Defects Are Hints For Something Better

In all the creative work I have done with live-edge material, I have always looked at a cut section – where a limb was removed or the material cut to length – as a shortcoming.

But recently, I had an epiphany.

Like so many of my revelations, this one came while experimenting on a piece of scrap wood worth nothing to me. This particular piece of wood was about the size of a 2×4 roughly three feet long. The middle foot had the bark intact and the area to either side was cut straight.

I was carving for no reason other than to carve for enjoyment. I started removing material, trying to make the cut edge flow into the live edge. Then, as I like to do, I began forming a twist. Completely by eye, I carved a quarter twist into the first third of the board, blending it into the bark as best I could.

The result was very interesting. It was no longer an area of defect that you should divert your eyes from and politely pretend you hadn’t noticed. It was not apologetic, rather it was a bold feature that demanded equal, if not greater attention than the live edge. I think that the irregularity of the done-by-eye twist worked favourably with the organic bark edge.

Moreover, I feel that if used between two sections of live edge, this twist would not only fit in with equal authority, but it would in fact visually tie the two live edge sections together.

I am never satisfied when I have to make a compromise in a design to make up for a shortcoming. This, however, is not a compromise – it is taking a problem and fully exploiting it for what it really is: a design opportunity.

twisted edge sculpted into live

Woodworking Digitally is More Convenient, But Not Better

What Do I Mean By “Woodworking Digitally”?

First, let me define digital. I don’t exclusively mean the use of measuring tools with LCD screens. I mean the use of any numbers at all, whether Metric or Imperial, decimals or fractions. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

digital: of, relating to, or using calculation by numerical methods or by discrete units

Pros and Cons to Using Numbers

Whether following plans or making your own, numbers play an important role in communicating sizes. Of course, communication is not a bad thing. However, the disadvantage of building using measurements is that sizes of the things we design and build tend to be based on convenient numbers (e.g. 42-1/2” or 850 mm) rather than sizes best suited to either the materials being used or the product being built.

If you are designing and building the item yourself, why not build without numbers? There is no rule that says a board 3/4” thick is the ideal balance between strength and weight, or that it a 1×4 is perfectly proportioned.

A Few Examples of Not Using Numbers

Numeric values are not required to build a good chair. A chair seat should be deep and wide enough to sit in comfortably, and at an appropriate height. Stack some toolboxes and plywood and try sitting on it. Add or remove layers and experiment with different heights. Do you want your feet to rest flat on the ground? The chair height you find comfortable likely isn’t an even number.

Move forward and sit on the edge of the seat. Move backward until you’re comfortable and make a mark where the back rest would be. Or start with a chair already made, and test it to see if you would change any proportions.

Already have your materials on hand? Maybe your project allows enough flexibility to use the wood to its fullest. Pick the best boards for the table top and arrange them for the best grain match. Then cut the table top as big as possible. Maybe it’ll be rectangular, or maybe it will be elliptical.

This table was made for a cherry crotch slab, and I made it as big as it allowed.

Building a cabinet for a specific spot and need it to hold dishes? Use a straight scrap of wood to make a story stick. Simply make marks on it indicating the length, width and depth of the cabinet. Line up your plates and bowls on the counter and figure out how many shelves you need, and how much headroom is required for each.

Flip your story stick over and make additional marks on the back for the location of each shelf. Then transfer these dimensions either to the material or directly to the saw.

Story sticks are also ideal for replicating something. You never have to ask – is this shelf 14-7/8 or 14-15/16 inches wide”, or “is 14-3/4 inches close enough”? Instead, it’s just a definitive line for the width of the shelf. Better yet, if the shelf is removable, you can use it to set up a stop block or rip fence to produce an identically sized part.

How often do you need to find the middle of the board? This is a task that I do very frequently, and there’s no reason to bring numbers into the mix. A common approach is to set a combination square so that when the stock is against one edge, the blade is locked near the middle of the board. Make a small mark along the end of the blade and flip the square so the stock rests against the opposite edge. The middle of the board is equidistant from those two marks, and you can readjust the square to be as precise as you need.

Never forget, invert, or mix up numbers again. Never make a rounding error and stop working with convenient dimensions. Work to a level of precision beyond what is practical with numbers. Save the digital for reading blogs.

