Sunday, May 17, 2009

What We Learned

Hi Folks
So, our final critique is this Thursday at 12.15.

I thought now would be a good time to compile all our collective wisdom on what went well and what I might change about the course next time. Of course, we endured much externally-imposed hardship this semester: several weeks with no dust-collector, dull planer and jointer knives, limits to how many people could work int he shop at one time, and so on. But let's compile a list of the little things we learned that could be useful in future iterations of this course.

Here's my list:

1) Stick with my guns about having everyone do the same basic project. There just isn't time to consider multiple different table designs. Trying to figure out how to realize these different designs lost us a class period or two, which we couldn't afford to lose.
OKAY, you're right, folks, the freedom was worth the time lost! But yes, there do need to be limits! The problem was trying to explain why several variations did not fit the bill at all, and couldn't be done with mortise-and-tenon joinery.

2) As much as I love white oak, it's much harder to work than, say, walnut or cherry. And, as we learned from David Jackson, the Californian white oak is itself more difficult to work than "Eastern" white oak.

3) Always use the "zero clearance" table-saw insert in combination with the tapering jig, to avoid scraps getting caught in the insert.

4) We should have a class-specific crosscut blade for cutting the shoulders on our tenons, etc. Some people managed to check out the sharpest blade while some people got a dull blade which resulted in tearout.

Exciting new things:
It sounds like we will be getting a new (old) Oliver mortising machine for the shop. This is the same machine the Kentucky woodworker in one of our videos, used! This might knock about two weeks off any future projects involving mortise-and-tenon joinery! It will also virtually eliminate the whole chiselling component of the assignment, which means also the chisel-sharpening component... kind of sad, yet most people won't think so.

Okay, please add your own suggestions here.


Robert H said...

1) As far as the table designs are concerned, i feel that it was not a waste of time to allow some flexibility. Some people, myself included, may have underestimated the amount of time it would take to create some of these extra elements, however for the most part things seemed to work out very well. I think wrestling with new ideas and applying what we learned in the class about the properties of wood adds valuable critical thinking and problem solving elements to the class that would be somewhat lacking if people simply followed a "safe" set of directions for the same design. Also, creating the same shaker design would make the blog responses somewhat pointless if we were not going to get any ideas from them.

2) I learned that despite the use of modern machinery designed to significantly speed up the process, woodworking is still a very time consuming process. In the future i will allow double the time i think it will take to complete a project to account for anything that goes wrong.

3) All things change. Whether it be the shape of the wood due to warping or the edge of the blade due to use. Nothing will be in the same shape that you left it for very long. Wood working seems to be thirty five percent cuting and joining with the other sixty five percent spent sharpening and honing. Much of this is probably due to the fact that the we are sharing tools with half the school however, so when i we all become master woodworkers we will have our own tools that we can horde.

4) The Planer and joiner are amazing. I just really enjoyed using them.

5) Cut everything sparingly the first time. Shaving off extra wood is a hell of a lot easier than trying to do the whole thing over again because you cut off too much.

6) A good combination square is your best friend. I don't know how i ever made anything without one before this class.

Overall i really enjoyed this class more than i expected (especially gluing, its kind of an adrenaline rush) and would like to apply some of the joining, gluing and honing skills to some of my work. I also wouldn't mind making a chair or something for a nice downtime activity(a cabin in Alaska wouldn't be so bad either).

Nancy Sevier said...

You get amazing results for all of your hard work!
I thought having people make joints as a test run was an excellent idea.
Suggestions: maybe move into the table project sooner. Require the wood sooner?
If at all possible, demos early in the class are better than any as late as 3:00 or even 3:10. Not enough time to clean up afterwards and get to the next class across campus if it was late in the day.
But you are always up against obstacles. Great class!

Anne Taylor said...

