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?



09 February 2017

Authenticating plastic

There is a trend in woodworking that has been annoying me because I could not adequately understand the appeal and I've had difficulty in explaining the phenomenon as I perceive it. I don't want to write a long expository essay now because I don't have the inclination nor sufficient historical background yet I still want to use this opportunity to describe this trend and to make a prediction.
The term 'live edge' has been used to describe wooden furniture with undimensioned edges. Famous examples of this sort of sophisticated rusticity date from before my time on this earth. I think I first noticed it in the work of George Nakashima. Being young and naive, and wanting to rebel against whatever I thought I needed to rebel against, I thought the idea of furniture that didn't quite appear to be furniture was cool. There's something compelling about a piece of contemporary livingroom furniture that still retains features of a raw log that appeals to an SUV driving professional, to a manly salaryman, and equally to an urbane hobbit.
Challenging the limits of what a sawyer can do
As I grew older, more discerning, and less cavemanish, I turned against this style of furniture for several reasons. I realized that these pieces are very impractical to live around. They are essentially oversized sculptures that require their own zones to accommodate them and be displayed in. In such a way, they can enhance the opulence of an already grand mansion since they generally are out of the price range of most homeowners. They cannot be adapted average households nor do they lend themselves to being moved about while an owner chases a career path and relocates his belongings in a Uhaul rental.
The movers are gonna need a lot of bubblewrap for this item

Like rooted giants themselves, these items are massive and made to convey permanence. None other than a Rockefeller was one of the first and most prominent collectors of Nakashima furniture. Not only could he afford to purchase a 200 piece lot of furniture on commission, his inheritance could equally afford the mansion to house them all. Equally, if one has the resources to rebuild a house lost to a fire exactly as it was built in the 1970s and the prestige to have it written about in the NYT, then the high cost of Nakashima is appropriate to one's social stratum. Even a single table merits a wistful essay in the paper of record. This is furniture beyond the price range of most everybody reading this weblog, and those in the club like it that way.
Opulent rusticity for simple senatorial elites
In addition to signifying upper class membership, Nakashima style furniture is more to be thought of as sculpture rather than as utilitarian items. It's not a surprise that so many museums want his furniture since so many original owners must have houses the size of museums to be able to display them. It can be wondrous to look at objects that beguile the eyes with unexpected shapes. It's a table but it also looks like a tree! Yet these chairs and tables with their sharp arrises and untrimmed edges are often uncomfortable to live around. They are certainly not child friendly as if children would be allowed near the Nakashimas! And cleaning a 'live edge' requires more than just wiping it across with a damp cloth. Yes, museum quality to be sure.
Those aren't holes; they're artistic flourishes put there by nature
Members of the upper classes have always wanted to distinguish themselves through material culture. In this respect it should not come as a shock that the gentry choose to flaunt their money and cultivate taste buy purchasing handmade furniture. They want to acquire what others can only look at. This distinction is heightened by the fact that retaining the 'treelike' quality, no piece can ever be duplicated. And as their accountants point out, one of a kind items more likely appreciate in value over time. As much as every tree develops organically, the craftsman imposes less amount of handwork than is seen on mass produced furniture.
more base than tabletop
Born in 1905 Nakashima's fame and income grew steadily after WW2, an era of increasing mass production in housing trends, clothing, and lifestyles. This has echoes with the Arts and Crafts movement that was a reaction to mass production and industrialization in the UK. But the late 19th century craftsmen still didn't have to contend with the creeping imposition of plastics into their trade. Plastics and modern adhesives are essential to contemporary industrial furniture manufacturing and designers attempt in so many ways to obscure this reality.
Color coordinated with the avocado Frigidaire
Growing up I learned that paneling is how walls get covered. 9 groove paneling is 4x8 large sheets of masonite or hardboard with blackened channels running lengthwise and printed to resemble wood figure. Often it was glossy smooth but it might also be textured with raised wood grain. There are specialized color coordinated corrugated nails for this material. It was a fast way for finishing surfaces in expansive suburban built bedrooms for the babyboomer children in the post war years. It was also so cheap and light enough that redoing it was as simple as with repasting wallpaper up.  My mother demonstrated this makeover to me numerous times.
I visited a hotelroom a few days ago to find an interior that seemed to be inspired by the paneled interiors of my youth. It was a challenge to take a photo without catching the reflective glare from the sheen.
Photoperfect wood

