10 June 2017

The Nanjing International Woodcraft Club opens its doors in Pukou

Introductory classes offered by the Nanjing International Woodcraft Club in 2017

The following beginners' classes follow a two day lesson format. Lessons A1- A6 introduce novices to handtool usage, layout, and preindustrial design techniques. These basic and essential lessons allow each student to steadily improve at her own pace while practicing the effectiveness of handtool methods and broadening his understanding of wood as a sustainable construction material.
Woodshop and benches

Lessons A1 and A2 (taken in order) are mandatory courses. After their completion students may choose A3-A6 in any order as suits their interests, and classroom availability.

Lesson A1
synopsis: Two simple projects are studied in conjunction with learning about a kit of basic handtools: their names and functions, and most importantly edge sharpening methods.

Sharpening station

Wooden trivet

Lesson A2
synopsis: complementary followup to A1, this lesson continues the focus on foundational handtool skills and methods along with a productive yet simple decorative technique.


Lesson A3
synopsis:The class introduces staked furnituremaking. A shaving bench and green woodworking techniques are employed.
Staked joinery
Historic pigment
Even bankers can learn woodworking!

Lesson A4
synopsis: The layout, cutting, and discussion of application of two widely applicable woodworking joints in order to produce a 3 board bookstand.
Sliding dovetail


Lesson A5
synopsis: The iconic dovetail joint is explained in detail while completing a household project. Emphasis is on learning how to mark, cut and fit this joint accurately and speedily.
Dovetail joint

Dovetailed tissue protector

Lesson A6
synopsis:A project that employs two wedged joints for furniture construction. making and use of a handmade beading tool
Made with pride
Wedged joint

Those with inquiries are free to contact me via WeChat (weixin) ID: Potomacker
or email: Potomacker@gmail.com

04 June 2017

The Sincerest Form of Flattery: T. Deer tools

"When I think of woodworking, I think of T. Deer...
 I've been working for several months to outfit a new student instructional workshop and have been dogged by many predictable and some which defy definition, I've also come across a few noteworthy discoveries. In a few cases, I've gone to the trouble, often unforeseeable in its complexity, to order from abroad. It's quite possible that I've bought the last of the 48" Jorgensen parallel clamps from a Taiwanese supplier. It seems just a short time ago that Pony was shipping crates of free clamps to HarveyWorks in anticipation of raking in millions in the burgeoning mainland Chinese market.
I buy domestically both because it can potentially save money and delivery time, but mainly I want to establish sources for replacements and to be able to explain to budding novices how they can readily equip themselves.  It's a constant challenge to find reliable sources for tools and materials. I've had to ship back Stanley tape measures twice because a supplier, although he displayed the model number for metal cases, instead shipped me the tape measures with plastic cases. I had to pay for return shipping. In the second attempt, another supplier sold me plastic cased models again by telling me that they had the weight of model with a metal case which I have in my possession. When I opened the second parcel and discovered  that same plastic junk which I had just previously shipped back, I checked the weight to discover that he had lied to me, overstating the weight by double. He then tried to convince my wife that he had in fact sent us better quality tape measures than ones I had wanted. All this trouble for an item that less than a year ago was a stock item at a B&Q.  Enough already about my problems.
It was directed to investigate a Chinese supplier of holdfasts by Mr. Chen, a colleague during a brief overlap at Harvey. He's now working at a new woodshop venture that is struggling to gain success by attempting to copy what other woodshop training centers do. He had purchased holdfasts to equip his shop and based on this endorsement, I looked into the source. I had purchased as many as I could manage from LieNielsen and Gramercy. I knew that I needed to supplement these.
One theme that comes up again and again is that Chinese manufacturers copy finished products without much consideration for process and a vague understanding of the eventual use. On top of that the workforce is generally poorly trained since or due to the fact that the employees often jump from one company to the next, as indifferent to the source of their income as they are to the tasks that they are assigned as they strive to climb up the economic ladder. For example, not far from my apartment I photographed this front bumper of a minivan manufactured by Wuling Motors. From the CNC mold department, to the assembly line workers, as well as the willfully indifferent midlevel managers who oversee the QC engineers, the organization collectively chose to overlook that their brand name was misspelled as it was being mounted onto every vehicle that left the factory.
If you can read this,...
I mention this here because it almost appears that T.Deer is at least trying to appear that it is developing a brand. For similarly manufactured items, typically none are marked with any signs of origins, certainly not with a brand name. In part, because that requires a modicum effort, and because there is such little sustained interest in China with developing brand loyalty. Contrarily, Chinese consumers can be even more brand conscious than Western consumers, which further beggars belief as to why Chinese manufacturers ignore this domestic market at their own peril over the long term. (hint: much of it has to do with export subsidies, limited market access to international competition,  and shortsighted business planning.)
The clear appearance of high end packaging.
Oh wait, does this shipping parcel look familiar? And yet, simply because a Chinese business is considerate of branding does not lead to the conclusion that the actions are effective or original. For example, I bought these vise parts out of curiosity only realizing later on that it was a shanzhai copy of this new item, a HiVise from Benchcrafted. This is how it was packaged.

