Friday, December 29, 2006

For the past few years, I've become very interested in making dinnerware sets. I use slump molds for most of the tiles I make, where a slab of wet clay is draped over a plaster shape. It's an easy transition to go from tile making into making dinner plates. Our cupboards are filled with handmade dishes, bowls, mugs and serving pieces. And our love of sushi has led me down another path- making the perfect sushi plate.

Japanese food is the epitome of simplicity, yet requires a good deal of "stuff" at the table. Beside a dinner plate, you'll need a small dipping bowl for soy sauce, and perhaps a small rest for your chopsticks. And let's not forget the sake!

So even a meal for just two people can fill up a small table top.

The plaster mold I use to make a dinner plate involves a small recess, which creates a perfect place to pour a bit of soy sauce. To create that recess, I needed a way to create a shallow recess in the plaster mold... hence... the drill bit I developed and wrote about in my last post. I have a few of these molds, some even include a long groove that forms a chopstick rest. I haven't decided if I like the look of that yet, I'm still playing with it's location depth.

Notice on the plaster mold above, there is a blue line marking where the slot is located. Once the slab of clay is applied, it's difficult to find the slot. So everything needs to be properly marked before the clay goes on it.

Here is one of the sushi plates, awaiting glaze.


There are several of these plates cooling in the kiln right now. Resisting the urge to peek inside is quite difficult! You're not supposed to open the kiln until it's cooled to under 200˚. I've found it's best for me to stay away from my studio, and find something else to do.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


A few years ago, I attended a seminar given by Garrett Hack. Anyone who reads Fine Woodworking magazine is probably familiar with Garrett's woodworking, as well as the articles he writes on tools and techniques. In some circles, he's as well known for his custom tool making skills as he is for the Federal-style modern furniture he builds. He spends a lot of time traveling the country, giving seminars and teaching. A true Renaissance man.

Inspired from his seminar, I've spent more time lately with handtools, enjoying the process as much as the end result. Owning good tools shouldn't be a luxury; quality tools make working with wood much easier. When building a set of eight dining room chairs, I machined roughly 60 tenons per chair. While the Powermatic Mortiser made easy work of the mortises, the tenons required a little touchup during the final fitting, especially the shoulders. Lee Valley Tools makes a wonderful shoulder plane that worked perfectly for all the tenon clean up.

Which brings me back to Garrett Hack and his toolmaking. If I took nothing away from his lecture, it was this: if you can't find the tool you want, figure out a way to make one. He includes many simple inlays in his work, and often builds handtools that help with this process. It's fascinating to see the steps he goes though, and the end result is simple, yet adds a formality to work.

I recently had to drill some wide but shallow holes in plaster. There was no commercial bit available for the profile I wanted, so my next thought was to alter the shape of a spade bit. Still, the sizes of spade bits available to me weren't going to be big enough. I sketched a few shapes, and made some full sized patterns to decide which profile worked best for me.

By attaching a cutter to a spade bit, I was able to accomplish something important to the design of this bit. The length of the pilot tip on a standard spade bit was too long, so positioning the cutter lower (to the tip) allowed me to shorten the pilot length considerably. Here are a few versions of the bit I made; they perform beautifully, and I'm now experimenting with some different shapes to add to my tool arsenal.

Next post... you'll see where I used these bits.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Whenever I see stories in the news about people who have to evacuate their homes, I wonder what I would take with me. Sometimes people have advance warnings, like with hurricanes. But in the case of wildfires or tornados, there is little time to pack. News programs show people throwing clothing in suitcases, along with family photos and valuable paperwork.

I know what I would take - my sketchbooks.

Ever since I was a college Art major, I've kept a sketchbook. I don't remember which college professor gave the lecture about sketchbooks, but his ideas have stuck with me over the years. He had a few tips about sketchbooks- like attaching an envelope inside the cover, so that you always have a place to keep random important bits of paper. It's an easy way for me to keep track of business cards, pictures of interesting things, receipts, etc. And he suggested using a hardbound book as a sketchbook, rather than a spiral notebook, where you might be tempted to rip a page out if you didn't like something you'd drawn. That makes a lot of sense; a drawing of something today might not interest you, but in a different situation, it might work perfectly.

I've kept all pf my sketchbooks since 1980. The collection has gotten so big, I've had to place a sticker on the outside of them, dating them, to keep them in order. I keep all of them in a bookcase in my woodshop, where it's easy to locate something in them.

Over the years, my sketchbook has become a "filing cabinet in a book." When I finish one book, and start with a new one, it takes a little preparation. I paste a sheet with phone numbers of all my suppliers, so that no matter where I am, I can make a quick call to find a price or learn about availability. I also keep a current price list of the woods and hardware that I often use. (I keep it stored in my computer, and update it periodically.) This makes it really easy for me to come up with a price when a client asks me to design something. The list includes current lumber and plywood prices, as well as hardware, like hinges, lid supports, levelers, drawer glides, and so on. So the sketchbook isn't just about sketches, it stores a lot of current information that I need.

Some of the students that used to take woodworking classes with me have complained that they can't draw. I used to think it was a talent you either had, or didn't. But I've had a change of mind. When I was younger, I could barely draw a simple sketch. It's a skill I've learned, and one that needs to be practiced in order to get better.

A few years ago, I attended a design seminar at Anderson Ranch, in Aspen, Colorado with Rosanne Somerson. The first couple of days, we did nothing but sketch, sketch, sketch, and sure... we all groaned about it. But one particular drill that we did was fantastic.