Matching floors



















Plastics are used to create a faux wood appearance.  I grew up surrounded by this ubiquity and only learned with effort how the original paneling was intended to finish a room interior e.g. wainscotting, which it was putatively based upon. This plasticized ersatz wood is marketed primarilyto the working class. It can still be found in the best appointed doublewides. The upper classes, therefore, want nothing to do with it. A hotel designer can employ it to affect an easy to clean, modernist cachet, which can be ripped out and replaced cheaply when the management wants something new in short order.
Lastly, it is often convenient to flatter the upper class by downplaying their baser financial motives and instead highlighting the spiritual aspects of their investments. The artist and the dealers willingly go along with this pretense.
The slab church missal

In order to counteract this straightforward objective,
''His prices have gone up a lot. At the same time Los Angeles collectors are instructing their decorators to find Nakashimas, you see the best pieces at auction going to Swiss and German collectors and French dealers.'' said James Zemaitis.
we must muddle through pithy platitudes about intangible qualities that only sufficiently degreed art historians and museum curators can typically compose.
In Nakashima's own words:
''We work this material to fulfill the yearning of nature to find destiny,'' he said, ''to give this absolute inanimate object a second life, to release its richness, its beauty, to read its history in life.''
His own daughter, who, since her father's death, has taken over the Nakashima brand, offers a metaphysical salespitch:
''Work for him was a spiritual calling, a linking of his strength to a transcendental force, a surrender to the divine, a form of prayer,'' his daughter, Mira Nakashima,...
From the same article lastly comes this more businesslike assessment:
Mr. Aibel specializes in Art Deco antiques, but he has also been the premier dealer in vintage Nakashima furniture since 1985. ''By my estimate, George Nakashima made about 25,000 pieces in his lifetime,'' Mr. Aibel said. ''I've handled some 2,000 of them.'' Tomorrow evening he is the host of a book party for Ms. Nakashima.
Nakashima's work will also be seen at Sanford Smith's antiques show, ''Modernism: A Century of Style and Design,'' which opens in Manhattan on Thursday (through Nov. 16). There will be several pieces in the Moderne Gallery booth, with prices from $7,500 to $35,000.
Dead artists make for great investments. Get in while the getting is good, people! The time to buy is now. 
George Nakashima coffee table up 34% on estimate at Skinner
Over time the aesthetic sensibility of their betters has trickled down to the tastes of the masses, too, who are comforted by easily identifiable 'real wood'. I encountered some of this when I once suggested that milk painting was an appropriate surface covering for some student projects when I was still working at MYLab. To a man, the novice woodworkers wanted only to finish their projects with oil so that they could 'see' the wood. This phenomenon is also played out in Shaker revival furniture. The Shakers, a preplastic celibate cult, were quite happy to brightly paint their interiors and pine furniture. In the revival movement, however, the emphasis is on the clear finished pieces. The Windsor chair form has also experienced a revival but with the exception of a handful of craftsmen who make the furniture entirely by hand and apply milk paints accordingly, the commercially made items are often treated with a clear finish with mixed and jarring results.


Real wood but not too much

Disunified but reassuringly 'real wood' for the masses



































Recently this emphasis on 'real wood' has gotten a boost from a woodworker who moonlights as a television actor in his spare time.  Finally an entrepreneur has made Nakashimas for the working man's wallet.
Offerman in the style of Nakashima
Finally, I was recently prompted to articulate these disjointed ideas by a visit during Lunar New year to a Shanghai stationery shop with its own cafe.  I saw the tabletops in the late afternoon sun and was initially deceived into believing that they were built with rough sawn planks.
Surface detail
Oh, the versatility of plastics! I had to look at the end grain to be fully clear about the matter.
Patterned to deceive

Endgrain in plastic is still to be avoided




























The manufacturer had moved up to the next level, not only reproducing the figure of the wood, but also the texture from a coarse bandsawn blade. It's an homage to the Nakashima cult by intentionally making a table that is more difficult to wipe clean. But in melamine for the coffee swilling masses!

