Thursday, February 26, 2009

Being Screwed: Reflections

"Good work leaves the world enriched and not diminished" -- Scott Russell Sanders, The Force of Spirit

One of the perils of being an independent craftsman is that you're a slave to the vagaries of your own aging body. When your body works, you work. When your body doesn't -- well, you can spend a lot more time blogging.

This x-ray shows my new, improved left foot. Four weeks ago, as I lay on the operating table in a very pleasant narcotic-induced fog, far away I heard someone drilling. I wasn't entirely sure, because I was singing to myself at the time; I think it was Knights in White Satin. But then I heard the unmistakable squeal of a screw snugging up in something hard: though the neurons weren't firing at peak efficiency, slowly the realization formed exactly what was being drilled and screwed. "Hey, that's my foot!" I giddily announced. Everyone in the green outfits seemed surprised by this information, I assumed because they'd been wondering where the noise was coming from, too. Then I noticed some movement behind my right shoulder where Mr. Anesthesiologist was standing, and I woke up with a cast on my foot

To move from feet to furniture: Although even in the orthopedic world there are joints fancier than screws, for my toe, screws were the best choice. As a furniture maker I often make the mistake of trying to build everything more perfectly than the integrity of the work demands. It costs money and the work's no better for it. Dovetails are perfect for drawers, but a waste of time on my feet and sometimes on a piece of furniture when a simpler, faster joint is better. Anyone with a little patience and unlimited time can eventually master the craft; the real challenge of being professional is knowing where to spend time, and where not. In my own professional life I constantly evaluate what makes work good, and what will make it valuable in the long run.

Friday, February 6, 2009


Thanks to the benevolent insistence of the Vermont Department of Public Safety, I have a spray booth in my shop. While I certainly whined about the cost -- I sprayed finishes for over twenty years without one -- now that I have it I really like it. It makes it a lot easier to get a wide variety of quality finishes, and hopefully I'll stay a little healthier to boot.

Because I have this facility, some of the other local furniture guys have asked me to do finishing for them when they need something special. My friend Dan Mosheim built this beautiful Macassar ebony cabinet; it needed a really deep, lustrous finish to set off the elegant abalone inlaid rosette and sumptuous materials. Dan wanted a finish with enough warmth (amber) to highlight the ebony, but one that wouldn't drastically change the color of the shell. We decided on precatalyzed lacquer.

I applied three coats and sanded it flat to be sure the pores of the ebony were filled, then sprayed three more coats on top. Normally I would smooth the finish with fine steel wool and wax, but it looked and felt so good right from the gun that we were afraid to do anything else.

The piece has a lovely depth of finish without being garish; I think it's the platonic ideal of elegance.