I nicknamed it the "60/60" drill.

You take a simple object, anything will work. I used a plastic case that holds drawing leads for my mechanical pencil. Using a minute timer, you do 60 quick sketches, allowing only one minute for each one. Yes, that's 60 drawings in 60 minutes.

If you're groaning, don't. It isn't as bad as it sounds. Oh sure, I struggled with the first 15 or so drawings; I was trying to put too much detail in them. Just when the drawing was taking shape, the timer would ring and we had to stop. I'd start up again with that same level of detail, only to be stopped again. But when I hit the 20th sketch, something magical happened. All of a sudden fluidity and abstraction crept into my drawing. There were about 10-20 sketches in that middle period that brought out something I can't even describe in my drawing skills. A freedom, if you will.

Every now and then, when I'm stuck on a design that I am working on, I do that same exercise with a photograph of something similar to my design. It frees up my design mind- I don't get stuck on the minutia of joints or dimensions, but rather- this allows my eyes and my sense of scale and proportion to take over. It's liberating.

You should try it- I promise it's not as bad as it sounds.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

It's all about the playlists.

Anyone who owns an iPod knows what I mean. This is the most important shelf in my studio- the one that holds my iPod (and a few first aid items).



You set up playlists for various situations, for moods you want to create. Personally, I have about 8 different playlists, corresponding to various shop tasks. Lay-out, measuring and gluing boards all require mellow music, so that my concentration isn't interrupted.

But when it's time to sand, you can probably hear the music playing from a block away. It can't be loud enough, nor fast enough.

Here are a few tunes on some various playlists:

Mellow stuff

  • Heartbeats - Jose Gonz├ílez
  • 9 Crimes - Damien Rice
  • Send in the Clowns - Judy Collins
  • Safe and Sound - Sheryl Crow
  • In the Deep - Bird York
  • Car on a Hill - Joni Mitchell
  • Jung at Heart - Master Cylinder
  • Rain - Patty Griffin
  • Venetian Blue - Shawn Colvin
  • Because I told you so - Jonatha Brooke
  • Breathe Me - Sia
Sanding music

  • Run to you - Bryan Adams
  • Lose Yourself - Eminem
  • She's a Bitch - Missy Elliot
  • It's getting Hot in Here - Nelly
  • The Long Way Around - Dixie Chicks
  • Don't Fear the Reaper -Blue Oyster Cult
  • The Middle - Jimmy Eat World
  • Middle of the Road - the Pretenders
  • Ain't Nobody - Chaka Khan
  • Brown Eyed Girl - Van Morrison

What are your top ten?

Saturday, November 11, 2006


What do coffee mugs have to do with woodworking?

There are two things that I can't do without in my studio- good music, and a good cup of coffee. When my favorite mug was recently broken, I wrote to the potter who made it, asking if there were any more that I could purchase. No luck.

So I've been on a quest to make the perfect mug. Here are a few recent ones, the kiln is cooling as I type this and there should be another batch of mugs tomorrow. You can see the glaze samples hanging on the back wall, offering some ideas about color combinations.

To me, working with clay is MUCH harder than working in wood. Wood is forgiving, and any mistakes made along the way can be corrected as a piece is being built. Not so with clay.

If you're lucky enough to have a pot that survives making and trimming it, you still have a couple of firings, not to mention the glazing process itself. It's often frustrating, but completely addicting.

I like my mugs without handles, there's a pleasant interaction between holding the mug and enjoying what it holds. In cooler temps, it's a nice way to keep your hands warm. And I like my mugs to be big, much bigger than most coffee cups. Once my coffee slightly cools to that perfect temperature, I often find myself at the bottom of the cup. So a larger mug works out well.

Next... we'll talk about music in the woodshop...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Stella, the Official Woodshop Guard Dog

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Been experimenting with some carving on pieces. This is a detail of a headboard, and (hopefully) the symbol means Peace and Harmony. Who knows?

Once carved, the recess is painted with milkpaint, and then oiled.

Here are a few graphics that I also considered using:

Saturday, October 21, 2006



There's nothing more satisfying than when clients give you artistic license to design something for their home. Sometimes this is a hard place to reach in the build/client relationship. I've had people come to me with sketches of furniture that were both aesthetically challenged and mechanically unfeasible. In the beginning, I probably made a few of those pieces, but I've blocked them from my memory! I like to think my clients are more informed these days, and trust that I can build what they describe to me.

These wooden frames (there are two of them) fit into two openings that run in between the formal living room and a family room. The openings allow light and sound to pass through, and make both rooms feel much bigger than they really are. Yet they help define and contain each individual space. Both frames are roughly three tall and nearly six feet wide. We left the center area open with the possibility of adding a stained glass panel in the future.

I built the bookcase on the left almost a year ago, matching several other pieces in their home. It holds their collection of scrapbooks and photo albums.

Monday, October 16, 2006


A perfect bisque load in the new kiln.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Greetings from soggy Las Vegas!

Welcome to my new blog on woodworking. Having a website to show my work is great, but it's nearly a full time job to keep it updated and current. So I'm starting this blog as a better way to keep people informed of my current projects, and discuss what's on my mind, wood-wise. Feel free to check in from time to time, and add comments, if you want to. It's really just a forum to keep in touch.

It's pouring outside, water is streaming in under the door of my studio; I'm glad I put everything up on sawhorses last night.