It is only a matter of time before the next step is to be achieved. I predict that we will shortly see more examples of this trend to recreate 'real wood' industrially using plastics in the manufacture of Nakashima style furniture. And so I wonder: what then will the upper classes turn to in order to fill out their palaces?

Are there possibly any others who share my blasphemous viewpoint?

31 December 2016

Some Like it Warm

While waiting for the local woodmerchant to get back to me about the inventory SYP in the bigger warehouse, while waiting for a new consignment of lumber to arrive through the port of Shanghai, while waiting for the woodmerchant to find what he considers a quality selection of NanHuangSong Mu, while waiting until after the Lunar New Year, while waiting for some trees in rural Georgia to be milled into construction lumber, I was inspired to add a weblog posting in an effort to appear productive.
I've been following Greg Merritt's weblog, Hillbilly Daiku, as long as I have been writing about my woodworking ventures in the PRC. I vaguely recall first finding his postings about knots and making a fid. And more recently he wrote about his hide glue pots. Certainly one of the impediments to any woodworker adopting hide glue is coming up with a method of keeping the hide glue at proper temperature with a controllable heat source. The days in which an apprentice lad would put the glue pot on the potbelly stove, which he began tending before the tradesmen arrived, are in the realm of nostalgic lore, pace George Sturt.
With my first attempt to work with hide glue, along with a passel of other secondhand tools, I had bought an aluminum double boiler from Ray Iles. I had to run upstairs to fetch the the pot from the gas stovetop. There was no lid and the chilly basement workspace gave me about 30 minutes of working time before the heat had dissipated and the glue pot needed to be returned to the stove. It was the best that I could manage at the time. Hide glue was something that I had only read about and while there were (and are) some purpose built appliances for crafts that require hide glue, notably making stringed instruments, in the incipient Internet era, they were harder to find and out of my price range. 
Merritt, after buying a hide glue pot and warmer set offered by Lee Valley, decided he needed to go to the trouble of converting a wax warmer into a hide glue warmer. After confessing to Amazon's subliminal marketing scheme to impoverish us all, he read about the setup on on yet another woodworking weblog!
I think I could have saved Merritt a bit of cash. I'll explain the setup that I have been using for a few years now. It's interesting that a wax warmer might be so much cheaper than a warmer specific to warming hide glue. I believe that this speaks to manufacturing concerns pursuing the latest aesthetic depilatory craze. An electric appliance that maintains a constant temperature for liquefying wax or reheating hide glue ought to cost about the same price when brought to market. Instead, the former is $29.99 and the latter is $134.99. 
While I'm very much in favor of personal beautification, I chose to adapt my needs to an appliance that is manufactured on a large scale and more broadly used than even wax warmers.
Standard Office Appliance
 As you can see from the photos, this tea cup warmer looks very much like the warmer sold by Lee Valley. I cannot vouch for the comparative quality of its construction, but I have been using it for more than two years. It is preset at 60* Centigrade, a perfect 140* Fahrenheit for maintaining hide glue at workable temperature. Any such product sold abroad would be required to meet higher manufacturing standards for that market. 
Suitable for tea cups or coffee mugs
The tabletop warmer from Lee Valley sells for a mere $9.50. If I were not in China, I would buy that and then do as both I and Mr. Merritt have done: use lidded glass jars for the hide glue containers. In fact, if one looks carefully at the LV warmer, it's clear that is larger than necessary for the diminutive glue pot (1oz.). I use wide mouth, repurposed jelly jars (usually) to act as glue pots. At the low price of free, I can even afford to have two in use at any one time, soaking a new batch of the hide glue pearls in a refrigerator when I notice a low level of a working batch.
The lowcost setup minus hide glue
Another common Chinese appliance that has served me well for woodworking is an electric kettle. On days when I anticipate using hide glue, I remove the hide glue from the refrigerator and set it on the warmer. It's a slow organic process so that I can plan on having the glue ready for use in two hours' time or less.  Before I am about to apply glue, I turn on an electric kettle to have some boiling water handy. I usually fill a disposable cup (since they were available at both locations where I worked) and preheat and soak a brush before inserting this into the hide glue.
There are few demonstrable benefits to this method. Putting the brush into hot water keeps from chilling the hide glue down from repeated dippings. The hot water makes adjusting the viscosity part of the application process. If I need to repair a crack or let some hide glue trickle under a poorly clamped bit of veneer, I first let a thin stream of hot water invade the seams. The moistened and warmed surfaces better ensure that the glue flows inwards more deeply. Lastly, the hot water on hand makes any stray glue drips or misapplication simple to clean up. 
Lastly I never rest my brush in the hide glue and I rinse it clean with hot water after every use.
Where the original was cast iron, this one doesn't cost $47.50.

