Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Old photos

Going through a box of old photos taken over a number of years, I picked out a few that brought back some particular memories.  Sometimes what was done came easy, other times more entailing some struggle.  Meeting and getting to know the people who ask me to make furniture for them is a big part of it. I think the photos give an idea of some of the diversity of individuals that I have done work for, and how their tastes and homes helped to direct me to go in a design direction for the particular commission, and resulted in a fairly wide array of styles.  California is a place with rather eclectic tastes, from very traditional to wanting something that has never been done before. No doubt a lot of work was approached that would never have been so, without the inspiration from the customers, and the challenge of finding my own interest to portray into a requested job is something that I much like doing.  I receive a lot of satisfaction from building furniture that 'fits' well into the location where it will be used.

I don't particularly subscribe to the "simple is best" philosophy, I like small details that hopefully catch someone's eye over time, maybe add some fun and personality to the work.  My own sense tells me about the ornaments, what my eye wants to see, and the scale.  I try to be careful that the smaller details don't cloud up the important overall form of the furniture, put trust into an order of things to convey a message.

Mostly quite old work here, done when my shop was located in the states.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Blog reality check

With the blog I have been trying pretty hard to align my thoughts into some degree of order for a reasonable level of conveyance, and put it down with half way decent punctuation that with luck, will help it be understood, and hopefully enjoyed  It all takes a bit of effort, especially after working the entire day.

Is anybody out there?
È qualcuno là?
Este cineva aici?
किसी को भी वहां है?
Er nogen til stede?
Est-ce que quelqu'un est ?
Είναι οποιος δήποτε εκεί;
누군가는 거기 있는가?
Está qualquer um lá?
Ist jemand dort?

The arms are done, it's time to kick back for awhile...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Into the unknown

A number of years ago I wanted to learn the process of tig welding stainless steel., so I purchased a welder and signed up for a short course put on by the manufacturer in Tokyo.  Although I didn't really have it in mind at the time, it did help lead to an exhibition of a number of pieces made from wood and steel.  This chair was one of the more ambitious projects out of a run of a number of things.  I was thinking more 'object' than chair per say, but it did end up having an unexpected nice flex to the back, and being rather comfortable.  A furniture designer ended up purchasing it, urged on by his wife, who took a real strong liking to it.  I did express my concern to him about how it might hold up, but since I haven't heard anything to the contrary, presumably it is still in good shape.  I've been thinking about exploring the possibilities with the combination of materials again this year.

I like working with steel, things having to be done a certain way really doesn't much apply, just figure it out as I go along, and it is mostly an open book.  It does make life easier in certain regards as well, just a phone call and the next day the steel is at my door ready to be used, no thoughts needed with regard to moisture content or any of the other variables that best be considered with wood.  What prompted using steel as a furniture component was seeing an old motorized rebar bending machine sitting out rusting behind a nearby metal fabrication place, and their saying that I could have it.  I figured that it had to be useful in some way. It does work for bending other steel besides rebar, in a crude fashion.

I did get some unusual comments from some of my customers who had previously purchased my all wood furniture, for example, "What was I doing?"  Since I had never asked myself that question, it didn't bother me very much.  A few folks found it within themselves to be more kind.  It isn't surprising that people will have certain expectations about an artisan's work after seeing a certain type being done over a period, that is what helps to build a reputation, and it's good for business.  My own expectation about what I do..... to be in a good frame of mind at the shop, and to try and do the best work I can, and every hungry dog passing through gets at least one square meal.  I recall that is why I wanted to learn this work in the first place, it seemed like it would give such an opportunity.

何年も前にTIG溶接の手順を学びたくなり、溶接機を購入し東京にある製造会社の隣で開かれていた短期コースに参加しました。 それによって、その頃はそこまで考えていなかった木材とスチール両方を使った数多くの作品の展示に繋がるきっかけとなりました。
この椅子は多々重なった仕事の中でも特に意欲的に取り組んだもののひとつでした。 椅子自体よりオブジェクトとしての考えが強かったのですが、最終的にこの椅子には背の部分に予想していなかったよいカーブがつき、ずいぶんすわり心地のよいものになりました。 とある家具デザイナーが、この椅子に強い好意を持ってくださった彼の妻の力説により、椅子を購入することになったのです。 彼には椅子の耐久に対する私の懸念をしっかり伝えましたが、連絡がないところをみると椅子はきっと、まだいい状態でいるのでしょう。 今年はまた、材料の組み合わせにおける可能性の探索を考えています。

