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Giant Cypress

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A monk asked Joshu, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming to China?” Joshu said, “The oak tree in the garden.”A monk asked Zhaozhou, “What is the living meaning of Zen?” Zhaozhou said, “The cypress tree in the yard.”
Updated: 17 min 9 sec ago

Roger Moore, in The Guardian:The sad fact is that I know exactly...

9 hours 16 min ago

Roger Moore, in The Guardian:

The sad fact is that I know exactly how to make a dry martini but I can’t drink them because, two years ago, I discovered I was diabetic. I prefer one with gin, but James Bond liked a vodka martini, “shaken not stirred” – which I never said, by the way. That was Sean Connery, remember him?

The worst martini I’ve ever had was in a club in New Zealand, where the barman poured juice from a bottle of olives into the vodka. That’s called a dirty martini and it is a dirty, filthy, rotten martini, and should not be drunk by anybody except condemned prisoners.

My dry martinis taste amazing and the day they tell me I’ve got 24 hours to live I am going to have six. Here’s how I make them:

Great guy. I hope he had his six.

(Photo from Flickering Myth.)

New paint colors invented by neural network

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 6:38am


So if you’ve ever picked out paint, you know that every infinitesimally different shade of blue, beige, and gray has its own descriptive, attractive name. Tuscan sunrise, blushing pear, Tradewind, etc… There are in fact people who invent these names for a living. But given that the human eye can see millions of distinct colors, sooner or later we’re going to run out of good names. Can AI help?

For this experiment, I gave the neural network a list of about 7,700 Sherwin-Williams paint colors along with their RGB values. (RGB = red, green, and blue color values) Could the neural network learn to invent new paint colors and give them attractive names?

One way I have of checking on the neural network’s progress during training is to ask it to produce some output using the lowest-creativity setting. Then the neural network plays it safe, and we can get an idea of what it has learned for sure.

By the first checkpoint, the neural network has learned to produce valid RGB values - these are colors, all right, and you could technically paint your walls with them. It’s a little farther behind the curve on the names, although it does seem to be attempting a combination of the colors brown, blue, and gray.

By the second checkpoint, the neural network can properly spell green and gray. It doesn’t seem to actually know what color they are, however.

Let’s check in with what the more-creative setting is producing.

…oh, okay.

Later in the training process, the neural network is about as well-trained as it’s going to be (perhaps with different parameters, it could have done a bit better - a lot of neural network training involves choosing the right training parameters). By this point, it’s able to figure out some of the basic colors, like white, red, and grey:

Although not reliably.

In fact, looking at the neural network’s output as a whole, it is evident that:

  1. The neural network really likes brown, beige, and grey.
  2. The neural network has really really bad ideas for paint names.

I’m impressed by how many of these look like traditional milk paint colors. They have terrible names (Hurky White), but a lot of the colors fall in the traditional colonial milk paint palette.

There’s a followup with more colors and terrible paint names (Farty Red, which may actually be an awesome paint name) here.

It was 50 years ago today.

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 3:08am

It was 50 years ago today.

Sprawled Below Tables and Chairs

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 3:08am
Sprawled Below Tables and Chairs:

Suzanne Ellison, on the lengths folks will go to in the pursuit of figuring out how furniture was made:

We still need those curious and intrepid souls who enjoy exploring out-of-the-way shops and regional museums and know how to charm their way into taking a closer look at that one piece that has caught their eye. If need be, they are perfectly willing to sprawl on the floor and get a bit dusty.

I completely understand. In the course of visiting the Chinese furniture collection at the National Museum Of China in Beijing, I managed to come away with this photo of a Ming Dynasty table.

The two Japanese tools I found at Handworks 2017: a dozuki used...

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 3:38am

The two Japanese tools I found at Handworks 2017: a dozuki used by David Barron to make dovetails, and a Japanese spokeshave at the chairmaking area.

Even though this seemed to be the entirety of the Japanese tool representation, Handworks was still completely awesome. I hope that it comes around again.