Here's my list and responses to Shannon's:

In reference to Shannon’s 1st note:
Do think you’d get a bunch of artist, myself included, to be happy by requiring them to all make the same table. It was nice to personalize the projects some, though I must admit I over did it with my initial not realizing what I was getting myself into… but the problem solving was a great part of the learning process. Maybe providing constraints like – no drawers, no shelves to keep it simple. But it seem to work out, the class has made some amazing tables.

I definitely put western white oak on my list of not to do again, no wonder we got a good price. I should have stuck with my initial plan of cherry. But now I know better, nothing like a lesson learned from doing…

Labeling the blade, bits for the class would have been a big help. I never knew whether I got the sharp blade even when I asked.

As for the new mortising machine—a big YEA!! from me on that. Though I was one of the odd ones that enjoyed the sharpening lessons…

It was a lot of info to take in when it came to putting it all together to make the table happen. I would have liked to have had reserved time in the shop for the class time so it could have been more sane when starting the project at least. An outline of the key steps needed and maybe certain check in points to keep on time and on track with the objectives would have been helpful too.

But hey! I made a table, something I never would have attempted otherwise, especially starting form rough lumber. Much more impressive than a set of bookshelves. Thanks for a great class!

Robert H said...

I think that i might have answered that wrong it just seems like i put down a bunch of things i will do differently next time. I don't really have that many qualms with the way your class was structured. The exercises involving making the joints ahead of time was a good idea. It allowed us to make all our mistakes ahead of time so we don't destroy our wallets buying new wood for our tables. One practice that i feel not enough instructors now days incorporate into their curriculum is simple multiple choice tests on process and vocabulary. I know it sounds juvenile to assign a vocabulary list, I thought so initially, but in one of my art history classes we had a mandatory vocabulary list to compile based on every reading and it was instrumental in ensuring that we really understood and could discuss what we learned in a coherent manner. You would be amazed at how many people just gloss over loaded words in reading. As far as this class is concerned its more a matter of knowing what your asking for at the shop desk. I hated asking Steve for the "Yellow Rollie thing." and the "marking dohicky" Then again it might be a time consuming mess that would interfere with valuable work time.

Squerl said...

I am excited indeed about the Oliver mortising machine. That was the hardest part, not the chisel sharpening but the actual chisel Mortising. However, I am glad I took this class wherein we had to do it the old fashioned way because it makes me feel more macho or macha, if you will, and also a bit more Socilist, the political philosophy of choice for woodworkers (*refer to the Arts and Crafts movement which is discussed on blog.) I love to know that I can do things with out being dependent on machines, (especially expensive machines.) But praise God for Phil and Aiden who helped me so much and of course for our "Way beyond Formal" Professor- Shannon Wright I learned what good teachers they all are.
Brothers and Sisters:
We had many external forces----dark forces hindering our progress this semester yet we persevered and we triumphed.

That said, and this is a real stretch, If I had to teach this class ...(cough, sputter,) I would have a real tight schedual:

Weeks 1. and 2. Spend only four classes on videos/ handouts and assigning the blog research. Make the blog a weekly entry with a managable word limit. Send the kids home with the directive to be Reading all handouts, choosing a table design for next class. Furnish them with that nice list you made of
"Steps for making a Table"
so that dummies like me have a clue of what to expect sequentially.

Week 3. Monday: Discuss and Wed.: choose table designs.

Week 4. Take field trip to the wood stores that Monday. They should have read their wood handouts by then and it would be possible to do a quickie tour of all three in one day. If kids aren't ready to buy wood then, make them have it by Monday of week five. Meanwhile that Wed. do only the mortise and tenon joint demo and have kids do sample joints only of those. Over achievers can do what they want for extra experience in lab time.

Week 5. Monday: All wood present and stored in room. Finish the mortise and tenon sample joints.
Wed:Turn in the sample mortise and tenon joints.

Week 6. Demo the jointer, planer and saws and have all kids do a practice cut on each.

