Thursday, August 30, 2012

A New V-12

A bit of a tangent from woodworking-related topics today. This video of a Spanish machinist constructing a fully-working miniature 12-cylinder engine brought a smile to my face, partly out of an appreciation for skilled craftsmanship of any kind, partly due to a personal liking for precision and metal craft -and damn! - it's pretty exciting to watch! With all the parts, reminds me of some furniture projects too. It's in Spanish, but that shouldn't get in the way of understanding what's going on.

Hope you like it:

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Leaving Port

The aircraft carrier, my 16" Oliver 166 jointer, has taken a 90˚ swing in position and is preparing to leave dock:


I removed the fence so as to lighten the load by 100lbs. or so.


That is one hefty lump of cast iron and it took several hours work to build up a sturdy pallet and wrangle the beast into place. It's now bolted down so shouldn't be going anywhere without permission.  It will be taking a journey into southern lands, known as 'Connecticut', where it has found an appreciative new owner. I'm thinking a multi-gun salute would be appropriate for its grand farewell. It has served me well.

I am out with my fishing rod trying to see what new beast I can land. I'm thinking something longer and wider. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 27, 2012

2012 Northeast Tour

I just came back from a week's vacation, where my wife and I did a driving tour of a section of the the Northeast, as follows:


As you can see, we circled up from Massachusetts, into Vermont, then north to Montreal, Quebec, over to Quebec City, and then up the the Saguenay region of Quebec, where we did some camping. Then we drove down through New Brunswick, a Canadian Province I had never visited before, and stopped a night in its capital city of Saint John. Our trip finished with a trek through Maine, coming through the 'down east' region over to Bangor, where we stayed a night, and concluded with a wind down the coast route 1A, a brief transit through New Hampshire, and back to our home in W. Massachusetts. I took some wood- and architecture-related photos along the way which I thought might be of interest to readers here.

Our stop in Montreal allowed me to visit the Canadian Centre for Architecture, which has a library containing probably the most extensive collection of French traditional carpentry texts in N. America. As I was a researcher from out of Province, they opened up the library outside of normal visiting hours and let me in for a look-see. I was finally able to view an 11-volume set on carpentry put out by the Compannage Librarie in Paris back in the 1980's. I was eager to finally get to see it, however it was not quite what I had expected. Instead of bound volumes as normal sort of books, each box contains a volume, comprised of 8~12 folios wrapped in paper, all the pages loose-leaf so to speak. I didn't really think it was such a great format. The section of descriptive geometry for carpentry was much smaller than I had hoped, which was a disappointment. I spent a good two hours thumbing through all the volumes and in the end concluded that it was good I hadn't ventured the €1400 it would cost to buy used.

The Library also had an original edition of the Mazerolle classic, and I discovered that the original was not a bound volume but comprised of large folded plates only. The newer edition you can buy is a perfect reproduction, so I suspect the original printing plates must have been obtained somehow. They also had the original 3-volume set from Delataille, Art Du Trait Pratique De Charpente, and unlike the copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy that I have, the original was fairly clear and legible. Still incredibly cryptic, but legible, which was a big improvement.

Then I came across an intriguing volume by a mathematician names Joseph Alphonse Adhémar, (1797-1862), entitled Cours de Mathematiques à l'usage de l'ingenieur Civil. This work was published in 14 editions, from 1832 until 1856. I looked at their 1854 edition, which was in superb condition. Here's the title page:



Adhémar was a French mathematician who came into prominence after publishing a book in 1842 on the potential connection between ice ages and astrophysical phenomena, Révolutions de la mer. He then wrote Cours de Mathematiques in 1846, followed by a few additional works on descriptive geometry, linear perspective, and the related topic of shadows. While a book by a mathematician on civil engineering might seem somewhat unrelated to carpentry, in fact a huge amount of civil engineering in that day and age concerned timber structures and their connections. The book is filled with some incredible stuff, like these intricate compound internally tabled beams:


The illustrations were really  something - take a look at these sketches of truss framing:


Some illustrations of curved log layout:



I was really blown away by that book. I'm going to have to try and get a decent copy sometime. It won't be cheap.

