chairs, furniture, philisophy

This will outlive me

There has been much talk about furniture “outliving the maker”. And that chairs currently made could still being around in several hundreds years. A romantic view that has a nice soothing feeling for the egos of the makers currently alive. After all, what is better than feeling that your life was not in vain, your legacy still lives on, there is a tangible piece of “you” still in this world after you are gone.

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A fine example of a chair that didn’t end up in the firewood pile

The view expressed has its basis in the repulsion of the current throwaway culture. When a store-bought chair doesn’t live as long as it should because it is not well-made, it is a waste of workmanship and resources. Even if the chair was cheap it is frustrating.

Many people who make their own furniture these days therefore feel a righteous feeling about the quality of the things they make. Though this is understandable, there is one hole in the argument:

The survival of your furniture does not solely depend on how well it was made.

People forget the possibility of future idiots owning their furniture after they are gone. Sure your spouse and/or children may find your work special and treasure it in their homes during the rest of their lives but what about when they are gone? At that point your work is in the hands of the world and will likely be judged upon its appearance more that on how “well made” it is. And they won’t care about it on the same personal level because they have never known you.

Sometimes it already ends sooner. The day after you die your spouse throws out that one chair they always hated. But at least the chair outlived you!

I am a strong advocate of making things as well as you can, using the best materials and techniques at your current disposal. But there also is a danger in design and fashion, two areas furniture has historically been very susceptible to. 

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Will this chair be in style again? Is it currently in style?

The furniture you make has its roots in the current time. It doesn’t really matter what you build, it will at one point likely look dated. This means at one point your creations could (temporarily) end up in a damp cellar or a non-climate controlled barn or attic when they go out of fashion. So much for that strong staked leg joint when your chair is under attack by worms or termites..

But after that the chair will have that true antique-y look so it may become attractive again.

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This chair has been in the barn long enough and finally looks like an antique.

The bottom line is, people need to care for your creation after you are gone, or the piece may not have the long life that you intended for it. 

How do you make people care for your furniture? It helps to give or sell your pieces to people who value them. Their ancestors or friends will likely have a similar mindset. There are many examples of Welsh Stick Chairs having been in a family for generations. And this is where the quality of materials and workmanship comes in again.

I do feel that it is remarkable that, to stay with the Welsh “peasants” that built Welsh Stick Chairs several hundreds of years ago, their pieces survived for this long even if the makers’ intention never was this.

The makers back then needed something to sit on and they made it the best they could. They never meant for the chairs to be around this long – why would that be their intention?

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My latest chair

Therefore I make my chairs for the here and the now, to be enjoyed by the people who sit in them and look at them. Not for the future.  I need a place to sit and I enjoy making chairs. That is enough for me.

I hope that when my chairs get burnt they will be providing warmth to a cosy home and hopefully accompany a nice philosophical conversation.

Rudy Everts

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furniture, philisophy

Inspiration and the limitations of technique

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We all start somewhere. We all practice. We all have our reasons to practice.
When your technique improves, it helps you achieve your goals.

For instance, when you can play scales on the piano without errors, or saw to a saw line without going off to the side, it lays a good basis for successful creation.

Technical expertise comes in handy when you want to create something, be it learning a new piece on the piano, or building a Whiskey cabinet with 150 dovetails.

But what about inspiration? Maybe you started studying scales because you wanted to play the Chopin Polonaises on the piano. Maybe you wanted to learn how to carve wood because of an amazing sculpture you saw. Maybe you wanted to learn how to ride a bicycle because you saw people doing cool BMX tricks on TV as a kid.

If you don’t remember these original inspirations that drove you to go through all that effort, you may end up just practicing scales – but super-fast.
You may end up making sculptures in a traditional Southern-German style – because your sculpting teacher told you so.
Or you may end up just riding your boring city bike from point A to point B – without doing any BMX tricks at all.

And that would be a pity.

Notes

To avoid this loss of inspiration, I have made it a habit to write down any idea that comes to my mind. Not matter how silly, weird or impossible it seems. I don’t put pressure on myself except to outline the idea as clearly as possible.
I therefore have a big collection of paper notes, scribbles and drawings.

Sometimes I go through my notes and find an idea that was previously impossible to execute due to lacking technique, tools or knowledge but has now come into my reach due to my increased skills.

Carving

When I first started whittling wood with a pocket knife, around 2014, I had an idea for a sculpture. I wanted to carve a sail boat. Not a still model but a sail boat on the water leaning to the side in the wind, the sails bulging, waves around the bow. A very lively scene with lots of movement.
Somewhere later that year I attended a two-day woodcarving workshop and on the second day I pitched the idea to the teacher. I sketched the sculpture and he just stood there and grinned ‘’good luck buddy, that’s way too hard for you’’.

