Tuesday, September 27, 2011

On Reading

There are few things as personal and intimate as reading. Reading can define us in a way, as a sort of cultural mirror that reflects our preferences, but at the same time, how we read books varies from person to person, and that in itself makes it personal. I think this has never been truer than a translation course I took in college where in addition to studying the different ideas of how to translate texts (ranging from transliteration to transcription to transposing words and sentences around for your expected audience) everyone was required to bring in a few small passages of whatever language you'd studied, translate it, and have the entire class review it. The review wasn't intended to determine the "best fit" translation (after all, there are valid arguments for and against how you should translate), but it was more of a review of how you implimented the ideas of translation.
Anyway, the piece I translated was "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World." When I read, I usually visualize the story in my mind. By doing this, I effectively and unwittingly manipulated the story to my culture, preferences, and beliefs. The seaside in the story became a bleak Outer Banks with dunes and sea oats. The man's hands that were described as being like "oxen of the sea" gave no clue to me as to the cultural meaning behind the phrase (I've never seen a buey del mar, so I don't know how large they are, what they look like, the texture of their shells) apart from just having large hands. This text that I translated was slowly molded to something that I was familiar with, mostly because I didn't know the the cultural implications on word choice and the setting in the original text, but the same thing was true for each student in the course. Each and every person had a different, and yet personal way of translating their text.
The same is true for books that you read. The different types, plots, and characters you encounter in the different books you read have different importance for different people, either by people relating to some aspect of the book and thoroughly enjoying it or by thinking the book is a complete waste of ink and trees and wholly abhorring it. How often have you asked someone what their favorite books were, in part to get an idea of what book you want to read next, but also to get a better understanding of that person's personality? And how often have you read a book for inspiration or solely for enjoyment?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Deep Thoughts

Sometimes when I look at my dog, she looks back at me with her big, brown eyes but intelligence is behind them. 'Here! A sentient being,' I always think, 'that happens to be man's best friend! Oh if you could talk! I wonder what thoughts, wishes, and desires you have?' My dog then usually licks herself and attempts to push me off the bed.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Book boxes part II

Time to make another set of book boxes! I decided to use my carcase saw for cutting the dovetails, and it's not agonizingly slow like it was with the gent-sized backsaw. Retensioning and straightening my Disston D-7's sawplate worked wonders; with it I can get crosscuts that deviate only a couple of 64ths of an inch. Not too shabby. That meant less time trying to edge joint the boards using a block plane in the burning hot sun. Right now I've got the side tail boards cut and will cut the top and bottom boards' pins and pare most of the waste away. As far as cutting dovetails go, I'm getting used to the aggressive cut of the carcase saw and am trying to teach myself to use as little pressure as possible when cutting, but I'm getting better at laying at dovetails which is speeding things up considerably. One thing I definitely need is a vise or some sort of jig to hold boards so that I can joint them lengthwise.
On another unrelated note, my Ti Kuan Yin oolong is almost gone. I'll definitely be getting more of this. It reminds me of lungching tea, but more robust with slightly flowery notes in the background whereas the lungching I've had tasted like nutty grass.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

2008 Xiaguan Baoyan Jincha

I'm almost finished with my 2008 Xiaguan Baoyan Jincha. Will I buy more of it? It's hard to say. Smoke, leather, and brown sugar are all that I can taste in the tea, with the later infusions taking on a sweet grainy taste. But honestly, I can't taste an overwhemingly difference between the jincha and Xiaguan's offering of their iron cakes which are priced cheaper at http://www.jas-etea.com/products/-2009-Xiaguan-Yellow-Crane-Iron-Cake-Pu%252derh-Tea-%252d-357g-Raw.html and for more product at 357 grams vice 250 grams.
Perhaps due to the warmer weather with temperatures reaching in the 100's, my tastes aren't inclined to the smoky, leathery teas and I'm finding them a tad overwhelming. Whatever the reason, this jincha is made with the same formula as Xiaguan's Baoyan brick (at least I think it is because of the "Holy Flame" moniker), but it just doesn't taste quite the same. The "Holy Flame" Baoyan bricks that I do own taste like mulled cider with hints of wood and the leaves are tinged with a beautiful rust brown at the tips due to the oxidation process. Perhaps it's due to the lighter compression with the bricks, or the increased surface area, or even because I've had them longer and more exposed to Virginia's humid climate that they've aged more than the jincha. But I'm still not in the mood for them just yet.
What I am in the mood for, and a lot of it, is the Ti Kuan Yin oolong. With its lightly nutty and vegetal taste, it's bridging the gap between a green tea and a strict black tea. But I still doubt I'll buy more than 100 grams at a time considering I've got several bings and bricks of spring harvest sheng pu'er to go through!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Book Boxes

