Lucas Weismann

New project. Picture frames.

When learning a craft, or setting a goal, it can be helpful to break down the process into several repeatable steps.  Practicing scales, arpeggios, chord changes and etc…  This is good, but it’s ultimately unsatisfying for the novice because it lacks the sense of achievement that you get from completing a project.  Say… learning a song.

This is one reason that in addition to the “hard work” portions of the process, many newcomers to the guitar will learn “Blackbird” by the Beatles.  This project will teach the student several skills- chord vocabulary, moving from position to position on the guitar, timing, among others.

As I make my way through down the path of becoming a woodworker (as an artist, not merely a hobbyist), I’ve been working to learn different steps.  Yes, I’ve practiced planing boards to create perfect paper-thin curls of wood, yes, I’ve milled up planks into boards of even thickness.  Here is my list and the order of projects I’ve added to my woodworking setlist.

Sanding and refinishing–  As a child, my grandfather took me and my cousin Rusty out to sand, refinish and black the metal parts of various tools his father left at the cabin.  It wasn’t very exciting at the beginning (we were hand sanding, no powertools needed), but by the end, we had restored some antiques and brought them to a beautiful working condition. *note: if you do this without asking, you may find you’ve reduced the value of someone’s antiques so please ask first if they’re not your own.

I definitely suggest taking something not too valuable, but well loved, sanding it and finishing it with some sort of beautiful finish like danish oil, tung oil or a wipe-on polyurethane (provided that’s appropriate to the intended use of the piece).

Monkey’s Fists–  While not strictly-speaking a woodworking project, my dad taught me to use a pocket knife to whittle a ball to use as a center around which to build the monkey’s fist. This taught me to think about oversizing the initial sculpt and then continuing to remove.  Learning to see what it will be when the not-ball portion is removed has helped in my ability to previsualize.round which

Presentation Boards– These are SO. MUCH. FUN. Not strictly-speaking cutting boards, the boards I make with my dad are made by jointing boards and then planing them to thickness before putting a bevel on the ends to match the feeling of the live edge.  After this point, the boards are sanded down to 220 grit and/or scraped with a furniture scraper before being finished with a food-safe oil coat.

Canoe Restoration– Once in awhile, you attack a project SO freaking out of your league that you have to get outside help.  Then, your outside help needs to get outside help.  This is basically what happened when my dad and I decided to restore our 1970s Tremblay canoe.  We did this with help from the generous guys over at the Wisconsin Canoe Heritage Museum.  Jamie in particular helped us make up techniques and taught us things about respecting the wood that has come in handy in nearly every project I’ve done since 2013.

Scarf Joints
mortise and tenon joints
steaming wood
shaping wood with an angle grinder
bandsaw skills
basic planing and scraping
So much more…

Most recently, in the shop with Dan Gremillion I learned to make picture frames. This was a blast and it’s a perfect outgrowth from what I’ve learned making slab tables (basically large presentation boards).

To make this one sing, we take our plank, joint it, rip it and plane it.  Then when we have nice square stock (a surprising amount of woodworking is about making nice square stock and then making itNOT square….), we rip out a section, miter it and glue it up.

Afterward, we cut grooves in the corners with a table saw jig and glue pieces of either matching or contrasting (I usually like contrasting) wood to create a stronger joint than a simple mitered butt joint (gluing the angled edges together) would provide.

Then we take a VERY sharp chisel and pare away (yes, the same pare as a paring knife, it’s like shaving, but thicker) the excess.

As usual, our final steps involve sanding to an appropriate silky smoothness and finishing with something like Tung Oil, Boiled Linseed Oil, or something similar.

The really cool thing once you get to this point in woodworking you can make a lot of things you’d want to.  A chair, that’s presentation boards with legs stuck on.  A tray?  That’s a picture frame with an extra groove to hold a panel of wood instead of glass.  A box, that’s a tray with a lid.

A dresser?  That’s a complicated picture frame with legs on, that has trays that hold your stuff built in.  See where I’m going?

In addition to loving the time you spend doing your art- if you’re not having fun being bad at it, you probably won’t have fun being good at it- you are building up a repertoire of things you can do.  Little successes that will build up confidence so that when you want to take on a scary task, you can look at it, see what it’s made of and realize you’re made of what it takes to accomplish your task.

What “songs” or “projects” should a beginner use if they want to learn your art?  What things can make them feel successful as they learn the riffs of the craft?

Whew so much going on in the woodshop.

