September 28, 2010


I was finally able to wrap-up the exercises that were preventing me from moving on to my first project. Yesterday I completed my coopered door, half-blind dovetails and through-wedged mortise and tenon. Here's a photo of the three trouble makers.

It's hard to tell from the photo, but the tall board of wood is slightly curved, or coopered (like a wine barrel, which is where the term comes from). It started as a solid piece of wood. I cut it into four pieces, took some material off of each edge, glued them back together into an arc, and then used the coopering plane I built to scoop out the insides into a smooth curve. 

Now that I'm done with my exercises, I've moved on to my first project. I'm still very much in the idea phase, but look for more to come soon!

September 23, 2010

Get Your Ducks in a Row

I've had a bad week. Nothing I do is seeming to come together, despite hours upon hours of hard work and concentration. My bad week culminated in me jamming my pinky finger into a fluted bit on the horizontal drill press (think sharp, metal points spinning at 700 RPMs). Oddly enough, when this happened I was thinking to myself, "How bad would it be if my finger or hand hit the bit?" As it turns out, not as bad as you might think, but bad enough. The blood finally forced me to take a step back instead of trying to jam through what I was doing. Fortunately, this incident and my bad week have helped me to learn a number of important lessons.

First off, frustration does not help. You can't fight what you're doing or your problems will only get worse. If you don't see signs of improvement, you need to step back to figure out why. And if you can't figure it out yourself, ask for help. I asked my affable instructor, Greg Smith, for his sage advice. He told me to get my ducks in a row. In this case, I should check all my reference surfaces to make sure they were flat and square and make sure that my tools were sharp, very sharp. I learned that I need to think systematically about where the problem might be, not assume that I'm doing something wrong. As it turns out, the problem is normally in the tool!    

Yesterday was somewhat better. I spent the day getting my ducks in a row--organizing my space and tools to create a good work flow and sharpening, sharpening, sharpening. After school I went to the pool where I ran into an impromptu swim team and then met Greg's chickens. He sent me home with two eggs, which I ate immediately. I feel much more ready to get through my half-blind dovetails and through mortise and tenons today. Thanks, Greg! (And thanks to Dixie and Professor Chaos for the delicious eggs.)

September 22, 2010

Dahlias are in Bloom

The Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden is nestled next to the Pacific Ocean. The mild maritime climate makes it a garden of all seasons, bursting with dense coastal pine, fern-covered canyons, camellias, rhododendrons, magnolias, conifers, heaths and heathers. But the crown jewel of them all is the dahlia garden. Lucky for us, the dahlias were in bloom when Mike and I first arrived in Fort Bragg. We enjoyed the blooms' wild colors and shapes, and just couldn't take enough pictures. Here are a few of the best for your viewing pleasure. 

Photo by Mike Manville

Photo by Mike Manville

September 21, 2010


The CR wood shop got a new table saw, and it's a SawStop! The SawStop uses a safety system that stops the blade within 5 milliseconds of detecting contact with skin. It's incredible technology. Check it out in this time warp video, which shows footage of the saw's inventor sticking his own finger into the rotating saw blade!

September 19, 2010

Alex's Pear Tree

Alex is one of my classmates. He sits two benches up from me and is a likeable guy with an easy sense of humor. For four generations, his family owned a pear orchard in Ukiah. They had approximately 30,000 trees on 200 acres. Sadly his family lost the property to the bank in April, and since then a potential new owner bulldozed many of the trees to make way for grapes. Alex was able to grab one of the felled trees, which he brought to school to mill. His great-great grandparents grafted and planted this particular tree nearly 100 years ago.

Pear wood can be an incredibly beautiful wood for making furniture or woodwind instruments. It’s a fine-grained hard wood that ranges in color from salmon to peach. The tree Alex brought in looked from the outside like it might be checked the whole way through—that is, it might have imperfections in the wood that made it less than desirable. But there was only one way to find out—with a chainsaw and an Alaskan mill.

An Alaskan mill is a device that holds a chainsaw horizontally so you can cut a tree into slabs. It was quite a process to get the mill set-up. The log had to be secured and stable and the mill had to have a broad, flat reference that was parallel to the tree. Set-up also involved lots of standing around and contemplation with cigarettes and coffee. After about an hour and a half, Alex and Co. were ready to cut into the tree. As it turns out, the wood is quite pretty. It's nice to know that his family's history will live on in a dovetailed box, a wall cabinet or perhaps a piece of furniture.

See for yourself. Here are a few photos of the affair and video of the first and second passes, if you're really into it. Alex is the one operating the chainsaw.

September 13, 2010

Paisley Moo

Photo by Mike Manville

She might look sweet and cuddly, but don't let those liquid chocolate eyes fool you. Paisley is an alpha dog. Many people think they have an alpha dog, but mostly they don’t know what that means. Paisley is truly an alpha. If you give her an inch, she’ll try to take a mile. She recently went to our trainer Steve Brooks, battled him all weekend long, and is now on a super strict training regime. This means no food unless she’s working for it on her walks and behaving well. (Don’t worry, we’re not starving our dog. I say we, but I mean Mike because he’s the primary care taker of the beast while I’m in Fort Bragg. Thank you, Mike!) It’s a system of incentives.

Mike has made a break-through with the dog, and she remains very well-behaved. However, in an effort to do some in-house eating last night, she managed to eat two bouillon cubes. This led her to being insanely thirsty, and she drank her entire water bowl. This is turn overwhelmed her little dog bladder, and she woke Mike up at 3:45 in the morning going bananas. He took her outside and she peed for about 30 seconds. Poor dog. Poor Mike.

September 12, 2010

Glass Beach

You’ve probably heard of black sand beaches, but have you ever heard of a glass beach? Fort Bragg is home to one of the most unique beaches in the world. In 1949 the area around Glass Beach became a public dumping ground. Residents would pitch their garbage—including cars, batteries, old clothing, and household garbage, which included lots of glass—straight into the ocean. Some 20 years later, in 1967, the North Coast Water Quality Board realized the error of their ways and planned a new dump away from the coast.

In the meantime, Mother Nature has pounded away at the refuse and deposited tons of polished glass back onto the beach. The occasional lucky visitor will still find remnants of the beach’s past in the form of a rusted spark plug or some other oddity, but mostly what you’ll see are thousands of pieces of glass sparkling in the sun (or fog). Visitors beware, collecting is strictly prohibited. 

Photo by Mike Manville

September 9, 2010

They Call it the Lost Coast for a Reason

Labor Day weekend was a treat because I got two days off instead of just one. What to do with all that extra time? Go backpacking of course! My friend David Nichols drove up from San Francisco, and we headed out with ten other hikers into the Sinkyone Wilderness.

The plan was to hike 7.5 miles up the Lost Coast trail, camp at Little Jackass Creek, and then follow the creek up a ravine to a fire road, which makes for quick hiking back to the car. 

The scenery was stunning.

Photo by David Nichols

Photo by David Nichols
We had good company, a campfire and hot toddys. 

Photo by David Nichols
Photo by David Nichols
Morning was beautiful on the beach.

Photo by David Nichols

To say the hike out was grueling is an understatement. It was 1 mile / 1400 feet elevation gain / 30% grade, on average / 4 hours / no trail / heavily, HEAVILY overgrown with brambles, stinging nettle, giant ferns, pampas grass, boulders, waterfalls and fallen, rotting redwood trees. 

Photo by David Nichols
Photo by David Nichols
Photo by David Nichols
There were some truly impressive Redwood trees.

Photo by David Nichols
Making it to the fire road was physically exhausting and mentally challenging. I've never been happier to see a fire road. 

Photo by David Nichols
Here's a map of the route we took. The top of the loop is the ravine we hiked out of. 

September 3, 2010

LA Box Collective

I don’t know what I want to do with furniture or where I’ll be once I finish school, but I do know that the LA Box Collective is doing really cool stuff with wood. It’s a group of woodworkers in Los Angeles that are working to put LA on the map for beautifully designed, well-constructed furniture that is environmentally conscious. They’re doing a great job. Check them out!

David Johnson is part of the LA Box Collective. He’s a graduate of College of the Redwoods Fine Furniture and owns Sidecar Furniture. He builds beautiful chairs and cabinets, among many other things. I particularly love his writing desk. David spent hours with me on the phone and in-person discussing furniture, what it means to be a furniture maker, the CR program and various other things like bikes and LA. Visit his site too.

If you're wondering when I'm going to start posting about the work that I'm doing, don't fret! I haven't had my camera for the past couple weeks, but I'll have it next week, and I'll take lots of pictures of the many exercises we're working through. Here's a sneak preview just to keep you interested. 

Our very first project was to build two hand planes. We started by flattening and sharpening the iron, which you can see sticking out of the rear ramp of the plane. We then constructed the plane itself, and spent hours (or in my case days) tuning it up. The plane in the picture is a smoothing plane. You use it to remove small amounts of material from a board. We also built a joining plane. This plane is used to flatten a board. After we built the smoothing plane, we used it to do an exercise called the perfect boardperfectly flat, perfectly parallel, perfectly square, perfectly smooth. 

After getting our board perfect, we ripped it in two and then did an edge joint. We've also worked on various mortise and tenon joints.

Our most recent exercise has been dovetails: the romance joint. I'll talk more about these later because I love the mechanics and beauty of the joint. In the meantime, here's a photo of my first attempt at dovetails. I did everything entirely by hand. 

September 1, 2010

A Different Pace of Life

Adapting to living in Fort Bragg has been a pleasure. It’s a small town of about 6,000 on the northern California coast. It’s absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. The coast ranges from rocky bluffs to wide stretches of white sand dunes, eucalyptus trees scent the air, and the fog occasionally blankets the town in misty puffs of condensation. People are friendly, and there’s plenty to do outdoors.

There have been two challenges to living in this small piece of nirvana.

Firstly, I’m adapting to being on someone else’s schedule. The stores are open Monday through Friday—or Saturday, on a rare occasion—from 9 am until 5 pm. I’m in class Monday through Saturday from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm, which makes it challenging to mail packages, get a haircut, or buy bread from the baker. Yes, even the baker operates on a limited schedule. She runs a Wednesday through Saturday operation.  

Secondly, cell reception is sorely lacking. I can somewhat reliably get service in town, but I live about 6 miles north of town. I don’t get reception in my cottage or anywhere near my cottage (with one exception, see below). To compensate, I’ve done my research on voice over internet (VOI) services, which allow you to make phone calls through your computer. The mac daddy of them all seems to be Ring2Skype. Not only can I make free calls to friends and family through Skype, I also have a phone number where you all can call me. It’s a free service, and the caller only incurs the normal cost of the call. It’s just like having a regular telephone number. Give it a try! My number is 213.325.6994 extension 652. If you’d like to try the service yourself visit Ring2Skype

The other option is to go to reception dune. Seriously, this is where I can make my calls. It’s about a 5-minute walk from my cottage.  

Photo by Mike Manville
This is the view from the hammock.

Photo by Mike Manville

Photo by Mike Manville