Lastly, happy and prosperous new year to all.

13 November 2016

The Moxon Vise

Wodoworking projects in China often take much longer than can be anticipated to require. A case in point is a Moxon vise that I have finally brought to completion. I actually started this project two jobs ago when I still could only envision doing woodwork in my Spartan sized apartment. As with so many other devoted followers of Moulariprionia, I had gotten the original impetus from Schwarz' modern interpretation of the Moxon text and sundry weblog postings. I also looked around at different construction methods that had been created since the Schwarz put his imprimatur on the Moxon vise.

Although I looked at some clever models that featured pipe clamps, from the very beginning I knew that I wanted to use wooden threads for two reasons. Any iron surface is always a hazard to sharp edges. Second, The larger threads of wooden screws are inherently faster to use. There was the problem though of not having an ability to cut threads, internal or external, in wood. I've known of this challenge for a very long time. It was the main reason that I bought a Barnes treadle lathe several years back. A problem with using a more common engine lathe is that few of them can cut threads on the low end of the scale, at around 4 threads per inch. I've noticed that Lake Erie appears to have developed specialized machinery for cutting their flawlessly executed wooden vise kits. I hadn't quite perfected my own tooling on the Barnes lathe before I was made homeless but that's another story for another forum.

I had obtained some lengths of roughsawn pine stock that also were put into making low benches for woodworking and seating. Apartment living requires such dual usage. I was anticipating doing much of my handtool work on a beech Ikea slab, once considering that I might rip it lengthwise and double it up for a more massive workbench surface, rendering it thick enough to be used with benchdogs and holdfasts. I wanted something that was easier to clamp down to a bench surface and many designs did and still do require awkwardly supported vertical clamping on the fixed chop.  Attaching the vertical fixed chop to a slightly longer base makes holding this appliance to a bench much simpler to secure. I managed to use this unfinished appliance in the apartment to make a few items by simply clamping the fixed chop to a table and clamping the wood piece with F clamps. Functional but not exactly satisfactory.

While working at Harvey, I was asked to help them analyze and market their latest production lathe model. I thought that it might sell better if it were marketed with auxiliary attachments in order to promote as a home woodshop in one. There are certainly woodworkers who only use a lathe as their principal woodworking machine. I believe that they call themselves turners. I did some research, looking into historical examples and proposed several attachments that could be offered in order to complement the basic lathe: disc sanding jig, horizontal spindle molder, lathe tool sharpening wheels, horizontal drillpress, circular saw table attachment, and even a leadscrew with a thread cutting accessory. Very few of my ideas ever received responses at Harvey. I was fired when a new shop manager was brought in and he's recently moved on to start his own woodshop entertainment center.

Next I dragged my unfinished Moxon vise to Hangzhou when I was hired there to develop an introductory handtool woodworking program. They were slightly more interested in hearing about my ideas for a Moxon vise, at least, initially. I proposed that with the proper thread cutting tools, it would be possible to outfit the woodshop with such devices and to offer a course for students to construct their own. They understood the idea of a Moxon vise because, as I discovered when they suddenly showed me, they had already bought a Moxon vise hardware kit from Benchcrafted. They just hadn't gotten around to building a vise with it. They let me know that they thought the Moxon vise was very expensive. Somewhat disoriented, I countered that by purchasing a German set of taps and dies, we could manufacture as many Moxon vises as we needed and, you know, manufacture and sell such a bench appliance or, even, offer a course for student woodworkers. They repeated that the Moxon vise was too expensive. 10 months later, I returned to Nanjing with the two Moxon vise pieces without having made progress on it.

