Tuesday, December 20, 2011

'The Itty-Bitty Pieces of Wood' Mash-Up... And Sounding It Out

What would you call the effect of chopping up pieces of wood, gluing them together, slicing them up again, and gluing them together again (and slicing and gluing again if leisure permits)? Would the timber's tinder have a timbre, a tonal personality? When you pick it up, what sort of music would you play with it? Someone trained in the tradition of building instruments, a luthier would know best. Musicians eventually discover that woodworking and music are historically intertwined- let's say it: "woven"- with one another. I'm interested in how different woods are combined for aesthetic appeal using any iteration of two primary techniques: one is cosmetic, as in wood inlay and marquetry design, and the other is structural, as in combining wedges for the body of a lathe-turned bowl.

Bowl by Jim Sprinkle 
includes copper metal with choice hardwoods 
Both processes incorporate disparate grains and colors of wood toward a single, planar surface. You see it on furniture, small goods, musical instruments, and even on bicycles. As I had attempted to use inlay on my table project this semester, I'll describing inlay and marquetry that appears on musical instruments. 

In the Baroque period (16th century, as in Louis XIV), when rich people could afford music education in their own homes,  music was composed for small ensembles (chamber music) to play in front of a small audience in a small space. Did I mention that the emphasis is on smallness and detail? I would imagine that the same applied to furniture then, when Islamic art had considerable influence on the visual Baroque style.Luthiers would imitate "strapwork" on lutes, any carving or arranging of wood so that it appears to be woven together geometrically. (Winternitz) 

Marquetry refers to the application of a slice of wood to a bigger piece of wood to create an image. It's also called veneering. Where geometry is vastly repeated as on wood floors, the term parquetry is used. Buhl (German) or boulle (French) is the use of brass, shell, or other materials in achieving similar effect. Intarsia is the Italian word for combining woods in reference to the technique of knitting to weave different colors of yarn together. In addition to that, purfling is a technique used purely cosmetically to distinguish joined planes of wood by introducing a thin band of a different color, while "binding" is a band of inlay with used to mechanically close the edges of the instrument so that the end grain is no longer exposed, which means it is protected from cracking in the future. 

Many terms in Western lutherie and music derive from Italian, Germanic or Franco vocabularies as a result of the widespread European mercantile and artistic influence in the 16th and 17th centuries. For instance, archette (bow), rosette (the embellished sound hole)... etc. It is hard to tell when inlay was first used because early uses of wood predate historical documentation in any part of the world. However, due to the volume of French and German scholarly writing on classical stringed instruments, their history is easy to acquire if you can read in those languages. (Try a query for "marquetry," "luthiers," and "instruments" within the King Library collections, and you'll see what I mean.)  

Violins and cellos built by the famous luthier families of Europe, such as Stradivarius, tend to be appraised higher in the string market. It's due in part  ; contemporary instruments of the same quality will not come as close in value. It is due partially to the acclaim of the family, the amount of money they made off of rich 
Historical accounts of professional marquetry occur in rural towns of England, Japan, and Morocco. That's most of our 
hile the lack of copious writing on the craft is attributed to the "folk" nature of building musical instruments- those who were considered experts in the field did not function traditionally as those writers or scholars who published literature.  Trevor Semple and Anne Cole are exemplary luthiers who thoroughly document their processes for plebian curiosity- now, practically everyone with a computer and an internet connection is literally able to share in woodworking techniques, including the itty-bitty-teeny-tiny stuff.

Kayak by Jürgen Köppen,
binding on the ends


Annette Otterstedt, "Investigating Green Marquetry on Bowed-String Instruments. The Leaves Be Greene," The Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 54 (May, 2001), 330-338.

Emanuel Winternitz, "The Evolution of the Baroque Orchestra," The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, Vol 12, No. 9 (May 1954), 258-275.

"Luthier,"  Wolfram|Alpha knowledgebase, 2011, http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=luthier

"Marqueterie,"  Wolfram|Alpha knowledgebase, 2011http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=marqueterie 

"Marquetry," Oxford Dictionarieshttp://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/marquetry?q=marquetry (accessed 13 December 2011).

Maximiliaan Ruttern, "The Art Case Piano," The Galpin Society Journal, Vol 58 (May 2005), 168-172, 227-229.

Zachary Taylor, Marquetry & Inlay Handbook, Sterling Publishing Co, 2003.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Alvar Aalto

Alvar Aalto was a well known Finnish architect and desinger, who also worked on textiles and glassware. During his time, Aalto had many clients who were industrialists since his career was parallel with the fast growth of industrialiazation and economic growth in Finland. The span of his careers went from the 1920's to the 1970's and his style of work included Nordic Classicism, International Style Modernism, and Oranic Modernist Style.
Alvar was born on February 13, 1898 in Finland. His father was a surveyor and his mother was a postmistress. In 1916, when he was 18 years old, Aalto enrolled to study architecture at Helsinki University of Tecnonology and graduated in 1921 at the age of 23. After graduating from the university he returns to his hometown in Finland in 1923, where he opens his first architectural office. Aalto was well reknowned for his architecture in his hometown since most of the buildings were built by him. He is known as one of the most influential architects in the style of Nordic modernism. In 1925, Aalto completed his first public building a workers club for his hometown and two defence corp buildings.
Aalto would later shift his designs from classicism to modernism. Aalto completed the Viipuri Library and the Paimio Sanitorium, architecture pieces that caught the world's attention and made him well known. Later Aalto would experiment with woodwork and move awaya from the style of modernism. His first experiment would be building a luxury home for a couple in 1939 which turned out to be a success. His sucess and growing fame led to him being invited as a visiting MIT professor in America. He taught his students about architecture and also helped design one of the dormitory buildings on campus. After teaching at MIT, Aalto returned to Finland rebuilding the school where he was taught about architecture. After his death in 1976, his wife took over his architecture office and created works such as, city theaters and an opera house.
Aalto went through many different styles including Classicism, Modernism, to experimenting with his own unique style. He was involved with many projects like city planning, architecture, furniture, interior design, glassware, and even painting. Majority of his projects/buildings are in Finland but some are spread across the world including the U.S., Germany, Italy, and France. Of Aalto's 500 planned buildings and projects, 300 were built. Some of his experimenting on his style led to to invention of a new form laminated-bent plywood. Another invention by Aalto is his high stool and stool e60 which are used in Apple stores to seat customers.