Results from the 2017 Wall Shelf Build-Off

Well, the ballots have been tallied and that means it’s time to award some prizes.  Although there were not as many entries as I had hoped for, the shelves built were well-constructed, innovative, and certainly well made considering the two day time limit. This made it tough for judges to decide which shelf was the best of each category. Several categories were decided by a single vote.

Sponsors and Prizes

First, I’d like to thank the generous sponsors who have provided the prizes. Please use the links below to learn more about the sponsors and their products.

Judges

I would also like to recognize the judges who took the time to carefully review the shelf submissions and cast their ballots.

Prizes

In addition to every prize awarded, each winner also will receive a 360 Woodworking Fanatic Membership!

Click on any image to read more about the shelf design.

By Category


The winner of this category is certainly no stranger to innovation when it comes to furniture. The award of Most Innovative Design goes to Judson Beaumont and Straight Line Designs.

For their efforts, Popular Woodworking will be sending them a copy of Contemporary Furniture: 17 Elegant Projects You Can Build.

11a


This very creative and original design, carefully crafted, earned Danny Siggers’ shelf the title of Best Concept.

His design has earned him a Kerfmaker from Bridge City Tool Works.

6b


With a very resourcefully-built and arguably wacky design, the shelf built by Brian Prusa edged out other shelves in the categories of Best Use of Materials and Most Off-the-Wall (Figuratively Speaking) Design.

His floating live-edge shelf earned him a copy of Build 25 Beautiful Boxes from Popular Woodworking and a Set of 4 Bench Dogs from Time Warp Tool Works.

brian-prusa


I don’t think it’s a surprise to any of us that the wild-looking wall shelf with lots of curves and bent laminations won the prize for the Most Ambitious Design. Eric and his daughter Hailey’s design also earned the title of Most Inspiring Design.

Coming your way will be a 2-year Print or Digital Subscription to Popular Woodworking, and a Woodpeckers Mini Square from Ultimate Tools.

4b


Flair Woodworks Reader’s Choice Awards.

Ballots were scored as follows: 3 points for each #1 vote, 2 points for each #2 vote, and 1 point for each #3 vote. With 171 ballots cast, the maximum number of points that a shelf could score was 513.

Flair Woodworks Reader’s Choice #3 goes to Danny Siggers, whose shelf got 21.5% of possible points. The prize for this category is a 1-year Digital Subscription to Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement Magazine.

danny-siggers


Flair Woodworks Reader’s Choice #2 goes to David Barlow’s shelf with 30% of possible points.
He will receive a copy of Vic Tesolin’s book, The Minimalist Woodworker: Essential Tools and Small Shop Ideas for Building with Less.

david-barlow


Flair Woodworks Reader’s Choice #1 is awarded to Eric and Hailey Zuehlk, whose shelf attracted 38% of possible points  and earned them a signed copy of Ron Hock’s book, The Perfect Edge.

eric-hailey-zuehlk


There were three individuals who accurately predicted the top three Flair Woodworks Reader’s Choice. We broke the tie, and the award of a 1-year Digital Subscription to Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement Magazine goes to Eric Zuehlk’s brother, Brian. Clearly that family has good taste!

Judges’ Top Picks

Coming in Judges’ Honourable Mention, with 13% of the points from the judges is Matt Kummell’s shelf with impressive angled joinery and eye-catching metal inlay.

Time Warp Tool Works will send him a set of 4 Bench Dogs for a job well done.

matt-kummell


Receiving 16% of points from judges, the Judges’ Runner Up is…me and my “Hashtag” shelf for displaying carved letter blocks.

I will be declining the prize of a Kerfmaker from Bridge City Tool Works, since I already own one.

chris-wong


And, taking the Judges’ Top Shelf award with 24% of all awarded points by judges is that wicked design by the Zuehlks.

Well done – Green Buddy Distributors will be sending you a Grex AOS368 Angle Random Orbital Sander.

eric-hailey-zuehlk2


Remember that you can view all the Wall Shelves built during the #WSBO two day build on this page. Thanks to everybody who participated and voted. See you next time!

Subscribe to my blog using the form at the bottom of the page to receive updates from me.

The Maker, the Buyer, and the User

As a creator (in my case, of designs, artwork, furniture and writing primarily), it is necessary to understand to whom one is accountable.

The maker doesn’t want it, the buyer doesn’t use it, and the user doesn’t know they’re using it. What is the object?

This classic riddle illustrates the difference between three types of people: makers, buyers, and users.

