Woah, one year and counting

So today is my official one year anniversary for my blog! I didn’t even realize it until I was sitting down to write a post for get woodworking week. As I was looking for my entry from last year I realized my first post was my contribution to this special week. So I have decided to re-state part of the original post, because it is just as valid as it was last year. Plus it makes me laugh. Enjoy!

Why start a blog now? Great question. I hope this blog to be about my woodworking experience, but I think it will contain other things I think are important to me as well. I am fairly new to social media (just look at my followers on facebook, twitter and Google+, not many!) But I do follow a bunch of fellow woodworkers on these platforms, some at the start of the path I am currently on. But what a fantastic bunch of guys and gals! The free flowing of information is great and sometimes almost instantaneous. I don’t give my opinion on things I know a lot about, because I am still hesitant to jump in the digital stream, although I am trying to get better at it. But I do follow some really knowledgeable people, and also those with a thirst for that knowledge! This week the blog world is hosting “get woodworking week” hopefully to get people to try this wonderful hobby. So this is my little contribution to their great idea. It’s also a great reason to start this blog! If you’ve never tried woodworking I would encourage you to find other woodworkers in your area to share their enthusiasm and hopefully to push you to just do it, you won’t regret it. The ability to start with an idea and to work that through to a completed project is like no other feeling. I can’t put into words the sense of pride you get. Also the self-discipline, self-confidence and sense of accomplishment it gives you are immeasurable. I think it is one of the things that is greatly missed in today’s schools, and I am saddened that “intellectuals” in the education system would fail to see that as they cut these types of programs out of their districts. (I’ll get off of my soapbox now). I started woodworking because “necessity is the mother of invention”. As a newly married couple, we didn’t have the money for furniture, so I bought or borrowed some basic woodworking tools and away I went. It doesn’t take a lot to get started, mostly just the desire to learn and to try something new. Don’t think about it, just do it. Go now, quit reading, start woodworking! So hopefully I find myself with the extra time to continue this blog. For those of you who, by some miracle, do find yourself reading this, I would really appreciate if you would give me feedback; good, bad or indifferent. I thank you for reading.

Posted in The Butler Did It, woodworking | 2 Comments

A Leadership Principle and Design

I’m reminded today of one of the Marine Corps principles of leadership I was taught so many years ago, which says “know yourself and seek self improvement.” One of the things I know about myself, that I need to keep in check constantly, is my obsessive compulsiveness. One would only need to look at my Lie-Nielsen tool collection to see what happens when I don’t. I’ve put this picture up on twitter a couple of times. It does not include any of their other tools I have just planes!

Anyway I mention OCD because I see myself going down that path with my design work. I think about it constantly, even when I should be doing other things. Not that it is bad. Paper is fairly cheap…at least for now it seems. I’ve been working on my table designs from the earlier posts and will be posting them as I go along. Here are a couple of them.

As you can see my sketching skills are not that great, but they are improving. Of the seven designs that made it to the second round, I think these two are my favorite ones I know for sure I want to see built. Along with knowing yourself you should always seek to improve yourself. In that spirit, this afternoon my wife and I are heading up to Port Townsend for the weekend so I can take the “By Hand and By Eye” class at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking. It is the class that ties in with the book by Jim Tolpin and George Walker that should be coming out soon from Lost Art Press. I think it will be one of those classes that will propel me further in my development of these basic skills I have neglected for so long. Plus I just love PT. It’s only about 45 minutes from my house, but my wife and I always stay up there for little weekend getaways. Hopefully I’ll have some time to take photos and I will let you know how it goes.

Posted in furniture design, port townsend school of woodworking, woodworking | 5 Comments

Update to Design challenge accepted

After some discussion on Twitter, I have decided to add the entire process, unedited, as it was sent to me by Tim.  I think it is important to present it as it as such because each step is important to the process and leaving it out was a disservice to anyone wanting to try it. I didn’t include it originally because I am doing things a little differently than is described.  I am going to use the seven designs that survived the initial cut as practice, so I will be taking them through the process all the way to the maquette.  I may end up producing them all, but we’ll see…That’s going to be a lot of work! Enjoy!

