My Midlife Crisis: A tale of Woe and Redemption

My tale of woe begins nearly forty years ago when I was a young man in my early twenty’s. Those were relatively carefree days. No family to provide for and few responsibilities. My paychecks mostly went towards stereo gear (this is before all my discretionary funds went to woodworking tools). Usually at the top of my priority list was the newest – biggest – baddist stereo receiver or speakers. Crossing off an item at the top of that list meant saving all my “extra money” until I could make the trip into Seattle and procure the object of my desires. Back then all my monthly expenses (rent – food – utilities – etc.) could almost be met with a single week’s paycheck. But this stereo stuff was expensive and often required several weeks of savings to put aside the necessary funds.
During this time of saving and waiting I would wear the advertising literature to tatters while imagining how complete my life would be once I had in my possession the new piece of gear. As I neared the payday that would put me over the top, the excitement would build and keep building until I found myself in the store making the big purchase. With the merchandise loaded in my red Volkswagen bug, I would make for my apartment as fast as four small cylinders would accommodate me. The excitement reached a feverish pitch as I unpacked and set up the new gear. At long last the new component was in place with my stereo turned up loud so my neighbors could savor the moment along with me. The problem was – the initial excitement soon faded as I realized my life had not changed in any dramatic fashion as my imagination had led me to believe. This epiphany was soon followed by another more profound epiphany “There is yet a bigger, badder piece of stereo equipment that I do not have – and I am certain that my ascension to cosmic consciousness will be realized once I posses it!

Ultimately, each revelation and each new component was followed by yet another revelation and yet another component. My imagination repeatedly told me that nirvana would be within reach if only I were to keep my eyes on the prize and persevere on my path to the ultimate stereo.
 

But alas, I lost faith. I told myself enlightenment was not to be found in the acquisition of stereo gear. Somewhere deep inside though, there persisted a meager glimmer of conviction that I had stopped too soon – just one more trip to Seattle with a small pile of cash would be all it took. Maybe my faith should have been stronger, but I am only human and weak. Woe was me

Nonetheless, I picked myself up and moved on with life. I eventually got married and had kids which entailed commitments and responsibilities. My carefree days were behind me and a thing of the past. Eventually my stereo gear did not even make it as high as the back burner on my priority list. Some of it even got sold off instead of being repaired.
Many years have passed now and my kids are all grown. A couple of years ago I was at a garage sale and came upon a Sansui 5000A receiver for $20. I had this same model way back when and needless to say it had cost me a lot more than $20. I instantly forked out the cash without haggling. Something was re-kindled deep inside me. I was having another one of my revelations – I could see salvation on my horizon. My faith was being restored. My quest for the bigger badder stereo gear could be realized at bargain prices by way of garage sales, thrift stores and craigslist. I was on a quest. But as we know, sometimes a quest can turn a little nutty. I had many years of suppressing my stereo desires to deal with. I needed therapy – and by therapy I mean amassing and hording (a primordial survival instinct) as much of this gear as possible. This was turning into a midlife crisis, but it was a lot easier on the pocket book than a shiny new corvette.The feeding frenzy that followed my latest revelation left my shop floor cluttered with vintage audio gear and less room to work. This stuff could be found for little to nothing and sometimes free! I had not kept my eyes on the original prize but opted for quantity over quality. I needed to re-focus and gather up those components that were to have brought me fulfillment back in 1973. At the top of this list were a set of AR-3a speakers and a Marantz 2270 receiver. I had previously owned a pair of the AR’s but sold them thirty years ago when they needed repairs and I needed cash. These speakers have become legendary over the years and can command a premium price. I eventually procured a pair in need of “minor” repair – “minor” being a subjective term. The story behind these speakers is a saga in itself, but after much time and consternation, I have a faithfully restored pair of Ar-3a speakers along with a pair of Greene & Greene style speaker stands which I made especially for them.

The next on my list was a Marantz 2270 receiver. Actually any Marantz with “22” in its model number held magic for me and unfortunately for lots of other people as well. The Marantz 22-hundred series, like the Ar-3a, had become much sought after. Many of these units are collecting dust these days though and not everyone is aware of their worth. By watching craigslist like a hawk, I was able to secure not only the 2270 but its bigger (badder) brother the 2285b and its littler (less-badder) brother the 2252b as well. I have since thinned out my vintage gear down the bare-bones minimum of a mere 7 sets of speakers along with 6 receivers and various CD players (not vintage but gotta have them to play cd’s).