I started building a book box for Lara on Saturday. It started off with a 5"x7' plank of rough cut alder that I dressed, jointed, and cut to length. And unfortunately jointed and jointed and jointed the end grain. The joinery I used for this is dovetails, but I got the idea for the box from Roy Underhill who based his book boxes off of Thomas Jefferson's who used these to ship his books around.
I used a Stanley No. 5 corrugated jack plane, a Stanley No. 7 jointer plane, a marking gauge, bevel gauge, 1/2" chisel, and a Crown gent's backsaw to convert the plank into a box.
Lessons learned: start off by making sure all your tools are sharp. I don't know why, but I'm really sensitive to my plane irons being dull. I sharpened my jack and jointer plane which made dressing this board last all of 20 minutes. My block plane was another story. It took me a full thirty minutes of struggling to square up the end grain before I realized the iron was dull. But this was also thirty minutes of jury-rigging for a woodworking vise by just clamping the board upright to the workbench and thirty minutes of bashing my fingers into the bench top and having the board shift back and forth with every stroke of my plane while mumbling to myself that the pain and frustration were all part of the job. My little Crown backsaw is probably meant for cutting dovetails and the like in softwood stock that's less than 2/4 thick. The board was a little over 4/4 and it was a hardwood. Ugh. So that meant hideous dovetails until I took the time to file my saw, stone the sides, flatten the sawplate (it was slightly curved when I got it, probably from the factory sharpening), and tension the blade. It was worth it for the last board's tails, as it cut straight and true. The 1/2" chisel had about 5 different bevels on it in various skewed angles. When I'd gotten the pins and tails cut, I tried chopping away the waste between the pins and the tails which successfully ripped huge chunks of wood from the baseline, which made me whip out the coping saw to remove the waste. But that meant that I had to pare down to the baseline to get a flat surface for the mating board to rest on. And that's when I realized the chisel's bevel was all kinds of screwy. Fortunately I've improved at grinding, and using a light touch with a finger close to the edge to make sure I wasn't burning the steel, I ground a new bevel and sharpened up the chisel with my Spyderco stones so that I could easily pare away the waste. But I obviously need to work on my paring skills considering I pared away waste to create sloping, oblique spaces in between the pins and tails.
I did a dry fit earlier today and glued everything up. It's pretty snug for having large gaps in most of the dovetails which I repaired by cutting 1/32" slivers with the backsaw to hammer into the gaps and make the joint snug. Tomorrow I plan on chiselling off the hardened glue, smoothing the face boards with my No.3 smoothing plane (the iron's sharp; I checked) and applying a few coats of Danish oil to put this project to bed. Though knowing what I know now, I don't think a second book box would take this long to complete...
Oh well. For the positives, it took very little time for me to plane the board down and get rid of the small twist that was present towards the ends of the board. And keep in mind, I didn't cut it to length just yet, but dressed the full length of the board. My sharpening and grinding skills are improving since I turned a chisel that could've doubled as an icepick into a paring chisel that was leaving burnished wood in its wake. And my handsaw skills are improving in terms of sawing, sharpening, and tensioning. The tensioning was really apparent in this saw. I had to tension it twice, but now instead of the blade flexing, it's nicely taut and very easy to start. My only grip is that in the blade towards the handle the saw plate gently bends away from the main toothline, but I suspect this is just left over from it's original filing. Whatevs. I got the rest of the curve out.
For now the one thing I definitely need to get/work on is some sort of vise and a saw vise or saw sharpening horse. The saw sharpening horse should be easy enough to make. The vise I'll have to think about.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Somewhat of normalcy

The cast finally came off and I can shower without the use of strategically placed trashbags and rubber bands. So everything should be back to normal, right? Nope. I'm still limited to lifting 10 pounds with my left hand until the start of September. But at least I'll be able to start cycling again.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sawbench by Chris Schwarz