As I had photographed a fair amount of Quebec's house architecture on my visit there last year, I didn't seek out too much more in that vein. I did however spot a house in Île d'Orléans, an island in the Saint Lawrence River just near Quebec city, that had recently been re-roofed with the lovely asymmetrical galvanized shingles seen on so many houses in the area:


By the way, click on any of the above pictures for a larger picture.

Down in New Brunswick we found the architecture - and food - to be far less interesting than in Quebec, however upon making a stop in a town called Hartland, we came across this wonder:


The is the longest covered bridge in the world, at nearly 1300' (396m):


I've even got the t-shirt now.

Like a lot of covered bridges, there is a lot of metal present, especially for those members which function in tension. Engineers however, like to spec. steel replacement pieces wherever they can, even if timber may have functioned adequately, like for bracing. On the other hand, knee braces are poor resisters of tension, and reinforcement or replacement of these members with steel makes a lot of good sense, as with these large braces found at the entrance and exit of the bridge:


 A look at the undercarriage:


 While most covered bridges in Vermont and New Hampshire seem to be of the Town Lattice type, all of the bridges I came across in Quebec and New Brunswick were of the otherwise-rare Howe Trussed type:


One point of interest for my wife and I in New Brunswick was to check out the Bay of Fundy, site of some of the highest tides in the world. We had a delightful drive out to the Bay of Fundy National Park, and on the way came across some more covered bridges, like this one:



Again, the Howe truss seems to be de rigueur in New Brunswick:


Note the metal rod to reinforce the knee brace at the entry truss, and the octagonal straining beam to which it attaches:


There was a second bridge a stone's throw from the first, which had slightly different detailing with the straining beam:


Some recent timber restoration work was evident, along with some metal knee braces in lieu of wood:


The undercarriage - note the metal tension rods underneath the primary truss chords:


One of the bolted hammerhead splices seen in the primary spanning truss chords:


As our trip wound down, we arrived in Bangor Maine. I had heard - as had quite a few others, apparently - that Steven King had a residence in Bangor, which was famous for its 'wrought iron fence'. Intrigued, and thinking that Steven King might be one of the few people out there who could actually afford a genuine wrought iron fence, I took a trip to see his place on W. Broadway, in an area of posh homes. To no great surprise, the fence was simply a mild steel affair, no wrought iron to be seen:


'Wrought  iron' is frequently described, but, alas, not too often seen. I think that few people really have any idea what it actually is. That said, the fabrication work with the mild steel was quite creative and well-executed:




Not the sort of fence most people would want, but fun to look at. Knowing the owner by his books, the fence is a good fit of course. King's property appeared to comprise two houses, and the right hand side of the two, which virtually all of the photographers seem to ignore, had the more interesting detailing in my view:


A lot of houses in this part of Bangor are in the Second Empire Style, and Mansards - which should really be called 'Mansart' roofs - were very much in evidence:


I see the multi-volume set by the compagnons society uses the term 'Mansart' now, though older French books were using 'Mansard'. It may well be impossible to change this word use now it is so well established, but I will try anyhow.

Another one:


I thought the dormer on this garage was unusual in form:


This delightful house has two towers, one octagonal and the other circular, with an unusual copper finial atop each roof:


In another part of town I spotted this somewhat ungainly structure with incorporated octagonal roof - kind of a neat idea over a sleeping porch if you ask me (though I would detail it differently):


On the final day of our adventure I popped by the Center For Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockland, ME, where there is a gallery of current instructor's work. Great schol, but like a lot of modern furniture, plywood and veneers are strong elements in many of the pieces, so I was not especially interested in most of what I saw. I did like this chair on display in the gallery, which sat very well, if you know what I mean, and rocked pleasingly too:



The material is English Walnut:


I liked the lines of the curved parts and the sensuousness minimalism of the piece. Glued together with floating tenons, glue laminations - not my way of making, but the result is a beautiful piece. Well done by the maker.