I have my best system set up in our living room – this space is my stereo sanctuary. I am not looking to my stereo gear as I was forty years ago to make my life complete – but I am getting immense pleasure from it this time around. Few material things bring as much satisfaction. Life is not quite complete but nearly so, when closing my eyes and listening to a Beethoven symphony or the Kronos Quartet on my vintage gear – sounds like heaven to me even though my ears aren’t what they used to be ( lots of years in a woodshop is not good on the ears). And I must give credit to my long-suffering wife for being so understanding about arranging the furniture in the living room for the optimum listening placement.

 

That burning desire to have the biggest baddist has almost been eradicated from my being. BUT – If by chance you have something bigger and badder in the way of a 70’s Marantz receiver or Acoustic Research (AR) speakers – AND you offer me a killer deal – I might just see if nirvana is in fact obtainable with that next piece of gear. 

 

 

Using the Hollow Square Punches

Before starting give the punch a good sharpening. The sharpening cones available at Lee Valley are the correct angle for the inside surface.

Layout the location for the square hole.
Using a small square, center the punch on the layout.

Now lightly tap it in place to registers its position. Often the punch will stay put when you remove your hand – if not it is easy to relocate.

Now, using a bit that is 3/64″ under the size of the square hole (3/8″ square hole – use 21/64″ bit), drill out the center. Use an ordinary twist bit for this and not a brad point. The leading sharp corners of the brad bit will catch on the inside of the chisel and damage themselves.

To finish off – strike the punch with the hammer to its final depth. Before removing the punch use the drill once again to remove most of the wood chips.

Remove the punch for a perfectly square crisp hole!

The Hollow Square Punches will be available from Lee Valley Tools very soon.
Use the product code 50K5920.
For more on the Hollow Square Punches see my previous blog.

Hollow Square Punches

As a furnituremaker, working in the style of Greene & Greene, I have chopped out more than a few square holes for ebony plugs. The accepted method for this has been to drill a round hole and use the chisel from a hollow chisel mortiser (hand held) to square up the holes. This has worked to some degree, but with limitations. One of those limitations being that a 3/16” hollow chisel was not available. Since I employ quite a few 3/16” square ebony plugs in my designs, this meant chopping out those holes by hand, with a lot of patience (and time).
This prompted me to design my own hollow square punch – not only because I needed a 3/16” size, but also one that is specifically designed to be hand held.
My early attempts did not meet expectations, but after a few tries, the new tool was actually outperforming expectations. Dozens of these were machined and made for me, by my friend Bob Hadley. Thanks BOB!
Once I had a working tool in hand, I submitted the idea to Lee Valley Tools. They liked it and turned it over to their R&D department. The Lee Valley folks made improvements and sent me the prototypes for testing. My friend George Knutson helped me run the punches through their paces. I then returned them along with comments and suggestions. We went through this process twice. I was greatly impressed with the Lee Valley R&D people – they really brought the tool to perfection!

Later this month Lee Valley Tools will have available for purchase the hollow square punches in six sizes -3/16” – ¼” – 5/16” – 3/8” 7/16” – ½”.
Use the product code 50K5920 to check on the punches availability.
I will follow up soon with a blog that details the use of the punches.

James Krenov 1920 – 2009

James Krenov was an early influence of mine. Before I was a Greene and Greene fanatic, I was a Krenov fanatic. His designs were supremely elegant and he had a way of writing that drew me into his world. You don’t have to look too deeply to see his influence in my work.

I never had a conversation with Krenov as I did with Sam Maloof, but many years ago, I attended a couple of his lectures and once, one of his weekend workshops. At that time I was not fully self-employed. I worked a day job making high end conference tables. At the workshop, if we so choose, we could bring a slide of our work which would then be critiqued by Krenov and the entire group of about 30 people.

