Monday, December 14, 2009

Analog hand tool project.

The goal was to do a project that did not involve my iMac (I guess until right now..): build a chair! This is a traditional Chinese / Japanese design, or as at least as close as I could get by studying the one I already have, and consulting with a colleague who made one many years ago in China (thanks Zhong-Min!).

Figure 1.... Figure 2.

Fig. 1 is the final result (plus Veronica the cat) and Fig. 2 is my inital concept (argh more iMac). This was my first woodworking project. I used scrap pine boards, which felt like less pressure. I'll try nice hardwoods next time.

I had three rules:
1. No power tools.
2. No nails or glue.
3. No sandpaper or paint.

The idea behind Rule #1 was to spend some 'quality time' with the wood, using only hand tools, many of them Japanese. This meant spending _much_ quality time learning how to sharpen the blades! But boy did they end up sharp...

The idea behind Rule #2 was to learn how to make mortise and tenon joints. I ended up making twelve pegged, blind (i.e. 'stub' or 'stopped') tenon joints. The trick here was that every joint was at a 97 degree angle. This required some iMac-sketching and head-scratching (Fig. 3). For the 8 rail joints, I angled the mortise, and for the 4 leg-seat joints I angled the tenon, in both the x and y directions (Fig. 4). In doing the latter I screwed up some angles, and hence had to violate Rule #2. A sort of chain reaction of bad angles necessitated a reworking of all 12 joints, so that they no longer fit perfectly and required some wood glue. Luckily, making the 1/8" hardwood pegs was satisfying and successful!

Figure 3....Figure 4.

Rule #3 was intended to leave the wood surface feeling 'like wood'. I read a great furniture artisan book from the SF Library (can't remember the title) that advocated the use of a scraper to take off thin, single shavings from the surface, leaving a superior finish to sandpaper, which creates hundreds of miniature cuts. Pretty neat. A combination of blue and green stains ended up quite vivid.

Slow work...but all in all very enjoyable!

The tools (Fig. 5)...Japanese and Western mortise gauges. Gimlets for hand-drilling holes. Japanese saw, chisel, and mortise chisel. Drawknife for shaping the curved seat. Arkansas stone and Japanese water stone for sharpening. Scraper. Mallet. Combination square. Old plane that didn't work so great. Band clamp.

Figure 5.

Tool sources and info:
Alameda Antique Faire
Japan Woodworker (Alameda)
Hida Tool (Berkeley)
Cliff's Variety (San Francisco)
Books and Bookshelves [stains and inspiration] (San Francisco)
Robert Larson Hand Tools (San Francisco)
"Japanese Woodworking Tools" by Toshio Odate
"Hand Tools" and "Planes and Chisels" from the "Fine Woodworking on..." Series
"Woodworking" by Jackson, Day, and Jennings

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Electro-Alchemical Maps of Northern California.

Adapted from an 1898 San Francisco and North Pacific Railway Company map, located in the awesome David Rumsey archive located here. My goal was to breathe some luminous life into these maps, to tap into some of the strange dark sparks emanating from these remote places, and from the ghosts of men and trees felled in 1898 that still linger...The 'map of desire' on the right spotlights some of my favorite necks of the woods. Although the main arteries on these maps (that actually look like blood vessels in the version on the left!) are railways and stagecoach and wagon roads, the travel times in each circle are for 2009-era automobiles on paved roads, venturing from San Francisco. To get sharper, super-vivid versions go here and here.

Monday, October 5, 2009

27 Books of No Small Importance.

1. "EROS AND MAGIC IN THE RENAISSANCE" by IOAN P COULIANO - mindlblowing stuff. a dynamic and potent psychology of human interactions, refined over 400 years ago.

2. "NATURE'S METROPOLIS - CHICAGO AND THE GREAT WEST" by WILLIAM CRONON - an amazing story about the innovative and brutal 'resource extraction' that built both Chicago and the world we live in today.

3. "THE WORLD WITHOUT US" by ALAN WEISMAN - somewhat freeform but perspective-shaking provocation about the intrusive yet temporary human species.

4. "STRANGE ANGEL: THE OTHERWORDLY LIFE OF ROCKET SCIENTIST JOHN WHITESIDE PARSONS" by GEORGE PENDLE - a good demonstration of the hazy boundary between science and fantasy.

5. "CAPTAIN SIR RICHARD FRANCIS BURTON: A BIOGRAPHY" by EDWARD RICE - portrait of a gifted spy/chameleon obsessed with finding authentic trancendence.