If you are a professional, the number one person you must satisfy is the buyer. It is their needs that you are responsible for fulfilling. Whether they have hired you, your company or your boss’ company is irrelevant. If you are unable to provide a product or service that is of value to them, you will likely find yourself out of work rather quickly.

If you create for yourself, you are the maker, the buyer and the user. You are accountable to yourself. What you do and what you make needs to satisfy your own needs before anybody else’s.

This means that you don’t have to, and should not, do things in a way that is not aligned with your way of working. This doesn’t mean that you should not try new things or listen to other people, rather you should not do things just because somebody thinks you ought to – especially if they are not invested in your work.

When you free yourself from the expectations of the world, I trust that you will find the creative process easier, more enjoyable, and more rewarding.

Be bold. Challenge yourself. Learn.

More Wall Shelf Sketches

I’ve continued to sketch, trying to figure out what design to use for the Wall Shelf Build-Off this weekend. I could well find myself in the shop Saturday without a design and just making it up on the fly – that idea is not foreign to me.

Have a look at my sketches – perhaps they’ll be the spark you need for your design.

If you need some more inspiration, check out my ever-growing Pinterest board of #WSBO inspiration.

There’s still time to register! #WSBO is January 28-29.

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Sketching to Develop Wall Shelf Ideas

With two weeks before the Wall Shelf Build-Off, I spent some time this afternoon working on design ideas. I filled three pages of sketches with a variety of designs.

When sketching, I like to use pen and don’t spend more than half a minute on each.

I use the sketches to help me figure out what I like and what I don’t like. Sometimes I will sketch different variations of details, like square and rounded corners, right over each other.

If a detail is difficult to draw, or is an important part of the design, I may add an arrow and label. I may draw in the grain if it is part of the design, but I usually focus on basic concepts and form.

Feel free to use these ideas for your Wall Shelf Build-Off design.

I’m always interested in your feedback, but particularly interested in your thoughts on these sketches. Do any of the ideas stand out to you?

If you need some more inspiration, check out my ever-growing Pinterest board of #WSBO inspiration.

And there’s still time to register! #WSBO is January 28-29.

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Designing a Wall Shelf – Mounting Options

For a wall shelf, the best place to start is at the beginning – the wall.

How will the shelf be mounted to the wall?

Perhaps the biggest challenge in designing a successful wall shelf is attaching it to the wall strongly enough to support it and whatever it supports. The method of attachment will in part dictate the design of the shelf. Consider these methods of attachment when designing your shelf.

Angle Brackets and Screws

Probably the simplest attachment method involves store-bought metal brackets and screws to attach the shelf to the wall. This method is simple and effective, but hardly  elegant. To improve the look, use fancier metal brackets or make your own corbels from wood, metal, or another material. Screws can be visible or hidden. If you want to anchor the brackets into studs, you will have to consider that in your design and mount them accordingly.

If your shelf has a structural back, you can screw directly through it into the wall. It’s typically not very discreet, but with the right design and right choice of fastener it can look very good. In this case, as soon as books are loaded on the shelf, the back plate and screws are hidden.

screwed-shelf

Keyholes

A special keyhole-shaped slot that is wider at the bottom and narrower at the top captures a screw head to hang an object. The keyhole mount is mortised into the back of the piece and not visible from the front or edges. Cut keyhole slots with a special router bit, or buy metal keyhole brackets that attach with screws. These require a degree of precision to install, and may dictate where the shelf hangs on the wall if you need to hit a stud.

keyhole

French Cleat

A versatile and strong method of hanging something, a French cleat is usually invisible once the shelf is installed. A wide cleat provides a good chance of being able to hang it where you want and secure it to at least one stud. Comprised of a pair of matching strips with mating chamfers on the edges (usually 45 degrees), one is mounted to the wall and the other to the back of the shelf. You can hide it in a recess in the back of the shelf to make it invisible. The cleat allows simple drop on/lift off installation.

french-cleat-system

Variations of this exist, including the narrow cleats I use on my tusk tenon wall shelves, and low-profile manufactured metal cleats.

french-cleat-varation

Slide-On Floating Shelf Systems

This style of mount consists of one part that fastens directly to the wall, and the shelf slides right over it for installation. Shop-made versions typically involve a strip of wood or wooden frame screwed to studs, and a hollow shelf that slips on and covers it completely. Like a wide French cleat, a wide mount makes it easy to fasten to the wall wherever you like.

floating-shelf

Metal hardware exists too, which typically requires two or more deep holes cut into the back edge of the shelf. These holes can be drilled, or routed in if the shelf is laminated. If the hardware must be mounted to a stud, this style of hardware makes it more difficult to mount it exactly where you want.