Week 7. Spend the whole week having kids plan out how to cut up their wood boards to make their particular table. I think you could assign a basic table and allow more ambitious students to alter the design with your ok. All students designs, mark up of wood in accordance with their plan should be ok'ed by S.W. or T.A.'s prior to cutting the real wood. Return the graded sample joints. If kids have problems- have a TA work with them one on one.

Week 8. It's a free for all after this because each tablemaker has a different ability and access to tools and equipment. I think many of us required hands-on help with each new phase of the process. Essentially though, by week eight you are cutting some real wood. Have them make the tops and aprons because that is the easiest, makes storing their wood more managable, and gives saw practice, plus they will then have the aprons to tenon later on after the legs are completed.

If a tight schedual is implemented up front- the tables will be completed on time and if there is time left over, Take a field trip to a museum that houses a fine furniture collection such as the Legion of Honor or ??? Have esoteric discussions about different eras in furniture and the socio-political influences that shaped them...or you could build furniture out of recycled non furniture items the other joints and or lathe project. We could look for antique bars and resturants that have excellent examples of wood working...ha ha.

Whatever you do, include milestone dates, (target and outer limit dates,) for completing each phase of the process. That way you will have more time to do the things you like to do best instead of having to help us on your weekend. Squerl

Shannon Wright said...

Robert, I'm not looking for your "qualms" about the class! Just little things I ought to remember before the next time I teach it, like that you guys hated the white oak.
The thing is, there's a whole separate "Furniture Design" class, and I'm not trying to be redundant with that. This class is supposed to be all "practice", while that one is all theory.

Andrew said...

Three or four suggestions:

1. Provide a list up front of every task that is needed to make the table. Much like the list you provided in one of your last posts. I'm not sure, but I don't think we ever had this comprehensive list in one place. Also, provide a rough idea of how long each of these tasks (or groups of tasks) should take. It was hard to pace the whole project without knowing how long certain stages were meant to take. I found cutting the joints was a huge time sink, and sanding took longer than expected. It would be easier to budget the total time with a road map of the entire process.

2. Re cutting joints, it was never clear exactly what combination of saw blade, sliding table, stop, etc. was required to actually achieve the "perfect" joints that we were expected to produce. If there really was one set up that worked, it should have been explicitly identified: use this blade, this table, this stop, this method, whatever. Because it was hard to meet the expected standard when dealing with all the variables. Maybe the mortising machine will make this moot. But if you still teach the drill and chisel method, then either get a combination that works, or relax the standard a little bit on the joints. (E.g. "slight gaps are ok, just continue on to the next stage".) I didn't feel we really had "permission" to keep moving, even though it was really hard to get the joints right.

3. Storage was a problem. If it would be possible to get a storage space on the first floor, that would be a huge advantage. Also, what about 'reserving' a few lockers right near the woodshop for your class?

4. Whatever happened to that guy in Alaska? We still need to know.

All in all, a VERY educational class, I think we covered so much, and all of it good stuff.

Shannon Wright said...

Hey Andrew
the problem is, slight gaps aren't okay! It's not an aesthetic thing, it's just a fact that there has to be a friction fit between the mortise and the tenon in order for the glue to function, by expanding and interlocking the fibres of the wood. Yes, I'm anal, but this part isn't the same as inadequate sanding or something like that.
And unfortunately, we have to work with the shop with all its constantly mutating flaws-- table saw trunnion possibly not perfectly square in relation to the table slots that the sliding table runs in, Steve setting limits on shop capacity, etc. But I understand your frustration!

Andrew said...

you might need this:
"Minä olen todella anaali!"

Shannon Wright said...

Okay, Andrew, I'm afraid I haven't learned any Finnish yet. Help me out here. And explain: do you speak Finnish?

Andrew said...

I think it means "I'm really anal" in Finnish... no, I don't speak Finnish, just used one of those web translators... so maybe you'd better check with a real Finn before using this phrase!