Back then I was somewhat unsure of myself and shied away from public speaking (public speaking being more than 4 people!). I had brought images of a small end table I had made and was working up the courage to stand up and hand my slides to Krenov. In turn each person would stand up, introduce themselves, and tell something about their woodworking experience before discussing their slide. As I was telling myself “I can do this – I can do this” – another guy began to speak – to my utter horror he started in on a rant about the outrageous sums of money people were getting for conference tables (why he singled out conference tables I will never know), while truly deserving craftsman were working for starvation wages. The sub-text here was that people building conference tables were selling their souls to the highest bidder. There was general agreement in the room and a lot of anger vented. I can’t recall Krenov’s exact response but I think it was something along the lines of “don’t worry your-self about these things”.

I did not stand up – I wish I had. Looking back though, my design was uninspiring and I am sure it would have taken some hits – especially after admitting that I was one the afore mentioned builders of conference tables.

Krenov’s influence remains a part of my work to the present day.
Many of you who have read my book or have attended one of my workshops know of the story behind the “block and dowel” pulls I use on my furniture.
For those of you who haven’t – several years ago I designed what I thought was a great pull to accent my G&G inspired designs. I was feeling very good about myself for coming up with said design until one day I came upon a poster in my file cabinet. The poster was an announcement of the Krenov workshop I had attended. There on the poster was Krenov’s block and dowel pull which my sub-conscious had filed away and brought forward years later.

Krenov’s work has influenced me in countless ways – some ways I am probably still not consciously aware of. I read his books at a time when I was on fire to devour everything I could find on woodworking and design – and at a time when there wasn’t nearly as much material available as there is now.
Thank you James Krenov, for inspiring me and adding fuel to my passion so many years ago.

An Open Letter to All Spammer /Scammers.

I have been getting emails like the one below (which I received a couple of days ago) for a few years now. The sender always seems to have a very English sounding name, but for some reason does not have a good command of the English language (this one is better in that regard than most).

Here is the spammer email just as I received it. I did change the name and omitted the address in case they borrowed those from a 3rd party.

GOOD DAY,
MY NAME IS RICHARD MORRIS AND I AM LOOKING TO ORDER TO SOME(DINING TABLE) WHICH WILL BE PICKED UP FROM YOUR STORE.THESE (DINING TABLE) ARE TO BE SHIPPED TO MY NEW COMPANY IN (SWEDEN) WITH THE SHIPPING I WILL RECOMMEND A SHIPPING COMPANY TO YOUR LOCATION FOR THIS PICK UP ,CAN YOU GIVE ME THE PRICE OF THE (DINING TABLE) THAT YOU HAVE FOR SALE…

DO YOU ACCEPT CREDIT CARD FOR THIS ORDER?

HOPE TO READ FROM YOU SOON AS THE QUOTE IS READY.

COMPANY NAME: Morris&Son.Co..Ltd
COMPANY ADDRESS: (Sweden)
COMPANY LOCATION: Sweden
THANK YOU,
RICHARD MORRIS

My Response………………….

Hello to you Richard Morris,

This is my read to you for the quote that is ready.

I am (You-know-who) and I do make these (dining table), I am so very sorry but I am not in the slightest way accepting credit card, It is in fact my firm belief that credit card are part of Beelzebub’s (the DEVIL !!!!) master plan. I do however accept gold bullion—- for these (dining table).

The price is 3 (very large) wheel barrels chocked full of gold bullion. I know what you are thinking – this is nuts because it will cost me extra money to ship the 3 wheel barrels full of gold bullion. NOT TO WORRY! I have run into this problem before and have you covered. First of all, you do not have to go to the full expense of purchasing 3 wheel barrels and shipping them to me (chocked full with said gold bullion). Just go and purchase one (very large) wheel barrel – load it chocked full (no cheating here now – it must be CHOCKED FULL) of said gold bullion – unload the gold bullion and set it aside – then do this 2 more times -this then is your 3 wheel barrel payment of (chocked full gold bullion) – you don’t have to ship the wheel barrel! You can in fact take the wheel barrel back to the hardware store and demand a full refund ( just a note from my own experience – if you act very indignant it will greatly improve you chances of getting the full refund) – but my sense of fairness does not stop here – – calculate the actual cost of shipping (the gold bullion) and remove that amount of gold bullion from the pile ( again no cheating – its’ not that I don’t trust you – but I will be double checking your figures).

You must realize that as a business man I can not however be burdened with every little expense and as you have seen I am very fair about meeting you part way in these matters. I feel it is therefore your responsibility to provide an armed guard for the (gold bullion) while it is in transit.


