Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Computer Numeric Re-Considerations (II)

The topic of CNC (Computer Numeric Control)-operated woodworking equipment has been on my mind a lot in recent days. I have had many discussions with my wife, with the woodworkers upstairs in the building where my shop is located, with the jewelry shop people in that same building, and in the exchange I have had with one of the commenters following up from the first post in this series. I was surprised there weren't more comments, more people up in arms. it seems like a contentious topic to me at least.

One of the comments raised a point, and it is one leveled frequently at CNC-produced objects: the 'coldness' which arises from their 'perfection'. In relation to CNC-produced bicycle components, the commenter (my friend in Nagano, furniture maker Dennis Young) mentioned:

"What is gained in precision and lightness, is lost in warmth",

and,

"No two are exactly the same, more individuality in that, less sterility."

Fair comment, and I do agree that such is often the outcome with a lot of machine-produced items. But I don't think CNC-produced items are especially unique in this regard, nor do I think it is necessarily the case that CNC-produced items can only be inherently cold or sterile. Are Karl Holtey's planes, which feature much CNC-work, sterile?

I'd like to explore that idea of uniformity/sterility/warmth in terms of workmanship a little further today, and I want to be clear that I am not trying to persuade so much here as share the thoughts and ideas that have been current in my consideration of this topic. I find it an intriguing area to explore, and in which to question my own assumptions and prejudices, having never used CNC machinery and been critical of it in the past.

Here's a point that occurred to me in regards to the hand-wrought product: as a craftsman, my objective in making things is in fact to obtain as much precision as I can. I don't imagine too many joiners, come to think of it, working with an intention to create sloppily-fit joints. Some may perhaps be inattentive, or satisfied with mediocrity, but they do not seek to produce poor work, unless they are mad, say, at their boss.

My interest and drive in my process of working wood and creating things is that I want joints to fit with just the right amount of pressure and with good alignment. I want the hand-planed or scraped surface to come out dead flat with no tool marks left behind. I want the molded bead on one side of the table apron to be the same shape and size as the bead on the other aprons. And you know, I never seem to quite achieve those objectives, though I do strive hard to do so, and will continue to strive in that direction. It might be an impossible task to achieve such perfection. It seems to me that if I did achieve that degree of perfection in my product, there would be some observers who might therefore think that product 'cold' or who would think it must be a machine-made product.... It's a little perverse. Welcome to the modern world.

Some craftspeople go to the trouble of making their work look deliberately imperfect so that it looks more 'hand-made', leaving behind -or adding - tool marks, or making things look like they are joined together traditionally when in fact they are not, using materials which look more overtly like the tree they came from (with waney edges, knots, inclusions, rusty bolt holes in salvaged material, etc.. A case in point are Greene and Greene chairs, sideboards, etc., where the pegs often cover screws or are simply decorative, and interior trusses are often simply decorative interior accessories, grand as they do look.

And, as many woodworkers know, the term 'hand-made' is a bit nebulous/subjective to begin with - not that it needs to be, only that it has become so it would seem. On the recent table project, I indeed used such classic hand tools as chisels, planes, scrapers, marking gauges, and hand saws. But I also used powered planers, jointers, routers, drill presses, and so forth. Is that table therefore hand-made? Not strictly speaking. Is it machine made? Not exactly, or at least, not entirely. It's somewhere in the middle. I suspect that vast numbers of woodworkers, at least those making furniture, arrive at their results in much the same way as I did, albeit with less hand tool involvement, and more machine work, being more typical of the process I would say.

I don't, in fact, want to do all the work by hand. Hands up, those out there who would choose to hand plane 1/4" of material off a 12" wide curly bubinga plank to get it down to a thinner dimension? That task would take at least a full day of fairly strenuous labour I would suspect. And if there were a stack of boards upon which the same work need be performed? The novelty might wear off of planing it all down I suspect. Give it a try and see.

