Friday, December 18, 2009

Gleam in Mellowness

Every now and then, prospective students come by the school to evaluate Inside Passage as a place to "hone" their chops.  One of our school's attributes that consistently grabs their attention is making their own tools.
Imagine two cabinets side by side, one you made and one you bought.  There is no doubt that the one you built means much more.  There is a special feeling that occurs inside of you when your friend glides their finger along an edge of the cabinet that you shaped.
Now imagine a third cabinet.  You not only made this cabinet, but you also made the hardware that allows the door to swing open properly, the wall hangers on the back that keep it flush with the wall, the chisel that cut the dovetails in the drawer and most importantly- you made the wooden hand plane that created the shape and the surface of the edge that your friend is now admiring.

This does not mean that all the tools we use here are handmade.  We are all fans of the Veritas Cabinet scraper, the LN low angle block planes, Japanese dovetail chisels, and Japanese pull saws. However, Robert finds it vitally important that we know how to make out own bevel gauges, chair scrapes, spokeshaves and flat edges with wood.

A few posts back we put up a picture of Jason's bench (above).  To the right of the cabinet hangs his collection of wooden hand planes.  The plane rack consists of two dowels per plane, sticking out from a piece of plywood.  This design allows air to access all sides of the planes evenly.  Wood being a living material, it requires consideration of seasonal changes to remain stable.

Among his collection is the last hand plane that James Krenov ever made- a smoothing plane made of mesquite.  This hand plane was made last spring, only days before Jim would close his home shop forever.  Also among the planes is a high angle wooden hand plane made of Macassar Ebony.  This plane is a gift from Robert Van Norman, made at the beginning of this year's program.   Jason has been using this plane quite frequently as it leaves an amazing surface on the Chinese Elm he is working with.
A few people have contacted Jason to inquire about the words written behind the hand planes.  It is an excerpt from A Cabinetmaker's Notebook, by James Krenov.  Gary Van Rawlins, a College of the Redwoods alum and one of Jason's mentors, often says this poem aloud in his shop from memory.  A nod to the "Old Man."

We will place the excerpt below for your enjoyment.  For best results, please grab a plank of friendly wood and your favorite wooden hand.  Put a fresh edge on the iron, put the plank in some clamps or a vise and enjoy the work of your craft...

From A Cabinetmaker's Notebook by James Krenov
I stand at my workbench.
Shavings curl from the plane in my hands, swish-and-slide, as I rock to the motion of work.  The smell of fresh-cut wood, a slick, silvery yellow surface gleaming under the tireless plane, and a feeling of contentment.
 Nothing is wrong.

Here am I, here is my work- and someone is waiting for the fruits of these fleeting hours.  My contentment is bound by the whitewashed walls of my little cellar shop, by the stacks of long-sought woods with their mild colors and elusive smells, by the planked ceiling through which I hear the quick footsteps of a child- and yet it is boundless, my joy.

The cabinet is taking shape.  Someone is waiting for it.  With a bit of luck, it will be liked, given continuity in a life of its own.  Hands will caress this shimmery surface, a thumb will discover the edge, which I am rounding.  An edge rounded with my plane, an edge cut rounded, but not sandpapered- a sensitive finger will understand its living imperfections and be pleased at the traces left by sharp steel on hardwood.

Through the years this edge will be polished, change tone, gleam in mellowness.  Yet always it will bear the marks of my favorite tool.

1 comment:

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