Category Archives: Good advice

In large letters above your bathroom mirror!

“What you can do, or dream that you can, begin it. Boldness has magic and power and genius within it.” – Goethe



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


Six Essential Tools

Twelve Mile Portage, Shammis Island, Lake of the Woods, by Robert Genn:

Robert Genn (1936-2014) was a Canadian painter.  He identified with, and has been compared to the 1920s Canadian Group of Seven.   Sometime ago, I stumbled across something attributed to him.  According to the story, he offers advice to an aspiring artist about what he really needs in his tool kit.  The advice is easily translated to other arts (and/or crafts).

“I told him he needed six items in his kit: time, space, series, media, books and desire. This is how I laid it out for him: 

  • Time: Set aside a time every day. It should be at least an hour, preferably a lot more. Include weekends and statutory holidays
  • Space: Find a space that is always yours–where you can set up and work in continuity. It need not be large, but it ought to be yours
  • Series: Do a series of explorations toward tangible goals–say 100 pieces of work in one direction or another. Then start another series
  • Media: Choose a medium that intrigues you. Realize that the potential of all media is going to be greater than at first realized. Be prepared for frustration
  • Books: “How-to” and art-history books are better than ever. They are your best teachers and friends. With books, you can grow at your own speed and in your own direction.
  • Desire: Know that desire is more important than any other factor. Desire comes from process. Process reinforces desire and desire becomes love. You need love in your kit.”

Robert Genn

I’m not sure I agree entirely with Genn’s last essential tool – or at least the wording of it.

In my mind, as an evolving woodworker, my essential tools are:

  • Time – workshop time, but also thinking (and sketching) time.
  • Place – the shed.
  • Series – but not repetition.  Allow the designs to evolve, and develop technical skills.
  • Media – functional objects with clean lines and minimal ornamentation.
  • Books – read and learn – tools, techniques, design and especially history.
  • Desire – the desire to learn and make.

To these I would add:

  • Curiosity – without wondering and exploring, nothing will happen.
  • Standards – set high but realistic standards, and keep raising the bar.

Now I’m off to spend time in a place of gainful enjoyment…

Sometimes, it is better to just quit!

I wasn’t always a grumpy old engineer!  Over the years, I’ve made a career out of a succession of jobs – most jobs were good, a few were great, but some jobs were just plain bad.  I’ve been sacked and retrenched, and I’ve just quit.  I’ve applied for scores of jobs, and been interviewed for many more jobs than I’ve actually had….  I’ve also interviewed a lot of people for jobs…

I think I know a bit about jobs – experience and opinion.  And here’s my free advice.

Firstly, bad jobs are toxic – they affect your health, your sanity, your social life, your mental outlook, and your ability to find another job…

  • The stress and anger caused by a job you hate will affect your health. Nervous rashes, over-eating, drinking etc are obvious.  But stress can affect your immune system and affect you in many other ways.
  • A toxic job will affect your mental health. Toxic jobs relentlessly attack your sense of worth, your confidence, and your ability to deal with issues outside work.
  • When you are in a toxic job, your performance at job interviews is affected. The negativity, damaged confidence and stress will show through in interviews.
  • The negativity, loss of confidence, loss of self-worth affects your social life. You are less inclined to seek company, and you are not so much fun to be around.
  • In a toxic job, your mental frame of reference is negative. You are focused on getting out, escaping, avoiding, surviving…  Your frame of reference affects the way you think about everything else – including the future…
  • You feel as if you have no support – that you are alone in this…
  • There is no upside to staying in a toxic job… OK – you don’t get paid, but they can’t pay you enough to make a toxic job worth the money.

Being sacked from a bad job is liberating! The first time I was sacked, I was so relieved that I skipped out of the place!  When I was working for a large foreign owned defence company in Adelaide, it was obvious that everyone who left the company, regardless of circumstances, was happier within a few days – and most were better employed within weeks.

Unemployment isn’t necessarily a bad thing  Once you leave a toxic job, everything changes:

  • The stress is gone, the weight is off your shoulders, and the sense of relief is a sense of elation!
  • You will begin to feel fresher, healthier, happier, energised.
  • You start to feel good about yourself. You regain confidence and your sense of self worth – this a change you made and that is a good thing.
  • Job interviews go better. You almost enjoy them!.  The negativity goes, and the confidence shows.  And you are more likely to apply for better positions – positions that you once thought were beyond you!
  • You become happier, more outgoing, more likeable, and better to be around. Your social life improves.
  • You start to enjoy doing things again – small things, old things, new things, big things. You have the time and peace of mind to enjoy life.  You laugh more often.
  • Frame of mind becomes positive – your focus moves from the inward and negative to the outward and positive. When the stress and dread go, you become open to challenges, opportunities, new things, people, places.  You move from ‘if only…’ to ‘what if…’.
  • You have support – and you will find support in other unexpected places. You will no longer feel alone.

Make what you will of all this…  After all, it is your choice.  Our lives are a consequence of our choices.  Failing to make a choice is also a choice – but not usually a good one.

Advice my old Dad gave to me…

  • There are two ways to learn from experience. One is to learn from your own experience (the hard way) – the other is to learn from the experience of others.
  • Free advice is worth every penny.

Shed Works Resumed…


Shed works have resumed – after an interruption and a sobering scare.

Late afternoon, hot day, and I was installing the boards on the ceiling – lots of up and down the ladder.  Then I stepped off the ladder before I got to the bottom rung!

Landed awkwardly, and fell on my backside.  A few years ago, I could have just shrugged it off, but this time had strained ligaments in my knee and my back was bruised and sore.  I finished securing the last panel, and called it quits – inside for a hot shower and a medicinal ale as prescribed by the good Doctor Cooper.

That was a restless night – my knee ached, and my back was prone to muscle spasms.  And I lay awake thinking that if it got worse, or didn’t get better, then my idea of life on a rural block was going to change quickly….

In the morning, my back was simply sore, and my knee was very sore.  A couple of rest days, and I was mobile again.  Mostly better now.

A couple of days later, a friend of mine shared a link to the My MiND blog.  Another reminder of just how quickly it all can change…

Please read it here

Take care.  Be lucky.  Be thankful.


Wendell Castle’s Rules

Wendell Castles Rules.jpg

Wendell Castle is an artist and sculptor known for his ‘furniture as art’.

On the wall of his studio/workshop is the original art for a print he made called “My 10 adopted rules of thumb.”

  1.  If you are in love with an idea you are no judge of its beauty or value.
  2.  It is difficult to see the whole picture when you are inside the frame.
  3.  After learning the tricks of the trade don’t think you know the trade.
  4. We hear and apprehend what we already know.
  5. The dog that stays on the porch will find no bones.
  6. Never state the problem to yourself in the same terms it was brought to you.
  7. If it’s offbeat or surprising it’s probably useful.
  8. If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it.
  9. Don’t get too serious.
  10. If you hit the bull’s eye every time the target is too near.


The complete interview is on the Popular Woodworking website.