Or, hands up again, would you rather run the plank through the planer and get the work done accurately in a few minutes? Or, who would have opted to rip the 20" wide table top panels for that Ming table with a hand saw off of the 3" thick piece of stock? I suspect few takers, and even if there were one or two, I am going to guess that they aren't professionals in the woodworking arena. Nothing wrong with being an amateur, but time constraints are less of a worry in that form of the endeavor obviously.

I might add that it is not always the case that hand tool work is slower - it can often be faster in certain aspects. But not usually when there are large numbers of parts to be processed identically at one time, which is a large portion of the process of making - then the machine is much more efficient.

So, the vast majority of us, we 'hewers of wood', are using machinery to one extent or another. Indeed, based upon what I have seen, I would say 99% of woodworkers utilize powered machinery for virtually all of the work they do. I rarely come across woodworkers with sharp hand tools, for instance, though their business card might depict a jack plane or handsaw. These hand tools are becoming decorative, I dare say, in many shops

All that said, for many, the hand touches, few as they may be, are often the points of pride in the making of the piece. In the western tradition, for instance, there is a tremendous emphasis on hand-cut dovetailed drawers, as one example. Let me digress slightly if I may....

The dovetailed carcase as such is approaching a form of fetish in fact, an obsession among woodworkers - a detail which might be scarcely noticed by the clients who buy the pieces. I think most woodworkers are aware of that point.

It was interesting to note what happened when machines to cut dovetails appeared on the scene in the early 1920's or thereabouts. While the bulk of hand-cut carcase dovetailing was done fairly quickly - and not always all that tidily - in most production settings, the machinery allowed for even faster production of these joints, and got greater uniformity and, I would say in some cases, more predictable quality in production. It can be said that in many cases the machine-made stuff was a form of cheapening a product, and little else.

Those who didn't like the new technology decried the sterility and uniformity of the machine-made dovetail. They still do. And then they chose an interesting course of action in their handwork in relation to dovetails: to focus on making dovetails with ultra-narrow pins, even 'zero-point' dovetails. This now became the hallmark of craftsmanship. Why? Because the spaces on the 'tails board' for such pins could not be cut with a machine!

It's a little whacky though, when the joint is considered from a mechanical integrity perspective. While narrowing out the pins could allow for dovetails to be crowded more tightly together, which would mean greater surface area and a stronger joint, in practice, from what I have observed, the pins get spaced in much the same way as they would with thicker pins. And so, in the quest to lay claim to some apparently hallowed ground in which the machines can't gain entry, the product now makes use of pins which are so skinny as to be weaker than is ideal. Or so it would seem to me.

Further, the dovetailed carcase joints while it is a mechanical connection in one direction at least, without glue it would come apart. So, since glue is really what keeps it together, and since, as many have asserted, modern glues are so wonderful, finger joints would be just as fine a connection. Dovetailed drawer ends are more visually dramatic and are a point of show-off for the maker in a sense. But if you consider the highest class of woodwork, the full through dovetail is somewhat down the list of preferability- considered superior were half-blind dovetails, then full-blind dovetails, and, in the best work, the ultimate method was considered to be concealed mitered dovetails, which are "true craftsmanship without ostentation", as I have read of them being described. Do that though, and many might think you had used dowels or biscuits to put it together. So, since it is not something that can be easily shown, most woodworkers would not opt to make such joints. In short, the reason for the dovetails is largely for show, to communicate a meaning, to make a statement. If they weren't so obvious to view when a drawer was opened, I'm willing to wager that you wouldn't see them done so often.

