When Functional &Improvisation Collide

The August 2008 issue of WOODWORK has an interesting article on Susan Working which contains a side bar titled The Art of The Shortcut.
The traditional / conventional approach to doing a piece of furniture is to either do drawings or work from drawings in which most, if not all of the design elements and considerations are worked out on paper, or with digital representations - FIRST - then move on to selecting the stock, preparing it and making the parts - including the joinery.
For the first 15 years of her woodworking career - mainly making furniture, that's the approach she took. But over the last 5 years she's taken another approach termed as "planned chance".
"What's really interesting to me is what hapens when a functional object and an improvisational process collide."
Here I thought I was just Winging It - "I want something that's about "this tall", about "this deep" and about "this long" - go get some wood at least "this long" and "about this wide" and "about this thick"- prep it - cut it - figure out what goes where - THEN figure out how to stick the parts together - and once the basics are put together begin refining things, adding where needed, maybe removing or replacing something, adding edge treatments, maybe a line inlay - and stop when it looks "done".
The fun and games is how to hold the "stuff" together as I go. And there's where I've got two alternatives - pocket hole screws and maybe routed locking miter joints - or "traditional joinery" - dovetails, tongue & grove, dados, mortise and tenon, sliding dovetails, ... - ALL reversible AND self aligning/self supporting.
If I HAD to cut the traditional joinery by hand - well that sort of conflicts with improvising. But thanks to things like variable spacing dovetail jigs, jigs/machines/tools that make loose tenon joinery pretty quick and easy, and a router table with a good fence and an assortment of router bits I can do "traditional" joinery - without the time required - and a lot less skill.
And that gets to my question - does having the jigs and machines and tools to make it easy to do - and use - "traditional" joinery change what and how you design and build furniture - and how much do they contribute to improvising?
charlie b
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can't say I find it makes any diff. I started out doing all "traditional" (read: hand tool only) work because I couldn't afford power tools. As I became more succesfull, I aquired the Big Toys that make speedy production alot easier. I still do a lot of custom one-off type work, and there are definitely projects that are "wing-it" style. Sometimes I use jigs, other times I'll cut joints by hand - doesn't depend as much on design (or effect design too much either), but more on time, mood, and the best solution to the task. -James

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For me, absolutely. The current project that I am building, the walnut desk, has been ever changing. My customer an I have been kicking the design around for several months and having a CAD program makes it easy for me to implement modifications. Had I drawn this all out on paper the modifications would have been very labor and time intensive. Many times I made the changes while on the phone with my customer and minutes later e-mailed him a PDF of the changes.
My drawings still do not reflect how the drawer will be built but with CAD, the jigs, and machines I can wait till the last minute to determine how that will all go together. A table/desk with aprons is a natural application for mortise and tennon style joinery. With out the Domino I probably would have had to also draw the mortise and tennon joints 28 times so that I would not forget to add the length of the tennon to the length of the aprons. With the Domino the additional length for the tennons is a non issue and because the Domino is self indexing there is no real need in many cases to even pull out the tape measure for placement.
Going back to the drawer, I am leaning towards making my own wooden side rails for the drawer to slide on. Most likely there will be a dado in the side of the drawer that will engage with an extended rail. These support pieces will also be "T" shaped so that the tops can also be an anchor point for the desk top. With slotted screw holes of course. Pocket hole screws will likely be the method of attaching the drawer/top support rails to the front and back aprons of the desk. Again, no need to determine in advance how to make this joint work.
The legs on the desk are 30.5" tall and 2.25 x 2.25". I glued up 3 pieces of 3/4" thick stock to come up with the 2.25" depth of the legs, lots of glue surface and lots of opportunity for the pieces to slip and slide as the clamp pressure is applied, you how glued joints often wiggle as you clamp them down? Thinking ahead I used my pinner and a 1.25" pin to "pin" the 3 pieces together so that clamping would not distort the positionioning of the 3 pieces. Placed about 1/8" from the ends of the legs the pins disappeared when I squared and cut to finish length the ends of the legs. I could have placed them in the center of the legs and they would have been all but detectable because of their tiny impact on the surface and placed near the ends had no chance of splitting the wood.
The whole project is being built from S2S walnut except for a few pieces of Oak that I will use on the drawer front and to accent the aprons. I have a jointer that mostly sets in the corner and it did for this project also. I have a very simple jig that I use to straighten my S2S boards on the TS. The desk top was glued up from 6 boards all straightened on the TS in less time that it would have taken on a jointer. The glue joint lines are hardly detectable, you really have to look at the grain on the separate boards to find the joint.
So yeah, these relatively new tools and jigs do speed up production and simplify modifications for me.
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"charlieb" wrote

Nothing new under the sun ... what's "traditional' was once a new concept, and furniture "design" is historically based on variations of a few simple concepts:
~ Ergonomics (although the Egyptians didn't call it that) - a chair/table is a specific height because of where your knee joint is.
~ The availability of material, and tools with which to work it - a mortise in *wood* is as wide as the *chisel/tool* used to cut it.
--
www.e-woodshop.net
Last update: 5/14/08
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