Tools, Tooling and Design
My current project - a set of three nesting bonsai stands prompted this post.
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, I’m 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 weren’t 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 doesn’t 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 he’d 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. I’m making these bonsai stands for him. Since they’ll live outdoors, and since it’s 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 you’ve 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 couldn’t 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.
I’ve 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?