Saturday, January 29, 2011
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'.
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.
Friday, January 28, 2011
This man was my main teacher during my apprenticeship, a member of the company where I trained. I sat a little over two meters to his left when working, for four years. He began his own career at the age of thirteen, in the town of Kobe. He had vast experience building all different types of furniture, but at some point had become a specialist in chairs, perhaps simply because the shop needed one, furniture of western taste was becoming more and more common.
A transformation would take place every morning when he came into work. A quiet and simple person of relatively slight build, appearing not dissimilar to any somewhat elderly man that you might pass on the street and not glance at twice, but once he dressed in his gray trousers and shirt that he always wore when at the shop, the sense about him would become one of superior strength and confidence. He truly exemplified the shokunin, going about the tasks in a relaxed and definite way, and also conveying a powerful if not fearful atmosphere from his long experience and high degree of commitment to his work. The furniture he built was clean, even from left to right, and had an appearance of efficiency to it's making, something that is not so often seen in woodwork, where one can struggle with the details. He had profound knowledge and skills, the man was a great inspiration for me.
The last day of my apprenticeship, I waited outside the shop to sat goodbye and to offer my thanks. I thought that it would be good to be alone together for a moment, away from the other craftsmen . He looked at me, somehow in a way that seemed slightly different from before, acknowledged my thank you, and said, "You have to get faster". Then he turned and walked out the gate. That was it, no sentimentality, or a pat on the back like I might have wished for, simply his final instruction about the work. All the years that have passed since that took place, the realization remains regarding the wisdom in his parting words, and it is still true, I do have to get faster.
Sometimes I would stop in and see Mr. Nakamichi and his wife on the infrequent visits to Japan some years after. He had retired after sixty years as a craftsman, his health was not so great. We would drink tea together, maybe a chat about how things were going for me as a furniture maker, and I might bring out some photos of what I had been doing.
The last time I visited Mr. Nakamichi, he was bed ridden and only semi conscious, a short time before his death. When I entered his home, his wife said to me, "Go upstairs, you will be surprised to see him making furniture again". I couldn't understand what she might be saying, because I knew that he was not in a good way. When I entered his room, I saw that indeed he was at his trade again, in bed with his eyes closed, with his hands going through the motions. At one point he was holding a dozuki saw and making a fine cut in a piece of wood, his straight cut, it was unmistakable.
Great Britain has a lot to offer in terms of a wonderful history of chairmaking, I would say the finest in the world, as far as diversity and the degree of excellent work that was done there. One of the traditional skills I picked up working in that land was learning the use of the chair adze for roughing out seats, the work of the 'bottomer'. This particular adze I purchased from a second hand tool dealer before leaving the country, but it was really a gutter adze with a much narrower curve across the width than is suitable for chairs. A blacksmith in the states shortened and reshaped it to my liking. He did an excellent job, including with the re-tempering, and it holds it's edge very well. One of my favorite tools to use, and a lot of experience is required to have sufficient control when roughing out a seat. Today, there are other ways to initially shape a seat, using routers and grinders that rely on electricity and make a lot of noise and fine dust. I prefer to stick with the adze, not an easy skill to learn, but I believe one worth keeping alive in the more modern age, compared to a time when such a method was commonplace.
The lower photo is of a 'bottomer', the man employed in an English chair shop to rough out the seats. Quite possibly the photo was taken in the early 1900s. Lots of seats to work on, the stacks behind him indicate. The wood is likely Elm. The short handle would make the work particularly grueling, I can only wonder how his back held up?
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Monday, January 24, 2011
Sunday, January 23, 2011
You can get a nice effect from bleaching wood, there are two part products specifically made for this purpose, though I think the manufacturers have in mind using it more as a cleaner, than applying to unblemished wood. You apply it, and the degree of bleaching can be controlled by how long that you leave it on before washing it off.
I like the result sometimes, as it makes the color of the varying parts of the work, uniform, and tends to quiet down the grain. The overall design of the piece becomes more visual and stronger. The color remains, you don't seem to get the natural lightening or darkening that wood goes through over time and exposure to light.
This dining chair I made from Japanese Sen wood, a light colored wood of medium hardness, with a frequent tendency to have particularly strong appearing grain.