  1. Day one: Sketch 20 variations on the table in 20 minutes. Take 5 sheets of paper quarter them and let your self go. Don’t worry about detail – this is all about form. Play with the curves. Limit yourself to the twenty minutes and focus on exploring – pick up on themes you like as the sketches evolve. This exercise is about tuning into design      elements that are important to you. This is not about thinking – this is about channeling your inner moose.
  2. Get Elizabeth to look at them with you and identify the ones she likes best.
  3. Take another 20 minutes and explore the top sketches from the first exercise. Come up with 16-20 new sketches
  4. Elizabeth will pick the one she likes the best.  Cheer loudly and drink wine.
  5. Next day: (Have you taken By Hand and By Eye?) Use proportions to refine the design – the overall proportions on the specific proportions – width of the base relative to the top height of the central column (if it survives the review).
  6. Next day build a maquette (or two).  If you have some 1/8″ ply handy use that, or resaw some poplar for legs, use some veneer or other thin stock for the top.
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Design challenge accepted

There I was, recently learning my fate regarding CFC, feeling really dejected and did not really want to attend the Port Townsend woodworker’s show the first weekend in November. It turned out to be the best thing that I did and was immeasurable in helping me get back on track and away from the pity party I was having. In my next post I think I will go a little more in depth on the show itself, but I wanted to relate a brief moment of a conversation I had with Tim Lawson, the director for the PT School of Woodworking. I consider Tim a good friend and I value his opinions and suggestions, even if he were not a part of the school. Besides, Tim is a fantastic furniture maker in his own right. Anywho, as we were discussing my recent woes and how I could come back from it, Tim threw down a design challenge for me.

The rules were simple, before the end of November, I was to design a piece of furniture that only had three straight joints and forward that to him for review. My mind was a whirlwind the rest of the weekend and before I went to bed on Sunday evening I had drawn this on a yellow sticky…






If you can’t make out my chicken scratches, it is a three legged glass top table. In the center of the table is a segmented cylinder with veneered top and bottom. The legs are to be ebonized ash or poplar.

I emailed it to Tim and he responded in part with this:

“I like your sketch of the table so my challenge to you is this:

  1. Day one: Sketch 20 variations on the table in 20 minutes. Take 5 sheets of paper quarter them and let yourself go. Don’t worry about detail – this is all about form. Play with the curves. Limit yourself to the twenty minutes and focus on exploring – pick up on themes you like as the sketches evolve. This exercise is about tuning into design elements that are important to you. This is not about thinking – this is about channeling your inner moose.
  2. Get Elizabeth to look at them with you and identify the ones she likes best.”

So off I went. I completed the task as instructed, scanned the images and uploaded them to a shared folder on Google Drive (which I love!) Tim was able to open the documents and comment on designs and elements he liked. Elizabeth picked seven designs of the 20 I completed and Tim agreed on almost all of them, save one. I cut each of the good designs and taped them, each to page, in a design sketch book I have and will be working on them as time permits. But the sketches that did not survive the first cut I taped to a sheet of cardboard. Here they are:

You can see that the one Elizabeth liked has a check mark next to it. Are these rudimentary designs, well yes, but this was one of my main reasons for wanting to go to a formal school of instruction. This is one of those skills I need to develop. I have been used to designing on the fly as I build from the very beginning and I am not used to putting any ideas down onto paper and refining to a working design. I will be posting the designs that passed the initial round as I work on them, in the meantime feel free to comment on what I’ve done so far. I have thick skin!