And the other point in regards to all this fuss about the dovetails which scarcely bears mentioning but I will do so anyhow, is that the consumer, while they may understand to an extent, or have at least been told that 'dovetails' are a sign of quality construction (and, as an aside I would add that no buyer in Japan looking at a high class tansu would be giving any thought to dovetailed drawer construction), if you were to show that consumer a drawer with dovetails that had been produced by one of the better jigs on the market, and a drawer with dovetails made by hand, they would not likely be able to spot the difference. And even if the craftperson pointed out, beaming with pride, the skinny pins in the hand cut dovetails, and told the client what they signified, I expect that at best you would get from that client a shrug, or a slightly hesitant and uncomprehending nod and murmur of 'oh, I see', when in fact they are perhaps thinking 'what is the nut going on about?'

So, these skinny dovetails are often, I dare say, something done to impress other woodworkers, to make a show (that only another woodworker would likely notice) of a part being hand made - - when the rest of the piece may well have been cut almost entirely with power tools. It's a funny thing. It may not always be a show for others - it may be something the woodworker does to simply validate to themselves what they are doing as a maker, to tell themselves that they are still, uh, hewing that material the old fashioned way, at least in some small part. And I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that, per se, only to show the lengths some makers will go to claim some of that precious 'hand-made' cachet in their work.

The zenith of quality handwork, from a 19th century perspective at least, is the perfect surface, the crisp carving, the light-tight joinery. And if you achieved it in a piece, people would likely think, in this day and age, that it was machine made. This puts the craftsperson in a position of having to have some portion of their work clearly look hand-done if they want to signify clearly that the piece is hand-made.

So, given that inhuman, 'cold' perfection is associated to the machine, many will associate some slight irregularity in a piece with the work of the hand - the errant tool mark here and there, the scraper mark left behind, the one leg that is subtly shaped differently than the others, the carved flower with detail differences from the other ones nearby, etc.. This is the sort of imperfection and diversity that delighted Ruskin. And here's the shocking thing: there's no reason you can't have the exact same outcome with CNC, if that is the desired result. I find that somewhat humorous actually.

It is no issue to program the CNC such that each piece, say one cabriole leg, is varied from the next in some slight way. This is not what happens in practice, from what I've seen, however it is very much within the realm of the machine's capabilities. Or, as is already done in some non-CNC work, one could go over the CNC'd 'perfection' and deliberately place tool marks. Yes, it's not what might be called honest craftsmanship, and it's not something I would be interested in doing, but as an approach it would be nothing new in the world of furniture making.

So, I've given some attention to the idea that CNC-produced work need be inherently sterile. I don't think it is necessarily the case, at least in terms of the capabilities of the technology. I might add that certainly there is no shortage of conventionally produced woodwork that is sterile, lacking in variation, craftsmanship, or visual interest. Even hand carving can be insipid or magnificent, depending upon talent of the carver.

In the following posts on this topic - and I've got a fair amount to say yet - I'll delve into other facets of this intriguing CNC question.

Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way today. Comments always welcome. --> on to post III

15 comments:

  1. I learned an interesting formulation of this problem from a couple graduates of the late, great Parnham House.

    Fine Good - an exacting, well fit joint

    Fine Bad - a CNC carving that while technically precise, looks like it was done by a mall kiosk

    Sloppy Bad - a poorly fit joint, or other poor workmanship

    Sloppy Good - a piece of woodwork that wears its' imprecision well, like a vigorous carving

    Love the blog by the way,

    Chris H.

