Thursday, May 29, 2008

Reaching Critical Masses...

If you ever need to figure out 30 different ways to say, "Great Job," then let me know. I can direct you to a couple of woodworking forums where almost every project posted receives just such a thing (and very little else).

Can you tell I'm not a big fan of those kinds of comments? Don't get me wrong - I like to hear compliments just as much as the next guy! But non-critical discussion alone does not help me to learn and grow as a woodworker. In fact, a lack of such a discussion can actually lead a woodworker down the wrong path by providing positive reinforcement of improper techniques and poor design.

What really bugs me, though, is that I don't think a lot of people are actually looking for anything other than compliments! Why? I'm not sure. Maybe they don't care about growth? Maybe they grew up playing non-competitive sports and they feel everyone should always be a winner and nothing is ever bad! It is a mindset I think I understand, but certainly don't agree with.

Or maybe they just can't take criticism of their work, constructive or otherwise.

The inability to handle criticism is something I have trouble understanding. But in the pursuit of my Art History degree, I had to take just as many studio art classes as I did art history classes, so that probably has something to do with it. Even though I went to a liberal arts university, our art classes were anything but the happy-go-lucky-everyone-does-great-work variety one might associate with a liberal atmosphere. We had peer critiques of our on-going projects every week and my peers were absolutely critical!

But it was such a great environment for an artist! We had to be fully aware of our decisions in our projects - why we used a certain color, how we performed a technique, where the thought process came from and where it was going. You had to learn to stand by and defend your position, but you also had to learn how to follow good advice! I was exposed to that kind of environment for most of four years. There were many times when I seriously considered adding or switching to a studio major.

It didn't take me long to learn to enjoy that process of peer reviews. In fact, those who didn't learn to work with the process didn't last very long in any of the studio art programs. After college, I was very grateful for that experience. It prepared me for the real world, where my bosses weren't always happy with my work. Believe me - it is easier on the employee and the manager when both understand the definition of "constructive criticism".

Though I am my own worst critic, I miss that peer review process. After looking at the same thing for several hours, it is easy to miss the obvious changes that could positively affect the project. Sometimes it takes a fresh eye to see that. I've tried several different avenues, looking for a new form of peer review, but I don't really think I've been successful - I've joined the local woodworking guild and actively participated in several woodworking forums and websites, but... they don't even come close to the intimacy of 10 people all sitting around a project, viewing it with a critical eye for the purpose of making me a better artist.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A New Record...

No, I didn't run a mile in under four and a half minutes or make a jewelry box (with dividers) in under five.

But I did pick up a new Record 52 1/2D Vise yesterday morning!

This wasn't really an "expected" purchase, so it did set back my plans to get the Veritas Small Plow Plane a bit, but... it was a deal I couldn't pass up.

See, I was trolling Craig's List the other day and I saw the listing, "Woodworking Vices". I didn't miss the humor in the double entendre. Having already decided to build myself a new workbench in the near future, I've started keeping my eye out for a bench vise. Having done my due diligence in vise research, I knew I was going to be looking for a Record 52 series model.

I noticed the listing contained a photo, so I opened it up to take a look. The image was from a bit of a distance, but it clearly showed two vises standing up on end, leaning against a garage door, the larger one being on the left and the smaller of the two on the right. The caption said, "Large vise - $60, Small vise - $30"

The smaller vise didn't really interest me - I believe it was an unmounted dog leg vise found on European benches and I don't want to mess with trying to install one of them. The larger vise, on the other hand, peaked my interest! It was blue (Record vises are blue)! But that was about all I could tell from the picture, so I shot a quick e-mail over to the seller and asked if there were any markings on the face of the vise.

Sure enough, he responded a little later that it was a Record 52 1/2D.

I did some quick checking on past E-Bay sales and posted a question on one of the woodworking forums I frequent (Sawmill Creek) before I responded with a resounding, "Barring any mechanical defects preventing the vise from working properly, I'll take it at your asking price!"

And then I was left with the job of trying to make the 1/2 hour trip to South St. Louis City without throwing a wrench in the weekend plans (my wife's mom is in town this weekend).

As fate would have it, they had talked earlier in the day (this was on Thursday) and the idea of going to the Botanical Gardens was brought up. "Ching, Ching," says I, as that is just five short minutes from the seller's house, on the other side of Tower Grove park!

"Hey, sweetie, I'd LOVE to go to the Botanical Gardens with you guys! You want me to drive?"

My wife doesn't care for driving too much in St. Louis, so I knew she'd jump at the offer. I guess my excitement was showing on my face, though, because she saw through me like a piece of plate glass.

"What do you want?" she asks.

