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A traditional furniture conservator, restorer and maker discusses his life experiences and his philosophy of work. If you love marquetry this is the place to discuss it. All work is done with hand tools and organic traditional materials and methods.
Updated: 14 min 19 sec ago

The Risk of Living as a Process of Life

Sun, 09/17/2017 - 3:40pm

On the Bench I Saw a Holdfast 
Next year I will be entering my 7th decade on walking on this earth.  I am happy and healthy and I have no immediate needs.  I cannot complain, but I do it anyway, just for sport.

A few years ago I was on a cruise ship and I made it a daily ritual to approach the front desk and complain about something trivial, like a pen that didn't work or something.  The patient young lady at the desk was named "Lovely" and she was, always smiling at this funky old man who stood in line to complain about nothing.  At the end of a magnificent cruise, just before I left the boat, I approached her one last time.

"Good morning, Mr. Edwards," she smiled pleasantly.  "How was  your cruise?"

I said, "I want to register a complaint!"

I paused just long enough for her to think to herself, "What is it now?"

Then I said, "There's nothing to complain about!"

In my mind that was funny, but I can understand how she must have been relieved that this was the last time she would have to talk to me.  She smiled nicely and said, "I look forward to seeing you again."  She was one of the most optimistic and happy people I have ever met.

Life is a process, getting through every day with as little pain as possible and as much pleasure as you can create.  If you are happy then the people you meet will be infected with happiness.  Life is also a great risk.  The only certainty of living is that we will eventually die at some point.  Knowing that I will be 70 puts a rather uncomfortable limit on the time left to do the things I need to do.

On the other hand, celebrating the past 50 years of living as a woodworker has been very satisfying and I hope that the rest of my time in this business will continue as much as possible with the same satisfaction.

People I meet often say that I don't look my age.  My hair is not grey, my face is not wrinkled, and I am still very physically active.  I usually tell them my secret rules for a good life:

Go to bed at 9 and get up at 5.  Eat healthy organic food.  No alcohol, drugs or tobacco.  As little social life as possible.  Most importantly, work every day at a job you love.  Live with passion.

This year I have been invited to return to Williamsburg as a speaker.  They are celebrating their 20th annual Working Wood in the 18th century conference, and the topic is "Workmanship of Risk: Exploring Period Tools and Shops."  I am honored to be included.  My good friends, Roy Underhill, Peter Follansbee and Don Williams will also be presenting, along with staff members of the Williamsburg cabinet shop and curatorial departments.

For the project we will be discussing an amazing marquetry tool box lid,  currently on loan to a museum in England and the property of Jane Rees, a tool historian who lives there.

Her website is: Jane Rees, Photographer and Tool Historian

Jane will be bringing the tool box lid to the conference and she will be discussing its history as well.  I look forward to meeting her and listening to her perspective on woodworking tools, many of which I use on a daily basis in my profession.  She has been kind enough to send me detailed photographs of the marquetry, and those which I post here are under her copyright protection.

When I "retired" from my career working in High Energy Particle Physics, back in 1973, I made a conscious decision to abandon technology and live, as much as possible, a pre industrial life.  Of course I own a car, but I walk to work every day.  Of course I own a clock but I never use the alarm.  Of course I have a computer but I killed my TV.  Of course I have a woodworking shop but I never use power tools.  My lumber is naturally air dried over many years.

Early on I was influenced by David Pye, who introduced me to the "Workmanship of Risk" and the "Workmanship of Certainty."  Recently I read his book again to prepare for this conference.  It still resonates with wisdom and insight.

I have struggled to reduce his philosophical perspective to simple concepts that are more easily transmitted to students who are curious about how I approach my work.  There are three elements to working wood: Worker, Material and Tool.  The difference between "risk" and "certainty" is in the relationship between these three elements.

In the "Workmanship of Risk" approach the Worker manipulates the Tool against the Work.  Using basic hand tools, like a chisel, plane or saw, the Worker learns to control the Tool and takes risks producing the final Work.  Learning from his failures the Worker gains a deep sense of pride when the Work is successful.

In the "Workmanship of Certainty" approach the Worker manipulates the Work (material) against the Tool.  If the Tool is properly adjusted then the result is certain.  Setting a fence on a table saw to 2" produces a 2" board every time.  The Worker basically is feeding the Machine.  If the Worker wants a better result he purchases a better Machine.  Thus consumerism was created by the Industrial Revolution.  Bigger, Better and Faster.  Also Cheaper!

The pride of ownership replaced the pride of workmanship.