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  2. This is an interesting topic. I love handmade objects. I love producing them aswell. We strive for perfection in our craft, but when "the industry" comes very close with technology we are repulsed. It is my (limited)understanding that many famous violins have been "mapped" and produced by CNC routers. I wonder if music lovers can tell the difference in music made by instruments made by hand or CNC routers without being told.
    Your points about dovetails is a topic that occupies my mind regularly. What's more important, the finished product or the process? With dovetails many woodworkers intentionally leave their scribe marks so people will know they were hand cut. Would people like Van Gogh's paintings more if he let his preliminary sketches show through the finished painting?
    I think many critics of CNC technology don't like the finished product AFTER they've been told how it was produced.
    I realize this sounds like a rant and I don't know how much room you allow for comments. I love finding/buying old Japanese tools, returning them to the fine tools they were meant to be, and then using them on a regular basis. I am a finish carpenter and use these tools on almost every job. I have never been able to produce a good trim job by simply cutting pieces with a miter saw. I always have to adjust the joints with block planes or other hand tools to be happy with the result. I have never met a good trim carpenter who doesn't have and know how to use their block plane. New technology and "old school" should not be so combative. When I go to trade shows, the people who wear black hats and beards and shun zippers and velcro are the ones buying the most expensive and technologically advanced tools. But in ads for their pruducts they are shown with only a handfull of simple, very worn hand tools. What constitutes handmade? Unless you only use your fingernails and bare hands - it's not "handmade".
    As a bicycle enthusiast, I was interested in one of the comments about handmade bike parts. I love the old butted frames with fancy joint covers (the term escapes me), however as a rider who loves aggressive downhill riding, I feel more comforatable trusting my life (literally) to modern parts. Riders in the Tour De France will not be going back to the "glory days of bike technology" anytime soon.
    Admitting that advances in technology are indeed advancements is a bitter pill to swallow.
    (Exhale) Was that too long? I feel I could go on and on. I look forward to your blog everyday, when there's not a new entry I find a private place and cry.

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  3. An aspect of CNC favors is that it favors 'perfect' wood. Infill planes favor high quality woods with the same structural stability as metal or a synthetic material. In our cold (in the winter) shop we go one step further, we favor finished wood based panels for our CNC and nearly refuse to work with real wood.

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  4. Part 1
    Personally, I don't usually think of hand work as being imprecise, not the work done by experienced craftsmen. Any degree of precision is subject to measurement and recognition of some degree of inaccuracy. Sufficiently accurate or not, it depends on what is called for to be pleasing and within the parameters of what wants to be achieved. Aren't some types of lenses still ground by hand because the process gives more exact results?

    Some recollections....

    The old Windsor chairs that can be seen in Great Britain, at the pubs or in the High Wycombe chair museum, for example, the underside of the seats usually have the original pit saw marks left as they came off the saw, no attempt to eliminate them. Two reasons for this that i suspect, one being that the scars on the wood were superfluous to the intended function of the chair, and two, that there was little extra time for even the relatively quick task to plane the bottoms smooth. Having watched some of the last breed of chair makers who still worked in the same old style, would certainly seem to bear out the second reason. Speed was definitely a priority, reflected in the selling price per chair.

    Now, those pit saw marks are considered charming and add to the value of these old chairs, a clear indication of the era in which the work was done. Had a cnc router been available to quickly and smoothly remove the marks, would they have taken advantage of it? My guess is probably yes, all the other parts of the chairs show attention to wanting to put out a more completed product. I suspect little thought was given to the charm of the roughness, or it's favorable indication of a trade that one day would become extinct Today, the visual connection to that hand work seems to give a sense of history, the same as with the other parts of the chair, givens within the historical context. People like history, a sense of a time with possibly some romance associated with it, even though in the case of pit sawing, it could only have been bloody grueling work with the sweat and the dust, along with the likely meager wages. Will future auction house appraisers look at fine woodwork to determine if it was done with the more desirable nostalgic cnc cut, or accomplished with the later period type of fantastic laser, that cut and polished to a high degree at the same time?

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  5. Part2
    I'm thinking of the personality in work in another recollection. In the shop where I trained, to a large degree, there were given designs that all the craftsmen produced, though some specialized. The specifics of the dimensions and shape of parts were all pretty much laid out, one followed what was prescribed. One aspect that wasn't defined, was the edge treatments, the craftsmen weren't expected to act as robots without there own input, one's own impartation was demanded. After some years, I could go into the finishing or storage room, and upon looking at a piece of furniture, tell who made it by the overall sense that it gave, mainly from the edge work. I had come to recognize the subtle differences in each man's approach, not by measuring what they made, but by how it appeared from a few feet away. Edge work has a very strong cumulative effect on the overall feel of a piece, hard to soft, and certainly experience and the maker's own own sense can add to the cohesiveness, what areas you want to emphasize, the order that the eye follows when looking at the work. It can be quite subtle. Add the makers interpretation to the parts in other ways as well, and the effects are even more so.

