Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Competence Project, Bowl Me Over

Ha, ha. Isn't that a funny title? If I were still on Facebook, I'd have just been blocked by several friends. Oh, wait, you haven't read the post yet. Even less funny.

I'm a sucker for all those gorgeous wooden bowls you see at farmers markets, the kind that look like they were carved straight out of the stump of a tree and yet smoothed by silkworms. (Does that simile work? Probably not.) So I asked how a rustic woodworker would make those things. "You need a lathe" was the answer, and evidently not an option for rustic woodworkers. I haven't vowed allegiance to any particular kind of woodworking; this just happens to be the teacher I have access to, and he's awfully good. Why we can use drill presses and table saws and sanders, though, and not a lathe, I haven't worked out. Nor could I see how the option he gave me -- an axle grinder -- made the piece somehow more authentically rustic. I mean, an axle grinder. Here I am working it. You know what I'm thinking? "This is freaking insane. Please don't let me lose my grip on this and slice off someone else's fingers." Also, my mouth was full of wood flakes. They went well with the (organic[raw]) almonds and (organic[unsweetened]) dried cranberries I'd brought for lunch.

When I finished, I found that my hands were abraded to the point of bleeding, all over, from the flecks of wood flying everywhere. What I had started with was a cedar knot that was just lying around the workshop. Dan sliced the bottom off with the table saw (he didn't trust me with the table saw yet, quite rightly; he shouldn't have trusted me with an axle grinder, either), helped me clamp it tight to the table, and I dug out the middle with the grinder.

Like the pine-top table, it took me a long time to work out a shape to finish this in. There's so much flexibility with raw wood. It's limiting in a way, no rules to follow. But fun. I could see myself living as any number of Tolkien characters with the stuff I'm making. (The proliferation of raw wood products, barely finished and oozing forest, is starting to concern my husband, who prefers antique, highly varnished furniture off-limits to cats and, um, children.)

More of my crappy photography. These were taken with an iPhone. I don't like iPhone photos. The colors always seems wrong. (Actually, I just don't like the way the iPhone takes pictures of me.)

I finished this with the same stuff I use on my skin -- a homemade lotion of beeswax and almond oil. (Learning to make lotion was, of course, another competence endeavor, and depressingly easy. I can't believe how many years I've paid significant chunks of cash for a product that, if made at home, costs little, uses only a few [or even only two] all-natural ingredients, and takes about twenty minutes. I can make it while dinner's cooking and I'm watching The Big Bang Theory.) Actually, I finished it with that first and then re-cooked the lotion and added coconut oil to make it more human-skin absorbable. (What atrocious syntax.)

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Competence Project, Living with Ugly

The table on the right here was actually given to me as practice by the workshop teacher, Dan Mack, who by the way does magical things with rustic wood furniture in addition to teaching and writing books on the subject. I think I chose the legs -- it's been a while -- but he chose the top, this odd trapezoid of pine (table on the right). The legs are a) on the left, something I can't remember but think might be oak; b) on the right, driftwood; c) at the back, peeled maple.

Anyway, it took me over a year to finish this thing because I couldn't figure out what shape to make the top. I didn't like the trapezoid option, but I'd already drilled the holes for the mortise and tenon joints and they didn't leave much room to get inventive with the shape. In the end I went for something pretty basic and mostly just sanded down the corners to round them out.

It matches our floors almost perfectly. Isn't that hideous? But I like the bottom, even though I can't look at it most of the time. It reminds me of a glacier valley, or the colors of rocks under a rushing river in the Rockies. And the shape looks nice from the side. Turning the legs around was a big improvement over that wide-legged stance. That reminded me too much of so many men on the subway taking up all the space.

All in all, I'm not thrilled with this table. It doesn't have the weight I'm looking for, for one thing, which I'm sure is a psychological problem. (Part of this whole competence project, I've realized, is a craving to feel more rooted or grounded or something; I should just wait a few decades and they'll have a pill for that. Or an app.) But it's not bad. Maybe it needs staining to bring its disparate parts together.

Or maybe I should pretend it's a high-fashion model. The legs have that kind of ultra-skinny catwalk look. Except with the knock-kneed cutesiness of a Care Bear.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Competence Project, Middle Ground

A little over a year ago I started work on these two tables. I talked myself into thinking the one on the right was like a man standing wide-legged and dominant, but with a delicate top; and the other was a woman with a leg kicked out and a grounded, authoritative weight for the top. Gender role reversal. Except actually I was just at a workshop trying to figure out how to make a stool and these were the result of screwing around.

I really fell in love with the trunk slab, which is a chunk of maple that the teacher had found cast off in scrap at a local sawmill. If I weren't such a crappy photographer you could see the deep saw marks on its top.

It took about five months for me to finish the maple table. Because I have a job and kids and really important stuff like my novel and memoir and loads of essays to finish and peaches and tomatoes to can and even more important stuff like making sure I never miss out when a new season of Doctor Who is released. Also my husband had to buy me an orbital sander for my birthday, which allowed me to see what that slab of maple actually looked like.

I am totally in love with this table but leave further commentary to your own imagination. It makes life worth living. I've shown my love for it by already marking it with my 5 a.m. coffee cup. Oops.