Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Splintered Review of a Book...

(Blog author's note: This is the first official book review I've written since 6th grade, so... it might be a little rough. It is something I need to get used to, however, as our guild librarian retired as of this last newsletter and he used to do a book review for every issue. I will probably alternate between book reviews and tool reviews just to give myself some variety. You can expect to see both here, very much in the same way Chris Schwarz's blog entries usually end up as forewords in a future issue of PW or Woodworking Magazine.)

I like a good book where I can imagine the author is talking directly to me, like he's sitting on my sofa, enthralling me with story after story. That is pretty much how I felt about Spike Carlsen's A Splintered History of Wood. It isn't one of those books you can plow through in just one sitting, though. You have to read it more like you read Robert Fulgum or James Krenov - one chapter at a time, taking a break in between sittings to absorb what you've just read. You can't read this book when you're in a hurry, either. You have to approach it with a calm and relaxed mind; you have to be willing to be drawn away from your hectic day into a narrative about one of every woodworker's favorite topics - wood.

As you read the first chapter on extraordinary woods, you'll develop mysterious cravings and desires when Spike reports on where you can get 50,000 year old Kauri wood (I have some), discusses WOOD PORN with Mitch Talcove, and interviews people who make a living salvaging redwood logs. Later, you'll be awed by stories of woodworkers who are blind, artists who can carve your name in a pencil with a chainsaw, and an inspirational visit with Mira Nakashima. Spike then dives into wood as it relates to music and sports, detailing what goes into making a world class violin, a Steinway piano, a persimmon wood golf club, and a pool cue.

With a knack for making even the mundane seem amazing, Carlsen jumps into stories about wood used in construction, from people who live in trees to the 36-year remodeling project called the Winchester House. His chapter on weapons and war, interesting to anyone who ever played knights as a child, covers such topics as catapults and the English long bow. He ends his book on a note he describes as, "emotional, environmental, and political." In this final chapter, which includes an interview with Patrick Moore (one of the founding members of Greenpeace), he details reasons for using wood more than steel, concrete, and plastic. He also discusses methods for maintaining natural forested areas while planting trees specifically for harvesting and his thoughts on purchasing endangered woods. I don't know - it all seemed like common sense to me.

If you are interested in hearing more about this book by the author himself, and you live in the St. Louis area, you should consider attending the monthly St. Louis Woodworkers Guild meeting at Woodcraft (2077 Congressional Drive, St. Louis, MO, 63146) this evening (Thursday, November 19th). Spike Carlsen will be there, giving a presentation on his book. The meeting is free to non-members, but of course we would love it if you were to join up! It will be the best $25 you've ever spent on woodworking!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Unplugging more than the shop...

It's funny how trying to adjust one aspect of your life can affect others. Take, for example, my attempts at reducing the use of power tools and working more towards using hand tools in my shop. I enjoy the peaceful swish of a plane gliding across a board. I relish the minimal resistance I get from a sharp chisel biting into the corner of a hinge mortise. I must admit, however, I do use a small electronic device more when I'm downstairs - my MP3 player. Whether it is traditional Irish music or the electronic mixes of John Digweed or the classic soul-warming Grateful Dead, I can hear them all in perfect clarity during my power-free sessions in the shop.

Lately, I've tried reducing my plugged-in lifestyle in other aspects of my life. Last week, Dana and I went on vacation to the Outer Banks, NC. For one full week I didn't check voice mail or email. I didn't turn on a TV or a laptop. I used my cell phone to call family upon safe arrival and safe return and that was about it. It was very enlightening and freeing. I plan on trying to do that more often, even when I'm not on vacation.

(I should take a moment here to apologize to Kari. She thought I was mad at her when I didn't respond to her emails last week. Sorry, Kari. I wasn't ignoring you and I wasn't mad at you. I was just relaxing my brain.)

I spent a little time thinking about my woodworking while on vacation. I've stepped back from it over the last month or so, but I'm not really sure why. Probably because I'm still working on getting the new shop in order and things started feeling like "work" and not "play". I get that feeling sometimes when I accept a box order I maybe shouldn't because they've only given me a few weeks to work on it. And I know it will be like that when I accept the job, but I've never been one to shy away from a challenge, so I take it anyway.

It's the same way with the shop. Painting walls and hanging lights isn't fun! But I guess I need to look past the immediate tasks to see how much more productive my shop time will be when I'm back to being organized and settled into my new space.

I also have four or five partially completed boxes sitting downstairs just waiting for a bit of inlay, a tartan lining, and a coat of finish. Maybe I can compromise with myself between working on some boxes and working on the shop to more easily get through the latter.

I also got a bit of a motivational boost yesterday when I received a large flat package from Popular Woodworking magazine. It was two free issues of the December 2009 issue! Can anyone tell me what it means when you get two free issues of a magazine? That's right - it usually means you have something published in that issue! In this case, it is my Out of the Woodwork article called, "But aren't you a woodworker?". The original title to the blog that generated this article was, "But I thought you were a woodworker!" I still like my original title better, but other than that I'm quite happy with how it turned out.

If you happen to read that issue, pay particularly close attention to the last bit under my Contributors section, the part where it says, "... his first for Popular Woodworking...". I think we can all agree that means there will be more.

Speaking of "woodworking" I hate doing...

Before we left on vacation, I'd spent six or eight hours on Saturday getting my yard leaf-free. I piled them into my double-sized compost bin until it was overflowing and then filled my 55 gallon yard waste container and 14 yard waste bags with leaves. My yard was nice and clean, just the way my OCD personality likes it.

This is what I came back to - where did they come from? More importantly, are there more on the way? (Yeah, as you can tell from the first picture, they came from my sugar maple and my sweet gum trees - I guess I'm just a little upset I didn't get to enjoy the leaves on the trees as they were changing colors.) As much as I'd love to get in the shop and work on some boxes (or even paint some walls, honestly), I'm afraid most of my Saturday morning is going to be spent raking leaves tomorrow.

It isn't the kind of hand tools I like using, but at least I can listen to Jerry while I work...