    I came to recognize this as a very meaningful element in woodwork, how individuality could be expressed through hand work, the warm and appealing element of man compared to machines, if you like. I do think of it as appealing, some heart beating being evident in a tangible way. I suppose that something similar to this might have been achieved with router bits, lots of them, but practically speaking, less variation is possible, and perhaps not the connection through the spontaneity involved to move the whole making process forward, there is some emotion in that. Tied in with this is the enjoyment of work, do the people who operate the CNC machines enjoy watching the red or green digital numbers change as the chips fly away? It doesn't stand completely out of reason for some folks, but here not really not having a clue or wanting to speculate on it. Enjoyment of working with your hands is certainly one reason why people make things out of wood. Hate to see that disappear, and basically, I guess I would rather use some woodwork in my home that I know someone enjoyed making throughout, sweat and patience not disregarded, perhaps some good vibes come along with such items.

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  6. Hi Chris,

    As to warmth vs cold, and speaking of bike parts, if you can make a lighter part (that will still do the job safely), you will have a line-up down the street and around the corner of people wanting to buy one no matter how 'cold' it compares to the 'warm' ones (which you can visit in the museum).

    Customers who can afford more than the 'common' variety of furniture (just like most of the things they obtain) are purchased as a sign of their wealth and status. They need only a modicum of detail about its making so that they can tell their friends why its 'better' and expensive. In reality, they don't give a damn about how difficult, time-consuming, etc. it was to construct, nor whether the maker enjoyed (or hated) the experience. They could also care less about whether the tools were old or modern. Its a shame, but so much of what a craftsperson or artist puts into their work is little appreciated by others, and those that do, are probably craftspeople or artists themselves.

    I have a friend who is a blacksmith, and while he appreciates getting paid, he laments the fact that his wealthy clients (pretty much the only type who can afford his 'artistic' work) don't care at all about the skills required (neither in design or fabrication), they just want something made of iron that most others can't afford.

    I once attended a seminar with Toshio Odate as the featured craftsman and was very surprised to hear him say that in Japan, the ideals that the shokunin strived for was not only perfection in the making (in his case, shoji), but you had to work fast. No matter how precise, it was shameful to work slowly. The Japanese certainly, have had no qualms about adopting modern machinery to save time. I think they have a very pragmatic outlook on change.

    So I suppose the theme is: if the customer doesn't care, then why not (use CNC or anything else that you feel is a benefit)?

    For those who want to stay in there comfort zone and are happy with there current situation, of course its a choice, not a question of right or wrong.

    Sometimes, the path you're on IS intended only to appeal to yourself and will only impress others in your field.

    Steve

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  7. These lines of questioning usually benefit from a huge step backward just to get perpective on all of the implications -- which is why they are so fun. When I take that step back, I wind up questioning the function of furniture and the energy inputs required to make them.

    It isn't surprizing to me that you bring up the dovetail debate. The joint is a perfect microcosm of balancing form and function... and when "style" or "status" creeps into the equation, then the function winds up being compromised. The thing that I like about the idea of applying timberframing joinery to furniture pieces is that the time-tested functional nature of the joints gets carried forward -- no way you would want to join timber frames with skinny dovetails, so to speak!

    So making a piece that lasts is important. If CNC can help with that, it might be of benefit. If it is used to make crappy joints faster, well...

