Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Wood Fired?

It's important to know your materials, whether you're working with wood or clay. As many readers here might know, I've done extensive testing with the WaterFall glazes from the book "Mastering Cone Six Glazes" by John Hesselberth and Ron Roy. You may have to scroll back a bit through the archives, but you'll be able to see many of the colors I've developed.

And while that particular glaze continues to fascinate, challenge and surprise me, I must admit after 200+ tests, I needed a break! It had gotten to the point where I knew the base recipe by heart, much like I know my favorite cookie recipe.

When you can mix something up in your sleep, you know you've had too much exposure.

I was scouring through some old Ceramics Monthly magazines and something caught my eye in the February 2003 issue. Richard Busch wrote a fascinating article about his work developing a glaze that would makes pots look like they'd been wood fired. I remember standing there in my studio, mouth wide open at the lovely photos of his work. I was hooked.

There might be someone out there wondering why anyone would want to try this when... well, why not just fire a kiln with wood? Here in the desert, the drought has scorched our land. That's not even taking into account the restrictions on kiln firing within city limits. It's simply not a practical option for me.

Of course, anyone who pots knows that you can't just mix up some glaze and hope for the same results. Variables in clay bodies and glaze materials will produce different results for different people. Back to the drawing board for me.

In his article, Richard Busch gives three recipes, and a variety of tips for achieving what many people will have a hard time distinguishing isn't actually a wood fired piece. Only when the bottom of a pot is examined can someone discover that the unglazed clay body hasn't been reduced.

His White Satin Matt Glaze and his Nutmeg glaze can be mixed together and applied in various ratios, depending on the "toastiness" you desire. Also, these glazes can be layered on top of one another for different effects. Finally, he gives a recipe entitled "Sybil's black stain, for adding some brushwork and/or simulating the errant floating specs that occur in wood fired work.

Below are my experiments.

Above tiles are test #1, and are a 50/50 mixture of the White and Nutmeg glazes.

Pictured above is sample #2, which contains 1/3 White and 2/3 Nutmeg. The golden colors are rich and black stain pops out nicely.

I'm not sure if the above samples are that helpful, but these are glazes #1 and 2 dipped. The application was probably too thin; I will probably retest these using thicker glazes next time. Both tests are on the glossy side.

The above tiles (#3) are are glazed with a mixture of 2/3 White Satin and 1/3 Nutmeg. The color is a little too light for my taste, and because the white is predominant, it is more matte.

Test #4 (above) finally starts approaching what I wanted - a deep golden, toasty color. This glaze consists of 25% White Satin and 75% Nutmeg. This version seems to work best when applied heavy.

Dipped versions of #3 and 4. Once again, the glaze was probably applied too thin on these samples. I will retest all the dipped pieces.

There are so many possibilities with these glazes, and as time permits, I'll be testing and working out the fit on my clay body.

PS... I'm editing this post because I've located Richard Busch. He runs
Glenfiddich Farm Pottery, outside Leesburg, Virginia, and his site has some lovely examples of his work.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Muscle memory

This is completely unrelated to woodworking, but then again... well, maybe it's not.

My New Year's resolution last year was to learn something new, and among the choices I gave myself, learning to solve the Rubik's cube seemed the most "doable" to me.

So I bought a cube and taught myself how do it. It took about a week of playing with it, on and off. Once you get it, you "get it."

And even though I'm somewhat of a math geek, the algorithms baffled me. There's a whiz online- Tyson Mao , who "taught" me how to do it. Check out this video of him, speedcubing.

My best time was about 15 minutes, which is a joke compared to Tyson.

Once I learned how to do it - and believe me, it was a bit of a struggle at first - I promptly put the cube on a shelf and forgot about it.

Fast forward one year, I saw something that reminded me of the cube, so I picked it up again. The biggest surprise? I solved the cube in about 4 minutes.

Which brings me back to muscle memory.

