09 August 2018

Latest Project; New Tools

two round planes
My most recent project left me with a dilemma. I've been using three sources for this reproduction effort, which I shall write fully about anon. The piece is full of interesting details, each with its merits and relevance. In particular is a crown molding detail that required me to consider purchasing new tools to adequately complete it or to get by just using card scrapers. Since I am in China, I must abide by the market limitations in choosing what I can reasonably obtain.
Mujinggfang is a woodworking tool company that I have written about and critiqued previously so this essay follows in that vein. I was able to buy these planes readily from Taobao, guessing at what sizes might suit my needs to create the cove of the lower section of the molding. The planes are marked as veining planes, which likely accords to their intended uses in Chinese woodworking, which I cannot comment on because I have never seen anybody using these planes in China. As such they don't conform in terms of geometry with European style hollows and rounds.
Not quite circular but roundish
I bought 6mm and 10mm models, thinking that I could makedo within this range. I knew that I could rough in the contours by ripping on a tablesaw but that refining the profiles with only a card scraper would be too tedious.
After receiving the planes, I set about to sharpen them. I found that the blades can do with an upgrade. It's not clear why there is a slight taper along the length but this isn't even the main problem. The blade appears to be stamped out of a rather soft steelish metal. I noticed while lapping the back of one that the length appeared warped; so with finger pressure, I merely pressed it flat enough to continue. Yeah.

The bed angle is at about 45 degrees but that is about the only overlapping feature. This is not a side escapement so keeping the throat clear is markedly more difficult, As can be seen with the above wedge, it doesn't have a flat bottom. I don't know whether I have a faulty model or this is how it is supposed to look.
Roughed out cove and astragal
Adjusting this plane is also very challenging. Since the plane has such little mass, the blade cannot be tapped back with a hammer. The small chamfered head of the wedge makes tapping it forward and retracting it also a challenge. I managed to shape the cove section of the molding. Upon reflection, these veining planes are likely intended for making fluting on furniture elements. They were difficult enough to use in SYP so I am mystified as to how Chinese furnituremakers, who routinely use tropical hardwoods, manage to use these same planes effectively.

The completed molding profile
I don't have many complaints about the results. I was in a bind and these planes helped me out. And so I present a sample as a teaser for those who follow as to what the ongoing project is. I shall be writing more fully about it and offer a critique of its significance.
Happy Summer

01 August 2018

Real Wood Needs a Better Name

Seating furniture which only great designers could imagine
I've written a few times about the manner in which plastics have altered our collective perception of modern material culture, namely plastic items made to resemble wooden objects, and the ways in which industry has both exacerbated and exploited this uncertainty. Even as one can observe trends, it's difficult to both accurately identify the causes and, importantly, to give such a phenomenon a proper name, which is easily associated and neither too narrow nor too broad in scope. Recently I came across the above example that compelled me to finally find a name for this undeniable phenomenon that according to the trends, which I have been witnessing with growing alacrity, is getting only worse and more comical.
Barked as in nature
I first came across these images on a Chinese WeChat thread where they were likely reposted from this website.  It's indicative of how fast these viral images spread that reveals how much so many see such design features as desirable. I can only directly comment on the situation in China but even citizens of the middle kingdom only casually interested in woodcraft salivate upon seeing such products.  This is a country built of concrete with few forests. Most interiors are finished with plastic surfaces that is not expected to last long. The desire to recover a market friendly idealization of the natural world might explain some of the appeal. 
Real Masonite on an Ikea 'real wood' cabinet
In at least one essay, I recall putting quotes around 'real' to highlight how industrial designers go to extremes to demonstrate that their products are constructed of real tree material, even when they are constructed of plastics to some degree. These ironic quotations marks have lost their meaning now that I notice that craftsmen have also incorporated such extremes to proclaim that real trees were killed in their craft. This is no longer a phenomenon limited to industrial design and manufacturing. It's sad when the standards and aesthetics of industrialists redefine those of handicraft. I don't think that Nakashima personally has this mind but this is where we find ourselves. Industrial woodworking manufacturers first duped consumers into believing that uniformity and glossy surfaces were the marks of quality furniture. As it happens, that is also what industry consistently produces the best! Similarly, the fashion industry must love that consumers have become so willing to buy clothes that have been intentionally torn and ripped. Because the holes makes them more real according to the common wisdom of fashion magazines!

Ragged chic in the prezombie apocalypse era
And in deference to all fashion victims the world over, I came up with a name. The best term is to refer to this trend as Real! Wood in the same pathetic vein that the GOP tried to rebrand the other Bush for president as Jeb! as though a bit of punctuation would override all the associations with his brother's disastrous and ruinous presidency. Did I mention criminal
Looking at these rebarked chairs and wondering how the bark (is it even of the same tree species?) has been affixed to the surfaces, I recall a story of a similar theme. It happened that a master housewright was involved in a dispute with an architect as to the reconstruction of historically accurate slave cabins at a very progressive living history museum. The drawings of the cabins showed the logs having retained their bark. The experienced housewright mentioned that even if the bark were not manually peeled off, it would drop of its own accord after a season of weathering. The architect insisted that for the sake of rustic authenticity that slave quarters would have the bark reattached to abide by his vision. While the specific wording of this spirited academic debate is lost to the mists of fading memories and professional decorum, one member of this conversation felt compelled to submit his resignation over the architect's aesthetic insistence. I even had a chance to chat with the housewright but I only have heard this eventful story secondhand.  Calling out nonsense is seldom popular. Consumers who buy purposefully torn trousers with holes made in them by anonymous tailors in third world sweatshops believe that they are acting fashionable and expressing their indivuality; not mindless and duped. The world is much better off for his stand.