    When further considering CNC, I start considering the social, environmental, economic costs of that approach. One of the neat things about woodworking is it stands a chance of being able to be a fairly carbon-neutral hobby. Most of the raw materials (wood and oils) are grown and can be composted, as can the human worker, leaving only the metals/abrasives as the major input. It makes a certain intuitive sense to balance the use of this costly investment. I'm open to the actual analysis -- who knows, maybe replacing an entire shop of tools with with CNC, a block plane, and a chisel might be less of an resource investment? But sometimes when I see massive hobby shops creating (metaphorical) birdhouse projects, I just shake my head...

    As a final thought -- all of these are initial thoughts, really -- if CNC can make whole wood furniture more affordable, and eliminate the universe of plywood and partical board and all that glue, and all those dowels and metal screws... well that could be kinda neat. Imagine living in that world!

    jamie s.

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  8. Oh and just for fun, a quote from one of your earlier blog posts:

    http://thecarpentryway.blogspot.com/search/label/workmanship%20of%20certainty

    "After the West pagoda was complete, it must be said that it was perfect in every way. Nishioka made an interesting comment about that. He said that if he stood in center of the first floor of the new tower he could look out through the grilled window openings, and through the perfectly planed and shaped bars and observe the scene in the distance. It was a fine view, yet he noted that when he stood in the old pagoda, same spot, and looked out through the grill-bar divided opening, this time the bars were irregular (the koshi were riven pieces that had been hewn with an axe originally), and he found the view so much more enjoyable. The feeling of the space was much more satisfying for Nishioka in the old place, despite its imperfections. So despite the precision in reconstruction that Nishioka was able to masterfully oversee in the new pagoda, he recognized the beauty of the imperfect and felt that something is lost with the drive to make everything perfect. I think that's an interesting lesson."

    j

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  9. Chris, you are correct, so much to consider in this topic that it is difficult to gather thoughts into a comprehensible whole.
    It seems to me like this is the Arts and Crafts argument all over again, though brought into today's social and technological circumstances with added twists and turns. That movement was sparked by a dissatisfaction with an increasingly technologically based society, and a few artistically inclined intellectuals seeing value in a perceived wisdom in the methods of work during the medieval period,
    that being a wholly hand worked world. One of the arguments of the period was that the quality of production and design had deteriorated since the adoption of machine made manufacturing, and it sought to rectify this through a hand-craft oriented revolution. Now while it can be argued that CNC technology can produce as-good-as-if-not-better results than those of our hands (still up for debate in the wood working world), Morris and the rest had a more ideological foundation to the ideas of the movement: the effect of working conditions on the worker. The completed product is not the entire focus of the creative process, it the final tangible object, but as Ford Hallam points out, the object is much more than the sum of it's parts, it has changed it's creator, has informed him or her about the nuances of creating such an object and will as such inform and possibly improve the design of future items, whilst also giving the creator, if they are open to it, an insight into something that stands apart from the object. Spiritual mumbo jumbo? Each to their own on this one.
    And how about affordability? For sure, hand crafted objects of the highest calibre are not for the masses, this is where Morris and gang were really kidding themselves, they had a very wealthy support base. But I disagree with some peoples comments about how consumers are totally uninterested in the making process and just want trophy objects, a rather sad point of view. Having recently read about Edward Barnsley's life and workshop, possibly the greatest connection to the Arts and Crafts tradition in the C20th, it amazes me how much loyal support he had a from lasting relationships with clients, surely there was a reason for this? That they appreciated his approach and thought it was a thing of value worthy of supporting? Sure, they might not get the skinny dovetail thing, but it's a bit more than that.
    To try and be brief about my thoughts on CNC: Great lets use it for certain things, but I think it loses something in the process. Say you, Chris, design a piece to be CNC cut, then that design will have years of craftsmanship behind it and will a very well informed piece. But say craftsmanship dies out, then what will subsequent designs be informed by?
    Some have commented that often people will appreciate an object more once they found out it was made by hand, as if this isn't a justified position! Well it takes skill, hard come by, to produce a quality item, surely this can legitimately contribute to a person's appreciation of something?
    Many thoughts on how far to go on the power tool treadmill, where to stop? Once started why not continue? For me there's a line, it's fairly vague, but if asked, would I run a circular saw? Sure. If asked, would I like to run a CNC machine? No thanks.