"Oh, well... I might want to pick up a woodworking vise while we're down there," I reply.

"You already have enough woodworking vices!" she quipped.

"No, no... not a woodworking vice; a woodworking vise! You know, for clamping wood to a workbench, silly! I don't have nearly enough of those yet!"

Oh, my wife is such a joker! You can tell she's really messing with me when she glares through squinted eyes. Times like that, I wish she'd consider taking her act on the road for some comedy sketch group, you know? Man, she'd make a killing!

On Saturday morning, the clouds were out and rain threatened to fall in buckets, which might totally ruin our planned trip to the gardens, but... I was $60 poorer and happy as a clam! Sitting in the back of the car, carefully encased in two brown paper sacks was my new (old) Record vise.

And, in all honesty, another woodworking vice, I suppose...

(vise - n. any of various devices, usually having two jaws that may be brought together or separated by means of a screw, lever, or the like, used to hold an object firmly while work is being done.)

(vice - n. a fault, defect, or shortcoming; a bad habit, as in a horse; also the British spelling of the word vise.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Speaking of Anxiety...

My mother-in-law is coming into town this week!

(Just kidding, Mom. :) )

Don't you hate it when someone says they're going to do something and then they don't? That bugs me to no end! Which is why I'm a little upset with myself right now. I said I was going to post a picture of the cap wall on the stairs and I just realized this afternoon I hadn't done it yet. Grrrr...

I have the pictures on my camera, though, so I'll try my hardest to pull them off and load one into the blog this evening. If I have time, that is. I do have a few things to try and finish up in preparation for our weekend guest (my mother-in-law really is coming into town tomorrow afternoon - I wasn't joking about that; I was just kidding about it causing me anxiety). My wife had to leave town Sunday morning for work (coming back home late this evening), so I've pretty much been on my own for cleaning up.

I've done a good job with not making new messes, but... I'm afraid I haven't been as attentive as I wanted to be with cleaning old ones and tidying up a bit. I still have a few hours tonight, so I'm not worried. I'll still be able to get some stuff done.

I don't think my wife reads my blog, so I can safely say I have been working on a few other things, instead - things that have been bugging my wife for some time - so I wanted to surprise her by getting them done. For example, the dryer sits to the left of the washer, but the dryer door hinges on the right, so when it is open, it creates a sort of wall between the washer and the dryer. It isn't a big deal to switch the dryer doors around (I used to deliver furniture and appliances when I was in college, so I can switch a dryer door or a fridge door in no time); you just have to make a few minutes of time to actually do it.

I didn't really notice how annoying the whole door thing was until I had to do some laundry this week. (before you say anything like, "Why is your wife always doing the laundry?", keep in mind that I do most of the cooking.)

So I did it.

I also detailed the inside of her car (which needed it) and washed and waxed the outside of her car (which desperately needed it). It wasn't quite warm enough outside to touch up some of the chips with paint, so I'll try to do that this weekend.

And then I did something for myself, too...

I picked up an old Craftsman WorkMate someone had listed on Craig's List for $20. It is in excellent condition and of higher quality than a brand new one you could buy today. It came with the four low profile bench stops, even!

I can use it as a workbench up in the garage now that I've moved my bench into the basement, or if I need it in the basement, then it can be easily transported. I can probably mount a few tools onto plywood bases (miter saw, my other recent Craig's List find of an old crank hand grinder for $25, maybe my slow speed grinder) and then use the WorkMate to bring them up to a proper usable level.

Oh, I almost forgot! I did make some headway on that danged cap board. Specifically, I jointed one of the edges flat, then used my trusty Bosch router and a cove bit to route a 5/8" x 5/8" cove into the side. I ripped it off with the table saw and repeated the process two more times, so I now have three pieces of cove trim. I like having a little extra, just in case; besides, I could always use the leftovers on a box or something, right?

Anyway, now I just need to take off the old board and molding, cut the new board to size, and then attach it and the trim and I'm done! It always sounds easier than it really is, doesn't it? I have to make sure I have the right reveal on all of the edges, I need to figure out how I want to mount the board (screws or finish nails), need to figure out when/how I want to finish it.

Decisions, decisions...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Inactivity breeds anxiety...

I've really been off my blogging game as of late, and I'm not really sure I can offer a reasonable explanation as to why. I was out of town for a while (work), but... not for three weeks! But let me tell you - not writing for three weeks is almost like not going to the gym for the same amount of time! I feel all stressed out and anxious and twitchy...

I think the problem is that I've been inactive, as far as woodworking is concerned, and that means I don't have a whole lot of woodworking to write about!