I came to the conclusion that I would have to buy a set of tap and die myself and bear the full cost. I had already experienced the tool set that is exported from Taiwan and knew of its unpredictable defects. Schwarz has written about disappointment with inadequately hardened blades. I snapped the blade holding croche the first time that I used one. There are various secondhand models on the market, but that's an impractical option in China. The Beall Tool company offers a setup that requires an electric router. I don't want to put myself into a situation requiring one of these ear damaging tailed devices and I find that the threads on their tools are too fine. Subsequently, Saint Roy's suggestion that one can purchase the Beall taps, (a convenient option for those in North America)  and then manufacture one's own box dies was also out of the question. (Season 27, Screwbox for Wooden Threads) I also lack the necessary means for readily obtaining, fashioning, and finally heat treating tool steel.

I hadn't yet learned about China's newly enforced limits on personal overseas purchases and what grief that can cause those who don't purchase through business accounts. My only remaining decision was to decide which size to buy. While I am fairly confident in the quality of Germanmade tools, their prices do cause hesitation without first having tested one. Looking over the progressive sizes of wood thread cutting tools, I determined to buy the largest that I could justifiably afford. My wife refers to these and all others as her tools since I must purchase them using her credit card account and she is decidedly Chinese. The price differential between the 32mm (1 1/4") and the 38mm (1 1/2") sizes was greater than I dared to cross. I felt somewhat confident that anything larger than on 1" (25mm) could also be used in other pending projects such as the Milkman's workbench. I was also more pleased with 4 threads per inch rather than the Beall standard of 5 threads per inch. As an aside, Beall presently only offers tooling for dowels no larger than 1 1/2".  Getting locked into their system has a clear upper limit; whereas, the Dieter Schmidt offerings ranging as large as 62mm (2 1/2"). Well, I can dream.

In order to avoid marital strife, I did as much as possible to keep my total purchase from Dieter Schmidt as low as possible. I therefore did not buy the corresponding drill bits in the same order, believing that I could easily source the 26mm TDS and the 32mm bit for the major diameter. I also had an adjustable square taper auger bit that could create whatever hole I needed it for, at least, in the short term.
Returning to the theme of how much longer tasks in China require, I've not yet been able to buy the drill bits that I had anticipated buying. I wanted to buy bits that I would use with a brace. I have the necessary adapters, the most common of which accepts the standard 1/4" drive (6.35mm). There is another adapter that allows for a 9mm hex drive. This technology is essentially from the Japanese market and some high quality Japanese woodworking tools do show up in China, occasionally and intermittently, it seems. I've written before about the high quality of Japanese hex drive auger bits but it seems that there is not yet sufficient local demand to import them in the larger sizes or for them to appear on the local market from local manufacturers.
I can find 26mm bits with 1/4" hex drives but anything larger requires an expansive drill chuck at the 32mm size. In the short term, I reluctantly bought a set of Irwin auger bits but upon close inspection, I expect to be disappointed with these. The lead screw is damaged from sharpening the spurs. These examples might have been rejected as exportable (which explains how I was able to buy them locally) or else this sloppy grinding is of the standard level of production quality. Irwin saves on production costs by not polishing the interior of the flutes. Painting drill bits, in this case with a very thick blue coating, is an indicator of low quality manufacturing. Lastly, the length of these flutes is only 1 3/4" (45mm). These are likely to be targeted to the tradesmen who don't drill through anything more than a 2x4. Such truncated flutes cannot expect to deliver consistent results and so, at least, until I discover better made drill bits, the 25mm drill bit might ably produce the 26mm TDS that I need.
coarsely and crudely ground

Readily available bits suitable for braces


















A feature that I want to highlight and which I have so far not seen in other models is that I only put internal threads on a block of beech that I attach to the back of the immovable chop. I do this for a few reasons. First, it conserves materials. Beech or whatever hardwood that one chooses for the threaded sections is generally more expensive or harder to obtain than pine or other wood for the bulk of the vise. There is no necessity to making the chops of beech. The thickness of the beech block is ideally enough to allow for 3-4 threads of engagement. Having these as separate elements also helps with long term maintenance. I originally thought that the threads might wear out first, but I am now inclined to believe that the chops will suffer more errant tool damage before the threads wear out. This will allow a user to fabricate a new set of chops and transfer the threaded sections to the new Moxon vise.
Removable threaded beech block