Well, that about wraps up my account of 'How I spent my Summer Vacation'. I hope readers found the tour of as much interest as I did. Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way and comments always welcome. googlefec1ae8fd0572e83.html

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Takin' it to the Mat

Lately I've been designing some Japanese interior spaces complete with tatami and shōji. Tatami, in case you were unaware, are a type of floor mat used in Japanese traditional rooms, usually composed of rice straw with a covering of soft rush. Here's a picture of a couple of mat men making tatami in a 19th century colorized photo (from the Smithsonian Institution's Online Collection):


Tatami are typically rectangular, sized on a 1:2 aspect, that is, the length is two times the width, though other shapes and proportions are occasionally encountered. Tatami mats come in a few standard sizes, most typically 90cmx180cm, however many other sizes can be made.

          The word 'tatami' comes from the verb tatamu, written as: 畳む. The character '' is a simplification of an earlier character, , which breaks down into '' at top and '' on the bottom. While '' appears to be rice field, '', tripled, this is in fact misleading. The rice field kanji is doing a stand-in for something else. An early seal character for '' shows this:
Thus the element '' on top of the character is not in fact rice field tripled but is the element '' tripled. The character '' is in turn a simplified version of '', which is a pictograph of meat. Tripling the element suggests a pile of meat. Below that, we have '', which comprises '' roof/building on top and, originally, '' below. Another pile of meat since this is the element '' we just saw before, doubled. This lower element, , is therefore tall, neat pile of meat in a room.

The modern form '畳' means "to fold and pile" things in general, and has little to do with meat or buildings. Kanji etymology can get quite convoluted but I find them most intriguing to tease out.

       Since tatami mats are in a 1:2 aspect, they are readily tesselated, like dominoes. Certain room configurations, in order to be fully tiled, may require tatami with a 1:1 aspect - the half-mat.

Here are some tatami tiling patterns, starting with 3-mat rooms (upper left) to 4.5-mat rooms (upper right) then 6- and 8-mat rooms below that:



Like kanji though, things are not so simple as they first appear when it comes to arranging these 1x2 mats. Notice that there are no 4-mat rooms listed above for instance. While there are numerous possible arrangements of mats in a given space, certain arrangements are simply not done - or were not done in the past. Perhaps the grip of tradition is growing ever looser in modern Japan so these rules about tatami arrangements may not be so strictly observed these days.

You will note in the above drawings that certain drawings have slightly differing descriptions after them. Take the two examples above of 3-mat rooms:


Notice that the arrangement on the left has "祝儀敷き"  written after the '3畳' (3-mat), and on the right side "不祝儀敷き" is written after the 3-mat. Just one character separates them, and that might not be a big deal except for the fact that the character, , means un-, or not-.  On the left above we have a 3-mat arrangement considered auspicious, as  祝儀, read shūgi, means 'fortunate', 'celebratory', 'successful', etc. On the right is an arrangement considered unfortunate, or inauspicious, fushūgi.

What governs whether something is 'auspicious' or 'inauspicious' is pretty much a matter of superstition. I would suspect virtually all cultures have them in one form or another. And in all cultures, I suspect, there are individuals who are very concerned about superstitions and those who think they are irrelevant. Some, nevertheless will follow superstitions even while not really believing in them, 'just in case'. The 15th century text on Chinese carpentry, the Lu Ban Jing, for example, is largely concerned with superstition, both on the side of the carpenter's practice and upon the part of the client for that carpentry. 

In Japan, the number '4' can be read as shi. Shi, however, is also the reading for a character meaning death (). So, in counting, Japanese people tend to avoid saying shi and instead use the reading yon instead. This practice would be more strictly followed around a hospital. Surprisingly, this curious association of phonemes between '4' and 'death' is also present in Korean, most dialects of Chinese, Hakka, and Vietnamese - I say 'curious' because these languages are not as linguistically close as one might think. 