    Richard S

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  10. Chris H.,

    hey! that's my name. enjoyed your comment...

    Paul,

    you 'rant' was anything but and no worries at all about writing too long a comment - how about a part II? Interesting to read your comment about the 'hats and beards' folks - the Amish I presume - buying the latest equipment yet studiously marketing themselves as hand tool users. It's been an effective strategy so far. Someone needs to do a '60 Minute's' style piece on that! Like you, I trust in the modern lightweight bicycle parts, though sometimes there is a price to pay for 'cutting edge' components. And not every new development is an improvement to be sure.

    Damien,

    interesting comment about the perfect wood needed for CNC. I read about a pool cue maker who runs his stock through a CNC lathe 6 times, dunking the material in wood stabilizer for a week between rounds, to obtain straight cues. Wood movement in sold material and CNC processing is an intriguing problem. I can think of solutions, but they are surely not ones that work with high speed through-put.

    Dennis,

    thanks for taking the time to make two well considered comments. You're right, I think, in the idea that those makers of yore would likely have taken advantage of such equipment as CNC, as the speed of production was every bit as important to those folks as it is to many today. and as to CNC becoming the good old days at some point, I'm sure it will happen. Who knows where nano-technology will lead?

    As for people who do the CNC-work enjoying what they do, from what I have read, at least some of them are very proud and satisfied with what they accomplish. Of course, people are motivated for all sorts of reasons, and if a job consisted of nothing more than loading and unloading the machine, few would find it rewarding.

    You touch on points I intend to expand upon in following posts on this topic.

    Steve,

    I'm with you in preferring the lighter part to the prettier part, generally speaking. I think whether the customer cares about the process or not is a consideration, and one that varies with the customer, but the other important part of the equation is whether the maker is caring about the process or not. And you're quite right about the pragmatism of the Japanese. I have observed this many times. There are companies producing temples in Japan entirely by way of CNC and similar automated timber cutting equipment.

    Jamie S.,

    carcase dovetails are of course one of those joinery forms that tends to be the exclusive purview of furniture making, though I have used them to join baseboards a couple times. I think there are elusive values in hand made work that might not be replicable with computers, however even more of a problem, in light of the old Yakushi-ji pagoda, is obtaining straight and clear wood that can be easily riven.

    ~Chris

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  11. Richards S,

    thanks for a well written and thoughtful comment. There is a lot to this topic! You're quite correct that some clients are very interested and engaged in the process of making and designing a piece. My client for the Ming table is very much a case in point. I have had clients who were less engaged, but have never had a completely disinterested one. I wouldn't want such a client.

    Ford Hallam is right, however he is an artist making objects d'art for collectors as a focus, and perhaps that allows him certain approach that would be rather hard to follow for those of us producing objects for use. He spent 4 months making that tsuba, and I spent 4 months making the Ming table. If I were to have worked in the exact manner as Ford, eschewing machinery altogether (the purity of which I admire, BTW), and chose to hand saw and hand dimension all the pieces of wood, made custom planes for the molded aprons, etc., well, I can see another two months tacked on to the project easily. And then considering the overhead I need to carry in comparison to Hallam's home studio - well, the economic factors are certainly looking a bit different. If I did all that, either I would have had to charge more money (maybe making the project un-do-able), or would have had to work for starvation wages. Neither option is a good one. Maybe those are excuses, but I'm not sure that I would necessarily garner more business if I advertised as making my wares in an 16th century manner. I don't know what Hallam's economic realities are, and how that may affect his choices in how to work and artistic direction he takes. He does beautiful work, that much is for sure.

