What a difference a finish makes

Exactly when you call something ‘finished’ can be a matter for debate. Some artists are unable to stop themselves poking at their work, tweaking here and there. Of course, if you’re George RR Martin then you simply assume that it’s never going to be ‘finished’ and carry on more or less forever.

But hypothetically, work shouldn’t be finished until it’s Finished. Which in the case of woodwork usually involves a great deal of sandpaper. I am not one of life’s Completer-Finishers (Google Belbin’s Team Roles if that’s not a phrase that’s familiar), I am a Plant. Which means I have lots of ideas and am dreadful with follow-through. But occasionally I do have the discipline to come back to something and get it properly signed off. Which means that the two stools I recently finished  (small ‘f’) have now been sanded, sealed, sanded again, oiled and generally anointed with a variety of unguents and solvents. Which brings out the grain something lovely.

As a reminder, this is how they looked before – much paler and more uniform. You can see how they look almost naked by comparison – the tulipwood of the taller stool really liked the oil. The wood is also completely unprotected like this and will show dirt, sweat, grease etc.

The legs are all ash, but some of them are the beautiful dark ash, which comes up almost like olivewood. I love seeing the grain patterns, in particular the ‘bullseyes’ on the rounded sections.

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It was stupid and lazy and I did it anyway

When you’re making a chair – or half a chair, which is what a stool is – you make the tenons (the pieces that fit into the holes in the legs and seat) oversized. You do this so that when the stool is all hammered together there are three things holding any joint firm: glue; wood wedged into wood; and tension. Everything pushes against everything else (that’s why the underneath bracing pieces are called ‘stretchers’ – they literally stretch the legs apart so that they’re under tension).

So when I was putting this little stool together yesterday (for Youngest Boy who cannot get into his new bed without standing on something), and I accidentally cut a tenon too narrow because I was rushing, what I should have done was make a new side stretcher. I couldn’t be bothered. I thought glue and tension would be enough.

However, when I was putting the centre stretcher in, the glue failed on the narrow tenon of the side stretcher and the leg twisted. At that point I should have re-glued it at the very least. Instead I went ahead and legged up the stool, gluing and wedging the legs into the seat.

So now that stretcher and leg are held in by tension alone, and if the springiness fails, then that corner of the stool will come apart but the rest of it won’t and essentially what I will have to show for my several dozen hours of hard work is some highly decorative firewood, because you can’t replace just one quarter of a stool, you have to do it all.

It was stupid and lazy not to make a new stretcher – the easiest part to remake – and I knew it was stupid and lazy. And I went ahead and did it anyway. Because: human.

(Although apart from having to live with the now-constant fear that one day it’ll just come apart, I am actually very pleased with it. The top is slightly dished so your feet rest comfortably on it if you’re using it as a footstool, but not so dished that you can’t use it as a side-table and put a cup of tea on it. The legs are pleasingly dramatic, and it’s the right height for a little person to sit or stand on to reach something.)

Polycraftualism OR – doing other things with my hands

As regular readers will know, I like to do a variety of things with my hands – although knitting is the main thing I also sew, and make chairs and quilts. The knitting has been in abeyance again during semester 2 of my Masters, and then it was simply too hot and sweaty to knit. But I did polish off making a stool:

made progress with a small footstool (still needs its stretchers and to be legged up):

and got around to painting and finishing the chair I made last summer.

And now I have a new hobby. Tried it for the first time on Saturday at a craft fair and I’m hooked. I’m learning to carve.

80% of a turtle

Now I just need some new tools. Oh, and some books. And another course. Happy days. 🙂