Similar to the west where tall buildings 'lack' a 13th floor (as far as the elevator buttons are concerned), Japanese avoidance of the number '4' extends to many areas - buildings, parking lots, designations on ships and cars, room numbering, etc.. This superstition of the number 4 even gets its own name, in the English language at least: tetraphobia

In Japan, a room to take 4 mats would be avoided generally, and having 4 mats meet at their corners, forming at their meeting a '+' shape is to be avoided in any mat arrangement. Perhaps the reason being that the '+' shape, when rotated, forms an 'X', which is the symbol for not-, don't-. The Japanese also have a superstition about treading on the edges of the mats themselves, which is thought to bring misfortune. In the traditional martial arts of Japan, practicioners were taught to avoid stepping on the cracks formed between the mats, possibly to avoid tripping, possibly to avoid being struck by a knife shoved up from the floor below by some enemy.

Curiously enough, superstitions about cracks, spread, if you'll pardon the word-play, far and wide. According to John A. Dowell in and article cited in Encyclopedia of Popular American Beliefs and Superstitions,
"In many European- and African-American folk belief systems, cracks in the earth, in walls or between walls and doors, or in sidewalks or floors frequently indicate fissures in metaphysical boundaries between this and some other - often nefarious - world. Employing sympathetic magic, people may interact with such boundaries. These clefts in the boundaries may be divided intro three general types: the most common, which deal with health and the family; those concerning either placating or taunting the supernatural spirit world; and those which manipulate the physical environment."
From this belief system comes down the children's rhyme, "Step on a crack, break your mother's back, step on a line break your father's spine." It's charming the little ditties that get passed on to the younger generation, huh?

In Japanese interior architecture, the fear of '4' and the fear of cracks means that many possible tatami mat arrangements are avoided. In some cases, too, the arrangement of mats in a room might be temporarily rearranged for inauspicious occasions, such as funerals. Consider the following two possible mat arrangements for a 4.5-mat room:
The arrangement on the left is fine, while the arrangement on the right is considered no good because of the four mat corners coming together in one spot.

Here are another couple of arrangements for a 4.5-mat room:
These mat patterns look extremely similar to one another, however the arrangement on the right is considered most unfortunate. Why? Well, it turns out that in previous eras when a person was to commit ritual suicide, seppuku, in a room of 4.5 mats, the mats were arranged as seen on the right side. The mats may have been arranged in that pattern for such an occasion due to similarity in form to a Buddhist symbol we would term in the west a 'left-facing swastika', '':
In this context, the symbolic alignment of mats into the '' form may be taken to mean 'the eternal afterlife'.  In Japanese, the symbol '卍' is taken to refer to Buddhism in general, and if you look on a Japanese map and see that symbol, it is to indicate the location of a Buddhist temple.

The Chinese brought in the symbol along with Buddhism from India, and from there is traveled to Japan. Swastika comes from the Sanskrit svastika, and is a good luck symbol. That the Nazi party in Germany adopted a right-facing swastika as their party symbol is unfortunate as it can result in some westerners misinterpreting the left-facing swastika from East Asia as having something to do with Nazism, which it does not.

The cracks between tatami are also crucial concerns when placing the mats in reference to entry doors and decorative alcoves, tokonoma. It is considered inauspicious to have either an entry/exit door or alcove aligned axially to a split between mats:


On the drawing at left, both the alcove (in black at upper right) and accompanying oshi-ire below it are adjacent to cracks in the mats. The drawing at right shows the proper way to configure the six mats.

It is also bad form to have a single entry/exit door open onto the narrow edge of one mat:


So, in designing a Japanese room, it is not a simple matter of working with a mat multiples as an organizing theme, as if were a simple dominoes problem. Configuring the room size on that factor and no other, if traditional Japanese mores and beliefs are to be taken into account, will inevitably lead to outcomes which a classically enculturated Japanese would see as inappropriate.

Thanks for coming by the Carpentry and I hope you enjoyed this look at tatami mats.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Transmitting the Pressure

A great video I came across on a Chinese site about the nature of the work of the Japanese temple carpenter, miya-daiku, and the way knowledge is passed along to the younger generation, a process somewhat akin to a pressure cooker. The carpenter featured is a disciple of the great Nishioka Tsunekazu, a fellow by the name of Kikuchi. The video is entirely in Japanese and for those not fluent in the language I think there is lot's to be gleaned so please enjoy. I hope the importance of layout in creating magnificent carpentry is obvious to all from seeing this 45 minute piece: