Rodale Press Publication

AM une AN WOODWORK! K A A I» K II. 1 9 «> (> 1

Don't Lose Touch with the Wood

It was a nicely built piece. An oak chcsc of drawers with tight-fitting joints, drawers that slid smoothly and a flawless finish. Yet something wasn't right. I took a step back to get a look at the big picturc.

It wasn't the proportions that bothered me— the lines were quite grace-fill. The problem was all in the choice of the wood. The gaudy grain lines of the plain-sawn red oak were about as subtle as the loud chcck-crcd plaid on a uscd-car salesman's suit (you know the kind). The drawer fronts were cut from just any old boards without regard for how they'd look together when the drawers were stacked up. The top was glued up from four mismatching pieces that looked more like stripes than a single, wide board. All this visual cluttcr spoiled a well-crafted piece...and there was no one to blame but myself. You see, I was the guy who lost touch with the wood.

Most of us woodworkers are "techies" at heart. Tool junkies. Problem solvers. Left-brain analytical thinkers. We love gadgets that promise precision and speed. We like drawing things out with a T-square and rule. We get so wrapped up in the tools and the process and the technical details that we sometimes lose touch with the creative, right-brain, visual side of ourselves—the side that can sec like an artist. But craftsmanship is a balance between art and technique. Tip the scale too far in either direction

and you end up with something that's less than the best.

I learned a valuable lesson from that chest of drawers long ago. I now devote as much thought to selecting my boards and laying out the parts for the best color and figure as I do to the design and construction. Next time you're choosing boards or veneer for a special project, take time to plan the visual effect that you want to create. Don't let it happen by chance. 1 like to sketch out the parts on the board with chalk so I can sec what the effect of the figure will be. Look for the pattern possibilities— symmetrical or otherwise—in stiles, doors and drawers. Cut out drawer fronts and rails from a single wide board so the figure will match. Lay out box sides end to end on the board so the grain pattern runs around the sides of the box. You get the idea.

Be especially cautious when you're considering coarse-grained woods like red oak or ash. The strong, contrasty grain of these woods can overwhelm a small or a dclicate piece—especially when the boards arc plain-sawn. The straight grain of quartcrsawn boards is less visually busy.

Treat the wood as an ally, let it help your design. Stay in touch with the wood and your work will reach a whole new level of refinement.

David Sloan Editor & publisher

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