Julia Weber: Slöjd – an educational approach to wood working

The Goals of Slöjd Education:

To instill a taste for and an appreciation of work in general.
To create a respect for hard, honest, physical labor.
To develop independence and self-reliance.
To provide training in the habits of order, accuracy, cleanliness and neatness.
To train the eye to see accurately and to appreciate the sense of beauty in form.
To develop a sense of touch and to give general dexterity to the hand.
To inculcate the habits of attention, industry, perseverance and patience.
To promote the development of the body's physical powers.
To acquire dexterity in the use of tools.
To execute precise work and to produce useful products.

Otto Salomon, 1900

The Scandinavian Slöjd system was developed and promoted by Otto Salomon (1849-1907). Salomon was intrigued by the idea of making physical work an element of general education. He believed that we learn most effectively by doing things with our hands and developed a system for a craft based training. He put his theory into practice by founding a vocational school for boys in 1872, a vocational school for girls in 1874 and a teacher training school for slöjd teachers in 1875. All of his schools were located in Nääs near Götheburg in Sweden. From 1882 onwards Salomon concentrated his activities on the teacher-training school, lecturing and organizing for the further training of elementary school-teachers. This training scheme was designed so that serving teachers could obtain handicraft teaching skills, in addition to the ability to teach theoretical or academic subjects. In educational slöjd each student was put through a course of making models based on everyday, functional objects, along the way learning basic woodworking techniques and a range of organizational skills.

Slöjd is an old Scandinavian word that comes from the adjective slög that means ‘handy’. Slöjd means ‘craft’ or ‘manual skill’. About 1885, Salomon used the expression pedagogisk slöjd (educational sloyd or craft), defining it in a school and educational context. In his introductory remarks from the Teacher´s Handbook of Slöjd Otto Salomon made clear that, educational slöjd was not to be mistaken with the work of an artisan trade. Slöjd was meant as an educational approach without the economical considerations of a trade. Various materials such as wax, clay, paper, pasteboard, wood or metal could be used in educational slöjd. Wood slöjd and the so called slöjd carpentry has been the most popular of all. While slöjd carpentry and ordinary carpentry used the same raw material (wood) and to some extend the same tools, they differed from each other in many ways. The objects produced in slöjd carpentry were usually smaller in size and bounded by curved outlines. The most characteristic tool in slöjd carpentry was the knife while the carpenter prefered the chisel. The working conditions of the slöjd worker were much more primitive than those of a commercial trade and a division of labor was not allowed.

The goal of educational slöjd “lies in rightly directed bodily labor, as a means of developing in the pupil´s physical and mental powers which will be a sure and evident gain in life” Educational slöjd brings forward “pleasure in bodily labor, and respect for it, habits of independence, order, accuracy, attention and industry, increase of physical strength, development of the power of observation in the eye, and of execution in the hand (Otto Salomon).”

Teaching slöjd was a very methodical educational approach that followed a strict set of rules and guidelines for the teacher as well as the student. Salomon broke down woodworking into a series of very simple steps that could be mastered in turn. First using a tool in a particular way, then doing a simple project, then progressing to slightly more complex methods and projects. The teacher had a guiding role in Slöjd education. While the student was supposed to work independently and accurately, the teacher role was to be as passive and unobtrusive as possible. He should never touch the students work and in his instruction he should give as little explanation as possible to encourage the student to use his own hands and head to discover the right way. Each student was supposed to have his own workbench and his own tools, both should be labeled with numbers. These tools included a knife, trying-plane, jack-plane, square, marking gauge, compasses, rule or metre measure, and scraper. Students were responsible for keeping the tools in an assigned space and in good working condition. During their work the students should avoid talking and remain at their bench, while the teacher moved from student to student. The students were not allowed to sand their piece until it had been examined and found sufficient by the teacher. After working, the students put away their tools and cleaned up the workspace.

Educational slöjd helped students develop in many ways. They learned hand eye coordination obviously but also accuracy, learning the importance of quality in workmanship and learning to understand and honor handwork and physical labor even if they were not going to work as artisans. Thousands of teachers from all over the world attended classes at Nääs. Some of the countries, in which slöjd was successfully introduced were the UK, the US, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Cuba, the Scandinavian Countries and many more. Currently, slöjd is still part of the compulsory school curriculum in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. In Sweden, students choose between wood and metal or textile sloyd, and in Denmark all three materials are compulsory as individual subjects; and in Norway they are united into one subject called forming.

Young boy at his workbench:

Sloyd School, Welland Plant, ca. 1915:
Source: http://playbuildmake.blogspot.com/2009/09/educational-sloyd-naas-sweden.html

Video about educational Sloyd (PBS, The Woodwrights Shop: Who wrote the book of Sloyd?):

The Teachers Handbook of Slöjd by Otto Salomon:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rojana Ibarra:Wood Jewelry

Wood Jewelry has been around from the beginning of time and now has been getting a new look with the use of modern technology. Before people only had natural resources such as wood, bone, teeth, leather, and stones to create jewelry. While now we have much more tools and technologies to create these wearable natural works of art. Once thought as tribal and native, wood jewelry is now seen as more contemporary and chic. This semester in my intro to metalsmithing class we worked on creating mostly jewelry, this got me thinking and I thought what about wood jewelry and and combining the two. So I started to look up wood jewelry and fell in love with some of these creative designers.
Anthony Roussel creates beautifully intricate jewelry that are works of art. Roussel bonds thin layers of wood such as birch, sycamore, ash, maple and walnut and then uses the latest technology in designing his jewelry. He works with 3D software, CNC routing and milling machines, laser cutting and or etching, and water jet cutting methods. He uses digital software to create his designs then laser cuts them to seal the edges. He then finishes them using eco friendly milk based paint.
Bangle Bracelets
Gustav Reyes has very sleek and contemporary designs such as this necklace titled: Tie Me Not Neckpiece.
Reyes makes this necklace out of either 3-4 different types of woods: walnut, maple, cherry and/or rockelm. Each piece of this necklace is hand formed using a cold bend process, and finished with natural beeswax. The cold bend process is where a piece of wood is put in water before it is put into a mold and bended to the desired shape. He also is using salvaged wood in his pieces, which is inspiring and eco-friendly. He uses wood from old instruments such as bass violins and xylophones to other things like baseball bats. He re-purposes salvaged wood from one form and function and transforms it into a new shape and function.
Good Wood NYC is a company started in 2007 that uses techniques such as engraving, hand sanding, and painting to create fashionable jewelry and accessories out of wood.
In researching I also found out about many different techniques there are in creating wood jewelry from carving, lathing, and even mixing it with different materials such as precious metals and stones. The plus side is if using salvaged wood or remnant pieces you are being more ecofriendly and helping the environment. The possibilities of materials are endless and I hope to start experimenting myself on creating some of my own unique wearable works of art.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

milk paint


for my next project I want to make part of an illuminated manuscript but really big and only a couple of letters, so I started looking at the illuminated manuscripts that have been around forever and noticed that along with all the beautiful gold was color that enhanced the gold, so I was trying to think of what kind of paint I would use for this glorified illuminated manuscript on wood. I want to use something that has some historical meaning as well as being very earth-based, natural, to really employ the richness I am looking for. Oh, also I need to have a good red and blue. I talked to a friend of mine the other day and he started talking about this stuff called milk paint. I did a little investigating into this stuff and as it turns out learned a bit about the history of paint as well as. Here is what I found out-

Milk paint has been around for thousands of years. It has been revealed that ancient artwork found on cave walls was applied using a form of milk paint. Artifacts including models of boats, people, and furniture found inside the burial chamber of Tutankhamen had been painted with milk paint. Supposedly the vibrancy of the milk paint color on these discovered pieces is quite remarkable. As well as for its decorative use the milk paint possesses protective properties that add to the durability of painted surfaces. It has been used for centuries to paint furniture, homes, barns, and artwork.

The "recipe" for milk paint is very environmentally -friendly; it is composed of natural ingredients- milk protein, lime, and earthen pigments. One of the drawbacks to the paint, though, is that the shelf life is not more than the length of time it takes for milk spoil, so one has to mix up a quantity that can be used up quickly. Milk paint paved the way for the creation of oil paints. By adding linseed oils, olive oils, animal glue and waxes, milk paint became very durable and could last indefinitely. Unfortunately other more toxic ingredients like lead and mercury were added as well. In 1868 the first patent was given for metal paint can with tightly fitting top and of course the commercial oil paint industry began. Then after WW ll chemists worked on developing new formulas for paints that were less toxic. In 1970 lead and mercury were no longer allowed as ingredients for commercial paint.

The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company was established in 1974 and has been making milk paint with the original safe ingredients since then.

So there you have it, what I think I will use for the colored part of my illuminated manuscript on wood. I have never really delved into the history of paint and now I feel a little more knowledgeable and am ready to make some of my own to try for my project.

I did find a recipe, so now all of you can try this too:

Milk Paint Recipe
1 quart skim milk, at room temperature
1 ounce hydrated or slacked lime by weight. This is available at building centers. Do not use quick lime which is a component of concrete and mortar since it will react with the water in the milk and heat up. Hydrated lime has been soaked in water then dried.
1 to 2 1/2 pounds of chalk may also be added as filler. Finely ground natural chalk can be found in the section of home improvement centers where cement is sold or pool supply retailers in 3 or 10 lb. packages. If you omit the chalk you will basically have a stain, which works well, especially on unfinished wood.
Stir in enough skim milk to hydrated lime to make a cream. Add the remaining portion of skim milk. Now add sufficient amount of powder pigment to desired color and consistency. Pigment powder must be lime-proof. Stir in well for a few minutes before using. For best results continue to stir throughout use. Apply milk paint with a cheap natural bristle brush. Allow project to dry sufficiently before applying next coat at least 3 to 4 hours.
Once the paint is completely dry, you can add 2 coats of color free furniture wax to protect the finish.
note: you should use your milk paint within 3 0r 4 days since the milk will go sour. Refrigerate before and after use.

A Few Ancient Boat-Building Techniques

Aside from terrorists, everyone loves boats. It is no surprise, then, that they represent one of the oldest modes of transportation known to date. Excavated remains in the 7,000-10,000 year old range, along with circumstantial evidence associated with the settlement of Australia and Crete (40,000 and 130,000 years, respectively), suggest that we have been nautically inclined for a good portion of our history as a species. If aliens came to Earth any earlier than the Mesolithic period, and brought advanced vehicles with them, they cleaned up after themselves fairly well. Until such evidence becomes apparent, we shall have to stick with boats. Over the centuries there have been myriad types and construction methods, each adapted to unique needs and resources, though for this entry it seems best to focus on a few types that seem particularly relevant to my own work. I have a soft spot for ancient fabrication technologies, and this is something of a wood-oriented course, so newfangled composite materials and ultra-modern construction methods have no place here.

The oldest floating stock were most likely plain logs. Eventually our early ancestors seemed to realize that by making adjustments to the shape of a large piece of wood, they could achieve increased maneuverability, greater stability and ample space for themselves and their belongings. These dugout boats, known for their durability and ease of construction, have been used throughout history (continuing to this day in many parts of the world). Production is fairly simple. After acquiring a log or tree trunk of suitable dimensions, shipwrights cut the exteriors to shape with the tools at their disposal (stone and bone, followed later on by metal). Though the keeled, pointed bow and stern configuration is common, changes were often made to the design based on intended use (those navigating shallower, calmer waters often opted for flat-bottomed designs with an asymmetrical plan). Once the exterior was shaped to specification, the interior would generally be hollowed out by notching (cutting a series of parallel grooves across the span of the hull, then chipping out material between the notches until the desired depth and profile are achieved), or by a controlled fire (in which coals are placed onto the surface of the wood until sufficient material is removed, leaving burnt wood to be removed by an adze or similar tool). Once a rough shape was attained, the interior would generally be dressed out using smaller hand tools. Once smoothed and shaped, boats were ready to be used, though outfitting was often required based on use (sea-going vessels were often fitted with sails and/or outriggers for increased stability and efficient propulsion on longer voyages).

Where the available wood was of insufficient size for dugout construction, it became necessary to use other production methods. In parts of the world, framed boats with bark (in the Americas) or stretched hide (among the Inuit of the Arctic, Bering and North Atlantic regions) hulls became common. In the ancient Near East, however, planked construction (in which planks of wood are – often, though not exclusively - attached to a timber frame for shape and structure) set what would become the standard of shipbuilding for centuries to come. In 2000, an expedition uncovered what turned out to be the oldest known planked vessels at Abydos (Upper Egypt). A fleet of 14 ships were discovered in brick graves previously thought to be architectural walls. Though much of the hulls had deteriorated, their shape was luckily preserved by the excrement of wood-eating insects, who left behind a perfect copy of the structure in their wake. Analysis of the remains determined that planks were fastened together using mortise-and-tenon joints, then sealed with reed bundles (the remains of which were found at the site). A later variation on this method, using a free tenon instead of one left attached to a plank, became the standard in the Mediterranean (though the Egyptians were never known as much of a sea-faring people). Interestingly, these boats (associated with an early dynasty) seem to have been built from the outside in and without any internal framing, which accounts for the warping seen when taken out of the water. Based on their location and orientation (facing the Nile, and roughly a mile from a set of royal tombs), these boats are thought by archaeologists to have been meant for the Pharaoh's use in the afterlife, and stand out for their ritual significance as much as for their striking construction.

You might be wondering what work I might be imagining that involves ancient boat construction, particularly dugouts and Egyptian funerary vessels. I shall leave it to this: it involves a Coptic monk, a shark-man, the apocalypse and a coyote. This has been a good semester.

A log floating in some water; this is where all the trouble started.

The Pesse Canoe
8040-7510 BCE

The Great Canoe (Haida)
American Museum of Natural History

Boat Grave 10
Abydos (Upper Egypt)
Second Dynasty (c. 2675 BCE)

Khufu Ship
Giza Pyramid Complex
c. 2500 BCE


Adams, Jonathan. "Ships and Boats as Archaeological Source Material." World Archaeology 33,

3 (February, 2001): 292-310. Accessed December 11, 2011.


Vinson, Steve. "Ships in the Mediterranean." The Biblical Archaeologist 53, 1 (March, 1990):

13-18. Accessed December 11, 2011.


Waterbolk, H.T. "Archaeology in the Netherlands: Delta Archaeology." World Archaeology 13, 2

(October, 1981): 240-254. Accessed December 11, 2011.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Henrique Oliveira

So upon browsing laminate wood artI came across this interesting image. It looked like dirty water, but a closer look revealed wood. To add to it, the medium is a recycled material, found local to the city he is from, Sao Paulo, Brazil which to me is something I appreciate.

His installations occupy the entire room and almost seem as if the room itself is some creature or is being transformed. There isn’t much about his process, other than he laminates and bends the wooden pieces. But his work evokes movement, fire, destruction.

Using old plywood fences to convey this amazes me. Repetition through from and similar color is something I can appreciate. Like brushstrokes upon a canvas, he uses an entire space. Scale is definitely large, but I feel miniatures could just be cool as well.

I guess the point that I’m getting to, to relate to the blog is the Recycled Lumbar aspect. Obviously wood is not some thing that man can make over night and use. But finding and using wood that can be re-used for further building, art making, or whatever, is a plus. I don’t know how many more trees there are in the world, or if our consumption of wood greater than it is being grown (which my guess is) but to me a tree is a precious thing. I mean if there’s enough to go around then by all means. But I’m sure this resource is a limited one. And by making good use of the processed and reclaimed material is an awesome idea. Why not make sweet art?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Julia Weber: Homemade Wood Stains

Homemade nontoxic wood stains offer a great alternative to store bought woods stains. Commercial woods stains often contain chemicals, that are not only problematic environmentally, but may also pose a health risk. A variety of methods can be used to create inexpensive, natural wood stains with ingredients that may even be found in the kitchen, such as black tea, vinegar or walnut hulls.

These naturals stains need between a few hours to a few weeks to soak before they are ready to be applied. Taking good notes while experimenting with homemade woods stains is essential for the possible re-creation of a specific stain. It is recommended to use a scale to record the exact measurements of the ingredients used, to write down the amount of time they were allowed to soak and to keep track of the number of coats applied.

A simple way to create a natural stain is to boil tea leaves in a cup of water to a deep tea concentrate. Tea contains tannins that impart a warm honey-colored tone onto light woods such as maple, pine or birch. It's subtle and easy to control by adding more coats. Different teas will give different shades. The tea tone can be further darkened by following an application with ammonia as ammonia reacts with the tannins.

Walnut hulls are known to create a beautiful dark stain that is darker than tea stains. The walnut hulls are be boiled in water and then soaked in jar for a couple of days until the water turns dark.

Tannins react with metal and can be actively darkened by the application of a metal-vinegar mixture. To make a dark gray or an ebony stain rusty nails are soaked in a jar of vinegar for about two weeks until the vinegar turns dark. Vinegar mixed with pennies will produce a pale blue stain.

For a brown stain chewing tobacco may be added to equal parts of water and ammonia and left to set overnight.

All materials need to be strained before the application. The homemade stain should be tested on a piece of scrap wood. It should be the same type of wood as the actual piece, as the stains can look different on different woods. The stain is rubbed onto the wood with a rag. If the results are satisfactory, the stain may be applied to the actual project. Each coat of stain will darken the wood, some may darken more as they dry. It is recommended to stop before it looks as dark as desired, because the finish will make the wood look even darker.

These homemade stains don´t have a binding agent, like the commercial stains. The stain still needs to be sealed using a finish like shellac, linseed- or tung-oil. It is best to wait a few days after the stain has dried to apply the finish.

Pennies soaked in vinegar

Test piece with different stains

Images by:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jonathan Huang

The End Grain Cutting Board

One of the most important tools for the home cook or Chef is the Chef's knife. Keeping a sharp knife is a matter of safety as much as it is a matter of efficiency. Plastic cutting boards are harder than wood cutting boards and will dull knives much faster than long grain or end grain wood. But is plastic more hygienic than wood?

For a long time plastic was considered more hygienic than wood, because it is nonporous and harder. The thinking went that since plastic was hard and non porous it would have fewer scratches from knives and harbor less bacterial growth. Plastics are used in hospitals and have a clean reputation. For years the Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture made plastic cutting boards required in commercial kitchens of restaurants hospitals, anywhere and every where in the US that prepared food for public consumption. That all changed in 1994 though when Dean O. Cliver P.H.D. began his research at UC Davis, testing bacterial growth on wooden and plastic cutting boards comparatively. In his study which is neatly summarized here:
Cliver used wood and plastic cutting boards that were old and knife scarred, an looked for E Coli, and Samonella. He found that on wooden cutting boards bacteria applied was later irrecoverable, on plastic however bacteria persisted and in some cases multiplied. Wooden cutting boards also have the advantage of being able to be microwaved for short periods of time to disinfect them.
Since Cliver's research has been published his finding have been replicated in many other labs and have even become a popular high school science experiment. The USDA and the FDA now recommend hard wood cutting boards as well as plastic: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/PDF/cutting_boards_and_food_safety.pdf actually more important than the material of the board is the separation of cutting boards for separate cutting duties for chicken and beef and veggies.
Of wooden cutting boards end grain boards are the easiest on kitchen knives. This is because the edge of the blade actually cuts with the direction of the wood fibers as opposed to across the wood fibers. For the serious chef this means less time sharpening, honing, and stropping the kitchen knife and more time chopping, slicing, dicing, and julienning. End grain cutting boards also have a "self healing" feature that helps them wear better than long grain or plastic.
For a project for next semester I would like to make several end grain butcher block cutting boards out of Maple and African Mahogany. In my research for cutting board plans I came across this video http://thewoodwhisperer.com/butcher-block-cutting-board/ by Marc Spagnuolo. Watch this! You will be hooked! (He is a lot like Shannon, in that he can discuss at length a myriad technical wood working topics, he has videos on efficient sanding, detailing various paper types and pad densities for the ROS. He has a video on chisel sharpening, and even has a video about nasal irrigation to wash out sawdust particles! I have been doing this for years and have found it very beneficial as a ceramic artist to flush the nasal passages of ceramicy micro boogies.)

Anyways, in Marc's video he details more than just dimensions and procedures but has many useful tips that like using an ink brayer to spread wood glue, turning the wood pieces at 90 degrees to make glue up speedy and efficient, and wrapping wooden "calls" in clear packing tape to deter glue from sticking to them. Marc explains that titebond 2 is a food safe, as well as salad bowl varnish which he likes to finish the cutting board with.
Before I make my first end grain cutting board I will do a little more research on various finishes and wood toxicity levels. Coming from a family of epicureans I know end grain cutting boards will be an appreciated and well used gift.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

bow-making and the anatomy of wood

I have been wanting to make my own bow and arrows for a few years now, but time seems to be lapsing at a much faster pace than I can keep up, so I have been doing no more than a bit of research now and again on this subject. A book called, "The Traditional Bower's Bible" that I own has just a plethora of info on anything you'd want to know about the components of what goes into making a sound bow and arrows, but I am first interested in finding the right wood and am still not exactly sure of how to pick it out and where on the tree exactly to take it from.

Anyhoosenheimer, I thought I would just share a bit of the info on the anatomy of wood that the author's describe in this book. I learned that there is so much more to the intricacies of a tree than I had ever imagined, and it is these intricacies that make or "break" a bow.

All trees can be used for successful bows, but it is important to know where in the tree to retrieve the wood. Interesting, it is, and overwhelming at the same time.

Here you go with a much condensed version of what I read.

First of all there are many factors about wood that are used to decide which part will work for a bow. Looking at the anatomy of the wood, the annual rings, the grain, the age and density,the reaction, tension and compression wood, branch wood, decay, etc. one can pick out a wood suitable for a nice strong bow.

Wood is formed only by a thin layer of living cells between bark and wood, called the cambium. The cell wall is long-chain molecules of cellulose that provides tension strength, lignin compression strength. As the tree grows, the inner portions of the trunk are no longer needed to bring water and nutrients to the leaves and this inner portion is transformed into heartwood. Sapwood becomes heartwood as the tree creates and deposits chemical and mineral extractives in the cells. This is interesting: sapwood is not resistant to fungi, but heartwood is toxic to fungi.

Sapwood can be compression-weak compared to the heartwood, yet one year later when extractives have been infused into the inner sapwood ring, that sapwood, now heartwood is a different creature. Every heartwood serves well in both tension and compression meaning it is good for bows.

Heartwood as well as sapwood is dead wood, and unless discolored by decay or compromised by insects, weathering or physical trauma it's as sound as if new. So in theory any old wood can be fine for bow-making, whether from the inside of a tree, basement storage pile or old doors or flooring. Good to know.

And here's something interesting that I didn't know - Hardwood is called porous wood. Who would've thunk. It's called this because conduction and support are performed by large-diameter, thin-walled cells called pores. Softwood is called non-porous wood. When the pores are concentrated in the early wood like oak, pecan, elm, Osage and ash they are said to be ring-porous woods. If they have evenly distributed pores like cherry, maple, and birch they are called diffuse-porous woods. Semi ring-porous woods like black walnut and persimmon have pores that are larger in the early wood, and become smaller toward the latewood with no distance transition. I know, I know-TOO MUCH INFORMATION, but you have to admit it is interesting and you didn't know it already. OH, maybe you all did, and I am just way too slow for you guys.

Here's something about the annual rings. If ring-porous hardwood rings are thin (many rings per inch) it will be light and weak and not usable for normal-weight bows. Unnaturally wide rings may also be less dense and weaker. But unlike hardwoods, the more rings per inch in conifers the denser the wood. It states in the book that if unhappy with a tree's surface ring structure one should explore deeper, where the wood may be thicker-ringed and denser.

Okay now a word about reaction wood- tension wood, compressions wood. For trunks to straighten themselves once moved from vertical, or to prevent branches bending down from their own weight, hardwood trees lay down tension-strong, cellulose-rich tension wood on the top side of trunks and branches. Conifers lay down denser and thick-ringed, higher lignin content compression wood on the bottom side. Wood with high lignin content is especially strong in compression. Most conifer species produce inadequate bow wood, but the bottom, compression side of horizontal branches can be sinew-backed, yielding first-class results. Compression wood shrinks or expands with moisture content (MC) changes 10 times or more than normal wood. Tension wood contains more cellulose than normal wood, so is especially strong in tension. The tension-wood side of a split stave will often dry into reflex. Hardwood reaction wood rings are not always eccentric as in conifers, so it's important to make the upper side before felling. If the top of such staves are not centered at bow back much twisting and warping will occur.

Anyhoosenheimer, that's a bit about the anatomy of trees from "bow-making eyes", but honestly, I am still confused. If anyone knows of an expert on bow-making let me know. I'd love to actually see all these things that are written, so it makes more sense. From the sounds of it I should be able to make a bow from the old back-porch door I've been storing for a million years. If that works I'll move onto some fabulous arrows with obsidian tips.

Nathan Cox - Northwest Coast Wood-Carving

My earliest exposure to art of the Northwest Coast peoples, or at least the earliest that I remember, came from the Field Museum in Chicago. The collection was tucked away on the main floor, somewhere behind a room full of faceless mannequins dressed in traditional attire from the Great Plains nations. At the back of this room, taking up the entire wall, was a life-size replica of a Pawnee earth lodge. As I remember it, the door into the Northwest Coast/Arctic room was sort of hidden around the back of this lodge (that could have been a decision meant to ease the transition between the two distinct geographical regions, but just as likely the curatorial team had an awkward time finding a good space for that big ass lodge and that was their weird solution*). Whatever the reason, stepping through that doorway always felt like one of those down the rabbit hole experiences to me. And cut to . . .

The gallery was a completely different kind of space. I was large, dark and silent. It still seems a little spooky, even now. I did spend the night in there once, though. It was worth it for that collection. There was the standard artifacts (dogsleds, whaling/hunting paraphernalia, giant crabs, etc.), but what always stuck in my memory was the collection of wood carvings. There is a very distinctive aesthetic associated with Northwest Coast art that makes it instantly recognizable. Wood is the traditional material for most carvings, though the Haida have a long tradition of working in Argillite and many contemporary artists have recently taken up bronze. Whatever the medium, methods are almost universally traditional: artists work their materials using hand tools (axes, chisels, adzes, etc.) and large pieces are erected manually by members of the community. Though the concept and design details often vary based on the needs of the community, themes drawn from mythological, religious, cultural and historical (both societal and familial) sources are especially popular. Figures walk a blurred line between representation and abstraction, with forms that are identifiable as both organic and geometric (or, just as easily, as neither). Deeply-carved lines are complemented by a sparse palette (rarely more than 3-4 colors, if any), enhancing the effects of light and shadow on the piece's surface. Though worked almost entirely by hand, experienced carvers are able to produce a remarkable level of consistency in their treatment of the material, producing near-perfect symmetry and balance. As most objects are worked down from a single mass, joinery is typically minimal (aside from the occasional outstretched wing of a bird, or basic bindings for an articulated mask) and each piece retains strong references to its natural structure.

This faithfulness is not limited to aesthetics, but finds expression in the social life of a piece. As mentioned above, the construction and erection of a totem pole is rarely an isolated act. While the actual production is typically carried out by a single artist or a small group, the commission comes on behalf of the entire community, which takes part in the installation and dedication. Furthermore, once erected, poles are rarely maintained. Instead, in reference to their origins, they are left to the elements until they fall of their own accord (or, in some cases, they are deemed hazardous and removed). This lends to the carvings a sense of placement and fragility not immediately evident from the appearance alone, which allows them to become something more than a narrative or a commemoration. That seems to be the attraction for me. I come for the craft, but I stay for the perspective.

*Now that I think on it, the lodge shared a wall with the Northwest Coast gallery. There was a diorama of a wolf den and some Inuit dwellings on the opposite side. It all makes sense now.

Norman Tait (Nisga'a), Totem: Big Beaver (1982)

Freda Diesing (Haida), Raven Rattle (date unknown)

Robert Davidson (Haida), Eagle Transforming Into Eagle (2002)

Bill Reid (Haida), Raven and the First Men (1980)


http://www.nfb.ca/film/bill_reid (A short documentary from the Canadian National Film Board, featuring Bill Reid's construction of a totem pole for the town of Skidegate, BC)

http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=7354 (A short biography of Charles Edenshaw, a key figure in the 19th century revival of Haida art)

http://www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/MainSite/ (The Royal British Columbia Museum - they have a large collection of Northwest Coast art, although their online catalog is under construction)

http://www.nfb.ca/film/totem_the_return_of_the_gpsgolox_pole/ (Another Canadian National Film Board documentary, dealing with issues of ownership in indigenous art)

http://www.spiritwrestler.com (A Vancouver gallery specializing in contemporary Inuit, Northwest Coast and Maori art)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Japanese Woodwork

Japanese woodwork is well known for its strive for perfection, advanced joinery, and its planed wood surfaces. Japanese woodworkers generally work with soft wood instead of the commonly used hardwood. Japanese woodwork has 4 distinct categories that each have their own unique specialty. Miyadaiku is a type of Japanese woodwork that focuses on the construction of shrines and temples. These temples and shrine are built using advanced joinery like the butterfly joints, and the temples and shrines built seem to be the longest surviving wood structures in the world. Sukiya daiku focuses on teahouses and residential buildings like houses. These type of woodworkers are well known for aesthetic reasons as well as the use of rustic materials. Sashimonoshi is the term used for woodwork that focuses on furniture. An example of this type of woodwork would be pieces done by George Nakashima. Tateguya is Japanese woodwork that is used for interior finishing. These 4 main types of woodwork in Japan all require tools that are specifically used for Japanese woodwork.
4 main Japanese woodwork tools that differ from the standard Western tools are the Japanese saw, plane, and gimlet. The Japanese saw is differs in that instead of using a push stroke to cut, it uses a pull stroke and the saw blades are considered much thinner compared to the Western blades. There are two main types of cutting teeth on Japanese saws which is the yoko-noko-giri (rip) and the tate-noko-giri (cross cut). Combing these two teeth make the ryoba, which is the dual edge blade. Dozuki is a blade used by Japanese woodworkers to cut fine joinery like butterfly joints, and the Azebiki is used to saw in confined areas or start cuts in the middle of wood pieces.
The Japanese plane is another tool that differs from the Western tools. The Japanese plane commonly consists of a wooden block containing a laminated blade, sub blade, and securing pin. The support bed for the blade is convex instead of being flat like the western blades. Again this tool differs from the Western version because to operate it you pull instead of pushing. The yarigawa is the old fashioned Japanese plane that resembles a spear. This plane is used for large circular columns or where an unsophisticated look is desired.
The Japanese have a wider variety of chisels than Western woodwork. Some chisels are the bench, paring, striking, heavy timber, and slicks. Each chisel has their own unique function and are used for different type of wood pieces. Some chisels are used for removing large while others are used to make sharper angles in the timber. The Japanese gimlet is a tool used to make a mortise by drilling circular holes in the wood. This tool is one of the most difficult to master in Japanese woodwork. Japanese also have a wide variety of hammers that are used in woodwork. There are 18 different types of hammers used, each with their own unique specialty. The Japanese tend to have a wide variety of tools each with a specific design, for example the chisel and the hammer.
The Japanese differ from the western woodwork through their various tools and techniques. Joints also tend to differ because the Japanese use an advanced type of joinery when it comes to building buildings and furniture. The Japanese display patience and strive for perfection when it comes to woodwork. They also are well known for their unique designs and creativity. The wood pieces are not only creative but also well made and built wood structures that are known to be the worlds longest surviving structures.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jonathan Huang