As a woodworker, there are certain things I do over and over. Laying out mortise and tenons. Screwing pieces together, then plugging the holes with solid wood plugs. Cleaning up the edges of boards in preparation for gluing them together. Chamfering with a hand plane. You get the picture.

There's a certain fluidity of motion that comes from doing the same tasks over and over. In fact, I know I'm a better woodworker now that I was ten years ago, or even five years ago. I just do things better. It's all about the dance of motion, and that only comes from muscle memory.

Any you though this blog post was about a Rubik's cube!

Any woodworkers out there want to challenge me to a Rubik's duel?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Art-to-Art Palette

An artist never argues with a little press. Well... unless it's bad press...

Recently, a midwest regional art based online journal featured a few artists, and I was fortunate to be one of them. Here's a link to the article on Art-to-Art Palette.

It's only up through February 4, 2008.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Furniture on Craigslist

I love CraigsList, I've found some of the coolest things there, and met some outstanding people, too. Some have even become great friends of mine. This, however, might take the prize for the coolest/most bizarre thing I've seen on CraigsList in a long time:

For Sale - beautiful pink “vagina couch” that I made in art school and no longer have space for. The couch is large: measures 5'3" long, 3'3" wide at the middle, and stands 2'3" tall (and is heavy like a couch). The pics are from my portfolio and are several years old; as a result, the couch has some scuffmarks and stains around the bottom from being moved, but otherwise is in excellent shape. A professional upholsterer helped me build the couch, so it is also functional and durable as a piece of furniture. The couch must be picked up in Mendocino, a 3-hour drive north of SF. I am asking for $600 and a loving home!

Jeez, I thought the couch I made in college, out of a bathtub, was cool.......

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

It's like having a personal woodworking tutor

Ever have a question about something, and you wish you knew an expert in that area, so you could ask him or her about it? Like a car repair question, or something about a medical procedure, investment advice, or even choosing a mover?

I've been volunteering for a long time with an online service called All Experts, it's a wonderful place to find answers to various questions that you might have. Once they've answered your question, you can rate the volunteer on a variety of things, from knowledge, clarity, and timeliness, to politeness. And you can nominate the person for volunteer of the month, should you be so thrilled with their answer.

I'm listed a volunteer in the "woodworking" section, with cabinets, furniture and woodworks as my area of specialty, and over the years, I've answered hundreds of questions, in fact, I just learned I've answered 1071 questions since I signed up to volunteer. I finally wised up and started saving my answers on my computer, because many of the questions I receive are similar. I've probably answered "how do I get rid of the greasy film on my kitchen cabinets" at least a dozen times, and the second most common question is about removing white water rings from furniture. So when I receive those duplicates, I cut and paste from my old answers, since usually the same information will apply.

And my third most common question from people on the All Experts site is about becoming a woodworker and making money from it. Apparently, people are under the impression that wood workers are wealthy! I liken woodworking to owning a boat. What's that line that a boat is a hole in the water you pour money into? A woodshop often becomes the black hole for your hard earned dollars.

Not too long after you become an "expert" woodworker, you'll want to buy those Beall wood threaders, Incra Jigs, Leigh Dovetailers, and so on.... and you'll probably use them probably once a year. OK, maybe that's an exaggeration, but there are a whole lot of gizmos out there you don't need, and it's easy to get sucked into purchasing them.

So those questions about "how do I get started in woodworking?" always make me smile. I usually list the necessary stationary power tools they'll need (tablesaw, planer, joiner, drill press, sanders, mortisers, router tables) and then casually throw in all the incidentals that you can't be without (clamps, bits, hand tools, supplies like sanding disks, glues, dowels.... well, you get the picture. A decent woodshop is expensive, and learning how to use everything properly is important.

Which brings me to my old buddy Tage Frid.

We met a long time ago, at a workshop he was giving in Atlanta, at Highland Woodworking. There were about 30 of us in his class, and he was charming, and a great communicator of woodworking techniques. In fact, he demonstrated how to make a curved raised panel, which was an amazing technique to learn. After the demo, I asked Tage if I could have it, and today, it's still sitting on a bookshelf in my office, reminding me of that special week learning with him.

