February 9, 2010


These are projects I made a long long time ago, when I was in high school. I thought I would include them here because it was in my high school woodwork and stone carving classes that I began working with my hands, and experienced the feeling of creating something tangible for the first time.
Even though I made many of these objects more than a decade ago, they've stuck around in my life because they are solid and functional.

The female torso bookend is made out of soap stone. We were given a selection of stone chunks to pick from, and I chose one that had a vaguely female form.
We were encouraged to sculpt the stone into an organic shape, inspired by the shape of the stone itself, rather than imposing our own idea on our rocks. I used a coarse rasp to create the rough shape of the torso, shaving away the excess areas. I then used finer and finer rasps to create the soft curves, and finally a fine sand paper with olive oil to polish the stone and give it a smooth, natural finish. This picture shows the soap stone sitting on my shelf, propping up my books.

For this stool, we were given a single log of wood, completely covered in bark. I had to split the wood into long chunks using a wedge and a mallet, get rid of the bark, and produce six rough pieces that approximated the size and shape of three legs and three rungs. No power tools were involved. Again, I used a series of coarse to fine rasps to shape the legs and rungs, finishing with sand paper. The seat was created from a separate piece of wood.

Our teacher was skilled in traditional wood joinery techniques and was very adamant that we use no mechanical fasteners or adhesives to put our woodwork projects together. All our joints took advantage of the material properties of wood - particularly its flexibility and grain structure. I don't remember the  name of these joints, but the idea behind them was very simple: the rungs were inserted into holes in the legs like little pegs which were split down the middle. Tapered wedges (the dark wood) were hammered in horizontally - exerting pressure up and down (rather than side to side, which could cause the legs to split because of the direction of the grain). The same joints were used to attach the legs to the seat. I love the idea that this piece of furniture is made entirely of wood, with no metal accessories. And the joints have proved to be solid and durable to this day.

This filing tray was made with the same naturalistic philosophy. In this case, I used dovetail joints which fit together like interlocking fingers. This type of woodwork requires a certain precision, to make sure that all the parts fit together securely. Most of my time was spent measuring and planing the wood, so that all the edges were perfectly flat, and the pieces fit together at perfect right angles.

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