Nick Schade The Hatori Hanzo of Kyak makers!

I stumbled upon Nick Schades work while researching what other artists and craftsmen are were making out Cedar (Cedar is the primary material of Ursula Von Rydingsvard). Nick Schade a former Navy engineer, made his first Kayak in 1986 out of the belief that he could make a sea worthy, responsive, light and durable kayak from the strip built method.
The strip built method (which previously had been used to craft canoes but rarely if ever kayaks) is a process of laying down and gluing dozens of western red cedar strips on to a form. The strips generally run the entire length of the kayak which may be as long as 20 feet. The form itself is around 20 MDF cross-sections of the hull of the kayak (cut out on the band saw) attached to an aluminum strong back held up by saw horses. Once the strips are glued together, the long process or plaining and sanding begins. A light stain is then applied to the wood to bring out wood grain and color. After this dries a fiberglass fabric is placed on the kayak covering the entire hull. Epoxy is brushed onto the fabric making the fabric transparent and exposing the rich color and grain of the cedar beneath it. The fiber glass servers to strengthen and to water proof the vessel. A similar process is repeated on the inside of the craft with a carbon fiber and kevlar woven fabric.
Nick Schade has become well renown not only for his kayaks but also his willingness to share designs and strip building processes. He has published two books on strip built kayaks and will also custom build a kayak through his business http://www.guillemot-kayaks.com/guillemot/. Schade kayaks have been written about in national publications and are shown in the American Craft Museum as well as the Museum of Modern art in New York.
While the prospect of making my own kayak is equal parts exciting and daunting, the process of strip built wooden sculpture is very interesting. Strip building would allow for sculptures with complex curves to be light weight and even buoyant. One could craft strip built wooden balloons fill them with helium and tie them down to uprooted stump. What if Jeff Koons giant silver balloon dog was strip built western red cedar? Perhaps the greatest advantage of strip building is not the complex curves (as these can be achieved through carving) rather it is the light weight durability of the finished work. This would portend well for any works that may involve buoyancy or a dramatic contrast of scale and density.
Another artist that employs strip building in some of his works is Martin Puryear. Durring his youth Puryear actually learned to build guitars, furniture, and canoes! Most likely he employed the strip built method around a form for the canoes. In Puryear's pieace "Brunhilde" which I had the pleasure of seeing in person at SFMOMA a few years ago) Puryear utilizes a open strip built basket weave method to create a form that is like that of an expanded basket. This piece I was imediatly drawn to for it's large scale, volume, and negative space. "Bird Martin" by contrast also uses the strip built method. Rather than lining up each strip and glueing the edges together, Puryear hi-lights the process of making the form by over-lapping each strip in a random patternless binding. This simultaneously connotes the random weaving of a birds nest and also an emotive connotation of entrapment or imprisonment.
Strip building, like wood joinery, is another tool I am interested in adding to my sculptural tool belt. It is not technique that I would use exclusively, rather a method I would use when light durable organic curves are called for.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Martin Puryear

Martin Puryear, Ladder For Booker T. Washington (1996)
(Source: blog.art21.com)

Martin Puryear is an American sculptor working primarily in wood. While many other artists of his generation explored the aesthetics of industrial processes and materials, Puryear looked back to old techniques and placed and emphasis on craft and the handmade.  Although his pieces used the same formal vocabulary of minimalism and post-minimalism, communicating ideas through material and basic elements of form such as interior and exterior, he also placed an emphasis on the metaphorical potential of technique.  As curator Elizabeth Reede, “His basic vocabulary is made up of forms derived from everyday objects, both natural and manmade, from Africa, Scandinavia, Lapland, Japan, and elsewhere, including tools, vessels, and furniture as well as from domestic and public architecture and landscape” (Reede).  In this way, in addition to the materials and forms he employs, the many construction techniques he borrows from various crafts allow him to convey meaning and reference cultures and their histories.

Unlike other artists of his generation who used industrial processes, materials and workers to realize their visions, Puryear often relies on his own hands or those of skilled craftsmen.  Puryear’s interest in building things originated when as a child, "he studied crafts and learned how to build guitars, furniture, and canoes through practical training and instruction" (Art:21).  He has developed this interest further as his, "passion for diverse cultures and histories has led him to travel, study, and work in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the United States.  These explorations have permitted him to observe the material cultures of many societies around the globe, as well as the skills and trades employed there, and to make connections among disparate cultural traditions. (SFMOMA) Such techniques often come from furniture making, wood carving, “basket weaving, canoe building, the construction of tents, yurts and kites" hughes.  He often cites the time he spent working with, “African carpenters in a remote village in Sierra Leone as part of a Peace Corps program, and an important part of his aesthetic education came in 1966, studying with one of the great American furniture makers, James Krenov" (Hughes 78).