6. "ALREADY DEAD" by DENIS JOHNSON - dark, wild battles between skepticism and belief on the remote Northern California coast

7. "LIVES OF THE MONSTER DOGS" by KIRSTEN BAKIS - dignified, eerie, gothic pulp.

8. "THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE / THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH / DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? / UBIK" by PHILIP K DICK - words fail me. each of these were so potent they threatened sanity.

9. "THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS" by JOHN WYNDHAM - a good old fashioned story about a new species of freaky children and some difficult decisions.

10. "CONS, SCAMS, AND GRIFTS" by JOE GORES - colorful, vivid tales of San Francisco and its modern gypsy (Rom) underworld.

11. "THE MALTESE FALCON" by DASHIELL HAMMETT - dark, tough, and thoughtful.

12. "THE KILLER INSIDE ME" by JIM THOMPSON - psychological subtlety and blunt, rhythmic dialogue. Thompson has half a dozen others just as funny and tragic. Wounded romanticism masquerading as savagery.


14. "THE CHUCKING WHATSIT" by RICHARD SALA - great noir/horror/mystery/fantasy/humor serial comic. Vivid, wild, and wide-eyed...

15. "THE DORMANT BEAST" by ENKI BILAL - a graphic novel about irrational wars and loves, infused with sadness and unbelievable drawing skills.

16. "END TIMES: TIEMPOS FINALES" by SAM HITI - cinematic, epic, humongous.

17. "MORE TREE TALK: THE PEOPLE, POLITICS, AND ECONOMICS OF TIMBER" by RAY RAPHAEL - eye-openingingly honest and informative treasure about both 'sides' of the West-coast timber debate. Actually if more people read this, I am not sure if there would be any more 'sides', only some tough and careful choices.

18. "YOU CAN'T WIN" by JACK BLACK - the words of a hyper-intelligent, retired grifter/hobo/criminal turned librarian.

19. "HOME BUILDING AND WOODWORKING IN COLONIAL AMERICA" by C KEITH WILBUR - thoroughly and entertainingly explains every traditional western hand tool and structural technology, using all hand lettering (!) and hand-drawn illustrations.

20. "PHOENIX (VOL. 1-4)" by OSAMU TEZUKA - there's more volumes but I haven't read them yet. These 1960s graphic novels are simply the most philosophically and artistically ambitious that I have ever seen. Would be exhausting, except for the strategically placed slapstick humor.

21. "THE WILD PARTY" by JOSEPH MONCURE MARCH with drawings by ART SPIEGLEMAN - it's hard to imagine the text without the drawings, but this cool 1920s era speakeasy tale manages to say a lot about human nature.

22. "HAROLD LLOYD'S HOLLYWOOD NUDES IN 3D" ed. SUZANNE LLOYD - bold, warm, sensual 1950s pinups. Is it possible that this kind of portrait will never be made again? (ironic pinups don't count.) the 3D pictures are cool too!

23. "BUILDINGS IN WOOD: THE HISTORY & TRADITIONS OF ARCHITECTURE'S OLDEST BUILDING MATERIAL" by WILL PRYCE - stunning photographs of traditional, organic buildings from around the world.

24. "FORGOTTEN MODERN: CALIFORNIA HOUSES 1940-1970" by ALAN HESS with photos by ALAN WEINTRAUB - some designs here leave me cold. But the houses that merge warm, simple wood with epic spaces are seductive.

25. "THE VISIONARY STATE: A JOURNEY THROUGH CALIFORNIA'S SPIRITUAL LANDSCAPE" by ERIK DAVIS with photos by MICHAEL RAUNER - a history of radical Californian sanctuaries that manages to be fascinating, disturbing, and level-headed.

26. "PORTS OF HELL" by JOHNNY STRIKE - ridiculously fractured vignettes that somehow tell a coherent and humorous story about hedonism and extraterrestrial conspiricies in San Francisco, Thailand, Hawaii, and Mexico.

27. "THE MOTION DEMON" by STEFAN GRABINSKI - a collection of Poe-like short stories from early-1900s Poland about speed, exhilaration, metaphysical doom, and trains.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

4 admirable 7" singles with origins circa 1992.

2 great rhythmic rabble-rousers on spilt 7" picture disc.

Noisy blues swagger on Claw Fist / Butchers Hook #001. Green vinyl and amazing leap on heavy cardstock.

2 great Shellac songs in a hand-stamped, intricately-folded sleeve.

Nightmarish romance on sparkly silver vinyl.