Friday, February 12, 2016

Not pushin the envelope here, but I'm about to

Two and a half years ago, my woodworking took a sharp turn.  Prior to that time, I was moving along the hand tool woodworking path, making what I felt was good progress.  Then we decided to move to Portland, a very expensive housing market.  After a lot of looking, we bought a really nice house in a great neighborhood that was structurally very sound but in really poor condition.  Poor condition is a nice way to put it.  Basically, the house was a mess.  It literally stunk, there were things wrong with almost every major system, windows were broken, the doors stuck, wall paper was peeling, the decks were falling off, the landscaping was overgrown ...  The thing that caught my eye in spite of all this was that the house is quite beautiful, sits on a spectacular lot with a view of Mt. Hood, and had obviously been quite something at one time.  I had retired early and saw this as a challenge that would be personally satisfying and financially rewarding, on paper at least.  I'm pleased to write that, so far at least, it has been both.  Not always, as I still hate painting with a passion just like I always did, but generally.

What this meant, though, was that developing my hand tool woodworking skills had to take a back seat.  I have still done some furniture projects, my son's desk for example, but not as many as I had been.  I still spend as much time working with wood but it is best described as carpentry.  The thing that I have been struck by is how much better and more enjoyable the work I do is because I use hand tool skills a lot.  Time after time I have been able to do things that would have taken longer and been more difficult or even impossible with power tools.  I have come to realize that there is a hand tool mindset which has tremendous value.  Things like minimizing measuring, using dividers and bevel squares, using a chisel and plane to refine joints ... and all of this has given me a lot of pleasure, pleasure that I can do these things and pleasure seeing this house beginning to come back into its own.

Much of the woodworking that I have been doing is pretty basic and last week was an example.  We completed wall repairs and painting in the family room and decided that we wanted the tv up on the wall so as not to distract attention from the fireplace.  The problem that created was the big tangle of wires going up the wall and the need for a place to put the cable box and dvd player.  No problem.  I went out to the shop and, in short order, had the solution, made mostly with hand tools:

It's pretty obvious where the design came from when you look at the fireplace:

I still pick up things even on simple projects like this.  This alder is really splotchy but I didn't want to paint it, so I tried ebony stain.  Wiping it off gave a really nice effect like a piece of furniture painted black that had been used enough that the paint had worn through almost to bare wood in places.

There is still much to be done but I'm getting to the point in this house restoration that I can return to advancing my hand tool skills and I have been casting around for a project.  I wanted to find something really special and, suddenly, six weeks ago, there it was.  It is a major challenge in quite a number of respects.  The first problem was that some things out of my control had to fall into place in order for it to even be possible to make this project.  I have spent many hours during this time doing research (even frequenting rare book rooms), reading, and meeting with people to see if I could make it happen.  This week, things came together.  I hope I have piqued your interest and, next week, I'll tell you all about it.

1 comment:

  1. You have piqued my interest. You especially got a hold of it with the rare book room visit.