私は、決められた方法はほとんど当てはまらず、作業を進めながら方法を考え出していく(それほどの困難もありません)、スチールを使った仕事が気に入っています。 スチールの使用は私の生き方をいくらか楽にもしてくれます。例えば、電話一本で次の日には素材が私のドアの前に準備万端で届けられていて、水分含有量など状態が変わりやすい木材のような考慮が必要がありません。 家具のパーツにスチールを使用するきっかけを与えられたのは、近くにある金属製造所の外で錆びついた古いエンジン付き鉄筋製の曲げ機会を見た際に、持って行っていいと声をかけられた時でした。
以前に、素材が全て木の家具を購入してくださった何人かのお客さんから、"どうしたのかといった内容のコメントを受けたことがありましたが、私自身が自分にその質問を投げかけたことがなかったのでそれほど気にとめませんでした。 人が、ある一定の期間に特定のタイプの仕上がりを見て、その職人の仕事に対してある種の期待を抱いても驚きではないし、それは評判を築くうえでの助けにもなり、ビジネスにとっても良いことです。 私がすることに対して私自身が抱く期待とは... 工房で気持ちの良い感じ方、考え方でいられること、自分ができるなかで最善の仕事をすること、そして通りかかるすべての空腹の犬達が十分な食事を与えられること。 それがそもそも、この仕事を学びたかった理由であり、そんな機会を与えてもらえそうだと感じたのでした。

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Back in time

It's getting close to thirty years ago that I built this chair, a short time after returning to the states from Great Britain to start my first shop, and English style was still very much in front of my eyes.  The chair was a commission to go with a desk, and my client liked the classics.  I had been working and studying hard in England, trying to soak up as much as I could from the great furniture making history in that part of the world, and in a good local to do it, the town of High Wycombe, that in the 19th and early 20th centuries had been the chair making capital of the....universe?  Someone might pass through the place on their way from London to Oxford, and not give it a second thought beyond it's gritty appearance as a relatively small industrial town like others, but beneath the exterior is a rich furniture making past, some things special to only that region.  Surrounded by Beech woods, during one period more handmade chairs were being produced there than in any other place in the world.  I was working in the town at a later date, but the atmosphere I experienced was exciting for me as a young furniture maker.  The workshops still in business were down to only a rare few, others had evolved to a nearly total mechanized operation putting out much less than spirited work.   In addition to where I was fortunate to have found employment after a good deal of searching, walking down the narrow lanes and looking up at the many windows in the old brick buildings, behind which generations of woodworkers had once been working at their benches, it served as a great inspiration for me on my path.  There was some kind of spirit lingering in the air that spoke to me. The chairs could still be seen in some pubs and hotels, continuing to do their jobs daily after the many years, with a lot of character and the nuances that you can recognize from being made in that area.  I met a few blokes who had once worked in those brick buildings, retired by then, but with their tools kept in their sheds, and their interest in woodworking still evident in their eyes as they told the remembrances.  I found a meaning in all of it, cool to be going through the same motions with all the ghosts.

In my opinion, there is a lot to learn from studying classical furniture.  What is it that makes a particular chair more appealing, compared to a similar design made in another shop,  the "good", "better", and "best".  Subjective to some extent, but the experts will agree, and the huge sums that the auction houses can now obtain for the best work helps to confirm. What are the characteristics that makes up a nicely designed and executed cabriole leg, both a delicate and robust form that found it's way all the way over from China?  There have been almost an infinite number of variations, probably almost as many as the number of makers who have used the idea.

You don't have to think that a design is still timely to get a hint of good balance from it, maybe pick up an essence that can be applied to more contemporary work as well.  The influences were very strong from the interior design fashions of those earlier eras, moving from the city to the countryside, and there was lively competition amongst the designers and manufacturers for recognition.  Not a sense of indecision behind what went into the work, design uniqueness seems to have been a lesser aspiration after a style took hold, with slight variations and strong execution reflecting the culture of the time.

Sometimes I like to look at the older work that I have done.  Though greatly influenced, this chair wasn't exactly a copy, it has a bit of my own interpretation to it.  Developing my own perspective about work was still very young, and I can never go back to having the same sense that this chair came from, lots of water beneath the bridge since, carrying many hundreds of pieces of furniture.  'Naive' can be a useful quality in design, sometimes simple and to the point, and less individualism can bring with it a pleasing quality of restraint.  All in all, there are one or two things that I might want to do a little different with this chair were I to build it now, but it does honestly represent a certain time and accumulation of effort, and I am still happy with it, albeit produced so long ago.  

Using black Walnut for the chair, my client liked the wood.  The steam bends are unusual, from a Sycamore that grew near my shop, and the wood is not usually regarded as a good bending species.  It would bend ok, but warp badly during the subsequent drying time.  Thankfully, I managed to get something that I could use after a few tries, it worked out alright.

この椅子は、伝統的なものを好むクライアントによる、机とのセット注文でした。 イギリスのHigh Wycombeという良き町で ―19世紀から20世紀初頭にかけてこの町は、銀河系全体...?からみても、椅子作りの中心地でした― その世界の中でも卓越した家具作りの歴史から、出来る限りを吸収するため私は勉強と制作に熱心にとりかかりました。 ロンドンからオックスフォードに向かう道中に通りかかっても、この小さな産業地帯のようなじゃりじゃりとした外観の町を再考することはないかもしれませんが、この外面の下には豊かな家具作りの歴史、この地域だけに当て嵌まる特別なものがあります。
町はブナの森に囲まれ、一時は手作りの椅子が、世界中のどこよりも製作されていました。 私がそこで仕事をしていたのはその歴史の中でも後半でしたが、まだ若い家具職人であった私にとって、そこで体験した雰囲気は刺激的なものでした。 今では、まだ製作をおこなっている工場は希少な存在となり、他の工場はほとんど全ての工程が機械化され、心のこもった作品は生み出されなくなりました。
苦労の末に私が町で手にした勤め先の幸運としてさらに付け加えると、細い路地を歩きながら、古いレンガ造りの建物の、代々の家具職人達が作業台についていたであろう数多き窓を見上げていたことは、私の生き方の大きなインスピレーションになりました。 そこには私に話しかけてくる、なかなか消えない熱情(spirit)のようなものが感じられたのでした。 その頃の椅子はパブや宿場で何年もの時を経た今でも、その地域のものであると見てわかる性質とニュアンスを放ちながら、日課を守っているのを見ることができます。 私が見上げていた古いレンガ造りの建物で仕事をしていた何人かの職人に出会ったことがありますが、もう引退はしていたものの、彼らの工具はまだ物置に保管されていて、思い出話をする彼らの目にははっきりと、木工に対していだく関心をみてとることができました。 これらのこと全てに、私は趣旨を見出しました ― 亡霊たちと同じ経験を辿ることはクールだ

個人的な意見ですが、伝統的な家具の勉強には学ぶところがたくさんあります。 ある特定の椅子を、他の工場で作られたデザインのよく似た椅子と比べたときに、より魅惑的に、『よく』『よりよく』『最もよく』見せるものは何か... 中国から渡って来た繊細且つどっしりとした曲がり脚を、注意深く美しくデザイン/製作するための特性とはなんだろうか... そこには無限に近い数、おそらくアイディアを形にした職人の数だけのバリーエーションがありました。

良いバランスの手引きを得るのに、既存のデザインがタイムリーだと考える必要はなく、しいて言えば、もっと現代的な作品にも応用できるエッセンスを見繕う、ような感じです。 一時代初期のインテリアデザインファッションから来た影響は非常に強く、都市から地方へと移行し、デザイナーと製作者の間には認識、評価のための活発な競争がありました。 その頃の文化を反映するわずかなバリエーションと強固な手法と共に、スタイルが重視されるようになり、取り入れられたものの背景にあった躊躇いとは関係なく、デザインの独特さが向上心に繋がることが少なくなったように思います。

