Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Little Philosophical

     There were two things that happened recently that have made me somewhat philosophical as I look at this woodworking I enjoy so much.  Maybe I've just had too much time to think as I lay on the couch, icing my knee, and keeping it elevated so that this swelling will go down once and for all and I'll be back to being somewhat normal again.  In any case, here's the deal.
     In a recent newsletter from Fine Woodworking they talked about how computer controlled woodworking is coming to the small home and professional shop.  Just like any other technology the price has come way down.  This opened a discussion as to whether or not we (fine woodworkers) would embrace it or say that it  belongs in manufacturing only.  Several had put their two cents in and I'm still deciding if I want to or not.  Technology is pretty much about doing things faster, repetitively, and accurately -- bottom line for me is GREED!  One person made the point that if we can produce things quicker we are also using our natural resources up quicker which really goes against the whole green movement.  My personal feelings are that the process of designing and making "stuff" is what brings satisfaction.  Saying that though, I also realize that to make money you need speed and efficiency and technology can give that to you.
     The other thing that happened is that a couple of my neighbors came over and asked how long I've been working on the stools.  In spite of the movement limitations caused by the knee surgery I told them about 40 hours.  Now that's quite a while, especially to the 20 somethings who are accustomed to the microwave society and instant everything.  They did admire the work though.
     Here's a little photo essay to help illustrate some of the process.  I'm currently fitting the curved backs to the square uprights of the stool.

Dovetail Saw and Flush Saw used to cut an angled notch.

Back is carefully laid out and notch is pared to match the curve
of the back using spokeshave and chisel. Tape is used to locate
the center of the back in stool.

     The final steps were to drill the holes in the back and then counterbore them for the maple plug that will conceal the screw.  You'll notice that the back also has a couple of  wash coats of shellac on it to seal wood since the Chakte Kok dust can actually be used as a bright, red dye.  Next in line is the finish of the stools which will be done after final scraping/sanding and forming chamfers on the edges.  After the oil has dried overnight the backs will be epoxied and screwed on, maple button epoxied to cover the screw head and then chiseled flush.  Finally the top coats (5-6) will be hand sanded in to achieve the finish I'm somewhat known for and ...... oh yeah, still need to get the leather and upholster the seats -- whew!!

So, could a batch of computer operated machines have done this faster?   Probably, would the project mean as much to my client?  I'd like to think not.  The appeal of artfully designed objects is that they are unique and tailored to meet what you like.  You're not going to walk into your neighbors house and see the exact same thing.  Just like I used to customize cars and motorcycles so that they were one of a kind and unique to me and my personality.  Faster is not always better, when I look at our society in general I always remember what Diane once said: " even though we have hundreds of labor saving devices, no one seems to have time for anything anymore".  Okay, guess it's time for an ibuprofen and leg elevation!!

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