Posted in furniture design, Furniture maker, port townsend school of woodworking, The Butler Did It, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

My very first cyber-reflection

So I’m noticing that a bunch of bloggers are posting their reflections of the year ending 2012. I guess I am no different in the aspect that I always sit down during this time of year and think back on what transpired over the course of the last twelve months and look forward to the New Year and things I hope to accomplish or challenges I need to prepare for. But I guess it does no good to write them on a piece of paper where the world can’t read it as I have been doing in the past! At least this year I can get a couple of you that actually come to this blog to read it. Score! 😀

The big thing was in February I started this blog! I am amazed that with only the nine posts I wrote this year, I’ve had just over 1000 visits! I know it won’t seem like a lot to some, but for me, I never expected that anyone would want to read what I put out there. The biggest surprise is my web SEO has increased. Before when I did a web search of “The Butler Did It” or anything close to that, I found us on page three or four. Now we’re usually on page one or the very first hit. The other big thing this year was hiring a graphic designer to help us completely redo our business logo, which we couldn’t be happier with. It’s not like we didn’t like our old logo, it’s just that after six years it was time to “grow up” a bit. The new logo helps do just that. This year I also really got into the swing of twitter. I have met some really awesome people on twitter and have a really great core group of them that I interact with. I won’t list names, lest I forget someone, but you know who you are and I appreciate the friendships I have made with you.

From an art show perspective, the last year has seen some ups and downs. We were accepted into some new shows this year, in addition to our staples. Two of the most notable were the Port Townsend Woodworkers show and the Seattle Best of the Northwest. One became our favorite show and the other being a total disaster. I’m not one to air too much dirty laundry, but suffice to say, we will most likely not be going back to the Seattle show and would only miss the PT show if we were dead or otherwise incapacitated! We stopped going to a couple of our regular shows this year, as I think the direction of those particular shows was going the wrong way. This year we were also started selling our wares in a local gallery that just opened in the town next to us, which has been a learning experience all its own. It is added pressure as the only furniture maker for the gallery to keep it stocked and change out product every three months, in addition to getting ready for the show season. There were a few times that we had to pull stock from the gallery to fill in open spots in our show display. Not ideal for either parties involved. A thing about art shows I have found this year in particular: We have been so fortunate this year to have made new friends with some of the other artists we were located near in the shows we did. If you do shows can I suggest that some of your time should be spent getting to know those artists around you. Regardless of what media you create with, the art community is relatively small, and everyone is trying to do their best to survive and share what they do with others. This is a great community of people to associate with and you miss out on that interaction if you just huddle in your booth.

This year saw me make a huge life-changing decision. Back in July I decided to take a four month leave of absence from my day job so I could attend the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport Maine. I had a tentative approval from my work and simply needed to secure the funding to attend. If you read my blog, you’ll know that both of those things fell through within a few hours of each other back in October. Needless to say I was devastated. For those who really know me, just the thought of me wanting to take a step as big as this in my life, was a gigantic deal in and of itself. But to be as excited as I was to go and have that taken out from underneath of me as quickly as it was, was almost more than I could bear mentally. Even now as I sit and ponder this as I type, I can feel the knot in my stomach. But as I have a strong faith in God, I know that all things work according to His plan, and so I find comfort in that. Not that I understand it or necessarily agree with it, but I accept it and I believe that this wasn’t the path I was meant to be on or perhaps the timing wasn’t quite right. Patience is not something I am good at, just ask Elizabeth, my wife! Speaking of her, I couldn’t be more proud. This year in June, we took a class at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking with Seth Rolland about bending techniques. I was so pleased that she took the class with me and the fact that she dove right in hands first to what we were doing was phenomenal! She has been making wooden jewelry for a just over a year now and the class helped her figure out her process better. Seth even encouraged her to enter the Wharton Esherick museum annual competition this year which was wooden jewelry. Although she wasn’t selected, the son-in-law of Wharton Esherick personally wrote Elizabeth to purchase a set of jewelry for his wife Ruth. She was tickled to say the least, but it wasn’t until they called her and asked her to send a few sets to sell in the museum’s store that she started getting a little more confident in what she was making. The museum celebrated a milestone this year, and in the pictures of the ceremony, you could see Ruth was wearing Elizabeth’s jewelry, which was too cool! She’s had a couple of other galleries call about carrying her jewelry, so I think it’s up to three or four now for her. For Christmas this year, I got her very first tool, an electric bending iron with accessories. I hope she’ll like using it. I also think she really wants to learn some new skills from a friend of ours and fellow woodworker Martha Collins. Martha is really a phenomenal woodworker and a person that I admire the heck out of. I know Elizabeth really would love to spend time with her and learn and I believe Martha really wants to teach her as well because Elizabeth has mad skills!