One more thing – As you can imagine I am receiving shipments of (gold bullion) on a daily basis for purchase of my (furniture). It is therefore extremely important to clearly label your shipment and reference this email. It is my company policy that any shipments of (gold bullion) that are received without adequate labeling will be held for a period of only 30-days before it is moved to my big vault and considered a part of my company’s general assets. I again know what you are thinking – this is a pretty uncaring and cold manner in which to conduct business. But you really need to put you two feet in my two shoes for a moment and look at it from my point of view – (you know things are not always as they seem until you see things from the other persons perspective). I receive a number of (gold Bullion) shipments every week without proper labeling (its appalling how so many people are so sloppy in their handwriting and labeling) – if not labeled properly these shipments then take up an unacceptable amount of space on my shop floor – my shop space is a major asset for my business – If all I have is piles of gold bullion taking up space in my shop – how do you expect me to get any work done and in turn provide an adequate living for my family?

Again I am very pleased that you are so eager to do business with my company and I look forward to receiving your shipment of (gold bullion).

Yours truly,

(you-know-who)



Sam Maloof

It was a very sad day last week when I got a phone call from Kevin Lerma telling me that Sam Maloof had died the night before.

Sam well deserved his position as one of the most influential and well known woodworkers in the world. But as much as Sam was a master woodworker, he was an even greater human being.

My Meeting with Sam

In February of 2007 I was teaching a class at William Ng’s in Anaheim. One of my students (Jim) was a docent at Sam Maloof’s. Since I was not available during the day to tour Sam’s house (museum) Jim arranged for myself and two others to have a special after-hour’s tour. I was told there were no guarantees of meeting Sam. After arriving, Jim proceeded to give us the tour,but few minutes later, Sam came walking in, and upon seeing us took over as tour guide.
This was incredible – not only did we get to meet Sam but he was taking the time to personally give us the tour! I could not believe our good luck – I was blown-away!
At one point Sam pulled the velvet rope aside and said “let’s set down for a moment”!


Afterwards Sam invited us down to his house (where he actually lived). We visited for another hour or so while setting on Sam’s furniture.
Sam had no idea who we were – but made time for us nonetheless. Sam was very humble and easy to talk to – as if he were just a regular guy. He was unaffected by his fame. I have heard many stories similar to mine – Sam was always willing to give of himself. He was an extraordinary human being!
I bought Sam’s book and had him sign it. He wrote “To Darrell Peart – Blessings/Peace – Sam Maloof – February 2007”.

Blessings and Peace upon you Sam – you will greatly missed.