    ~C

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  12. Chris, you have your own inimitable way of responding to comments, but if I might take the liberty of interjecting some further discussion, as some of what was mentioned was addressed to my earlier posting.

    I wouldn't suggest that there isn't a huge market for new bike parts, but I would say that fashion is a huge trend setter, in both components and spandex. A guy pulled up next to me at my local shop, run by a former all Asia champion. I noticed that the bike was new and really dressed up in shiny carbon, a thing of wonderment, really. I was on my old Masi. He asked me what "those things are', pointing down at my toe clips. If there is going to be any discussion about bike beauty, all I would want to make it entertaining, is some understanding and sensitivity to history and art, then people can go their separate ways.

    Saying that the Japanese have no qualms about adopting modern machinery, is too big a generalization to apply to the discussion with much practical meaning, imo. Currently there are abundant representations of both the older and newer ways of making things. Probably the highest order of arts/crafts, say as represented by the 'living treasures' is more in line with the customary older styles of working.

    It confuses me when someone says that people who purchase high end furniture do it for status and to show off wealth....in the states? Having done woodwork for a living in three different parts of the world, my shop in the US for eleven years, my experience there is very different. I found folks there very knowledgable about woodwork, their having taken classes in school, and sometimes being quite accomplished amateurs themselves. The general sensitivity to refined work is rather high, is what I found, often prompting commissions or purchasing pieces from galleries, etc. For that reason, I believe the US is a great place to have a woodworking business, compared to most other countries. I think you can notice more than a few woodworkers about the country, making beautiful things and doing well at it business wise. Have an exhibition there and you can spend a lot of time exercising your lips, as all kinds of people will want to come up and talk woodwork.

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  13. Dennis,

    you use toe clips? Now that is old school. I used to use them once too, but would never go back after clipless pedals and shoes came onto the scene.

    You're right, to say all shops in Japan are using modern machinery is not entirely accurate, but most carpentry shops I have seen over there, at least, are using the conventional stationary machines, as well as surfacers - even sanding equipment. Furniture making of course varies from mom and pops to factories. You will of course have seen the gamut.

    Your idea as to the woodworking climate over here is a bit fossilized in some respects perhaps. You were here when things were booming. Now things are not booming. Lots of shops are barely hanging on, and there's a glut of used equipment on the
    market from all the factory closings and bankruptcies. It depends where you live as well. I would sat the S.F. Bay area and New England generally have well established woodworking traditions and savvy clientele.

    ~C

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  14. "Fossilized"...that is a description that I would gladly run away from....alas. Quite possibly so, in the context we are discussing, perhaps in others as well. I have been separated from the states for quite awhile now. I am in touch with a few old woodworking friends who seem to staying busy, and I noticed that one of them has upgraded to a wide Martin planer. They are in Northern California, so perhaps the locations where the work is most abundant, are indeed more regional, as you suggest.

    Toe clips, yeah, i still use them, mainly because I like to sometimes be able to also walk about when on rides, often to go get my beer glass refilled. To be honest, I used to be a 'weight weenie' myself, saving a few ounces by changing over to aluminum crank bolts from metal ones, seemed pretty important. It was during a darker period of my life, when all kinds of nutritional supplements found their way into my blood stream. It all changed one fine day at the Tokyo international bike
    show, when I happened upon a beautifully made classically styled Italian lugged frame. It was like the rake striking the bamboo root, awareness came in a flash.

    Good luck with the Pittsburgh project, by the way, hope it turns out to be a good one for you.

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  15. Dennis,

    I'm sure my view of Japan is equally fossilized, as I haven't lived there for 12 years now.

    The Pittsburgh project looks intriguing at this juncture, but, ah, the check is not in hand yet so you never know. At this point it remains a pretty ship out in the distance, sails fluttering in the breeze. Maybe it will come into harbour, but you never know.

    I have a few other irons in the fire too, so we'll see what unfolds.

    ~Chris

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