I'd started work on a sawbench designed by Chris Schwarz (who when shaven bears an uncanny resemblance to my RDC) because I got fed up hunching over my work while attempting to rip it on a squat bench. I'm slowly, with an emphasis on slow, getting better at this woodworking stuff. The rabbets I cut for the end stretchers on the sawbench were actually decent in that they fit snug up against the legs without the use of a shoulder plane, and the rabbets I cut on the long side stretchers were perfect on the tulip poplar. The rabbets on the pine stretcher not so much.
I'm not sure why. The only thing I can think of is that the pine has a tendency to buckle and I'm still having issues securing my work, so buckling pine plus shifting board equals quivering carcase saw equals crooked rabbets.
Looking back, I still think it's cobbled together pretty shoddily, but I expect to get my money's worth out of it.
On another note, my pu'er from JASetea came in! Another mini brick of Douji wild arbor sheng pu'er, and a bing of 2010 Douji Red Da Dou sheng. I better up my intake of tea otherwise I'll soon run out of room!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Small table continued

Well in my last update I had my table essentially built with the exception of the top. That hasn't quite changed, but when I was helping my dad move wood from his old house I saw off cuts of what looked like hard yellow pine which he gave to me. So much for me guessing what I should do for the tabletop.
My first step was to rip it down from its 2" thickness to 1". After 30 minutes and getting 4 inches cut, I stopped (mostly because my heart was about to pop at my heroic attempts at sawing) to reevaluate. "Y'know, maybe the 8 inch width is just too darn wide for ripping." And indeed it was.
So I ripped it width wise in half to continue onward. But it still took an eternity to saw the durn pine to size. Right now I've got all the pieces cut and I just need to plane them to thickness and nail them to to table rails and I'll have a sturdy little coffee table that's ugly beyond belief.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Adventures in Woodworking

I finally managed to cobble together the rails and legs of the table I've been making over the past month. For as long as it's taking, it's extremely rough around the edges. The shoulders on the tenons don't exactly meet up flush with the legs, and the tenons themselves were a huge pain in the proverbial hindquarters to get in the mortise. The whole process of dry assembling, disassembling, paring down, and then repeating got to be monotonous and also made me look closer at the tenons. Most were cut just fine, but the rail somehow got canted offcenter, so the tenons had a sloping angle to them, making it hard to get a good fit with the mortise. I didn't have any clamps long enough to provide pressure on the sides of the table (an oversight on my part; I'll rectify that) so I glued as best as I could in stages, with the whole table minus the top being assembled early this morning. My key take aways from this were: for cutting tenons, you need to ensure the board is vertical and not canted back or forth, otherwise you end up with angled tenons; use the mortising chisel to pry away wood down to the bottom of the mortise instead of letting the bevel on the chisel do all the work while you hammer away; make sure your mortising gauge's pins are sharp, otherwise they'll track along the grain instead of a straight line. It was definitely a teaching experience with the first mortise and tenon being shabby, and the last mortise and tenon fitting together snugly with a little effort.
This was my first project that required me to rip the rails to width. I'd bought a modern Putsch handsaw from Woodcraft simply because I'd attempted ripping boards down to thickness with my cheapo Japanese style saw which had little respect for any straight line, and I needed something that could get the job done faster. I first picked up one of their panel saws (made by Lynx, I think) and looked at the toothline to see if the saw was bent. And lemme tell you, if the saw plate was bent any more, it'd be a full circle. I grabbed the Putsch saw simply because it was the straightest of them all, and went home and attempted to rip the boards. It didn't take long for me to realize something was wrong, so I decided to look at the teeth. They were triangular, as in equilateral triangles, and duller than the beach at wintertime. Long story short, I hammered the saw plate straighter, tensioned the saw, set the saw, shaped and sharpened the teeth to a legit ripping profile, and now it performs like a champ, zipping through the wood. Is it worth the money for all the work I put into it? I'll find out after I use it more, but for a new handsaw, it's loads cheaper than the Lie-Nielsen or Pax handsaws that are on the market today. My main gripe? The poor job of stamping the teeth. It's 7 teeth per inch, which meant I had to file down 168 teeth to a rip profile, set them, and then sharpen them considerbly before it cut worth a damn. Think of this as a kit that requires some assembly and you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Finishing Up

