Some recent work and a Happy New Year!

As of late I've had some fun slabbing trees along side my furniture work. It's a thoroughly enjoyable experience to me, though I can't imagine it is for everyone. There's always been something about slinging around heavy objects and what other's consider to be heavy manual labor that I enjoy; it's the smells and the textures of materials, it's working outside and enjoying the weather, even if it is 20 degrees outside. The experience of work has always been more enjoyable to me than sitting in a classroom, and it's all the better when your laboring over a material you have an affection for. Cutting into a tree and finding something you didn't expect is a supremely fun thing to me. But hey, that's why I do what I do. This specific log of Red Oak I pictured had an interesting pattern to the grain I thought might interest some. I don't usually care all that much for Red Oak, but this is going to make a really neat table top one day.

I also delivered a table to a client this past week, just in time for Christmas. The base was of Cherry, then was ebonized using quebracho bark powder to add tannins and a ebonizing solution. Cherry has a relatively high tannin content already, so for a lot of ebonizing situations you don't need the bark powder mix. This base, however, needed to be jet black, and the solution I used succeeded wonderfully. You can see the base before staining was done, and the final product is simply two coats of tannin powder mix and two coats of iron solution, with three coats of danish oil on top. 

The top is a bookmatched fiddleback sycamore flitch trimmed with a Wenge and Maple border. The slight curve on the underside of the edging gives the table a lightness as well as a soft feel, and brings it into the curvature of the bottom. When I delivered it I got a glimpse of it from about 15ft away perpendicular to the top and in the light they had it was even more mesmerizing than I had seen it to be. Really a nice flitch. The table is 60"x36"x30"—a standard size table for a family of 6.

And so, a Happy New Year from all of us here at E N Curtis Woodworks (that is, me and my St. Bernard)! Let's hope that I don't have to put my nephew back into my snow boots for a while!

It's been a busy while...

Admittedly so. But such is life sometimes. It's been busy, tying up loose ends with old personal projects, starting new ones, and continuing on the journey. I'll make this short—though I promise to be back sooner then last time—and let you see some photos of what I've been doing rather than spell it out for you. Some carvings I finished up from the summer, some turnings I've been delving into, some model work, a box, etc. Small stuff. Perhaps next time I'll discuss refurbing my old rockwell lathe to workable form. Til next time!

Shows, Mirrors, and Veneers

The world is full of things to make from wood—you simply have to choose what you want to make yourself. It can be small or simple; it doesn't have to be a masterwork that people will revere in generations to come. Making a mirror for an entryway wasn't exactly small, but the process is sometimes more enjoyable because of its straightforward nature. Four corners, a piece of glass, and a little oil goes a long way. 

A good friend of mine did some work that was a bit more involved over the summer. While I was up in Maine, Isabelle Moore, a fantastic maker from Scotland, was doing a fellowship at CFC. She was knocking out chairs left and right, and she culminated a long summer of work with a show at SUNY Purchase recently. I had the fortune to stop by and check out the event. 

Her work shows the breadth of her skill as a designer and a woodworker. She has the ability to think and work in different mediums, and varying shapes and line. Chairs of welded steel rod; maple rockers with sharp, chiseled features; hanging chairs with continuous curves and not a sharp edge to be found; some tall and wirey, others a more classical style. I was impressed with her range of thought, and already knew her skill as a craftsman.

Now I sally forth into veneer work. Veneer work, you say? Like fake wood and press board? I thought you were a hand tool guy? First, let me assure you, my friends, that I am not hanging up the saw for the CNC. Veneer work, despite what some may think, can be a great deal of handwork, and in the way I work, it is. The four tools most used in doing this are a shooting plane, a veneer saw, a knife, and tape. No roaring engines there.

Second, some of us have some prejudices against veneer because of its overuse in the manufacturing world. Allow me to help you shelf those prejudices. Veneer is in fact real wood—it's simply wood that is sliced very thin. Even two or three hundred years ago they were cutting and using veneers. Indeed, some of the most intricate and cherished masterworks in the history of the craft are veneered pieces. By cutting the wood very thin, you can do things with veneers that you would never be able to accomplish with thicker pieces of wood because the thin nature of veneers negates wood movement. Designs are limited only by your imagination, rather than the limits of the natural material you work. Veneers, consequently, can be a lot of fun to work with.

Now I'm off to that silent serenity wherein I hear the whisper of the plane and the tearing of the... veneer tape. Onward!

A show this weekend and the goings on

It's nice to make some smaller things. Something that takes from only a few minutes to just an hour or so, like a small turning. It's nice to break up the incredible difficulty and mental energy that goes into making such large pieces as what I usually make. There's the building of it, sure, but there's also the design, the planning, the purchasing, the fixing mistakes, the finishing, the photography, and the storage. There's a lot. This week I've been making a mirror frame for a client on Long Island for his entry way. Quartered oak is always lovely to work with.