私は時々、自分の手がけた昔の作品を見るのが好きです。 強い影響はあったものの、自分なりの解釈を多少含んだこの椅子は、完全に模倣ではありませんでした。 仕事に対する自分の観点の発達はまだ若いものであったし、この椅子が生まれてきた同じセンスを持っていた頃には二度と戻れません。 橋の下の川水はあれ以来、何百もの家具を流し運んでいきました。 素朴さ"はデザインに役立つ特質に成り得るし、また独自性が少ないことによって魅力的な慎み深さが生まれます。 概して今、この椅子をつくるのであったら、1、2箇所、少し違ったことをしたいです。 が、この椅子はある特定の時期と努力の蓄積を表していて、ずっと昔に作られたものではあっても、自分では満足のいく作品です。

クライアントの嗜好から、椅子には黒クルミ材を使用しました。 本来プラタナスはスチームベンドに向かず、曲げることはできても乾かす過程でそりが悪くなりますが、ありがたいことに何度かの試みの末、使えるものができ、うまくいきました。

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Another type of woodworking

I've heard it said that if someone spends too much time in a furniture making workshop, they risk the possibility of becoming a piece of furniture themselves!  I haven't exactly noticed any stretchers growing out between my legs, but for quite a few years I have had an additional occupation of removing trees, both in residential settings and in the woods.  I find the heavy work intrigues, and it does get me out of my lonely in the shop, the chance to work around some good people who are well experienced in the business and very enjoyable to associate with.  Mostly a crane operator rings me up to assist him on jobs these days, on the average three or four times a month, just enough to provide a change of scenery and to keep my hand in it. Chainsaws are also tools that I enjoy using very much, sometimes modifying them to obtain greater power, they are a deep subject if you want to pursue it.

Tree work is very much a trade that best has a lot of study associated with it, if one wants to gain efficiency and try to help mitigate the dangers.  There can be a certain degree of unpredictability that goes along with it, tremendous diversity in the situations, so being careful on all fronts requires a lot of awareness.  Working at heights has it's challenges and enjoyments, the need to pay close attention to what you are doing, lesser so to where you are doing it.  Overcoming the fear factor has been quite interesting, if not spooky, and there are payoffs besides the wages, the air is amazingly fresh and clean above the forest floor, the view sometimes sublime that few get the opportunity to see, it can be most invigorating. The work gives a chance to visit some locations in the prefecture that otherwise I wouldn't, and to mix it up with the locals a bit. Tree cutting brings them out of their houses, people want to investigate, and there is a fascination. There is also the opportunity to sometimes obtain logs for what I do in the shop as well, though in my area, Pine or a pretty unusable Cedar is often what is being cut.  Unusable for furniture that is, though the logs go to auction and are purchased for use in construction. Some large trees are in our schedule from time to time, sometimes hundreds of years old, particularly at temples or shrines, and around the old farmhouses.  Why they need to be removed isn't a subject for much debate, age and disease has affected many of them, leaving in that state can be very dangerous to people and structures below.  The forest trees haven't been maintained very well, removing some to allow more light to help the others to better prosper is a valuable consideration.

Thought that I would post a few of the times and places, hope that you enjoy the photos, click to enlarge.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

A tip from Asia

Our ubiquitous bamboo works very well for pining joints.  It is quite strong, and with better resiliency compared to most woods of a similar dimension.  In the states, you can often find what will work at markets that have an Asian food section, probably sold as skewers in a pack, around 1/8" diameter, and sometimes larger ones are also available.  I mostly use the smaller size, pin all the leg stretchers on chairs this way, and some other places where I want a lock with minimal appearance.  It works great.  Especially with darker woods, it reveals a small point of attention; a nice tiny detail for those that care to see.

There is some variation in the diameters in a pack, so I find it best to drill a hole slightly small and the skewer can be easily sized down quickly with sandpaper for a perfect minimal resistance slip in fit.  I put a little angle on the end with a rasp before pushing it in, a slight amount of glue applied.  The bamboo doesn't seem to swell up as much as wood does when glue touches the surface, perhaps barely at all, and it is a bit slippery to begin with.  A little tight and it taps in with a hammer.  Too tight and it will likely become stuck only part of the way in, so you will end up having to drill it out and redo.  Snip and pear it flat with a muss no fuss, and the process goes quick.