There was so much more that happened but there is no way to condense 365 days into a couple of paragraphs so I’ll leave it with that.

As I look forward to this coming year I have made a big decision I will share with you. I am going to be taking a step back in 2013. This is the end of our sixth or seventh year of going to shows (I actually forget which, but I think it’s sixth) and I am going to take a pause this year and focus on other things. Oh we’ll still go to most of our staple shows, but I think it’ll only be the main four or five we do. I possibly might end up on the board of one of the shows, so we’ll see how that plays out in a couple of weeks. Not a big fan of getting involved with politics, but I believe in this show and I want to see it do well as it is the best two shows financially we do all year. I’m also debating whether or not we’ll continue the gallery. One of the down points of a gallery is that any furniture you make becomes display for other’s work. I love the gallery I’m in, but I’m just not sure it’s the right place for us. But mostly I am tired of working on the same few small pieces of furniture that I make which sell well. I don’t want to spend this year frantically working on the same old styles of work and finishing up the finish on the day before load-in. I’m tired of not being able to work on larger pieces because they take too much time and I won’t have enough pieces for a show. I think I am just tired!

This coming year I am going to focus on improving my design and stepping outside my comfort zone on larger more involved projects. I also want to work on improving the fit and finish of the pieces I make. Rushing to finish a project for a show cuts into that. This coming year I am also going to be working on a couple of really exciting things. One I don’t think I can let the cat out of the bag yet, but I will say that I am a strong believer in the phrase “when a door closes, a window opens”. I have something in the works that is a perfect example of that I hope to share with you in a few weeks. I will say that it has to do with the CFC debacle. The other thing I am excited about is I am also going to go back to doing metal work. For those that don’t know, I am a school trained welder. I worked for Lockheed Martin for four years welding on rocket handling equipment and loved it. I’ve worked in welding and fabrication shops and loved it. Oh and not to toot my own horn but I’m really good at it to, so that helps! 😀 I was originally going to start my own welding and fabrication shop as I have most of the equipment needed but for whatever reason I didn’t, but I think this coming year I am going to blend the two trades into a couple of pieces of furniture and just see what happens! My design wheels are turning!

Wow, this has been a long post so I’ll end by saying…I truly hope 2013 will be prosperous and filled with ground breaking awesomeness for all of you as well! CHEERS!!

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I wish I knew how to make lemonade!

So it’s only Tuesday and it’s already been a bad week. I’m trying to stay positive and figuring out a way to make lemonade out of these lemons but so far the recipe has eluded me. So what happened you ask…Well let me start with the miscellaneous stuff.

The finish is coming along quite nicely on the tops for my gate leg folding table. I’m not sure I like the Waterlox finish though. It’s quite expensive, and I find that it seems a little more finicky than the Minwax I normally prefer. I wanted to give it a try, as that is what they use at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, but so far I’m just not sold and will probably not use it again.