Precision Woodworking

When I started out in woodworking every project was laid out in full scale on MDF on the floor on my hands and knees. I had a giant (shop-made) t-square, a good set of knee pads and a box of colored pencils (different color for each layer). These layouts were critical to my process. Having taken three years of drafting in school I was fairly proficient with drawing instruments and prided myself in being accurate. Every minute detail was worked in these layouts – from complex joinery to use of hardware and even some of the aesthetic decisions. Every project meant a new piece of MDF to be placed in my storage bin – after a while my storage bin would begin to bulge so from time to time I would have to perform a selective purging. This system served me well and I was quite content with it. But change was on the way. And as change often is, it came in small incremental pieces.
The first step in that change came while I was working at a large high-end commercial shop. At this shop there were nearly 100 employees on the floor – most of whom loved to buy tools – which we often did in bulk to get a good price. One time we purchased vernier calipers – not because we had a need for them but because it sounded like a really neat idea. So we had nearly one hundred woodworkers with calipers: and nothing to measure. After some discussion it was decided that all work coming out of the mill department (where I worked) would be subject to a standard of .005. Soon 1/32” seemed like a large number! This was great stuff and we all became a bit drunk with it – it was not long before someone bought a dial indicator (on magnetic base) to set the slip (suicide) knives on the shaper and not long after that we were setting the knives on the jointer with a dial indicator as well.
Working with calipers and dial indicators soon became a part of how I did things – it greatly increased my accuracy – especially with things such as intricate joinery. But change does not come easy for some. A few of the older guys did not buy calipers – in fact they took every opportunity to chastise us for using the new technology and speaking in thousandths. At one point I made a rather embarrassing mistake on a project. It was a ripe opportunity for one of these old guys to level his most damning insult at me – and I could see it coming as he walked over to me and said “I bet you own a calculator – don’t you! “.
A few years later I found myself back at HLD (Harry Lundstead Design) – a shop I had worked at years earlier building custom conference tables. I described my new position as “fireman”. Since I had left the company, they took my old job and divided it up amongst several people – no-one knew the entire process anymore. So I was hired back on swing shift – and my job, since I knew the entire process was to step in at any point and “put out the fire”.
Since I had left a CNC router had become a part of the process – so I learned how to operate it. This was not the CNC machines of today – this thing operated in DOS, which often meant entering coordinates and programming it myself.
This was another step in changing the way I approached woodworking. The opportunities the CNC opened up were immediately apparent. For instance – no more giant router trammels that stretched all the way across the shop and took several people to manage. It was now possible to run a 360” radius followed by a 360.0625” radius with extreme precision in a matter of 5 minutes verses several hours the old way!
The technology bug had now bitten me in a very big way. I was actively seeking new technologies and not waiting for them to bite me first.
Learning CAD was high on my list. But I had spent many years with the t-square and was quite efficient with it. So it was considerable time before I was faster with CAD and could fully retire my drawing instruments. CAD opened up a whole new world and was probably the biggest move forward of them all. Complex joinery and compound angles became much easier. I could draw a curved part from a chair and rotate that part so that it would fit into the smallest rectangle possible thus making the most efficient use of material. Within that rectangle the joinery could be placed within .001 “. With my Incra precision marking tools I could layout the joinery on a piece of wood to within 0.015625” (1/64”) – which would serve as the “rough layout”. With my Multi-router (an incredibly accurate machine) I could make a rough test cut. With my calipers I could then measure the cut and adjust the multi-router to within a couple of thousandths with my dial indicator.
A fundamental premise of woodworking had changed. Instead of fitting each part to the next I could, for the most part, make individual parts with a high degree of certainty that things would either fit on the first try with little or no fussing.
The combination of CAD and CNC has also dramatically changed the way I approach jig and template making. Jigs are easily made to hold odd and curved shapes while complex joinery is performed. A would-be tricky operation such as a pierced tsuba is now a simple matter.

But these new technologies have their limitations. If everything were done by machine with absolute precision – then everything would be rather lifeless and sterile. There must be some sign of the human hand in our work – there must be a little imperfection. What gives a person’s face character is the fact that one side is slightly different than the other. I let technology do what it does best – precision measuring and machining, but the pillowed ends of finger joints and ebony plugs are all shaped by hand – they are all just slightly different than the next piece. The same is true with my “straps” – final shaping is by hand and all are slightly irregular. The final sanding of a rounded edge is always done by hand.
Precision woodworking does not make new things possible it just makes things done the old way dramatically easier, thus greatly reducing the labor required and ultimately making things more affordable.
So embrace new technologies and let them do what they do best but let a little imperfection and character show in your work as well.

Design DNA

When contemplating a new design, I try to visualize the piece as having DNA. In other words it is a part of the organic world and the design elements are a product of its’ DNA.
When filtering a design through this lens there are a few questions to be asked:
How do the individual elements interact with one another? Do they look like they came from the same master plan?
What is the perceived structural role of the various elements and are those elements performing their duty?
These are not questions for the intellect – we must call on our emotional nature for the answer – we must close our eyes and let our imagination and intuition play out the scenario.

To illustrate the point, let’s take the leg indent detail from the Greene & Greene Blacker House living room furniture.
In my vision the indent detail has a perceived structural role to play in the design – it is a device used to visually anchor the design to the ground (just as many other classic bottom- of -leg details). The “indent” pushes down and transfers the visual weight of the piece to the very bottom of the leg. That bottom portion of the leg (below the indent) is thus receiving the entire weight of the piece. There must also be a sufficient amount of mass below the indent to visually support the given weight. The slight round-over/ taper below the supporting mass serves to visually contain the weight and not let it dissipate.
In nature everything is there for a purpose. When a design possesses DNA there is an economy in its details – nothing is superfluous.

