Tools, Tooling and Design


Tools, Tooling and Design
My current project - a set of three nesting bonsai stands prompted this post.
The Question:
How does the tools and tooling a woodworker has affect his/her approach to designing a piece (and does MORE mean more design options)?
Take James Krenov as one example. Given his age and his background, Im guessing that during his woodworking developmental period he had limited space and funds for tools, or wood for that matter. A table bandsaw, a table saw, a joiner and planer were probably the power tools he owned and used. And given that routers and a range of router bits werent readily available or affordable, shapers were the only power tool for edge treatments. While great for molding shops, a shaper is a bit of a scary beast and takes a bit of time to set up and use safely. Though knives can be ground to any profile, that takes time - and money. That doesnt lend itself to experimentation and spontaneious serendipity.
Perhaps as a result of his limited power tools and tooling, his design style developed within his constraints - simple forms with simple but perfectly executed joinery made with great wood.
But what if hed had the tools and tooling many of us have in our shops today?
Let me use my current project as an example of how the availability of tools and tooling change a design as it evolves.
My oldest son has gotten into bonsai. Im making these bonsai stands for him. Since theyll live outdoors, and since its readily available here in Northern California, redwood was the right choice of wood. S4S 2x2s for the legs, some cut down to 1x1s for the lower stretchers, and 3/4 fence boards for the rest.
BECAUSE I have both a good mortising machine and a TREND Mortise & Tenon Jig, I decided to go with loose tenon M&T joinery. If done properly, M&T joints are self aligning and self supporting. This lends itself nicely to Design As You Go. Make the parts, stick them together, see what youve got so far - full size and in the actual wood used. Decide what to do next, take things apart and do the next operation.
But when I assembled things, the bottom edge of the apron begged for clouds (you know, the Greene & Greene steps with the corners rounded - the idea stolen from the Chinese furniture makers).
BECAUSE I have a scroll saw, cutting the clouds was no problem. I might gone with clouds by cutting them out with a coping saw - but I doubt it. Once cut, it became obvious that sharp bottom edges of the clouds needed softening.
BECAUSE I have a router table and a round over router bit with guide bearing, rounding over the bottom cloud edges was easy.
But when I put things back together the legs looked too wide. I couldnt rip them narrower because it would screw up the joinery I already had.
BECAUSE I have a router table, with a precision positionable fence (JoinTech), AND a beading bit, it was easy to bead three edges of the legs. A 5/16th bead, a groove, a 5/8ths flat, another groove and another 5/16ths bead visually broke up the leg width and the grooves added verticality to the piece - which is something I want - tall and delicate.
But - when I put everything back together, the squared off tops of the legs looked terrible.
BECAUSE I have a router table, with a precision positionable fence and a 1/2 roundover bit, along with a jig to hold vertical pieces square to the table and against the router fence, it was easy to round over the top outside corners of the legs.
And when things were assembled again I saw that, after rounding over the top edges of the legs, it left a flat square surface on top - which, coincidently, lined up with the outside edge of the apron! THAT begged for a piece of cove molding on top of the apron - and the flat on the top of the legs.
BECAUSE I have a router table, with a precision positionable fence and a cove bit it was easy to make a sample in some scrap, create a mitered corner and try out the idea - at full scale - on the piece I had so far. The cove molding lifts the top of the base - something I want. Have to do some refining but the idea works.
But now the thickness of the top makes it look too clunky and heavy.
BECAUSE I have a router table, with a precision positionable fence and a chamfering bit, I can break the tops edges in two, visually making it appear thinner and lighter.
Having a range of tools and tooling (and SH*T load of router bits) gives me a lot of options when evolving a design. I can try several options on some scrap and if one works do it for real on the piece - very quick and semi spontaneous.
Ive posted pics of some of this in alt.binaries.pictures.woodworking if you want to see some of what I was describing.
Back to the question - do you find that having a range of tools and tooling change your initial design idea as you go?
charlie b
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wrote:

Nope.
I make a design and I plan beforehand the construction details based on the tools I have available. I try as much as possible to stick to the plan (and it's dimensions) because if I'd been hired to produce a piece of furniture made by a designer, he/shw would accept 31 15/16" when the dimension he/she wants is 32".
Sometimes, not very often, I may change the design if I made a mistake and I don't want to start the piece over or if I realize a different detail would be nicer.
Greg D.
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Greg D. wrote:

I guess that after you've made eight or ten of each of the basic pieces of furniture - shelf unit, cabinet, table, chair, chest of drawers etc. you'd have the construction methods pretty much down - and the tools, skill and knowledge to use them properly. You probably have also developed a sense of design that customers will pay for.
But if you do woodworking for fun, rather than to support yourself, you often don't make more than four - pushing it - five of any one type of type of piece. Since there's no designer or client to satisfy, there's more room to wing it - start with the basics - function, height, width, depth, and maybe the wood to use. As the piece is built things can be added - or subtracted if that seems like it'd make the piece "work". Having the tools and tooling to make those changes - easily - makes it more likely to be implimented rather than just thought about.

Being familiar with the options for the details takes experience - somethings some of us amateurs haven't developed yet.
But it sure is fun winging it.
charlie b
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wrote:

Well, I find that *not* having a range of tools and tooling doesn't keep me from changing things as I go. Well not so much changing, but not having figured everything out to begin with and making it up when I get there.
-Leuf
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No. I have a function in mind, form follows then design. For me each project I undertake MUST push me to try something new. Sometimes (preferred even) I decide a new tool is in order. But many time is design it, start construction then as the process continues, fix the mistakes and or design flaws, all the time keeping the function in mind.
Dave
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That sounds like how I do stuff.
I do this stuff for fun and a hobby. Most of the time I work out what I want to do in my mind. Sometimes I'll draw some of that out on graph paper, but at best it's just a rough idea to get dimensions. While I have an idea of what I want to do either in my mind or on paper, or both--I ultimately wind up reworking that idea as I go and see how things are coming together.
So far, I find that what I do is based mostly on the tools I have available. Such that those tools form the language of what it is I'm able to express. Sometimes as I'm working on something, I realize that it would be better/easier to do something with a tool I don't have. If that tools is within my budget, I'll get it and then add new vocabulary to my language. At the moment, I think I'm speaking at the level of a 2 year old. :)
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Bob Moos wrote:

Interesting analogy to writing - the tools and tooling being the words to be used to construct a sentence - or paragraph - that expresses the writer's idea / concept. A bunch of router bits of various profiles, a tool cabinet full of chisels, hand planes, shaping tools, hand saws, a router table, cabinet saw, miter saw etc. being a combination of a dictionary and a thesarus.
The thing that's different is the lack of an UNDO - you can't put a little wood back and rewrite the sentence with your changes.
charlie b
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If you extend the analogy to say a typewriter and piece of paper, there's a similarity with what can be "undone". For example, you can undo a certain amount with whiteout or correction tape, similarly with wood you can fill some holes with putty or a piece of dowel, or maybe cut out a bad piece of a plank and then finger joint in a piece from another. But if you make too many mistakes, you have to just crumple up the paper and throw it away--likewise with the wood you just have to start over again sometimes.
Now if you can figure out how to extend the analogy to word processing and woodworking--I'd be really interested to know how. :)
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