Lower movable chop
Quite a few Moxon vises feature a chamfer on the top edge of the moveable chop, often with an elaborately detailed lamb's tongue, to accommodate the steep angle necessary for sawing the pin board of halfblind dovetail joints.  I've obviated this by making the moveable chop narrower, setting it below the top edge by about half the thickness of the chop. I don't expect a bench appliance to remain pristine so it makes little sense to build it to look so damned pretty.
Cutting the internal threads is the easier of the two operations. The tap drill size (TDS) is, in the case, 26mm. Drilling the hole as squarely as possible will go far in making this vise easier to open and close. The tap requires a standard tap handle to accommodate its 13mm square end. Putting threads on the rod requires considerably more work and care.
I did a test run at making a dowel section after first ripping octagons on a tablesaw. These facets would form the handle section. I made a quick gauge to help me size the rod at 32mm along its length. Ideally one can make this gauge using a 32mm drill bit that will also serve to drill the holes through both chops.  
Gauging the major diameter
It is advised that the dowels be soaked in oil before cutting the threads and I can attest to this method. This does seem to cause the wood fibers to swell. The lesson that I have learned is that the dowel is better off being undersized, which leaves the threads slightly flat and much easier to cut.
One realization that I have learned is that cutting beech with a small V-cutter (larger sizes have two cutters) produces a large amount of heat and the aluminum cutterhead acts as a heatsink.  This operation requires patience but it can also warm your hands.
Using the Moxon while cutting the threads
The one drawback that bears mentioning is that the cutterhead has a lead section that is approximately 1 1/2" (40mm) which leaves some of the dowel without threads. It's hardly a problem on this project but it might require additional planning in other situations.
Unthreadable segment

Schwarz, in his estimable wisdom, has come around to using the same Germanmade tap and die sets. 

10 September 2016

Sichuan Summer Tour

There is another woodshop in Chengdu that is expanding its operation to a more centrally located space. I travelled there for an interview recently. At least according to my wife, from Nanjing it is better to fly into Chongqing and then proceed into Chengdu by railway. Coincidentally it was her goal to also taste authentic Chongqing hotpot. She explained that whenever she tried this style of hotpot in Nanjing with a colleague, she didn't enjoy it.

From what I can gather Chongqing hotpot is distinguished by copious amounts of red chilies and huajiao. The broth is further fortified with an inordinate amount of tallow that is, by many accounts, recycled after use. I didn't eat much of it and my wife learned that Chongqing hotpot is equally intolerable regardless of the city that it is served in.

transportation artery: cars and barges
Chongqing exhibits much of the excesses of development that have homogenized the majority of Chinese cities over the last 30 years. If it weren't for its steep sloped and twisting streetscapes, it would resemble any other repaved urban zone with towering apartment buildings and luxury departments stores hyping the same brands accompanied by the same pulsing soundtrack and frigid blasts through the  doors left ajar to lure in sweatweary pedestrians.
Brightly colored bridge against a drab cityscape
I did find that it was pleasant enough to walk along the riverfront, only having my nostrils assaulted twice by unprocessed effluent that is channeled directly into the river. The many joggers and strollers along the paths also must enjoy these relatively flat and cool stretches.  The one time that we were directed to an as yet unredeveloped slope of the old city, we decided that it was far too late in the evening to pass through safely, and too dark to see much at all.
Some of the hidden infrastructure of Chongqing's past
One distinguishing feature of Chongqing is that its subway system is a monorail that passes through the city on piers more often than underground. We used it upon leaving the Joseph Stilwell Museum since it was rather difficult to find, the taxi driver dropping us off first at the Song Qingling residence. The Stillwell residence was as good as it gets with most Chinese museums. There was a major rebuilding for a few diplomatic visits but it has fallen back into neglect and lack of attention since then. I was eager to move on to Chengdu after two days in Chongqing.

This image and his wikipedia page can teach more about Stilwell than the eponymous museum
The contrasting weather in Chengdu quickly lifted my spirits, atypically blue skies spanned the horizon. On our first night in the city, we found a Belgian ale bar in a converted apartment. Despite being fairly recently opened, the management had dropped about half the offerings on the sturdily bound menu. Negotiating back and forth with the unfazed waitress, we, nevertheless, both eventually found something to savor while looking over the city lights below us. The next day was scheduled for touring the new woodshop and meeting with the proprietor of the expanding enterprise. The newer woodshop is located on the groundfloor of a midrise as part of a economic initiative zone. I know that many IT nerds like to do woodworking, but I wasn't yet prepared to be working so close to them. I was also introduced to the manager of an incubator project that provides support for startups and research teams of established businesses. Consequently, there is a Starbucks around the corner.