Multicolored Styrfoam
The finest drywall screws

There are far fewer of the hardware pieces than what makes up the Benchcrafted original. It comes with no printed instructions. But Benchcrafted already supplies lots of video and printable materials so by not reproducing such incidentals like an instruction manual,T. Deer can reduce its costs and pass the savings onto the consumer! This project is getting put on the back burner indefinitely.
Stripped down to the barest ripoff

The holdfasts show a significant improvement, perhaps because they are harder to make badly.
The holdfasts and battens
On the top and bottom are the T.Deer holdfasts, their large and small models.  LieNielsen and Gramercy lie between. The large T.Deer is functional but some of its shortcomings are evident. The profile stands higher than that of the others. This is tolerable but not as annoying as the sooty schmutz from manufacturing that is not cleaned off before shipping.  The small form (I've not yet used this one nor any other small holdfast) seems to have its pad bent at an angle to cause only the front edge to make contact with a workpiece, potentially rendering it nonfunctional.

Gramercy holdfast pad

Speaking of pads, the T.Deer models come up short here. too. The Gramercy meets certain quality control standards the one can expect from a manufacturer who knows what customers want and how to keep them. The pad has a minimally smooth finish so as to not mar a wood surface and is cleansed of the forging residue. The image of the T. Deer model, left and above, speaks for itself although the photos in their Taobao store show much better looking examples of workmanship. It might also be a due to problems with my camera.
Despite these readily identifiable flaws, I cannot dissuade myself from suggesting this holdfast model to my Chinese students and I will purchase more in the future and potentially suffer the consequences if standards slip down lower. There is no way that I can turn down the price for a simple piece of bent iron. A pair of these holdfasts sell on the Chinese market for less than $10 US (50 RMB). Yes, two of them! With a moderate delivery fee, I can receive them in two or three days. I'll still treasure and prefer my LieNielsen model, but as we expats say: zhe shi zhongguo.
The benchdogs prove to be even more problematic. I bought a pair from LeeValley on which T.Deer likely based their copies. The shortcomings can be demonstrated thus.
The holdfasts and benchdogs come with a new 19 mm spade bit for drilling holes into a benchtop to accommodate them. For all I know, these are, in fact, 3/4" spade bits originally made for export and simply stamped for just the Chinese consumer. 3/4" is equivalent to 19.05mm, which is a reasonable substitute.
Veritas quality snugness

Lesson #1: Cha bu duo = close enough

A problem, however, is that the bar stock that is used to make the holdfasts is 18mm. This leaves a significant amount of sloppiness that can only be overcome by the spring clip. For comparison the Veritas model is measured at 18.84 mm. The fit is smoother and it will also distort the inside diameter of the benchdog hole over time.
Surface treatments

The quality goes in before the name goes on

The bearing surface of of the T. Deer benchdog exhibits none of the refinements of the Veritas model.
The surface is polished exactly where polishing is not wanted and it does not have the sloped cut to direct lateral pressure into downward force on the workpiece. Lastly there is scant concern for centering the logo on top.
I won't be buying any more of these items and can hardly recommend them to students. Instead I'll be teaching how to make their own in class.
Shopmade benchdog

I can aspire that this essay explains a bit more about the challenges of woodworking in China. And for those readers who think that these items could never be encountered outside the domestic Chinese market, it behooves to think again.

