Friday, 30 September 2011

Dovetails - The Holy Grail

   In the world of woodworking there is nothing more striking than a dovetail joint and what it represents historically. Many still argue it is the strongest joint and when it come to cutting dovetails they have to be cut almost according to the gospel. 
   But I find it a little irksome when I see immaculate cabinetry at exhibitions and when I open the drawer I see the shoulder line left on. No, no, no. If you are going to stick to tradition stick to tradition! I also observe inconsistency as the shoulder line is never left on the carcase dovetail! 
   So who is the gospel according to? Well if we take the 50's and 60's as the zenith of handmade cabinetry, before machine woodworking got into gear, a Mr Charles Hayward was famous for a series of definitive books on practical woodworking and he was pretty well acknowledged as the authority. In fact nobody since has gone into the craft in anywhere near the depth of his books. He states clearly that the shoulder line should be removed and this teaching at the same time was coming out of the leading colleges Shoreditch and Loughborough. A light shoulder is first scribed and then deepened where the tail and pin portions are removed. the line there serves as a location for a chisel and saw. 
   Although many antiques display crude shoulder lines left on which on close inspection by the torn grain imply a marking gauge was used (rather than a try square and marking knife), it is no guide to proper practice or the best tradition. Many antiques were made by semi skilled craftsman and are so badly designed and made would be thrown out of an exhibition of contemporary furniture today.    
   Here endeth the lesson!

A carcase dovetail devised by Jeremy Broun combining a traditional lap dovetail and through dovetail.
This is a short extract from an article to appear in British Woodworking magazine soon

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

My Beautiful Hands

   A few days ago I did a stupid thing and whilst using a portable metal grinder the molegrips slackened, the metal moved and the rotating cutter went quick walkabouts over my hand ripping through a layer of flesh around the base of my thumb. Fortunately no nerves or tendons were severed as this is my right hand used for guitar playing and my thumb is very important. The last time I damaged a hand was also whilst working on a car project in 1989 and I drilled through the bodywork with a half inch drillbit, forgetting I was supporting the material with my fingers the other side. In fact it was the same thumb! Complete stupidity and a reminder how valuable my hands are. 
   I often lie awake at night silhouetting my hands against the moon shining through a skylight above my bed. I still have beautiful hands, strong working man's hands but also well proportioned hands with guitar player's fingers. I don't think its vanity but a sheer appreciation of the wonder of how the hands interpret what the brain commands. I exercise my hands whilst doing my full moon ritual, making the fingers move in every possible way. Learning guitar chords (or any instrument probably) is an excellent workout for hand and brain.
Some guitar chord shapes take tens of hours to master from the initial careful placing of each finger on each string, often awkward to hold the position, then months later the chord shape is executed at speed. I'm lucky, although I used to be able to site read, I play totally by ear and once the muscle memory kicks in the chord sequences are automatic and I can then concentrate on expression. I am amazed at how many jazz players read off the manuscript. I thought jazz was supposed to be free and improvised. I am an improvisor and my wonderful hands are the greatest gift I could ever ask for, linked to a brain that fires on four cylinders most of the time. I am very fortunate, at this moment in time I have no aches and pains in my limbs and in particular my hands and it is surprising I have not worn my hands out. 
   I have made a living from my hands, renovated three houses and made countless pieces of furniture. On my rocking chairs alone I have drilled nearly forty thousand holes through which eight miles of sailing cord has passed to create the upholstery (although many of the chairs were woven by others) but I drilled every hole. 
   Over five decades of using my hands since building my first guitar at school, I reckon this represents between 30,000 and 50,000 hours of creative hand work and still they are almost as agile as when I was 17 years old. This takes into account a fair percentage of my life immobilised by depression. Perhaps the price I pay for such wonderful hands.

  My beautiful hands that survived a stupid accident

The High Backed Rocker has found homes around the world since 1973
Over eight miles of sailing chord and 40,000 holes drilled