As always, thanks for reading.

-r.n.a.

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Past, Present, and Future methods of building…

While studying photography in Philadelphia, I remember taking a class a few quarters in that was meant to bring us back to the basics of photography, allowing us to revisit the rudimentary exercises we learned in the very first Introduction to Photography class we took in our first days at the school. In the first weeks of the class it felt redundant. We had worked so hard to reach a point where our cameras were an extension of ourselves, to be able to start formulating work that got away from the tell tale signs of student assignments. Yet now that we had more than a basic understanding of how to take a proper photograph, these assignments made more sense. We understood their application in a way we did not understand in the introduction class. Looking through the progression of my own work from the first class to the last class I took in Philadelphia it is fun to rediscover old ideas that were forgotten in the whirl wind of assignments and deadlines. It is also comical to see what I felt like I needed to photograph when I was first learning how to manipulate my camera.

My latest studio project was revisiting everything I learned by recreating the first assignment I have ever did in woodworking. By thinking through the basic process of building a table I was able to take my prior understanding of what it meant to build a functional table and push it further, to explore the many different ways one can and has built a table. This idea combined with my fascination with how adamant different people are about how right their way of building is and all of the contradictions it creates, shaped the outline of this project. What if I built the same table, three different ways, to try to understand if there really was a difference in the final result of three very different ways of making? The assignment of Past, Present, and Future was the perfect space to bring this idea to life since the contradicting ideas can be simplified down to past methods, present methods, and future methods of building.

I set about to build the past table, utilizing methods and technology available before the industrial revolution. I quickly realized that I was not advanced enough in all of these techniques to make an argument about which method was the best, that I was still too young of a woodworker to create three equally crafted tables to allow a viewer to look at them and say, “Oh the (______) table is the most structurally and aesthetically pleasing and therefore that is the best method to use ever.” Instead of trying to solve the debate for the public, I began to try to solve the debate for myself. What did I want my studio practice to look like? What method did I want to utilize and why? Does it make sense to cling to a technique that does not reveal itself in the final product? Can the final table reveal enough about the process to allow the viewer to determine which is the best method?

When all three tables are together, all of their surfaces are equally planed. Yet it took three very different planing process, taking various lengths of time to reach the final planed state. So although it was physically rewarding to spend over 20 hours hand-planing the past table, it looks no different then the 30 minute machine planed present table. Other then physical benefits of hand-planing for 8hours a day for a whole week (by the end of the week I had some serious muscle definition in my arms) it is not practical to waste valuable studio time on an outdated method. Conversely there were plenty of methods from the past table that continued through all three tables. Chiseling was the major one. All three tables required some level of chiseling to be done in order to have well fitted joinery. There of course were other tools or techniques that could be used, each taking various lengths of time, but none of them created the sharp and precise cut like the hand chisel.

That could be a completely personal preference, I am sure plenty would argue that it makes the most sense for them to use something else to create the same effect. That is the beauty of craft, the beauty of life really, everyone does it differently. I fully understand how great that fact is now that I have built these tables. How great it is that there is this full spectrum of how to build a simple table, that I can pick and choice which ways of making I like best from various schools of thought, and put them all together in my own hybrid mutated way of making. And that hybrid mutation will continue to shift and change as I continue to absorb as much about this craft as I possibly can.

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As always, thanks for reading.

– r.n.a.

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Blah and boring…

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Oh hi there… you may not remember me, I’m Ren and I used to write posts for this blog.  I thought maybe I would clear the cobwebs and make a heartfelt promise, that I may not keep despite really wanting too, to start writing regularly.

The semester ended in a good place. The last three weeks of the semester were filled with lessons on how to improve my studio practice and what type of things I would like to be making in the studio. The studio self discovery has continued into the summer, where I have the opportunity to work in a slower and quieter pace.

One of my biggest problems is my outlook on the whole thing. I found myself making for the sole purpose of just getting the assignment done. My mindset revolved around ‘just finishing this assignment so I could move on’ but then there was another assignment, and another assignment after that. The work wasn’t exciting, just a shadow of an idea that I had, and I wasn’t excited about the work because I was already feeling the pressure of meeting the next deadline.

Now don’t start to think, “Oh, why do art schools demand so much from their students?How does burning them out prepare them for anything? No wonder that poor girl is cranky all the time” Because 85% of the weight and the pressure is all self inflicted, and I’m just naturally cranky.

I also let my ideas intimidate me.

I wont physically start working on a project until I spend an unnecessary amount of time doing ‘research’. I’ll start by looking up imagery for key words surrounding my idea, seeing what other artists have done, and editing my idea to portray what I want it to portray. All necessary to the design process but then I begin ‘researching’ whether or not I have the skill to accomplish the task, if I am willing to deal with the aftermath of not finishing on time, and buying time by claiming to be conflicted about a certain detail when in reality I am conflicted about whether the whole thing is good enough. In my un-rational mind, the longer I wait to start, the longer I postpone the impending doom and despair. When in reality my fear of making the first mark ensures that the doom and despair will come. Then in the final hour, as Im gritting my teeth and trying to get something respectable put together for the critique, I wonder why I am not good enough to make quality work.