Tomorrow I start to head back home from RI after chewing gum and kicking ass at SWOS. I can't say that I'll exactly be thrilled to go back to a maelstrom of paperwork, busywork, and boringness but hopefully my career will start looking up with the prospect of going to fleet week in NYC and starting to actually apply some of the stuff I've learned here. My biggest disappointment the whole time I was up here? The weather and the fact that I couldn't find any woodworking shops that aren't already back home. I guess there just isn't that much demand up here, despite the boom that New England had back in the day for handmade furniture.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Woodworking projects

I finished making a tool tote from Roy Underhill's "The Woodwright's Apprentice." It's about as ugly as a cross-eyed dog with the mange, but somehow the stars and planets aligned when I was knocking the thing together with 1 1/4" nails and it's steady like a rock, fully capable of holding 20 pounds worth of tools. When I first glanced through the pages, I thought it'd be a snap to put together. But after I dog-eared the page and came back to it and actually started reading, I realized the ends and sides are canted outwards so that the whole thing resembles an upside down triangle with the apex truncated. In as few words, it blew my mind as to how I'd make it.
Fortunately after I'd prepared all the stock, it wasn't that difficult to figure out. The bottom gave me the most grief. I attempted to put a bevel on its edges so that the tote's sides would neatly join up to it. But I somehow fouled it all up to where the bevel was far too much and resulted in the sides splaying waaaay out.
In the end I had to go back and replane the bevel on the bottom. Throughout the whole process of measuring, planing, fiddling around with the T bevel, hitting my thumb with hammer and spilling all the nails out into a pile of shavings, something seemed amiss. It wasn't obvious until I put the thing together that I realized I'd somehow cut the bottom's lenth about an inch and a half short.
But instead of channeling my artistic angst-neo-deconstructivist side (aka getting pissed off and destroying it with a hammer) I cobbled it together with nails and stood back to look at it.
My eyes shortly began to burn and fill up with tears. It was extremely homely. But I piled it up with all the adrift tools, clamps, blades, and squares that I had on my workbench and hoisted it up to see if it would hold. I could hear angels in the background, and I felt a golden glow surround me; I'd just performed a miracle.
In all seriousness, the workmanship of the thing is a pretty low standard. The sides' bottoms aren't fully flush with the bottom's sides, the mortices are cut a little too deep (the handle perceptibly shifts about 1/16" back and forth), the rabbets aren't cut very cleanly, and there's that obvious gap in the bottom where it's too short.
However, I'm improving and progressing which is encouraging to me. The rabbets are the best I've cut so far, I was able to plane and joint the boards dead flat and actually plane the proper bevel on the end pieces and the sides' bottoms (but not the bottom), the mortice and tenons I made are decent and hold, and the saw cuts I made to shape the handle are extremely accurate and very clean. Overall, I'd say it's a success. My whole intention was to make a tote that I can carry tools around, and this certainly meets that goal. I plan on making one for Lara pretty soon for her gardening tools, and I'll definitely be using the lessons applied. And hey, practice makes perfect.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Things have started to settle down now at work ever since we passed FCT's. This means I've had time to work on my qualifications, study, PT, and work on my carvings while still having enough time left over for tea and reading. There's something about drinking tea at night that helps to clear my head and stimulate the thinking portion of my brain that's often underutilized (and sometimes not required) at work. Unfortunately this has backfired on several occassions where I've spent half the night working on some idea for a carving, or sketching, only to glance at my watch and realize that I have to get up in 6 hours for work.

For right now I'm patiently waiting for warmer weather so that I can start riding my bike again. I'm almost finished with my frog and lilypad carving, I'm in the middle of carving a dolphin, and I've just started carving a dragon. It's a little bit comforting to see that I'm improving in carving and everything that goes with it (sharpening, stropping, setting up a bevel, laying out a thorough design in full). Once I complete the dragon, I'll probably do several more versions of it just to try and improve upon it. Although the first one is still crude, I'll probably leave it with the tool marks on it. Hopefully I'll put up pictures of these carvings in the next few days if I can ever figure out how to work all this blasted technology.
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