A Week at William Ng’s School of Fine Woodworking

My visits to Anaheim to teach at William Ng’s school are always rewarding. It’s a time to make new friendships and renew old ones around a common theme of woodworking and Greene and Greene. The week started with the first commercial run of my new Details II class. I was more than a little delighted to see among the 18 students, several who I already knew from my Details I class. After the trial run at Port Townsend I had a good idea of how the material would flow – but I was a little nervous nonetheless –all went well though and if nothing else the students were polite enough to say they really
enjoyed the class.
Several students from the weekend stayed on for my 6-day Arched Aurora End Table class for a total of eight . Two guys from the Seattle area – Tom and Jim made it to Anaheim for both classes. Their tables will be shipped home in knock–down and will be assembled later in my shop in Seattle.

We were especially thrilled to have Marc Spagnuolo (better known as the Wood Whisperer) in attendance. Marc along with his good friend Brad Ferguson were my star students – always done first and eager for what’s next. Both Marc and Brad are very fine woodworkers and were with us mainly to add some Greene & Greene details to their bag of woodworking tricks. I would like to thank Marc for his blogging of the class on his website – my hits doubled and my book sales soared! And I would like to thank Brad for helping me with some of the slower students in the class. A video of Marc interviewing me will be available for download from thewoodwhisperer.com – stay tuned to Marc’s website for details.
When I found out that Marc and Brad were interested in building John Hall’s walnut mirror frame (1909), I called Gary Hall – Gary graciously brought the frame by for hands on look. This was an incredible treat and a rare close-up look at work by one of the Hall Brothers. You would have thought a rock star was in the room with all the cameras clicking.

All in all it was a very good eight days at William Ng’s. I am home now and still feeling a bit exhausted – but the exhaustion is from doing things I love to do – a good exhaustion indeed!

A Weekend at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking

This last weekend we (myself and the Port Townsend School of Woodworking) invited a few of our friends to attend a trail run of my new workshop – Greene and Greene Details II.
(With a Thanks to Tim Celeski – you can view 360-degree images of the class – here and another image again here ) In attendance were:George Knutson( who assists me), Gary Hall (grandson of Peter Hall) , Clay Curtiss, Bob Hadley, Bob Anderson, Tim Celeski (who took the 360-degree images), John Markworth (co-owner of the school), Tom Moore (alias Tom SoCal),Tom Casper (editor of American Woodworker and Woodwork magazines), Josh Green, Michael Hamilton and David Radkha. Jim Tolpin (author and co owner of the school) popped in and out and also joined several of us for dinner at the Sirens on Saturday night.
After setting up for the class on Friday, Gary Hall, Bob Hadley and I went on an Architectural history adventure – in the pursuit of a carved panel in the Jefferson County Courthouse (located in uptown Port Townsend). The carving in question may have been carved by John Hall (Gary’s great uncle) as mentioned in Randell Makinson’s book Greene and Greene: Furniture and Related Designs. I had tried several times in the past to locate any carving whatsoever, but to no avail. Apparently I was not the only person looking though – there is a carving now pictured in the courthouses’ pamphlet. It is located in one of the courtrooms directly behind and slightly above where the judge sits. Too bad we can’t have a look at the backside to see if it was signed!
Gary Hall continued his Architectural/ Family History adventure Saturday with a visit to a house that has a magnificent spiral stairway built at the time his grandfather, Peter Hall (known as a master stair builder), was in PT. Neither the carving nor the spiral stairway can be confirmed as being made by John or Peter Hall but it is entirely possible given the timeframe and that these were their specialties.
Getting back to the class: We all gathered Saturday morning with what was probably a bit slower start since there was a bit of catching up among friends. We finished up pretty much where I thought we would be at the end of Saturday. Sunday we took a break at noon for brunch at the Commons, which is only a very short distance from the school. We finished up the day around 3 o’clock and said goodbye to our old friends and some newly acquired friends as well.
Port Townsend is a wonderful and rare place. It is sort of an artist community that has not lost its identity. Franchises are not permitted in the downtown business district. The school itself is located in Fort Warden State Park on beautiful grounds near the water among many historic buildings. I enjoy teaching there not just because of the setting, but also because it’s an excuse to visit my Uncle Aubrey and Aunt Margot who live there.
I will be leaving Friday to teach the Details II workshop at William Ng’s School of Fine woodworking in Anaheim. The workshop is sold out but I believe there is still room in the 6-day arched aurora nightstand class.
I will return to PT in April and then again in July to teach both Details I and Details II. Both of these dates are sold out but we may add a couple of dates in the fall – stay tuned!