And that's where the high-tech visions and my handcraft teaching skills encounter their first rub because the woodshop's description began to transmute into more of a makerspace and moreso something even more abstractly defined. The youthful entrepreneur had studied architecture at the University of Wyoming, I think, and was deeply impressed with his experiences there and the handskill level of his fellow classmates, already well established at the beginning of the program.  From his direct experiences, he understands the broad potential of a well managed and stocked woodshop, which is more than can be said for other woodshop startups in China. But in his present setup he had also had some positive experiences with team building, which he wanted to continue in the newer location. He also spoke about creating a space for prototyping which would require, at a minimum, lots of programmable CNC (4 axis?) and 3D printers, and whatever else might attract members with its novelty. The floorspace started to feel smaller, the more he spoke about future plans for the woodshop.

I had seen some photos of the original workshop from wechat and so I asked to be given a tour. After we left the main city, the car weaved its way through a winding maze of an industrial zone that was slowly being relocated, too. I gradually understood how its location hampered efforts to develop it as a school. Even local taxi drivers find it difficult to deliver students to the woodshop.

The original location has a high ceiling to dissipate the heat and provided enough space for a second floor loft that was closed in for quiet needs. Woodworking is a lifestyle movement in the PRC. This was made evident by the open hearth (!) and the wet bar at the main entrance. The lifestyle facility now needs to get closer to where the lifestylers work and work/live out the rest of their lifestyles. The more centrally located woodshop won't be opened until October of 2016.
Traditional ornamented bridge (rebuilt in steel and reinforced concrete)
Dujiangyan is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of China's great hydraulic wonders. I've wanted to tour it ever since hearing about it although I was prepared to be disappointed. The results of having visited are mixed. As with all cultural relics in China, it's essential to understand as much as possible before arriving because there are very few explanations at the actual site. Dujiangyan is not as obtuse as that but there is not much of the original structure and only a brief demonstration of how the original system functioned until the 20th century when it was all rebuilt in concrete and powered sluice gates.

Modern sluice gates on the (岷江;  Mínjiāng)
There were replicas of the macha and zhulong, but only a very attentive observer might comprehend that this method required human labor to place and remove the barriers according to seasonal and meteorological waterflows. There is a brief panel that describes the use of fire and cold water to break through the rock harder than the bronze mining tools of the day could manage. I immediately thought of Livy's account of Hannibal's passage through the Alps. Even with this knowledge, it remains unclear where this process was put to use.

Despite my routine complaints, I wholeheartedly recommend Dujiangyan for anybody in China to pay a visit. It's enough out of the way that it's a destination world heritage site. For anybody who needs a break from Shanghai or Beijing, it's a refreshing getaway. The gardens associated with Dujiangyan ably complement the water features.
Garden Framing Feature


Topiary and Bonsai
The gardens are both built for pleasure and with a botanical program. The other botanical gardens I have toured in China have never lived up to the name. These gardens had species trees with QR codes affixed to the trunks, allowing smartphone users to get a link with information about the trees. The only problem that I saw with this is that for a few trees, the QR codes were set back so far from the path edging that a studious visitor needed to trample the planting beds to get within an arm's length of the posted QR codes.