It’s like spending the whole car ride to your kid’s little league game telling her that she is the worst batter on the team, and then you are both confused when she gets up to the plate and watches every ball go from pitchers hand to the catcher mitt without swinging once.

Oh the lies your brain tells your heart…

Then to top it all off, if something is too easy or doesn’t lead down the long and windy path of self despair and failure, I don’t believe it should be taken seriously or considered art. I took a Surrealism Drawing class this past semester where the underlying agenda to every project was to not over think anything, just create. So I made a painting, a rather large painting that involved applying paint in different ways to textured wood. It was simple, almost therapeutic in its mindlessness, and dare I say it, fun. I finished well before the deadline, happily installed it, and I don’t think I fidgeted or tried to twist my fingers off my hand once during the whole critique. People complimented me on it, and I brushed them off with comments like, “Oh that, it was just a silly project I did. It doesn’t mean anything.”

Cast Iron Halos, the silly project

Cast Iron Halos, the silly project

Instead of the experience being one of those Ah-ha moments, a realization that this is what art making should and can be about for me, I dismissed it as a little break from the seriousness of real art. Somewhere I created all of these rules for how life is supposed to work, what it means to make art. In the making of those rules I left no room for enjoying anything. There will be no fun, no enjoying, no pats on the back for a job well done. If I want to be taken seriously I need to be serious blah blah blah boring boring boring. All of these blah and boring rules were making me a blah and boring person that creates blah and boring stuff.

And I don’t want to be blah or boring.

As always, thanks for reading.

– r.n.a.

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Coffee Coffee Table…

Here is a slide show of my latest project. So happy to have finished my very first coffee table.  The coffee table was made out of poplar and oak. The base is stained with coffee and the top is painted with espresso milk paint.

Enjoy and thank you for your support.

-r.n.a.

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Boxes…

…and why you don’t try to build stuff while your appendix is simultaneously trying to explode.

I wasn’t aware at the time that my appendix was trying to explode, I just thought I was coming down with the flu. So I was trying to get work done before it completely took me out and went to go cut the miters for the miter box project due in two days. I realized after I glued up all my pieces a few days ago that something was not right. Then I remembered that I never made sure that I was starting with flat boards when I made my cuts, an essential step in getting clean joints. Luckily the box is not completely awful and I am a huge fan of the knot hole that perfectly fits a thumb to lift out the lid. The most important thing is that I learned a lesson, a lesson that will probably take a few more times of learning before it will get through the thick skull of mine.

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It’s All About the Basic Fundamentals…

Growing up my dad always told me how important the basic fundamentals were to be successful; he was usually referring to baseball but I think it applies to just about any situation. How can I become a successful furniture designer if I don’t understand how basic joinery works? I mean, Cal Ripken Jr. would never be in the Hall of Fame if he did not take the time to learn how to properly field a ground ball. A few weeks ago I was able to go to a workshop at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship taught by Peter Korn and Reed Hansuld.  I spent two weeks learning the basic fundamentals of woodworking.

As important as they are, fundamentals can be the worst when you are starting out. Especially when the person teaching you has been doing it for 30+ years and makes it look like the easiest thing in the world to hand cut a mortise and tenon. Then when you try it you start to wonder how you managed to do basic things in life, like brush your teeth, since what you are claiming is a mortise and tenon looks more like you took a dull axe and just hacked away at the wood in an angry fit for an hour.

     

Eventually I got it. Spending a good portion of an afternoon practicing sawing straight lines on a piece of scrap definitely helped. I went on to learn how to hand cut through dovetails and half blind dovetails. I even successfully hand planed a piece of rough cut cherry which made me thankful for electricity. It took two hours and a lot of muscle for me to hand plane a relatively flat board maybe 10” x 24”. I could not imagine hand planing all the wood you would need for a dining room table.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the end of the course my fingers were sliced and diced from continuously sliding chisels over them or pulling out splinters. One seasoned woodworker assured me that eventually I would develop calluses and would not have to worry about it anymore. Talking to him I realized how encouraging it is to see a seasoned woodworker with all their fingers attached and still functioning. If you have ever seen a table saw blade in action you know this is an accomplishment.

Every thursday is a school wide potluck with croquet after. As much as I hate social events, this was a lot of fun.

I met a lot of awesome people during my two weeks at the school. The last two years my main focus has been on photography and its history. Now that I am looking to include woodworking into that focus, the opportunity to take this course was huge.  I was able to learn some of woodworkings history and talk with professional woodworkers that have different styles, backgrounds, and are working in different places all over the world. Although I am still learning the basic fundamentals, I am really looking forward to my future as a furniture maker.

As always, thanks for reading.

-r.n.a.

P.S.

If you have time check out these sites:

Center for Furniture Craftsmanship

Reed Hansuld

Craig Stevens

And just in case for some reason the Cal Ripken Jr. reference went over your head because you either live under a rock or are not American you should read his bio here.

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