The skewers can be useful for other things as well;  applying a spot of "instant glue' to under a sliver of grain that has lifted up, or pushing a cloth with finish on it into a recess, etc.  Some thoughtful person brings a bottle of sake, nicely drunk with yakitori grilled in the stove in the shop, not a bad reason to have some skewers around either....


Friday, February 4, 2011

Zelkova serrata

Referred to as 'Keyaki' in Japan, a type of Elm, the wood from the tree is one of the most revered
materials for woodwork.  It has been widely used through history in construction and for furniture or other interior items.  A deciduous tree of medium hardness, the wood has a unique and striking golden color to it, and the grain is often quite beautiful, and with a number of pattern variations.  I haven't used it so much, the grain being rather bold, I found it a little strong when wanting to produce subtle designs, but my eye has been changing and I'm liking it more and more for furniture.

The tree grows quite abundantly in Japan and is hearty.  It has been suggested as a good replacement for Elms in the states, so ravaged by the Dutch Elm disease, Zelkova being greatly resistant to the blight.
Favored in gardens around homes, the mature tree makes for great shade, so you usually don't have to go far when in some areas to find nice old specimens.  The size can become huge, with very broad limb spreads, the tree often being hundreds of years old. It is seen in parks and around temples as well, and sometimes will be lining a street in the city.  There are still a few ancient trees that can be found, on up to a thousand years old or more.

The wood can sometimes be rather hard and heavy, but it isn't a particularly difficult material to work with, either when machining or when using hand tools.  Wood from younger trees is rather susceptible to warping, so it's the material from the older trees that is most desirable, and with the longer growing, there is usually also the advantage of better color and tighter grain.  Like other Elms, the grain tends to be very interwoven, so it is less susceptible to cracking than a lot of hardwoods.  In that respect, doing things like wedging tenons close to the edge of the wood can be done successfully, where with other species a much greater degree of caution would be required.

The chair is made from Keyaki, a design I picked up from an old one that belonged to a friend in England. I don't recall what the original was made from, possibly Beech with an Elm seat, a common combination of woods during the era in which it was built. It had been his grandfather's chair, and was still in very good condition and getting daily use.  I lightened and simplified mine a bit, particularly the legs which had a series of rings, changed the way the arm joins into the back corner post, and later an urushi artist finished it with a number of coats of lacquer.  I thought that it turned out very well. It sold at an exhibition in Nagoya, and another person requested that I make him one as well.  Very nice to receive the positive response, as I had not built this design for a number of years, and the first time in Zelkova.  The seating is comfortable, and makes a very nice desk or reading chair, and terribly English...

The Urushi is fairly dark initially, but lightens up considerably over time.  Photos don't really do it justice.  The sheen is very warm and inviting with a very attractive depth, and it is also amazingly durable as a finish.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A habit

I have a few friends that drop by my shop and like to smoke, so I made a quick ashtray.  If it burns up, I'll make another one, having a lot of these wood scraps around. I enjoy a decent cigar myself, especially one made from the fine woods, Acacia and Ebony!

Sometimes it's good to depart the production for business aspect of woodworking, and just make something for the enjoyment of it, call it the default setting.  Furniture making can be very demanding, wood has a mind of it's own, and the constant level of attention and physical effort that is required.  Remembering the impetus at the beginnings of a trade helps to give staying power, sometimes referred to as 'first mind'.

Small local exhibition

Not far from my shop is the birthplace of a well known urushi artist, Takahashi Setsuro.   It has been turned into a museum celebrating his life and work, and they allow a part of the original house that has been reconstructed, to be sometimes used for exhibitions.  Visitors go through the main building housing Mr. Takahashi's work, then they can filter out to behind where there is the house and a nice garden.

Considering the garden, I also made some outdoor furniture; a small table and a chair in Canadian Red Cedar.  Perhaps one alternative to the ugly plastic outdoor seating that seems to be taking over the world, and considered so cheap and practical by the people who buy it.  With the rot resistant Red Cedar, and perhaps some basic care to protect from constant exposure to rain, I believe that the wooden furniture would provide quite a long term of use.

There were a number of art events in town occurring during the week of the exhibit, so periods were not infrequent when visitors were few.  I didn't mind, the museum is located in a very peaceful area, and sitting in the quiet grounds with nobody about was very enjoyable.