• 10 Jul

    Woodworking “Currency”

    A thing of value

    Currency might seem a strange title for a blog about woodworking, as so many of us woodworkers see so little of it. But I am speaking here of a different kind of currency. I am referring to something of very high value to a certain community.

    We could be speaking historically of cattle owned. We could be speaking of hand-woven carpets in Istanbul, or pristine tuna in the Tokyo fish market. Think of these kinds of currency as a sort of benchmark. Something, while not necessarily prized in other circles or societies, is highly valued in a particular one.

    Today, one can scarcely pass a fitness magazine without being inundated with articles on “How to get Six-pack Abs”.  For windsurfers it is “ How to carve the perfect high wind jibe”. For bakers it might be, “How to make the flakiest crust”. For woodworkers it seems there are never quite enough articles on “How to cut dovetails”.

    But I do not agree at all that cutting dovetails is either the most important, nor the most elusive skill germane to fine woodworking. For one, there are whole areas of crafting in wood that have nothing to do with them. They are beautiful, they are strong, and they are not so simple. But they are not a daily necessity, and they do not  always take so long to master.

    The real uber important skill to have in woodworking is sharpening. I cannot think of a single woodworking project that does not require it. And it is NOT easy to master. Probably, that is why a sadly high number of woodworkers never make more than a half-hearted attempt at gaining this skill. I maintain that I have never seen a person superlatively talented at maintaining his/her tools in a expertly honed state who was not also a very talented woodworker.

    Take the time to learn to sharpen. It is quieter, less expensive, and less dangerous. But far more importantly, it is produces much finer work and is light years ahead in terms of a satisfying way to work.

    By Jonathan Cohen Thoughts
  • 10 Jul

    Woodworkers I admire: Sam Maloof

    Sam Maloof

    Sam Maloof one of the three most influential woodworkers of the last seventy years spent most of his life working in a now famous home and studio that he cobbled together over many years in a lemon grove an hour or two east of Los Angeles.

    When you say Sam’s name, one piece of furniture immediately comes to mind, his iconic, and I do not use that word lightly, rocking chair. Its sumptuousness and beauty and comfort are known to everyone who either makes chairs and furniture, or  those who know and collect it. You will hear many a furniture maker, including me, speak of the difficulties of escaping that chair’s shadow. Designing a rocking chair can seem more like an attempt to make one that does not copy too slavishly Sam’s design. It is that good. In fact, I cannot think of a single piece of modern furniture that stands so alone on the mountain top.

    The other wonderful legacy of Sam Maloof was his absolute warmth and availability. He had a huge smile, (to go with his cartoonishly large hands-check out this video of him working), and had a kind word for all. Except maybe James Krenov. I do not know if the two ever actually met, but some of Krenov’s words seemed to rankle him. Krenov famously said in his first book, A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook, “ I take a piece of fine wood and place it on my workbench, and just live with it for a while until it tells me what it wants to be”. Sam, who apparently had that anecdote repeated to him one too many times, finally muttered at one of his workshops in a stage whisper, “Yeah, well I tried that once , but the wood never talked , so I picked the damned thing up and started making a nice piece of furniture out of it.”

    A final delightful note about Sam, he had this wonderful touch: whenever he wrote, he calligraphed. Even in many of the letters I received during our friendship and correspondence, his hand written letters were always a series of beautifully arching strokes. That was wonderful to me, as I am also a calligrapher, and often cite those hand drawn letter forms as direct inspirations for my design.

    By Jonathan Cohen Woodworkers