Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My New Shop, Episode 6: Time to play in the mud

The past few days have seen a nice bit of progress made on the basement workshop. Sunday afternoon, I went downstairs, put on some Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and finished hanging some drywall inside the room that my little brother and I hadn't bothered with before. The pieces were all pretty small and I could easily handle them on my own.

After that, I cut open a bag of formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation and started filling in voids in the highest spaces. There were several larger areas in the floor joists I wanted to make sure had as much sound-proofing as possible.

When that was done, I insulated the walls. It seemed to go faster than my last insulating session - maybe because I wasn't working over my head the entire time. One small part by the furnace slowed me down; I popped the nails on one side of a sheet of existing drywall, turned off the heat pump, removed some duct work (to the whole-house humidifier), pried it open as far as I could (there was more duct work in the way), and managed to wiggle some insulation between the studs. Then I closed it back up, re-attached the duct work, and continued with insulating the walls. I had to stop before I could hang any more drywall because it was getting late.

Yesterday evening found me back down in the basement, hanging drywall. Except for the part where I was trying to move sheets of drywall by myself, this went very smoothly. The full sheets were all up in the garage; I quickly determined I should measure first and cut them into the desired sizes prior to lugging them down the basement steps. This part took me about two hours or so.

I did not hang drywall on the framed wall past the furnace. I'd like to use that area for pegboard and organize my less-often used tools (clamps and jigs and the like). Taking advantage of other areas of the basement will mean less clutter in my limited shop space.

I suppose the title of this entry is a bit mis-leading. I'm not going to tape and mud the drywall myself - I know my own limitations and I'd rather get this done within the next year or two. So this afternoon, I'll start calling a few people recommended to me by friends to get some bids on taping and mudding the room.

That will take me into a nice little vacation starting tomorrow morning when Dana and I will drive up to Ohio to visit her family over the holiday weekend.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Talitha cumi!

(A bit of a round-about entry, but… if you can stick with me, I think it’s worth it.)

The pastor of my church, Pastor Jim, is currently in the middle of his 3-month sabbatical. As a result, we have two guest pastors presiding over the flock, as it were. Pastor Kirk, a kindly man from the St. Louis area who teaches and researches at Wash. U., is filling in during June and August. Pastor Sarah, a very young recent graduate from Eden’s Seminary, is filling in during the month of July.

Since I’ve been attending Grace UCC, our track record with guest pastors has mostly been miss or miss. I can’t exactly pinpoint one or two things that have left me less-than-satisfied during Pastor Jim’s absences. I don’t believe it to be a resistance to change as I’m a fairly open guy. I don’t think it has to do with sermon topics, either. That would mean we only have guest pastors when it coincides with an unpopular sermon… hey, wait a second…

(Just kidding, Pastor Jim.)

After four weeks, I must say… Whatever it is the other people were missing, Pastor Kirk has it! His sermons to date have been poignant, succinct, and entertaining. These are all key characteristics of a sermon that keeps the congregation interested and attentive.

From the first minute he stood in front of us, it was obvious he didn’t want to just fill in for a few weeks and move on. He has taken the time to try and learn as many names as possible; he spends as much time as it takes to visit with the congregation before, between, and after services; he steps down from the podium and off the dais to speak to us at our level; and he always finds some way of making the sermon very personal to each of us.

He ends each sermon with a plan of action – something for us to ponder or question in our own lives or, as was the case yesterday, something for us to actually do.

The Bible passage read and discussed this past Sunday concerned some of the miracles of Jesus. It was Mark 5:35-43 – Jesus’ healing of Jarius’ daughter. It is a great passage for the message of healing and faith and one which easily sticks with me. It ends with Jesus taking the girl’s hand and saying, "Talitha cumi"; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise.

Or, as Pastor Kirk put it, “Get up! Get up and live!

Get up. Get up and live.

Six simple words (four, really, as two of them are duplicates) that have so much power in them! And after the recent losses in our entertainment industry, the message seems to ring louder and even more clearly in my ears. Get up and do something, because you have such a limited time on this world as we know it.

“Get off your arse, Ethan!”

After church, Dana and I did our usual shopping (that always seems to go on for way too long). And when we finally got home, I got up. I got up and mowed the lawn. When I was done mowing the lawn, I sat down for a minute to drink a few glasses of water. And then I got up and headed to the basement. I finished a small section of drywall inside the new workshop, cut open a bag of insulation, and started filling in voids and wall spaces. Two bags later, with all of the insulation in place, I started hanging drywall. I didn’t get very far, however, because Dana called me up for supper.

After mowing and hanging drywall and insulation, I had to shower and change clothes before I could sit down anywhere. After a shower and some supper, I got up and logged onto the computer and worked on my current editing assignment for the American City Business Journals.

I didn't get to bed until 11:45 last night. I was tired and sore and still slightly itchy from the insulation. I even managed to impress my wife with the speed at which I fell asleep (I cut my time down from 15 seconds to about 8 or 9). I slept more peacefully and soundly than I have in a long time.

And when I opened my eyes this morning, the first thought I had was, “Get up. Get up and live!” That’s how I want to try and start each day.

But not only that, it is how I want to start treating my time after 5:00 p.m. each day. I feel like I'm wasting half my life because I never seem to get anything done when I get home from work.

I feel change in the air, though...

And so I say unto you, my fellow woodworkers and blog readers...

Get up! Get up and live!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My New Shop, Episode 5: Hang 'em High

So for some reason, I've not made any progress on the workshop for about three weeks... until tonight.

I don't have any new pictures. I was really only able to get down there and finish screwing in the drywall Noah and I had already hung.

