Happy with that!

Banksia table #1

Hall table from Banksia

I finally finished this hall table.  The table has been an exercise in procrastination – but then it has been a fairly high risk project.  With just enough timber – maybe not quite enough – there was no room for error.  And the table incorporated a bunch of new techniques and joinery.  David Pye’s ‘workmanship of risk’ and Murphy’s Law both apply!

The table started with a slab of Banksia that I bought from the local slab shop (Australian Timber Slab Creations in Townsend).  A few days later, Dean and Pauline opened their shed to the local Woodies for a sale – and I found the matching consecutive slab.  Each end was a bit wild, but there was about 1.5 metres of clear straight timber in each.

Banksia is a very showy timber – it has a quiet grain pattern, but a glorious lacy figure similar to Silky Oak.  The colour is a deep golden brown, with pink tones.  The timber isn’t hard, but it is light.  I’d never worked with it before, but I just loved that figure and colour.

A live edged hall table started to take shape – a slender, light and elegant table that showed off the very flashy timber.

With all the uncertainty, I postponed a start several times – I even made another small table, just to check on the design.  The design required a good deal of hand work – legs splayed outwards just slightly, the legs had a curved taper, and through mortises in the apron.  I fussed over those tenons in the apron – I worried that they would distract from the clean lines, but in the end, I think they made a nice highlight.

By the time the table was finally sanded, assembled and ready for the finish, there was a good deal of physical and mental energy invested.  The process of applying the finish is just another opportunity to stuff it all up.

I tested four different finishes before deciding to go with my favourite Feast & Watsons Floor Seal Oil – a polyurethane and tung oil blend for hardwood floors.  It doesn’t affect the colour much, and it is fairly forgiving in application – I brushed it on, and wiped it off with a pad, taking care not to overwork the finish.  Four coats on the top, three on the undercarriage, then some Gilly Stephenson Carnuba wax.

Happy with that!




Finding the Rhythm…

“The man nowadays who is able to do a job at his own pace is one of the fortunate ones. Then to one he’ll either be a craftsman with a small workshop of his own or a man working at a hobby. A feeling of enjoyment so much more often accompanies work that is freed from outside control, when that control takes the shape of a nagging foreman or an impatient boss. The queer thing is that when these no longer have to be encountered, our own moods and temperaments want to take charge, as variable as the weather and just about as dependable. It is then that the craftsman has to assert himself and put the mood in its place, knowing very well that it will play high jinks with his work if he isn’t careful. Once he has really started, no matter how lazy or disinclined he may have felt, the odds are that the mood will recede, the work will catch hold of him and bring an enjoyment of its own.”

— Charles Hayward, The Woodworker magazine, 1947

This extract was published on the Lost Arts Press blog page.  The text is a delightful window into another world.  To most of us, England in 1947 is as incomprehensible as Xanadu or Timbuktu.  The phrasing, the choice of words, the tempo of the text are quaint, but the underlying sentiment is absolutely accurate.  For me, ‘shed time’ is another time zone entirely.  Outside, hours and days fly past, but inside, if I let it, time is suspended, absorbed in the process of making.

For more of this extract, and more of Lost Arts Press, click here.



170528 Plane Stool1-3a

Stool – London Plane and Turpentine

I needed to make a stool.  Just for the exercise – a practice piece.  Su needed a stool in her studio – a low stool, just 450 high.

I set out to make a stool with four legs and a round seat.  I had a small slab of London Plane that was big enough for a seat.  It was a pretty ugly lump of timber, but it was good enough.  I also had some clean straight Turpentine for the legs.

I trimmed the slab to get a piece to work on for the seat – flattened it and thicknessed it by hand – my planer/thicknesser lacks the width required for the job.  Cut the leg blanks out, and tapered them on the band saw.  Planed the legs straight and square.  Turpentine is hard to work, hard on tools and has lots of interlocking grain in the circumferential direction.  But I got square tapered legs, with not too much tear-out, then cut tapered tenons.

But I kept looking at a chunk that I had docked from the slab.  Long enough, but not really wide enough.  I’ve always had a weakness for primitive/African type stools, and I know Su likes them too.  What the hell – lets use it.

It was a most unlikely piece of wood – rot and termites had left a mark along one edge, the other was the live edge of the slab.  Dirty and looking decidedly manky.  But when I opened the piece up – wow!  Beneath the dirt and grime, the timber was a delicate pinkish colour, with black lines in a swirling pattern and blonde colours too.

