Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sawdust and Plane Shavings

It can't all be about cultural criticism. I don't fritter away all my time pondering what's wrong with our culture and layering my opinions over it.

Lately, I've been spending as much time as possible in the wood shop. That's not much given my travel schedule this year. I sometimes joke that I work harder in my free time than I do at the office. Perhaps that's true, but immersing myself in a project is extremely challenging and rewarding. The small scale focus is a welcome change for a person who often feels the big picture of politics, etc. is hard to reconcile.

Our dear friends, Angela and Eric, were married in June. April suggested I make them a wedding gift -- patterned after a picture frame from an issue of Fine Woodworking magazine. The project was small and had limited joinery. I estimated it would take a weekend to build. It just so happened I had a board of thick cherry suitable for the project. I scaled a drawing of the frame to hold an 8x10" photo with mat. What luck -- the board was just the right size to cut all the parts. This meant the grain would be be complementary. The board had some very nice figure.

I recollect this board was given to me in 1999. I'd used it to practice face planing technique but the board still had a pronounced twist. It was beyond the necessary thickness, so I decided to rough out the cuts, take out the bench planes and make the stock true. That part went remarkably smoothly. Here are the parts planed to dimension and stacked in preparation for joinery:

Attempting to cut the long through tenons with the table saw produced some tear-out. Behold the beauty of hand tools! I marked out the tenons in full, cut them with a dozuki and trued the shoulders with a plane. The entire time I worked quietly without the need for ear plugs or safety glasses.

The groove for glass/mat has been routed, mortises are pre-drilled and the tenons rough cut. It's all chisels and planes from here. Here's a shot of the frame with tung oil finish applied, sans glass, of course:

I absolutely love the natural grain and figure of hardwoods. This piece really popped when the oil was applied. It became a vibrant red with dark banded accents. The frame is double-sided and freestanding so you can show off two images or pieces of art. The original frame design used small dowels to hold the top in place. I thought this looked a little chinsey. I have a couple blocks of ebony that were gifts years ago, but I've never worked the wood. Rather I've been intimidated by how dense and hard it is. Inspired by my success with the frame, I decided to handcut tapered keys with a finial to hold the top in place. The black ebony would add a contrasting touch to the flaming red cherry.
To my surprise the ebony is very stable making it easy to control chisels and planes when shaping it. I don't have an image of the finished keys, but they added a nice touch.

I sometimes feel like all I build is shop fixtures out of 3/4" plywood and dimensonal lumber. It's true, that's mostly what I have worked on over the past two years. This cherry picture frame was a nice break. It served as a reminder of two important things: 1)I am learning a lot of practical skills, and 2)All my work setting up shop is a foundation for crafting many fine furniture projects in the not-so-distant future.
Here's how the shop is looking these days. I have a short wish list of a few remaining tools. The list of fixtures and shop projects numbers less than half a dozen currently. My one-car space is well laid out. There is little space I'm not utilizing, but if I need to make more room I can.
By woodworkers' standards my space is quite small. I think it's pretty darned close to ideal for now. More space just tempts one to fill it with more stuff anyway, and more stuff costs more money. I'll eschew the pursuit of the fanciest tools with lazer sighting and jigs that do most of the layout work in favor of developing solid skills and handtool techniques.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Color u.s. stoopid

Greetings, Friends.

I may not be typing into this electronic box much lately, but my brain is still functioning. I have a handful of great essay ideas each week. I just don't make time to write. Every day, it seems, I am availed of something that is so downright inexplicable I not only shudder to reconcile the fact someone could have done or spoken it, but also the fact that it was done or spoken by people to whom others listen and heed.

No, I am not going to write about Sarah Palin. I am, however, going to mention what is sure to be one of her favorite songs.

I had the opportunity recently to listen to some christian radio. Actually, a lot of it. (Don't ask.) In the course of one of these sessions there was the jesus-approved version of the top 40 countdown. Number 2 on the charts this particular week was a song by Chris Tomlin & The Passion Band entitled "Our God (Is Greater)." It was mind-numbing background noise until I heard the lyrics. The words incited my ire. I've heard gangsta rap with more pertinent, truthful and meaningful lyrics.

First, a little preamble: I make it a policy to avoid discussing religion with people. I don't want to know and they probably don't want to either. This is true unless someone has something to prove; unless they believe their mission is to convert, witness or proselytize. At that point all I'm doing is taking the bait if I engage in the conversation. I have better things to do with my time.