Roy Underhill, doing his thing at Handworks 2017, and showing an...

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 3:08am

Roy Underhill, doing his thing at Handworks 2017, and showing an example of a saw that goes the wrong way.

Hey what kind of straight edge do you use for tuning your planes?

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 7:14am

I have a straightedge made by Matsui. (I think that’s the name of a company, and not a blacksmith.) It has a notch cut into it so that you can place it on the sole of the plane with the blade in cutting position, which is really nice. Having said that, you can probably get the same result with a piece of extruded aluminum and a Dremel grinder.

Clouds. Soft and fluffy on the outside, turbulence monsters on...

Thu, 05/18/2017 - 7:09am

Clouds. Soft and fluffy on the outside, turbulence monsters on the inside. On my way to #handworks2017.

Jim McConnell, from his excellent blog The Daily Skep:Last week...

Wed, 05/17/2017 - 3:08am

Jim McConnell, from his excellent blog The Daily Skep:

Last week I went to visit someone in the hospital and found that nearly every surface in their room had a wood grain pattern laminated onto it. It wasn’t wood, of course, but it was made to look as wood-like as possible. The intent of the designer was to create an inviting atmosphere conducive to healing, and yet running my hand over the wood-like plastic left me confused and cold. It was a mixed message.

For me, all of this reinforces the belief that there is something deep in our psyche that thrills at the natural and dramatic variation in wood, and connects to the tactile warmth under the fingers. Consequently, there is something that comes un-moored when these touch-points are absent. This connection is so powerful that even fake wood is better than no wood for some people. For the rest of us, this is why we work with wood.

This photo is from my day job. It’s a part of the hallway in the pediatric surgery suite where the kids are rolled in and out of the operating room. Even though the kids won’t be touching the wall, since they’re on a stretcher, and even though the amount of contact time that the kids have with this section of hallway is measured in seconds as they wheel by, I find it significant that we went to the effort of making this small part of the hospital more inviting by putting these panels on the wall, even if we had to settle for fake wood.

Just in case Japanese chisels with multiple hollows weren’t...

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 3:18am

Just in case Japanese chisels with multiple hollows weren’t fancy enough for you.

(Picture from [究]刃物道.)

A new handle for a maebiki

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 3:58am

A while back I picked up this maebiki, and although it’s been a great prop for my Japanese tool talks, the handle had become loose to the point where it was easily falling off by itself.

A close look at the handle shows why. There’s a crack in the handle, and that is the back of the tang peeking through the crack. Apparently whoever made this handle positioned the slot that receives the tang in such a way that the back of the tang was just underneath the surface of the wood. Not a great design decision.

I found a scrap piece of 8/4 cherry that I thought would make a good handle.

I resawed the piece of cherry, and made a template of the tang of the saw. I positioned the tang in such a way that there would be plenty of wood on either side of it. I also used the old handle as a template to sketch out the outline of the new handle. I was careful to make the outer lines of the old handle follow the natural curve of the grain of the new handle blank.

I used chisels to chop out the slot that would receive the tang, and I used a router plane to clean up the bottom.

I then glued the pieces back together, and used the old handle as a template to mark the top and bottom of the new handle. I converted the oval shapes of the top and bottom to rough octagons, and connected the corners of the top and bottom octagons to mark the layout lines for shaping the handle.

I used my Japanese jack plane to plane away most of the waste. Note the thick shavings I was pulling off for this step. For a task like this, you don’t want to spend time creating gossamer-thin shavings that float on air. After I got close to my lines, I used a finer Japanese plane for final shaping. 

As it turned out, when I took the old handle off the maebiki, I found that the tang was bent and twisted. Despite my worst fears, after creating a makeshift anvil out of a chunk of wood. I was able to pound out the bend and twist in the tang with a hammer. The saw was perfectly straight after that. I finished the handle with some boiled linseed oil and a few coats of shellac. After that, it was just a matter of tapping the handle onto the maebiki.