Lesson 1 – you never know what the timber beneath is like until you open the slab.  This looked like dross, but came up diamonds!

It flattened quickly and relatively easily, and I set out to drill and ream the seat for the tapered leg tenons.  Marked out sight lines, set the bevel, and drilled from the top of the seat – drilled 1/2″ dia holes for the legs.  Set up the reamer, reamed the first taper, test fitted the leg – catastrophe!  The leg pointed the wrong way!  Then it dawned on me that I needed to ream the taper from the underside!   Damn!  I tossed the chunk of timber into the scrap bin (maybe I could turn a small bowl?).

Lesson 2 – think the process through, take your time, and double check set-ups!

Time for coffee.  I told Su that the beautiful piece for her stool seat was trash!  Su says that it’s only for her studio, she likes the timber, and I should patch it!

After coffee, back in the shed, I found the piece of Banksia that I had used to  make test taper, cut off the tenon, and glued it into the hole.  When the clue was set, re-drilled the hole in the seat, turned the seat over, and reamed out all of the holes.  Legs all point in the right direction!

I shaped the seat – mostly with a wide gouge, cutting across the grain.  I liked the look, and decided to go with a tooled finish.

Lesson 3 – if you are doing a tooled finish on a seat or table top, keep your tools sharp!

Sanded back, glued in the legs, trimmed the through tenons, leveled the legs, a couple of coats of Danish Oil and a coat of wax.  Done!

Despite the obvious Dutchman, I’m happy with that!  More important, Su is happy with that!

170528 Plane Stool1-1a


Sculpture 101

170528 Moebius1-1a

Moebius Strip in Camphor Laurel

The Northern Rivers Woodworkers Association organises a series of workshops on different topics – wood turning, animal carving, finishing, etc…  I went with the sculpture workshop, run by sculptor, designer and engineer Karl Rubli.

For my motif for the course, I chose a Moebius Strip.  The Moebius Strip is a topological curiosity – a single surface bounded by a single continuous edge.  And it has some peculiar properties.

I chose it for its interest, curiosity, and because it involved a twist.  I have carved a small piece with twists before, and interesting things happen to the form, the cross section and the way the light and shadow works.

Of course, Karl’s workshop was only enough to get us started on the right track.  After a good deal of carving, and even more sanding – I finally decided enough sanding was enough – time to finish.

One coat of Danish Oil, a coat of wax – I’m happy with that!

170528 Moebius1-2a

Work in progress – Banksia Table

Banksia Table in progress 2a

Remember the planter table I made?  The one that I measured and cut, measured and cut, and it was still too short?  This is the table I actually set out to build – or it will be mostly.

The hard work is done – joinery is completed.  Because this is a fine piece, I took a lot of trouble to get the joinery just so.  And to complicate things – there was only just enough material to make this piece – no replacements if I stuff up.

The material was milled from two slabs of Banksia – consecutive boards off the same tree.  It was a step out into the unknown for me – new design, new joinery, and a delicate piece.  I even made a prototype – the planter table.  There was a good deal of procrastination before I put the saw into the slabs, and I’ve been proceeding slowly.

I made reference to element of risk in craftsmanship – where one wrong move can undo everything.  Normally, I have spare material, and I have Plan B in case.

We’re not done yet, but this is a milestone.

Now for the fun part – I get to add the curves, to add lightness and feeling to the piece.  Let’s hope I don’t stuff up.


Edward Hopper (1882 – 1967)


Nighthawks 1942

I was reading a blog (Granola Shotgun – Stories of urbanism, adaptability and resilience) that referenced Edward Hopper.  There was no reference to Edward Hopper in the text, so I searched further.

I’m glad I did.  I’d never heard of Edward Hopper before (or if I had, I’d long since forgotten).  According to Wiki:-

Edward Hopper (July 22, 1882 – May 15, 1967) was a prominent American realist painter and printmaker. While he was most popularly known for his oil paintings, he was equally proficient as a watercolorist and printmaker in etching. Both in his urban and rural scenes, his spare and finely calculated renderings reflected his personal vision of modern American life.’

Typically, the bare bones summary hides a much more interesting story.

It seems to me that like something I grew up with, and yet the images are still powerful.