But it's amazing how just making a little bit more progress can motivate you to do more. So tomorrow night, I'll insulate the open wall spaces. I'd like to also try and hang the rest of the drywall, but I'm afraid I have a small detour to make if I'm going to properly insulate the room. There is a 4' section of wall that already existed and doesn't have either side exposed. I need to temporarily remove some duct work (to my whole house humidifier, which is currently not turned on) on the furnace so I can take that section of wall down and insulate it.

If I can get all of that done tomorrow night, I'll be very happy. Then I can get started on hanging the final bit of drywall and have someone come in to mud and tape.

They call it "mud and tape", but really isn't it "tape and mud"? Or am I the only one who calls it "mud and tape"?

In any case, I'll be so incredibly happy when that is done because then I can make the walls purple no more!

I can't even imagine...

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Woodworking Krenovation...

This weekend, after finishing a serious amount of exhausting outside work, I decided to sit down in the seldom-used hearth room and read a bit. After perusing my ever-growing library of woodworking books, I settled on a favorite of mine, The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking, by James Krenov.

I adore well-written books and I love the feel of a solid book in my hands. My copy is a very nice hardback second printing (1977) with the dust jacket. It was a 2007 Christmas present from my mother-in-law. I'm quite pleased with the book, though there is a bit of a musty smell to it when first opened. I'm hoping that will go away with time; indeed, the smell is much less noticeable than when I first got it.

Interestingly enough, I call this one of my favourite books, though I can't honestly say I've made it all the way through it yet. I have, however, read the first half several times over. I don't know why I've never gotten any further - I always get sidetracked with some project or another and lose my place or put the book back on the shelf thinking I'll pick it up the following day or some such thing. Maybe the first chapter is just enough to rekindle the motivation I needed to get back in the shop and do something.

But that's OK. To me, reading James Krenov is a little like reading James Herriot or Robert Fulghum. It isn't something you can just read in one sitting. Yes, it is an enjoyable read, but if you don't take the time to take in and absorb what he is saying, then you'll most likely miss the finer points.

As he states in the very first column of the very first page, this book isn't intended for professional cabinetmakers. Mr. Krenov understands that most woodworkers who truly love the craft are not doing it for the money; we do it for the process and the creative expression and the joy we get just from applying our determination to take one object and shape it into another. This book is written for the woodworker who can spend days, weeks, months, or years, putting all of his heart and soul and knowledge into a project. And this book is written for the woodworker who can go into her shop and spend an hour just planing a piece of wood for the sheer joy of it, filling the air with the scent of freshly cut pine.

I think one of the reasons I'm so drawn to Mr. Krenov's woodworking philosophy is because of how I approach each new project. In some ways, it is obsessive-compulsion to the extreme. I pull out a spiral notebook where I keep notes on all of my projects and I list out my requirements for the piece. Then I start calculating exactly what those requirements mean for the project, from the kinds of wood I'm going to use based on how well they compliment one another to the exact height, length, and width it will need to be while still providing a pleasing look. I obsess over the littlest details, like the proportions of the mitered keys or a chamfer detail on an edge. Over a period of hours and days, I document the perfect finished piece according to the requirements I've been given.

This process never gets figured into billable time; it isn't necessary for the project. It really only takes me 15 or 20 minutes to come up with the actual dimensions I'll need; the rest is some twisted form of artistic design I've allowed myself to develop over the years.

What this does is allow me to do is go through the building process in my mind several times before I ever put blade to wood. I get to work through the problems I might encounter and come up with solutions to those problems without stressing about deadlines or ruining a perfect piece of wood I had set aside for the project. By the time I get to that part of the construction process, I'm so familiar with what I need to be concerned with, it no longer bothers me.

And when my OCD has been satisfied, I start working on my project in the really real world. My hard, exact dimensions suddenly become nothing more than strong guidelines. I might get to the point of planing my chamfer and then decide not to do it. I could (and have) screw up the measurements on a hole and have to improvise a repair technique to cover it up!

(Every woodworker makes mistakes; the true craftsman turns that mistake into a design opportunity.)

In the end, my finished piece has usually taken a bit longer than intended. It mostly resembles the initial drawings and dimensions I started out with, but not everything is the same. I might have added a detail here or dropped a feature there or found out that a particular piece of wood I had in mind isn't going to work and so I need to switch it out for something else. What I've done is open myself up to the fact that I'm working with wood, a kinetic object that doesn't care what dimensions I have written down in my notebook. It always retains the right to do what it will do.

It is my job as a woodworker to develop an understanding with the wood, to use the inherent properties of the wood in my favor and work in harmony with it.

It is my job as an amateur woodworker to constantly be aware (and cautious) of the impulse to make a production run to save time and labor and make a better profit.

It is my job as a young woodworker to perpetually strive for higher quality and always try to learn from those around me as well as from my own experiences.

I think that's what I've been missing the past few weeks. My last project was probably one I shouldn't have taken; I got a little caught up in the monetary gain and didn't think to give myself the developmental time I require on each project. As a result, I didn't enjoy myself as much and it almost became a chore.

Sitting quietly and reading James Krenov talk about the art of woodworking and the necessity to listen to the wood and work with the wood is just what the Dr. ordered for my woodworking slump. It is what I needed to restore in myself the desire to create, simply for the process of creating. It is what I needed to charge my batteries and reset my focus. It is what I need to remind myself to listen to the wood and not exploit it.

I've only made it to page 59 in this last session with Mr. Krenov. I don't know if I'll get much further because I already feel the ideas building up; projects I have been perfecting in my mind that are waiting to be tested in the real world.

Some day, I'll actually get to the point of reading about James Krenov's shop and some of the tools he uses. Until then, I'm completely satisfied with a renewed sense of connection between me and the wood I use.