Hey everyone!  It looks like I’m going to be busy for the next few weeks.  I have a lot of projects in the hopper and can’t wait to get to them.

Just finished with a nice little mini-tour in Europe, and I’m glad to be back.  The UK was oddly balmy this march and didn’t really rain much until the day I left.

This weekend I’ll be meeting with a local carpenter and framemaker Dan Gremillion about plans to make some Roubo workbenches, check out the link to see some beautiful examples.  If you want one for your own shop, we’ll be able to give out exact quotes once we have this preliminary round done and will even have options for custom wood selection and some modification.

For those who don’t know the bench is named after the 18th-century French joiner Andre Jacob Roubo and the design, while customizeable, has been considered the pinnacle of workbench design for the past 200 hundred or so years!  Here’s a link to a quick overview for those who want to know more.

In addition, there are some other smaller projects I’ll be working on that raging from boxes to personal items.  This has gotten me inspired to think about what kinds of tables and benches would I use for various interests and hobbies.  My needs for leatherworking are different than my needs as a woodworker and any all-in-one solution will probably be not-so-good at anything specific.

An interesting idea of building based on proportions rather than specific prescribed measurements is addressed by Jim Tolpin in his book “Design by Hand and Eye” and no, this isn’t a golden mean treatise, though many of the whole number ratios we find appealing do approximate the golden mean as the numbers increase.  For those who are familiar with the fibonacci sequence, you already know what I’m writing about.

One of the interesting ideas in that was thinking of visual harmonies the way that one thinks about audible harmonies.  I have an idea swirling around my head about making a series of furniture whose proportions are designed based on a set measurement with each piece acting as a chord in the progression of a famous song.  In this way, the space would act as the beats apart and the whole room would become literally and figuratively harmonious.  Synesthesiacs beware!

Anyway, at the moment, It’s just a rough idea.  But there may be more later.

If you have something you’d like to make out of wood, or would like me to make out of wood for you, please contact me through this website, or check out our etsy store.

Action to Motivation

Sometimes motivation breeds action, but just as often action breeds motivation.

This is one of our pre-release black walnut presentation boards being used as a serving tray/centerpiece for dinner at a friend’s house.

Yesterday (Sunday), I spent the evening with my dad Jake; cutting and sanding some boards that should become our next batch presentation boards for our soon-to-drop online store.  They’ll become slab furniture and presentation boards.  A piece that should last at least four generations if treated well (more on four generations later soon, I promise…)

Afterward, I performed some minor repairs on some leather items in the house and worked on a design for a sheath for one of my knives.

I should probably be exhausted, but for some reason, my stupid mind brimmed with ideas of what I can do next week and the week after! This is especially true given that I’ll be flying to the Tucson Gem Show this weekend and won’t have all of my tools with me.  I could barely sleep.
Today, I spent the day working on the final phase of an ash entertainment center for work. Assisting the designers in the basic skill-related aspects of it and keeping an eye out for questions I have about design.

Afterward, I went home and practiced using a plunge router for the first time to cut a Mortise into some scrap I brought home from work.

Finished up the day playing with West System Epoxy and Waterlox Poly Finish on some walnut. Things are moving and that movement is helps to build inertia.  What kinds of things do you do to build inertia?

 

Why Leather, Wood, and Steel?

The best tools I’ve had are made of wood and steel, my favorite goods have been made of leather.  More so when the items in question have been made by hands that designed them with a purpose, custom-suited to its task or with someone specific in mind.

There is an honesty and a value to shaping materials you love with your hands, your heart and your mind.  There is a manic joy that comes from taking unrefined or raw materials and shaping them into something that can last for generations.

A joy of taking care of your tools, making sure they don’t become pitted, rusted or dull and knowing
that in return… they will take care of you and be great partners.

 

A joy in the frustration that comes from failing at something, when the short-term failure isn’t as bad as the idea of NOT learning that thing we want to know how to make.

There is a magic in learning to exercise your will in such a way that you are able to shape your world, or at least come small objects in it, in a such a way that when you finish your work you look upon what you have wrought and you can say that it is good.

If you’ve never experienced the joy of making something that then exists in the real three-dimensional world, an artifact to explain to future archaeologists who and what you were, I would love to encourage you to do so.

Maybe if you do, you’ll end up with an excitement that looks just a *little* bit frightening behind your dust mask and safety goggles.

If getting your hands cracked and dirty, and your lungs full of sawdust (despite proper precautions)  isn’t for you, I sincerely hope you enjoy the crafts and objects I share with you on the blog.

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