If religion comes up, I'm typically forthright: I'm not a fan of christianity, but I respect its practice by intelligent people who espouse good christian (humanitarian) values of respect and acceptance toward others. I don't care one bit for the epidemic faith -- what I'll call "popular christianity" -- that is all too rampant in our nation today. Its banners pepper the crowds of Tea Party rallies and line the halls of every conservative congregation that preaches our country is in a state of moral bankruptcy, threatened by socialism, communism, terrorism ... . The list is continually refreshed with the fear du jour.

Yep, this song, "Our God," got me going. Perhaps I fancied it could make the perfect anthem of the popular christian movement (hell, it was already at #2). It poignanty depicts themes of divine right and superiority. The chorus is particularly offensive. Here are the first three lines:

Our God is greater
Our God is stronger
God, You are higher than any other

It's no leap to guess, "Greater, stronger, higher than whom?" Well, any god except the christian god, of course. Those would be the figureheads of a lot of the rest of the world's believers. Quick sidenote: Foremost in Americans' minds that is Allah and the followers of Islam.

The song wraps things up with a triumphant proclamation that forges a link to manifest destiny and that doctrine's extrapolated role of the U.S. in world politics. I make this claim based on the fact that popular christian believers and their leaders hold nothing back in stating the United States is a christian nation and must be governed by the rule of god if we are to escape destruction at the hands of amoralists, atheists and infidels:

And if our God is for us
Then who could ever stop us?
And if our God is with us
Then what could stand against?

It's beautiful propaganda actually, levied upon the feeble minds of people who believe faith is equivalent to reason and single issues are enough to constitute a voting platform. It also taps into fear, a motivation I find most disturbing because it excuses the practice of people and nations to close their minds and hearts, to justify torture, murder, exclusion and hegemony for the sake of self-preservation. This song is propaganda through and through. It reaks.

(Oh, a quick thanks to livingforjesus.com for publishing the lyrics. Any errors are theirs, although I did add some obvious punctuation and capitalized "You" in reference to Yahweh -- only the touches I thought would have been added by a diligent christian editor.)


I travel internationally a lot. In the course of the past 2 years, and a dozen or so trips to a handful of countries, I have to report that Americans are the butt of many a joke. I'm occasionally unnerved, but I have to admit, we deserve it. Our nation and many of our leaders, as well as celebrities' and commoners' hijinks alike, are of moronic proportions. But we're obviously damned proud of it since we keep supplying sensationalist stories for others to lambast.

I receive an email newsletter from a news service called Bike Europe. Sprinkled in with stories about the latest maneuvers of the bike industry's biggest players, shifts in trade regulations and reports on new products are funny headlines you can't avoid reading. Last week this one flashed by: "Bike Hire Schemes are 'Sinister UN Plot'." Whoa, I gotta dig into this one, I thought.

Mpls launched a bike share program, Nice Ride MN, this past spring. Apparently Denver did as well. Awesome, right -- more people exercising and getting out on bikes? That's what entrepreneur Dan Maes, a Tea Party candidate for CO governor, first thought. That was until he made the connection that the "bike sharing program is the first step to a UN takeover of the city." Apparently, god spoke to him in a dream or something telling him the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) is the UN's conduit for alien infiltration and domination.

Okay, so I made up that part about god speaking to Dan. But other than that you can't make this stuff up, people. Read the article. Maes even invoked the Constitution. That is, after all, what the Tea Party buffoons are wont to do. Like the bible, the Constitution is supposed to be a charter laden with absolute truth. Perhaps that will suffice for those who need absolutes to beat over others' heads.

After you read the very short article, sit back and marvel at the fact that the Tea Party even exists in our great land. Chuckle a bit that elitism is alive and well. Then look around you and ponder how many of your co-workers and neighbors subscribe to such fear-induced bullshit. Finally, be proud that you are not one of them; challenge ignorance at every turn.

I've picked on faith a lot in this essay. I'd like to step up and admit there is something I want to have faith in -- the belief that our nation can endure with intelligent leadership by its citizenry -- tempered with patience, acceptance and forbearance -- no matter whether we're Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Pagans, or abstainers altogether.

We elected our current president on a platform of change. Polls show his approval rate sliding and many are predicting a reactionary ousting of Democrats in our coming elections. Did anyone expect change to be easy or agreeable? Furthermore, did we expect ANY major party candidate to deliver the goods?

I suppose the rats would rather jump and risk drowning than work to right a tilted vessel.