OK- so where is all this going?

When I graduated from college, one thing I knew for sure is that I still had a lot to learn about being a woodworker. It's a never ending education. But one of the best ways I learned about woodworking was to take Tage's book- Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking: Joinery: Tools and Techniques into my woodshop and use it as a visual guide for learning how to cut joints in wood.

I opened that book up on my tablesaw, and proceeded to cut every single joint in his book, from dovetails to fingerjoints, mortise and tenons to compound miter joints. It was like having Tage right there with me, at every step.

By the way, the second most popular boat quote is "The two happiest days in a boaters life is when he buys his boat and the day he sells it." Luckily, this doesn't hold true for woodworking. Most people I know enjoy it well into their golden years. It's a shame so many people wait until retirement to take up woodworking, it's a shame to miss all those years of enjoyment.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Wood and Food / Food and Wood

There was a story this past weekend in the NY Times Sunday Magazine that made me a little blue. Peg Bracken died this year. She wrote a groundbreaking book in 1960 called “The I Hate to Cook Book”. Something about that title fascinated me when I was young.

I remember thinking that it sounded so nonchalant- like how could someone write a book about cooking, when she hated cooking? But later, I learned that it was all about understanding what you're doing well enough to fudge it when you need to. That if something is a bore to do, then find a way to make it more tolerable. Of course, the martini in her hand went a long way in making the daily ritual better. It dawned on me when I read her obituary that she probably made the Rachel Rays of today possible by making it acceptable to whip up a meal in 30 minutes.

Oh course, with titles like Hellzapoppin' Cheese Rice, or
Hootenholler Whiskey Quick Bread how could anyone resist reading her books, let alone trying some of her recipes?

To me, there's a direct correlation between cooking and woodworking, it's probably why I enjoy doing both. (I only drink while doing one.) They're creative, rewarding, relaxing, fun... I could go on. I've learned about an "economy of motion", whether I'm in the kitchen or the woodshop. I can cut some corners if I need to, or do things exactly by the book.

What? Cut corners while making a piece of furniture? It's called outsourcing, and depending on the budget of my customers, I may choose to buy components like dovetailed drawers, raised panel doors and so on. A girl's got to know her limitations!

When I used to teach furniture making, I used to quote parts of Peg's books in my classes. I'm a big fan of throwing the tape measure out the window, and building by the seat of your pants. Oh, I don't mean you can just start cutting boards and gluing them together without having a plan. Not at all.

But so many beginning woodworkers start out with a plan they've purchased from a woodworking store or magazine. These plans often have mistakes, by the way; it's been proven. And then that same beginner ends up making one error after the other. In the end, they wind up with a piece that's not only sapped them of their money and their time, but their
'joie de vivre' for woodworking.

As Stephen King would say - it's rong, rong, R O N G - wrong.

Over time, I made myself become a better woodworker by building in organized steps, sub-assemblies, if you will. I'll make a table, and if - for some unforeseen reason, the aprons end up being a half inch shorter, then so be it. Is it true to the original design? Not exactly. Does it accomplish the same thing? Mostly. Is it better? Sometimes. Call me flexible, call it whatever, but I'm not going to throw a table leg into my scrap pile because a knot ended up making it shorter than I intended.

It's "rolling with the punches" woodworking and we've all done it. Or at least, those of us who've built a lot of pieces, have done it. Knots happen, dings occur. Get over it. It's like life.

Which brings me back to Peg Bracken. I Googled her when I read of her death, I was trying to find a clip of her old TV commercial, where she snarls out "I'm Peg Bracken... and I wrote the "I hate to cookbook", with a cigarette in her hand. I was amazed at how many people have
blogged about her. It's possibly a testimony of the times, but there seems to be a great number of people who loved her. Count me in.

I wonder if Erma Bombeck ever owned a tablesaw?