The marquetry tool box lid, which is the centerpiece of this conference, is very interesting.  My initial analysis from photos is that it represents several different historic marquetry processes, and was probably made in England around 1800 or so.  It shows a worker at the bench, surrounded by his tools and work, drinking a beer.  This image is in the center of a sunburst ray of veneer with flowers on the corners and decorative banding around nicely figured crotch mahogany ovals.

I can identify "tarsia geometrica" and "tarsia a toppo" and "tarsia certsonia" and I am researching the images provided by Jane for evidence of "Classic Method" but so far the results are inconclusive.  There is also a great deal of tinting and additional decorative lines in both black and brown ink.

I will be producing copies of each of the decorative marquetry elements in this lid for the conference, and the Williamsburg cabinet shop is actually making a full tool box copy to complete the lid.

I can easily relate to the image of the woodworker as executed in the center of the design.

Working At the Bench

He is surrounded with the necessary hand tools of his trade: the glue pot and brush, mallet, hammer, planes, drills compass, square, chisels, hand saws and the toothing plane (under the beer.)  On the end of the bench he quietly admires the result of his hard work and experience: a decorated tea caddy.  Tea caddies of this style were purchased by wealthy clients who could afford the elaborate marquetry decoration shown on this example.

Put Down the Hammer and Pick Up the Beer

This worker is dressed in fine clothes, representing a good income and his respected position in the professional trade. He would fit right in with the other workers at the shop in Williamsburg or in any shop in any large city at that time.

His face shows the faint glimmer of a smile.  His work is done for the day.  He is satisfied with the results.  His reward is a tall glass, with a nice head of foam.

Tomorrow he will deliver the tea caddy to the client, and get his well deserved paycheck along with sincere appreciation for a professional job well done.

Categories: Hand Tools

WPE and OBG and ASFM return to MASW!

Tue, 08/01/2017 - 8:27am

A French Marquetry Atelier in Indianapolis

I am pleased to be invited back for another teaching period at Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

I enjoy the atmosphere and support by the staff at MASW.  It is an environment which is full of energy and ideas.  The students all work together and many of them seem to actually live there full time.  Some of them really do.  Others return again and again to share and learn more about different and diverse aspects of woodworking.

I also enjoy meeting other teachers who are working there at the same time.  These are professional woodworkers that I read about and follow online, but, without actually teaching at the school, I would never have the opportunity to spend quality time with them.

This year I am teaching three classes, and I welcome you to check out the schedule and see if there are any openings left.

The main class is, as usual, working a full week with the "chevalet de marqueterie."  Marc has made 8 of these tools, and it is exciting to see (and hear) a full class sawing away, cutting precise elements from marquetry packets.  I should mention that in North America there are only three schools where you can have this instruction.  Paul Miller, in Vancouver, is a past student of mine and has the Canadian School of French Marquetry, with 4 chevalets.  Of course, I was the first to open such a school, the American School of French Marquetry, in San Diego.  I have currently 8 such tools, and have ordered more from David Clark, in Missouri.

David Clark has set up a business making custom chevalets, following my blueprints, and builds tools that are cost effective and precise.  His website is www.chevaletkits.com.

A few years ago I convinced Marc to also build 8 such tools and he sets them up each year in a classroom for me to use.

Waiting for Students to Arrive

All instruction is following as close as possible the lesson plan developed by Dr. Pierre Ramond, who taught for decades at ecole Boulle, in Paris.  I was fortunate to have studied under Pierre for most of the 1990's, and have dedicated my teaching career to continuing his efforts.  French marquetry is the only method in the world which uses a horizontal blade, cutting the packet at 90 degrees on a special tool, the chevalet.

There is more information about this process in previous posts.

This year, from October 9 to 13, I will teach a 40 hour class on French marquetry, focusing on the Boulle process (tarsia a incastro) as well as the Painting in Wood variation of this process, depending on the student's experience and goals.  If there are any returning students I will be happy to include the Classic Method ("piece by piece").

Simple Method for Veneering Columns

On October 14 I will spend the entire day teaching about my method for gluing veneer onto turned wood elements, like columns.  Years ago I had such an article published in Fine Woodworking ("Master Class") and one of my pieces with veneered columns was on the back cover.  I have worked out a simple method which is easy and low tech.  You can turn the elements out of any wood you want and then veneer them with exotic veneer to match the rest of the project.

On October 15 I will follow up this with a full day discussing the properties of traditional protein glues.  For nearly 50 years I have used protein glues exclusively, and have researched them extensively.  I was involved in an international conservation group in Paris that did specialized research into these glues and I have developed my own liquid protein glue formula, Old Brown Glue. I will be sharing my knowledge and experience about how these different protein glue work and what you need to know to use them in your shop.

As they say, "It is worth the price of admission."

I look forward to meeting you there.  Contact www.MARCADAMS.COM for more.
Categories: Hand Tools