22 March 2017

The last of the Nanjing turners

The turner's atelier
During an outing to visit the whereabouts of a relocated open air antiques market, I happened to find a turner's shop along an older stretch of Shengzhou lu. The turner himself hardly stirred as I approached his workshop and snapped a few photos of the interior.
The view from the workman's perspective on the streetscape
He is a turner in the classic sense that he only does lathework. The narrow shop had a ladder in the back that gives access to an upper level where he might maintain his household. The arrangement struck me as medieval, which in the conservative environment of mainland China, is not unusual, but this way of life is nearing an inexorable finality. I thought of this essay as I gawked about, seemingly like a time traveler. None of the tooling was commercially made. Some of the lathe chisels shows signs of having been made from recycled files. This spartanness is as much due to the paucity of Chinese manufacturing as much as the extreme conservatism of Chinese tradesmen, less pride of craft, apparently than stubbornness and group conformity.
Handmade lathe chisels

The lathe machinery

 tablesaw most commonly seen on jobsites
At my request, my wife asked him whether there were any other furnituremakers in the neighborhood. He uncrossed his arms to gesture that there was another turner a few doors down and then settled back into zombie mode. I wasn't able to learn who typically commissioned him to manufacture banisters, table legs, or whatnot. I bought two file handles that he had for sale in a bucket outside his door at 4 RMB each.
 a lot of turned piecework

Handles or turned offcuts

The handles demonstrate the skills of a workman who keeps a pattern in his mind's eye: controlled irregularity. I've had trouble find ferrules in China for student projects. The term in Chinese is, 铁箍,  tiegu. These ferrules, however, appeared to be nothing more than cheap tin. An unapplied example bent more easily that metal from a tin can.
File handles
We walked past the second turner's shop and saw a near copy of the first. Further ahead, we turned into an alley and began walking amidst a neighborhood undergoing demolition, renovation, and relocation of its residents. It's generally unclear what is happening whenever such Haussmannesque efforts are underway. Residents, squatters, and scavengers tend to hold their ground in order to negotiate for higher compensation from the local government.
Cat perch

historical architecture: demolition by neglect
Often the true nature of the renovations are obscured to keep the beneficiaries of public works projects in the shadows. The attitude outside of Shanghai towards historic preservation to demolish down to the bare ground and rebuild in order to make the area 'more beautiful'.  Historically this represent how one dynasty superseded the previous one.
recurring rafter tail detail

Shared courtyard of Republic houses

While it's too soon to say, there might better concerted efforts to preserving some of the preserved elements in this neighborhood. Historic markers identified these buildings as built during the Republic era. It's frustrating to see so much exposed timberframing that could have been preserved even 10 years ago with a minimum of efforts to keep it dry.
Semidemolished housing

Squatters and Squalidness

13 March 2017

Architectural elements: Shanghai spolia

modular units on display
The last few decades have seen cycles of construction and demolition across the mainland Chinese landscapes. This has been most evident in the cities where many urban and prefectural governments finance their operations by seizing and reseizing properties and leasing to developers for denser, higher priced redevelopment.
Windows and shutters against remnants of courtyard wall
This system creates masses of waste as concrete and brick structures get jackhammered on a large scale to be dwarfed by the new construction projects. Often the bricks get salvaged depending on the speed of demolition; more commonly it's only the rebar that gets extracted and recycled. As I have documented before, some structures built during the early years under Mao Zedong possess enough wood materials to justify prying the materials apart before bringing in the bulldozers. The numbers of such structures is disappearing fast as many cities set upon apartment buildings constructed in the 1980 and 1990s for yet another round of redevelopment.
Garret access ladders, perhaps
It was only happenstance that brought me to a Shanghai construction site where I discovered a very well organized sale of architectural salvage. The existence of such a market, which I have observed nowhere else, demonstrates two points. First, the high standards of construction in Shanghai has deep roots and continues in this manner. Second, and perhaps more importantly, there are active buyers for such salvage within Shanghai. I've talked with several Chinese who don't believe that wood is strong enough to be used to build houses! The buyers coming to this lot understand construction methods that have become obsolete elsewhere and notably value the aesthetics and functionality of these repurposed materials.
Lap joints with traces of plaster

Beaded exposed timbers

I don't know how long this sale had been going on when I stumbled across it. There were bundles of tongue and groove flooring in empty storefronts slated for eventual demolition further up the street. (The interiors were too dim to photograph effectively.)
Stacked newel posts

Pilaster with carved motif, tongue and grooved flooring bundles

It's comforting to documents positive actions such as this. For those interested, the address is 612 Kang Ding lu, Shanghai. Prices are negotiable so act now!
Glazed doors

Was this tenon (drawbore) ever pegged?