Here’s the new handle. Not only is it firmly on the saw, I think it looks nicer than the old one, if I do say so myself. The new handle has a bit of a faceted appearance, but it seems to be more comfortable to hold compared to the old handle, which was more round. The more I look at the old handle the more surprised I am at how rough a job the maker did in shaping that handle. There are clear gouge marks all over it. The surface of the new handle is considerably nicer.

I might know more than your typical home center employee, but...

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 3:28am

I might know more than your typical home center employee, but not more than this guy.

Warning: rated R for language and content, and NSFW. Luckily, it’s Friday. Have a great weekend.

Giant Lion Sculpture Carved from Single Tree Trunk Took 20 People and 3 Years to Complete

Wed, 05/10/2017 - 3:58am
Giant Lion Sculpture Carved from Single Tree Trunk Took 20 People and 3 Years to Complete:

Golky, on a wooden lion sculpture installed at Fortune Plaza Times Square in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China:

The massive redwood lion was carved out of a single giant tree trunk by renowned sculptor Dengding Rui Yao and a team of 20 sculptors in Myanmar, over a period of three years. Once complete, it was transported 5,000 kilometers, arriving in China in December 2015. 

The Hardwood Derby at Fine Woodworking Live (or, Reason #68 why New Jersey is better than New York)

Mon, 05/08/2017 - 3:08am

I’m so happy to report that my Japanese plane car won the “Funniest Car” award at Fine Woodworking Live’s Hardwood Derby. Here’s how I made it.


I started with a Pinewood Derby car kit, mainly to get the wheels and axles. I took a piece of Japanese white oak that’s typically used to make a dai, milled it to the size of the pine blank for the body, and then laid out the lines needed to locate the throat and mouth of the dai. If you want to get one of these kits, go to your local Boy Scout/Cub Scout store. You can get these at hobby stores, but it’s not clear to me that the Boy Scouts or Cub Scouts benefit from those sales.


After that, it was some chopping to clear out the mortise and the mouth of the dai.


I went through the whole process of making a Japanese plane body, including sawing out the side grooves that hold the plane blade in place. The rules of the hardwood derby said that you couldn’t use metal, so I made a blade out of a piece of ebony instead.


And here’s the final result. Most Japanese planes have the blade set at a 40º effective cutting angle, but since this was a hardwood derby, I set the plane blade at 45º. That’s also why I numbered the car 45. The blade has the Chinese character for “car” carved into the face of it, just like the calligraphy you see on a Japanese plane blade. To make it clear that this was a Japanese plane car, I applied a Hello Kitty sticker to the front. And the wheels give this car two points of contact on the sole, just like a real Japanese plane.


Matt Kummel had the same idea, but with a western plane. 


Action shot.


And as you most likely have heard by now, Dyami Plotke took first place with his blue-colored Timberstrand car. I feel proud that my carpooling partner and I combined to take two of the trophies.


At an event like this, everyone is gunning to build the fastest car. The third award for Best Craftsmanship could have gone to any of the excellent craftsmen at this event. Providing the most entertainment value, however, would be the hardest thing to pull off at this race. And it was a guy from New Jersey who did that.

Upcoming talk on Chinese Furniture

Wed, 05/03/2017 - 5:58am

The North Jersey Woodworkers Association is nice enough to have me come back to give another talk. This time I’ll be covering Chinese furniture, and why western woodworkers should know and care about this great woodworking tradition from the other side of the Pacific.

The meeting is at 7 pm on Monday, May 15 at the at the Allwood Community Church, 100 Chelsea Road, in Clifton, NJ. There isn’t specific information on the talk on their website yet, but it should be there soon.

The NJWA is a great bunch of woodworkers, and if you live in the northern part of New Jersey and don’t belong to a woodworking club, you should join these guys.

Directed by Jonathan Demme.

Sat, 04/29/2017 - 2:48pm

Directed by Jonathan Demme.