Need More Ideas?

If you need some more ideas, try wandering the aisles of your local hardware or home decor store. You can also check out my Wall Shelf Build-Off Pinterest board, and remember to register for the #WSBO!

Understanding Material and Joint Strength

Guaranteed Success Can Be Bad

Being scared of failing can steer us towards taking extra precautions to better the odds of success. It makes perfect sense, but it’s a shame because when things are over-designed and over-built, we often do not have the opportunity to observe the actual strengths of the components involved.

Ash Chair Prototype

Understand the Materials, Techniques, and Tools You Use

Forget cosmetic appearance – the real beauty comes from the strength within. The true beauty of ash, despite its strong grain lines, is its strength and flexibility. These physical properties allow components made from it to be shaped more aggressively. Likewise, fine-grained hardwoods allow us to cut finer details, including joinery and carvings. For these reasons, it is important that the maker have a good understanding of materials when matching them to the design.

Cribbage Table 1

I made a series of stopped cuts in the stretcher of “Beware of Step 27”, then wedged the sections apart and drove them into mortises in the legs.

Learn By Doing

As with most things, you can learn about things including the physical properties of materials, and strengths of different joints from books. It’s an excellent place to start, but a terrible place to finish. Books and pictures do not adequately convey the strength of a certain material or joint. Descriptions such as “good load strength and medium hardness”, or “an excellent joint for a drawer” do not actually tell you how it will fare in the real world. Videos are slightly better, but are still a poor replacement for hand-on experience.

Seek Failure and Learn

The best way to learn is to experiment yourself. Seek failure. Here’s a simple exercise I use to learn the strength of the materials I use. A project always yields some offcuts. Instead of cutting over-length offcuts to fit in the firewood box, I first try to break them.

Small pieces, I may try to fold with just my upper body strength, larger ones I may try to break over my knee. But for most offcuts, I set one end on the ground and the other on a block of wood, then stomp on it. It is impressive how strong wood is. Quite often, the wood will kink or bend before it fails.

Apply Your Knowledge to Your Designs

We can apply our knowledge of the materials and joints we use to the things we build. Remember that in most projects, the piece of wood taking load, whether it be a table top, chair stretcher, or drawer bottom is wider if not thicker too, and is hopefully not the subject of somebody stomping on it, trying to break it.

I think that this exercise will build your confidence in material strength, and possibly get you thinking about using materials in more daring ways.

Butternut & Ash Side Table

I recently completed this small side table and it has already become a much-appreciated addition to the home. With a table top about 10″ x 18″, it has proven itself to be compact yet stable, and suitably sized to hold a book, or a dinner plate and drinking glass.

 

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Followers of my blog may recognize the top as a slice from the same piece of ash that was used in the doors of Insanity 2.

ash-butternut-side-table-high

The form took a while to realize, and I had fun mixing straight lines and convex shapes.

The butternut base is joined with bridle and lap joints, and the teardrop ash top is joined with a pair of floating tenons and a little glue.

Responsibility of the End User: Reflections on Skeletal Ash Chair

The Skeletal Chair at my desk is my favourite seat in the house.

skeletal-chair-21st-century-writing-deskI designed and built this chair three years ago and it has been in regular use ever since. It is comfortable and ergonomic, allowing me to lean side to side or forward, or pivot and turn on the front leg. It is lightweight and can be easily carried with just a single hand. I do most of my writing in this seat, as well as manage paperwork, socialize, and eat the occasional meal.

I like the aesthetics of the design, but have concerns about the strength. I’ve had to repair it four times so far, and that has highlighted the areas that need to be built stronger so that it lasts.

A well-made product should be durable, but the question is, how durable? Is it good enough for an item to endure regular use, or should it also tolerate occasional, or regular abuse such as standing on chairs, lifting furniture by their tops, or being toppled? If a chair intended for adult use cannot support an adult of any size, is that okay? Where is the line between the responsibility of the maker and the user?

If durability was the only concern, we would all be sitting on blocks of concrete. Obviously there are other important factors that lead to a successful design, and each must be carefully weighed in importance, and a good compromise established.

See the evolution of this design, starting with Prototype #1, Prototype #2Prototype #3, and Prototype #4.