But that isn't a very good excuse. I have been living and the reason I didn't give this blog a woodworking name is because I also wanted to be able to write about aspects of my life other than woodworking.

For example, last weekend was a key birdwatching weekend here in the St. Louis area. Tower Grove Park is a migration trap and for one or two weekends in May, the local birders have the opportunity to catch sight of some unusual birds for this area. I'm not uber-huge into bird watching, but I'm good at spotting and I'm good at giving directions, so my wife likes me to go along with her so I can help find the birds and then show her where they are (and for the companionship, of course).

I won't bore you kind folks with a long list of birds, but I will mention we saw both the black-billed and the yellow-billed cuckoo within a five minute time period. The black is highly uncommon in this area, so that's noteworthy in itself, but seeing both species so close together was a little exciting, even for me. Oh, and I was about 10 feet from a red-breasted nuthatch (the nuthatch is one of the few birds that can walk DOWN a tree; the white-breasted variety is the most common by far, so Dana was tres excited about seeing a red-breasted one).

What else has gone on that I could have blogged about? Oh, yeah... I turned 35 two weeks ago. I haven't felt any new creaks or aches yet, but they're bound to come. I heard from lots of friends and family throughout the weekend, which made it worth while. And I got a great card with a kilted man on it from a friend of ours from church - I'd love to know where she shops for cards!

My birthday dilema: I have some funds available to me, but I'm not exactly sure what I should spend them on. I'm torn between a more casual kilt I can wear hiking or to non-dressy social occasions or putting it towards a Veritas Plow Plane (w/all five blades).

The first would be a bit of fun to have, but the second would definitely get more use (and would help further my goal of using more hand tools than power tools in my shop).

I guess that settles it, then, doesn't it? The plow plane it is!

(I love how easily I can make decisions like that...)

My primary goal right now, however, is to get some woodworking projects done. Fortunately for me, I have a project that itsn't terribly huge but offers big returns - that danged board on the stairs! My mother-in-law will be in town for Memorial Day weekend and my wife is going to be out of town the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday before then, which gives me both motive AND opportunity to tackle such a project.

I'll end this blog entry with some free-flow design thoughts about the project. I usually do this on paper - it helps me think through the project and spot potential problems before they come up in the physical world... But I think putting it into a blog entry is a right proper thing to do.

I have, in fact, already started working on it. I pulled the mahogany board out of the basement the other day and sanded out the planer marks with my recently-purchased Festool ROS 125. (I'm still in the break-in period, but so far very pleased with the results!) It didn't take long to get the board nice and silky smooth and I had very little sanding dust to deal with per the Festool CT22 dust extractor.

The next step is to make some transitional cove molding so the cap board flows properly into the wall. Unless I have some unforseen problem, the plan is to cut the cove into one edge of the board, rip it off, then repeat twice more so I have enough molding. After that, I can cut the board to measure and fit it to the top of the wall.

I'll need to cut a notch into the back of it... or do I? Hmmm. I'd already decided to modify the design a little from the existing piece. The current board overhangs each side by an inch or so - such that you can't really even see the transitional cove molding. I was thinking about making the new cap board thinner, so that it comes out 1/8" more than the cove molding on each side. That will make it look more like a finished piece of furniture than a board simply nailed to the top of the 1/2 wall. If I do that, then I probably don't need to notch the back of it to go on either side of the full wall at the full wall/half wall transition.

(Confused yet? It might not be terribly clear, per this is stream-of-thought writing. I'll try to take a picture this evening and add it to the blog for clarification.)

Ok; I've added the picture here. You can see the very top of the board is notched to go around the wall on either side.

The only other issue to deal with is the attachment of the board to the top of the wall. The current board is nailed in place with four finish nails and a swipe of putty in the holes. I don't think that will work for me.

So I was thinking of doing something rather interesting, like attaching the board with screws, but plugging the screw holes with pillowed square ebony plugs. Yeah, I'm a big fan of Greene & Greene...

(This design addition would allow me to carry the G&G style into a new cover for the doorbell box located in that same room, again with mahogany and ebony.)

I suppose I'd stick with my standard finish, which is just General's Seal-A-Cell base coat followed by three or four coats of Arm-R-Seal (semi gloss), rubbed out between coats with steel wool.

Ahhh... it is good to write again. I can feel the anxiety rolling off my shoulders. Sorry for the slight blogger break. I'll try to do a better job of keeping up with it in the future.

Tonight is the Saint Louis Woodworker's Guild meeting, so I don't think I'll make any progress with the project until the weekend. I'll try to find out if our little coup is going according to plan. If so, then I'll have another writing project to keep up with, as I'll most likely be the new editor of the guild's newsletter.