In one of his best known pieces, Ladder for Booker T. Washington, Puryear created a ladder with forced perspective which is 36 feet long. Although the piece has become about Booker T. Washington, “The joining of that idea of Booker T. Washington and his notion of progress and the form of that piece—that came after the fact” (Art:21).  Instead, when Puryear created the piece he was simply interested in combining the metaphors of forced perspective and saplings in order to make an open statement about time.  As Puryear says, “The work was really about using the sapling, using the tree.  And making a work that had a kind of artificial perspective, a forced perspective, an exaggerated perspective that made it appear to recede into space faster than in fact it does” (Art:21). Because of the process he employs to create the work, Puryear further locates that understanding within a specific culture; in his own words, “It's made like country ladders you see in places. People would cut a tree trunk in half and put rungs between the two halves.  And that’s a ladder” (Art:21).

Much of Puryear’s earlier work is less representational.  For example, The Charm of Subsistence (1989) consists of an abstract form that employs techniques of rattan basket weaving.

(Source: Healthcarefineart.com)

(Source: wickerworks.com.au)

Brunhilde also evokes techniques from basketweaving while its more open form evokes the frame of a yurt.

(Source: yurtworks.co.uk)

(Source: SFMOMA.org)

Bower (1980) consists of an open form which is constructed using techniques from canoe-making.

(Source: Capefalconkayak.com)

(Source: moma.org)

Finally, Vessel (1997-2002) consists of a complex pine frame that employs sturdier techniques from boatbuilding.
(Source: artinfo.com)

(Source: museum.gov.ns.ca) 

Works Cited:
"Art21: Martin Puryear." PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. Web. 02 Oct. 2011. <http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/puryear/index.html>.
Hughes, Robert. "Martin Puryear." Time, 158.1 (2001): 78.
Reede, Elizabeth, John Elderfield, and Martin Puryear. Martin Puryear. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2007.
“SFMOMA Presents A Retrospective On Sculptor Martin Puryear First Major Survey In 15 Years." San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Web. 02 Oct. 2011. <http://www.sfmoma.org/about/press/press_exhibitions/releases/366>.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Theresa N: Ursula von Rydingsvard

I chose to write about Ursula von Rydingsvard, a contemporary sculptural artist, born 1946 in Denseen, Germany. In the class we are learning tools and techniques of woodworking for functional purposes, and I feel it is appropriate to get to know the non-utilitarian ends of what a woodworker can do. With this objective in mind I intend to make a brief description of the artist von Rydingsvard and her work, and in the following written assignments explore specific details pertaining to her work.

When I first happened upon the images of the artist's sculpture, I had been perplexed as to why her name appeared in the list of “woodworkers.” Firstly, she is a female in a dominion of "masculine" activities where females are traditionally absent. I understood that the sculpture was made of wood or involved wood at a greater proportion to other materials used, but I expected “woodwork” to be the result of designing a use for wood that can serve as human apparatus.
Detail of Ocean Floor
The shapes are both symmetrical and roughly textured, creating a tension where the viewer can perceive the man-made shapes and surfaces and the organic, untamed surfaces which also demonstrate the inherent personality of wood as a material.

The interest in this artist's body of work is that one can meditate on it as a collection of deliberate statements about the relation of “woodliness” to time, to the elements, and to human beings. Such properties of being “woodly” include but are not limited to the grain, texture, coloring, age, mass, its codependence in the planet’s ecological system as well as its principal existence in human cultural systems. As the same properties exploited, or exemplified, in the work, they further enrich any discussion about human relationships with the environment around us, as well as what we may see in future conversations about the conversation of natural resources.

Von Rydingsvard’s sculpture of consists of 3-D sculptural images usually on a scale bigger than humans, and due to their massive scale, exist as outdoor installations. The majority of works consist of cedar, which have undergone a process of gluing together and subtraction by hand and machine tools, sometimes mechanically fastened to other materials using nuts and bolts, or arranged under metal armatures, while treatments vary from resin to stain and varnish, graphite, and sparingly, paint and cow intestines.

Mold for Damski Czepek
Joinery seems to be absent from the process of creating her sculptural pieces, or the pieces seem to obliterate the sense that joinery was used, whether it is in the piece at all.  Through intensive intervention with the natural material, it is apparent that the overall image will read as an organic shape, that the resultant forms could evoke in the viewer a sense of displacement between the organic than the sum of a series of human interventions.

Her work began in the late 1970s with other contemporaries whose works lived in outside spaces as “site-specific” work. According to The Sculpture of Ursula Von Rydingsvard [sic], the artist has drawn influence from Robert Smithson, another artist “associating art with the condition of displacement.” (80) That “purity was a deep need for her” meant that her art education espoused the values of minimalist art makers of the time, who would rather create works with a clear statement of gesture, of material form, than of their predecessors the Abstract Expressionist art makers. (11)

The artist creates images which are ambiguous as to how they arrived at the state in the moment that the viewer happens upon it. Despite what we know about the sculpture being human-made, what we are able to read a transition taking place within the installations. We might assume that the piece began as a rough, natural, organic surface which shows signs of human intervention and refinement into clean-cut, smoothed, angular shapes.

Ignatz Comes Home
On the other hand, there is an equal potential to assume that the structures began as orderly as synthetic, architectural objects which have progressively decayed back to their natural form. The artist has captured, using symmetry, the mass around negative space, and tension between textures, a moment in time where there could be a transition taking place in some other reality.

The pieces demonstrate the artist's unconventional mentality of how to use the material, where its inherent properties of grain, color, scale, and mass, are the focus of the piece. In retrospect of the tradition of woodworking, the very existence of her art says that wood does not need to take the subordinate role as the visual or structural support of something else, for instance, a painting which needs a frame or a human that needs a rest, or a roof that needs a pillar to support it. It can be interpreted from her work that "wood-ness" can exist as the focal point where other ideas may emerge.

As a student I admire that the body of work is massive, also possessing a consistent theme of “transition in a moment.” However, I tend to differ with the artist on the general idea of how wood ought to be used. I see wood as a natural resource that should be respected for its potential uses but not exploited so that an enormous amount of of it ends up as non-utilitarian matter.

In my study I consulted the artist’s website, http://www.ursulavonrydingsvard.net; two books, The Sculpture of Ursula Von Rydingsvard from Hudson Hill Press and The Conversations: Interviews with Sixteen Contemporary Artists by Richard Whittaker; as well as various videos on YouTube including interviews from the Art:21 program which aired on PBS.