The gate legs are mostly complete and just need a little touch up sanding and final assembly before finishing. I was pretty proud of myself too. I love woodworking, but I need to view what I do as a business as well so I need to be efficient as possible when pumping out new pieces. However, in this case I wanted to see how efficient I could be by hand planning all the pieces prior to glueup. Then all I would have to do was some minor sanding and go. Plus I really wanted to give my new Scott Meeks mulberry smoothing plane a good workout. It did not let me down. I’m still a big metal plane guy, because I’m just not proficient enough with making minor blade adjustments as I need to be with the new smoother, but overall I love the feel of the plane in my hands and I noticed my hands don’t hurt as much as they do with a full plane session with my Lie Nielsen’s. And I found I was just as quick as I would have been using my Festool sanders. Plus I could listen to my stereo while working so, bonus! I do still have to sand, but literally it’s once over with 180 grit and go. Oh yeah, I also used my domino XL on this project as well. I normally use 10mm x 50mm tenons for my table base joints, but for this I used the 10mm x 80mm tenons. Doesn’t sound like a big difference, but it really is. Also the XL is very nice to use!

Yesterday was pretty not bad. When I got home from work, this was waiting in the mailbox for me:

That’s right; it’s my official welcome package from Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. I already had most of the information, but it was still nice to receive. It’s official now. The one part I was anxious to get started on today was a questionnaire they send to get more information as to your furniture background, what you hope to get out of the class, etc. I was really excited this morning to make it through the day and to get started when I got home as I had plenty of things to write about…and then mid-morning the wheels fell of the bus. Not literally but very, VERY figuratively. Just before lunch and in the span of an hour or two at the most I found out that not only did my funding for the class fall through but also that my work was considering canceling the leave of absence approval they had already given! Wow, nothing like crushing a man’s dream so thoroughly! I won’t go into a lot of detail on what exactly happened. But sufficed to say I was pretty dejected on the drive home. I haven’t given up total hope, and I’m still surprisingly optimistic considering, but it will pretty much take a miracle for me to be able to go now. I still have until the end of December before final payment to the school needs to be made, so there is still lots of time for something good to happen! So if you’re into prayer, please send one for me! Or just good thoughts will do! Also if you do know a recipe for making lemonade from the kind of lemons I received today please let me know.


Oh and I’m still going to go forward with my tool give away, once I can iron out the details!

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For those about to woodwork, I salute you.

It’s been a while since my last post, and I’m going to keep this one short. I have some ideas for upcoming posts, so hang in there; I promise it will be worth it. I’ve been planning a series on how my wife and I designed and built our show set up, so I think that’ll be a good a place as any to start delivering you worthwhile content if you are interested in that. I am also quickly approaching my departure to Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in February 2013, so I will be bringing you along as I prep for that. I really need to make a tool chest to ship my tools out to Maine in, but I am not going to build it using the traditional type chest design or materials. So that will be an interesting build. And of course, I will be blogging my adventures while I’m at the school so that should be interesting.

Now as far as the title of this post. I am in the process of thinning out my tools as I prep for February and have decided that in an effort to increase traffic to this blog, I will be having a give away to one lucky individual. I have put together a pretty decent tool kit that should have many of the things a person just getting into woodworking may need.

As you can see it has a lot of nice things; some in really good condition, some that may need some minor tune up, but all of them work. So here is a quick rundown of what’s there: Disston sash saw filed rip. Stanley Bailey No. 3 (w/Veritas A2 blade) and no 5 (with Stanley blade), unmarked Jack plane with Stanley blade (about the same size as my no 6), old school craftsman block plane, Kuntz spokeshaves in flat and rounded bases, Stanley no 93 shoulder plane, Veritas marking knife, scraper set (w/Clifton gooseneck), scratch awl, bevel gauge, pin style mortise gauge, and 4 piece Irwin chisel set. Now for the only problems: 1) I’m not sure how I should conduct the contest and 2) Because of the size and weight of the box (and associated costs) I will not be able to ship it outside the continental United States. Sorry, that’s just how it has to be. So if you have any ideas on how I should set this up or if you are interested or knows somebody that might be, please let me know. One major caveat I should mention, I will not give this away unless I have good participation. I just want to get the word out there and have this nice tool set go to someone who will use it and appreciate it. Thanks for reading!!

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