So I made a lizard instead on that day.

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Lizard sculpture

My technique and skills were obviously lacking at the time. But I did not forget the idea of the sail boat. Some months later, after much carving practice and making many sculptures, I decided to grab a piece of birch wood and came up with something that was close enough to the inspiration I originally had.

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Sail boat in wind, first try

I made many more of these in the months that followed, each one a little closer to the idea I had in my head.

I have piles and piles of sketches, ideas, drawings. A lot of them will probably never be executed. But I keep them around and go through them from time to time.

If anything, I can have a laugh at some silly ideas I had when I was younger.

-Rudy Everts

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furniture, philisophy

Time restraints and woodworking

After dropping off the kids at kindergarten and school this morning I found myself having a blissful three minutes of free time before I had to head to the train to go to work.
I turned on my timer, turned off my mind and sat down at the piano to practice the first Invention by J.S. Bach. After the 3 minutes were over, I felt good, I had a short but productive practice session.

J.S.Bach’s first invention in C

In these three minutes I was able to focus on the spots that needed my immediate attention. If I had had 30 minutes I would have gotten more done, no doubt. But it is still better to have 10 practice sessions of 3 minutes than just one of 30 minutes.

Sometimes when I go into my workshop knowing that I don’t have a lot of time, I decide to practice the craft just like a musician would do.

For example I will grab a scrap of wood and plane it flat to an uniform thickness, make the corners 90 degrees, make all faces and edges true and use a smoothing plane to finish the surface.

That is where my (ironically intended) matchbox holder was made. It is nothing more than a little practice session trying to make a piece of wood flat, square and smooth.

Matchbox holder

I can’t believe how much satisfaction you can have from practicing your skills, especially when you don’t have a lot of time. Because having a time limit can actually increase your productivity.

I make it a point to go into my workshop every day – even if it is just for a few minutes – to work on my projects or, if there is very little time or I don’t have space in my head, to practice my skills.

So this is to all my fellow woodworkers who find themselves with little time on their hands:

Get into your workshop. And practice.

Please give it a try and let me know what your experiences are.

 

-Rudy Everts

 

 

 

 

 

 

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furniture, philisophy

The Self-Taught Woodworker (Do Books Count?)

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Staked stool sculpture, based on the design by Chris Schwarz

It has been five months since I decided that my previous work was too imperfect and too imprecise for my own critical liking. At that time, I pondered many ideas and decided I would actively get out of my comfort zone and start making things that I wasn’t personally passionate about but that are important in woodworking. I started, so to say, my own auto-didactic teaching method for myself to get better at things that bothered me about my work.

Making these ‘less exciting items’ would be a push in the direction of making woodworking less of a leisure hobby and a more serious thing, diving deeper into the matter.

The main goals that I have in the context of this auto-didactic teaching method are:

  • Make things that are presentable with no flaws
  • Make things that don’t lie within my passion but that matter to progress as a woodworker
  • And lastly, to become more precise and accurate

At the time, I was mainly carving sculptures and spoons, so I made a simple business plan of carving the three main acanthus leafs (Roman, Greek, Baroque) before July 4th, my birthday. Working with a deadline is good when self-discipline is needed, and I realized this would give me an entire month to master each acanthus leaf – not bad!

I did my best and came up with an idea for a baroque acanthus leaf and even got passionate about it (proving that just like music you can learn to like basically anything).

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My first Acanthus leaf

So I started my own self-taught woodworking training with a simple enough carving idea and that is when things got interesting. I completed my baroque acanthus leaf, embarked upon a second one mirrored from the first, and started designing my own acanthus draping. That draping is still sitting in my workshop unfinished and I never got around to the Greek or the Roman acanthus leafs.

My birthday deadline is in two weeks and yet I am not panicking.

Why?

I am on an entirely different road right now.

I am still working with wood but it has become much clearer in my head how I have to proceed yet keeping  my goals fully in mind. I have decided that the best thing I can do at the moment for me in woodworking in order to become more precise is

making furniture.

I figured out making furniture tackles every aspect of myself that I suck at – being precise, working according to a clear plan, planning ahead, measuring things ahead of time.

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First furniture project – a small stepping stool

I have currently no more deadlines, just lots of ideas about furniture flowing through my head. My next goal is to build a chair that is both comfortable and beautiful.

It has been an exciting road so far, and this new idea excites me beyond anything I have done in the past. I am not saying my work is improving yet, I need more time to assess that statement. But I do think this is a step in the right direction.

-Rudy Everts

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