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Big Trees, Big Work (and No More Whining)

I was bemoaning how sore my arm was the other day after pruning branches from the silver maple tree in our side yard. Some of them were as big around as my thigh. There’s something about hand sawing that takes it out of a guy.

And then I ran across these photos a friend sent a while back. Think of the sore arms and backs and everything else that resulted from “pruning” these babies. My arm doesn’t feel so sore now.

If these guys are 6 ft. tall, this tree is 18 ft. in diameter

If these guys are 6 ft. tall, this tree is 18 ft. in diameter

One tree, one trainload

One tree, one trainload

Uffdah!

Uffdah!

PlyDesign: Never look at a sheet of plywood the same way again!

About a year ago I was asked by fellow author and woodworker, Philip Schmidt, if I’d like to contribute a project to a book he was working on. I replied with a resounding “YES!” The book, PlyDesign: 73 Distinctive DIY Projects in Plywood, is now out and it’s a stunner. Not so surprisingly, it contains 73 distinctive projects crafted from plywood. But this is no ordinary book and these are no ordinary projects. It gives one a new appreciation of the versatility of plywood-and those that work with it.

PlyDesign coverFind out more about PlyDesign.

There are laptop desks, bookshelves, chairs, dining room tables, candle holders, toolboxes, skateboards and “Drunken Monkey” wine racks.

A few of my favorite projects are:

  • The One-Sheet Table and Benches-A contemporary trio of furniture pieces that are attractive and functional when in use and nest together neatly when not.
  • Light Within-A space age-looking light fixture made of plywood and vellum paper.
  • Mudroom Organizer-a heavenly host of cubbyholes for shoes, backpacks, hats and everything else that usually winds up on the floor.
  • And of course, the Bowlegged Plant Stand, designed by yours truly. The design was inspired by a Craftsman-style table I ran across a few years ago.
The Bow-Legged Table as it appears on page 89 in PlyDesign.

The Bow-Legged Table as it appears on page 89 in PlyDesign.

 

The inspiration for the Bow-Legged Table (plus the author's "how it goes together" doodle)

The inspiration for the Bow-Legged Table (plus the author’s “how it goes together” doodle)

In the spirit of full disclosure (and shameless self-promotion), the book was published by Storey Publishing-the same great folks responsible for my most recent book, Woodworking FAQ: The Workshop Companion. These two books are one of their first forays into the world of woodworking and they’ve done a stunning job.

Check out PlyDesign; you’ll never look at a sheet of plywood the same way again.

Is it a deck or a piano?

The first builder I worked for had a little quip he’d toss my way whenever he thought I was being a little too meticulous (i.e. working too slow.) The quip was “What are you building—a _______ or a piano?” It didn’t matter if he filled in the blank with the word “garage” or “wall” or “deck,” the meaning was clear: He didn’t want me wasting major time on minor things.

For the past week or so I’ve been laying the decking for our new deck. And a few times I’ve wound up asking myself, “What are you building here, Spike—a deck or a piano?”  You see, these are no ordinary deck boards. After a fair amount of research and soul searching (and credit card searching), Kat and I decided to go with Ipe.

landing_w_clamps

Ipe is amazing stuff. It isn’t so much a single tree species, as a group of closely-related trees with similar characteristics. The trees, common to Central and South America, grow to 160 ft. in height and 6 ft. in diameter. The wood is FSC certified.

With a hardness rating three times that of oak, so heavy it sinks and carrying a Class A fire rating (the same rating as concrete and steel) it’s earned its nickname “ironwood.” It’s so durable it’s used on the well-trod boardwalks of Coney Island, Atlantic City and other iconic walkways. Since it has a projected lifespan of 25+ years, I’ll be 85+ before I have to replace it again! All this beauty and function comes with a price tag—it runs about $10 per board foot.

corner

It’s so beautiful—the wood is literally furniture quality stuff, with bloodlines similar to that teak—one really doesn’t want to muss it up with pairs of screws through the face of it every 16 inches. So I’ve been using hidden fasteners that slip into grooves along the edges of the boards and then secured to the joists. So not only does the wood cost 3 or 4 times as much as the alternatives, it takes 3 or 4 times as much time to install the stuff. So this deck is part-deck/part-piano. Which is fine—as long I puts myself in a piano-building mode.

closeup

In the end, this deck (and my attachment to it) will take the course of most of my other woodworking projects: I’ll beat my chest with pride and joy as each tight fitting joint is created. I’ll stand back and soak in the beauty of the finished piece. Then I start taking it for granted. But those early moments of joy and working with my hands make it all worth it. Woodworking is the best of two worlds—it’s both a journey and a destination.

overall_deck

Northern Woods Woodworking Show — WOW!

I’d heard a lot about the Northern Woods Woodworking Shows. And I’d seen lots of photos of furniture pieces displayed there. But this weekend, my wife and I journeyed across town to take in the show in person. WOW!

There were chairs of unspeakable beauty, natural edge slab tables you wanted to take a bite out of, turned bowls that seemed impossible, kayaks fit for an art museum, carvings that nearly came to life. The craftsmanship on every piece was flawless-so it’s a little unfair to circle the work of three woodworkers in particular. But I’m going to.

Thomas Schrunk, an “Artist in Lustrous Materials” was displaying an enormous (10 foot? 15 foot? 20 foot?) standup paddle board. It was one of the largest and most amazing pieces of veneer work I’ve ever encountered. Schrunk has also create not one, not two, but three Steinway Art Pianos-one of a kind creations commissioned by the grandest grand piano maker in the land. Below are two examples of his work: The first is the Europa piano, the second a fabulous tabletop. You can find out more about his work here.

Europa

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The second amazing woodworker-and one of the organizers of the show-is Richard Tendick. For a while he specialized in Cryptex containers-the vessel made popular in “The DaVinci Code.” His latest amazing creations are bowls he “turns” on a tablesaw. I hope to run a few photos of his work soon. The third artist is a fellow by the name of Mark Laub. I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing him a year or so ago for the “Great American Woodworker” department I write for American Woodworker magazine. His latest cabinet-one, that in Mark’s words, took him “20 cases of wine to build”-is art, philosophy and craftsmanship all rolled into one. His work speak for itself. Here are some of his recent creations. You can find more at Mark’s Website.

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portfolio-cabinet-13-th

portfolio-cabinet-2-th

Based on the size of the crowd and the quality of the work, it’s safe to say woodworking isn’t only alive and well-but forging into newer and braver territories all the time.