Rustic gazebo
Joinery and Toenailing



















The gardens have many well executed design elements as well as several examples of timberframe structures that are noteworthy. There was a rustic gazebo that at least had some mortise and tenon work in its braces. I didn't get a chance to observe the joinery upclose so I cannot say whether the braces are primarily functional or decorative.
Timberframed gate
There was an interesting example of a roofed garden wall gate. I passed under a similarly constructed colonnade. It was showing signs of water damage that might be due to improper installation or lack of maintenance.
Precarious tiles under colonnade roof
One difficulty that I have when looking over Chinese timerframing is not knowing what best practices are or even whether they ever have existed. Aside from the fieldwork and analyses done by Liang Sicheng, I don't know of any contemporary publications or ongoing research on the topic. Schools of architecture have their obligatory models of dougong roof brackets but the students can make little more than the models.
Meretricious Dougong
With the renaissance in timberframing in the USA, there have been a revitalization in certification for timberframing professionals and an inclusion in building codes. By contrast, on the mainland, qualifications for the building trades are generally unknown and building codes are only haphazardly enforced. If there are competent timberframers on the mainland, they are few in number and dying out.
Pendants and lanterns
I noticed one element in the buildings that I saw repeated that merits examination. I've not been able to find a definitive name in western or Chinese sources. I refer to it here as a pendant or eave pendant since it (ostensibly) supports the lowest purlin. I was able to photograph a closeup example of one on some commercial construction outside the gardens, which attempted to imitate the traditional wooden buildings and alleyways that, as a rule, have been razed.
Eave pendant closeup
Looking at this example above, I don't see much advantage to this element other than offering a decorative feature. There is very little grain at the top of mortise to support the weight onto the projecting beam. Its strength is further compromised by cutting out a cradle to receive the round bottom of the purlin, which is shimmed, reducing the surface contact. The pendant appears to only be held in position with nails. The wide fascia is also only held in place, in this example, with nails driven into the end grain of the rafters laid broadly to make channels to receive the unglazed barrel tiles. If there is a structural value to this element, this example, and indeed, this application undermines its utility. It is also used in other buildings. There are other examples of pendants used for decorative purposes.

Painted pendant elements
It's hard to see, however, whether they are necessary as structural components. It is also a feature with dragon beams where the joinery is decidedly more complex. In this example, it is easy to see how little the pendant does to connect the purlin to the beams. It rests almost directly atop it. The painted brackets are merely decorative as they are attached here with nails.
Octagonal Purlins intersecting pendant


Dragon rafter resting in pendant



Pegged pendant
Other examples show the same element integrated in different ways.
Examples with secondary beams.
























In these two examples, separate beams are mortised into posts that are inserted into a low mortise on the pendant.I cannot see what this beam and lengthened pendant add to the overall structure. The mortise weakens the corner post with no apparent benefit and the through tenon is vulnerable to water infiltration being so close to the drip line. A 45* brace would certainly be better applied here. There is even this example showing a crippled beam carrying a pendant.
Questionably crippled beam
I cannot say whether this is considered a valid manner of dealing with short beams or a workman's attempt to cover up his mistake. As much as there seems to be no clear model of best practices for the timberframing, roofing tiles are also applied in an inconsistent manner. These tiles below might be recycled, which I have seen done elsewhere but mostly for repairing roofs, or a moss mixture might have been applied to create an instant aged look. While touring this commercial area, construction was ongoing and expanding.

Rusticated tiles and rusting nails
The main problems happen at the eaves, leading to the fascia rotting prematurely due to persistent dampness from precipitation. Again, it's hard to judge what best practices are but I think, at a minimum, dipped galvanized nails are in order.
Evidently misapplied roof tiles
I have never seen a metal drip edge applied on the mainland if it is known of. Since these are relatively new structures, it's likely that the workmen are making up the rules as they teach themselves.
Seemingly better applied roof tiles
Surprisingly, this length of roof tiles are on the same building, showing none of the water damage as further above.
The above example is also from the same building. Arboricidephobia is evidently not only a problem at historic sites in the USA. I wasn't able to photograph higher view due to glare, and this same tree's branches were also damaging the eaves of higher levels.
Despite the above negative examples, I am optimistic about the trend in Chinese timberframing. Unfortunately, this movement will probably be spurred to react decisively only when the losses are irretrievable and the intrinsic value of this craft are recognized outside of the mainland. I've seen a few examples of timberframe restoration, notably in Shanghai and Hangzhou. The main obstacles are the same as for the improving the skills in other building trades: low wages, and low respect for manual labor; and a paucity of information in Chinese (for those who can read). I did see some specific examples that offer some hope for the craft.
Finger scarf
The workman who created this scarf joint could have saved time by simply crippling this fascia board, but instead he spent more time laying out and joinling it. Only a diligent observer can appreciate the effort from the street level.
Recycled handicraft
This porch post is clearly recycled from a demolished timberframe application. While I disagree with its particular placement, its reuse shows a respect for the craftsmen who originally fashioned it.
Clever upgrade or hack job?
This last photo can shows something creative but it's not clear whether it's positive or less so.