This weekend will celebrate more of the small things. Sure, it's a huge amount of work to do a show, but that only bookends the weekend. At the New Paltz Arts and Crafts Show, there will be loads of makers selling all kinds of neat things of all mediums—pottery, molded christmas ornaments, soaps, jewelry, etc. Last year, I picked up a set of ceramic mushrooms for my garden. They were strange, but I also thought they were pretty sweet. If you're around the hudson valley, you should check it out, and be sure to stop by my booth.

After this show weekend, I will be diving head first into a rather large job of 3 commercial desks and a small conference table. The mostly veneered pieces will be really lovely as I already have the curly maple, maple burls, and holly veneers I will use. 

Oh, and I thought you might enjoy this last picture. A good friend of mine sent it to me the other day from when we were in school together. This is me working on the demilune—ah, the awkward positions we put our bodies in for the love of our craft. And I still lie on my bench, too!

Some turning, an end of an era, and a well-earned vacation

My last week at CFC as an workshop assistant was with Nick Cook, master turner from Georgia, who was both a very skilled turner and a really nice guy. Part of the perks of being the assistant, as you've seen, is the ability to participate in the class when it isn't full. I had that ability last week and learned a ton. We made coffee scoops, rolling pins, muddlers, honey drizzlers, salt shakers, pepper mills, and more. It was informative, but more importantly, I think, it was fun. After all, I didn't get into this business because I don't like to make things out of wood. 

As the week passed, I enjoyed my waning time at the school. It was fun to see old friends for a time, meet new people, be around folks just discovering woodwork, and, of course, to have a nice summer in Maine with my wife. It was work, no easy breeze to be sure, but it was well worth it. I'll go ahead and proclaim that my time at CFC was an era, because hey, Mohammad Ali was the self-proclaimed "greatest" before he was the champ. So why not?

This next week and a half I'm out in LA with my wife visiting family. I may do another post in that time, but I'll leave it to inspiration. When I get back, I'll keep you up on the work I'm doing.

A week of making self-bows

This week at CFC was spent with Brian Persico, a furniture maker and bowyer from Brooklyn, NY. Brian's been making furniture for a few years after graduating with a degree in industrial design, but about two years ago ventured into bow making and now, I think, can be considered a full-fledged bowyer (the proper title of a bow-maker). And some of his bows are the kind of thing that makes you want to become a bowyer yourself. 

When I think of bows, I think of all the classic things a little boy thinks of. Cowboys and Indians. Mongols. Robin Hood. Elvish warfare. There's something romantic about bows and bow-making that's akin to longswords, camp fires, and roasted mutton. And, having partaken in this week-long class and made a longbow myself, I can say that the process of making the bow was exciting, and almost as fun as shooting it. But it's entirely different from furniture making—rather it's more akin to carving, in that you are always reducing, trying to form the overall picture, before you hone in on the details; of course, this is specifically to self-bows and does not include laminates and compound bows. The major difference in bow-making is that once you reach a certain point in the process, you make a small adjustment, and take the bow outside to shoot, get a sense of what you want it to shoot like, and adjust accordingly, repeating the process until it functions in the desired manner. This only makes the process so much more fun because you get to constantly go shoot your bow as you're working on it. 

The process itself was surprisingly elemntary—split the stave, get the back face to one growth ring, and shape to needed width and thickness. That's really the basic process in a nutshell, and you can make many different styles with those three steps. You can, of course, get fancy by adding recurves, stylized nocks of horn or antler, arrow rests and strike plates, handles, or sinew and horn to the limbs to make it more powerful. Brian's done all of these things—I added a recurve, a little horn arrow rest, and a leather handle. But I had loads of fun doing it. And if anyone is interested, you can visit Brian's website to see some of his work. In the meanwhile, enjoy some of the pictures from the week past, including our end of the week archery tournament.

A fantastic two-week journey...

If carving is at all something you are interested in, whether starting or just getting better, I urge you to do your best to learn from Chris Pye. He is not only an immensely accomplished master carver, but he is a natural teacher as well. He understands how to communicate the basics and essentials of carving, and strips this mystical work down to a very understandable level. And as you can see from my pelican, he is superb at helping beginners progress through a project to the point where they feel confident making decisions on their own. 

Not only am I impressed with Chris's ability to teach me, but I was also very impressed with the level of skill and dedication of those in the class. 12 people in the class, only two were doing the same project (3 including me), and a great variety of experience levels made for a situation wherein you could learn from listening to Chris talk about each person's project and progress. What a great situation. 

Here are some pictures from the last two weeks. There are many of folks working, like this one of Don working on his fish relief, as well as some finished, or nearly finished, pieces mixed in. Some of the finished pieces you'll see are Phil's relief, Mark's ornamental, Jonathan's pelican, and my leaf. Just take note of the contrast between my leaf and my pelican, as it's the second and third carving of my life, respectively. A bit of a jump, no doubt, but I had some very good guidance along the way!