Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Hook

In pop music, the "hook" refers to the part of a song that is most memorable or catchy. It's the part you wait for—the particular bit that's supported by the other elements in the melody, but that stands out as the best part. You might not even like some portions in the song, but you hang in there just to hear the hook.

In woodworking, the hook for me is in the details. Using handtools—where I'm refining a joint with chisels, carving, doing inlay, chamfering an edge with a block plane—is always the highlight.

The tasks leading up to and following that point can be fun, so-so, or even disagreeable. Non-woodworkers might find it odd to hear a woodworker admit that there are fundamentals of the craft that, in some cases, are most egregious.

Glue-ups for example. I dread them. Countless hours spent building a piece can be wasted with one mishap.

And finishing. Don't get me started. ew.

Bandsawing—fun. Sharpening—pleasant. Using a hewing axe—brilliant.

But there might be more than one hook. For me, it's the pre-woodworking part—the decisions made in size, dimension, design, joinery, developing a cut list, and order of construction.

I've been working on a design for a Swiss army knife of a shaving horse that can be used for shaping, carving, and hewing. It will have several attachments and can be broken down for transport. The brainstorming has been a blast.

But before I can get to the fun parts of construction, I have to mill a bunch of boards, and not one of them is square. Truing crooked, warped, and cupped boards is far from being a hook in my book. Alas, we take the great with the not-so-great. It's all part of the arrangement.


rgdaniel said...

For me, in my own little way, it's all about the design... that's what takes the most time, by choice... I love to pre-visualize things... I also love my table saw though... and I'm with you on finishing, not a fun thing for me, and glue-ups, which seem like they shorten my lifespan just a bit every time...

JimK said...

The "hook".... well maybe that explains why I have so many incomplete projects in my shop.

naomi said...

Love the shot of the sketch book! Totally agree about finishing and glue ups. Can i add shop organisation to that?! Can't wait to see your MacGuyver shaving horse!

Corey said...

Hey Kari, I find straightening out wood at the jointer can be fun and challenging. I find it fun to see what the grain looks like under all that fur, and challenging to make a straight board without too much waste. Good luck with the shaving horse, looks like great fun!!

Adrian Baird Ba Than said...

I,& I'm sure many others,completely agree,there are some really tedious tasks involved with woodworking as well as the other crafts I dabble in.
On the flipside though there are some things that do "hook" as you say.Turning a perfectly fitting box lid that pops when opened gives me a childish thrill or when silver soldering,the moment the solder flows effortlessly into into a gap instantly creating a seamless join that if judged correctly requires no additional work other than polishing(one of those jobs I loathe by the way,so dirty,probably why a lot of my metalwork has a brushed or matt finish...)

Chuck Nickerson said...

I'm looking forward to you sharing the shavehorse design. I've been noodling over a shavehorse that would also hold the seat blank while I scorp and scrape it.

Stephen Shepherd said...


I like your design, the weakest part of any shaving horse is the footrest, lots of leverage and stress.

As for glue ups, using hide glue greatly reduces the anxiety as it is reversable.

As for finishing you are not alone, most woodworkers don't like that part of the process, I for one relish the finish.

Would you use the seat when using the small vise? If so you might want to shape both ends so you don't need to reverse it.


Ethan said...


Your sketch book drawrings are much nicer than mine. Can't wait to see the finished horse!

It wouldn't take much work to turn that 5th board from the right into a carved pretzel twist if you were so inclined!

Would you guys hate me if I said I liked putting the finish on a project?

John Cashman said...

I look forward to following the multi-use shave horse plan. I've been kicking around similar ideas myself. I don't actually use a shavehorse, but would like something similar for carving. I have bad knees and hips, and leaning over a bench carving is not very fun.

I liked the bench that Ron Herman used at Woodworking in America in October. I'm sure you saw it. At one point he had a saw vice mounted on the end, so you could sit while sharpening saws. He also had holes drilled on the top and ends for holdfasts, which he used for mortising, among other things. It also was the right height and size for use as a saw bench. I was thinking of adding a small benchtop to one end, sort of a miniature Roubo laminated top, at a forty-five degree angle maybe, with holes for holdfasts, Lee Valley bench pups, etc. Maybe a wagon vise with dog holes. This would bring work to a nice angle for carving. It could be held on the Herman-bench with the holdfasts, or clamps, and removed for other work. I think you used such an angled work-holder on your benchtop, but can't seem to locate the reference right now.

This is a departure from the shave-horse design, but I am still thinking along those lines as well, but adapted somehow for carving. I would love to kick around some more of these ideas with you if you like. My joints are killing me, and I plan on doing more carving, sitting, in the future to take the strain off. I've signed up for Lonnie Bird's 18th Century Carving class in March, so I'm looking forward to as much carving as I comfortably can.

Thanks for all the inspiration Kari.

Kari Hultman said...

Bob, that’s a good way to describe glue-ups.

JimK, me and thee!

Naomi, yes you may add shop organization....and general cleaning....to mix. ; )

Corey, it is a bit thrilling to see the beauty beneath the bristles, isn’t it?

Black, no doubt the hook can be found in all froms of artwork. I love your description of soldering.

Chuck, I saw something like that in one of my books. Let me know if you want me to look around for it.

Stephen, the seat is also going to function as a small benchtop so I only want to shape one end. It will be reversible, but hopefully it will be easy to switch directions with the way I plan to attach it.

Ethan, you might consider hiring yourself to other woodworkers as a finisher!

John, I did not see Ron’s bench. Which is a shame since it sounds like it had some awesome features. I plan to install a metal vise as well--one that’s fastened to a board with a keel so it can easliy be replaced with other attachments. I love the saw vise idea! You’re welcome to email me directly if you’d like to kick around more ideas: goodwoodworkshop@comcast.net.

Peter said...

Hi Kari,

"The Hook" for me has got to be finishing: the process itself isn't much fun, but exposing the warmth and beauty of the wood is what keeps me coming back for more!

Your photo of the boards reminds me of the last load of Jacaranda I picked up from the local lumber yard - truing a corkscrew would have been more fun!

Good luck with the shaving horse. As always, your work is an inspiration.

Dyami said...

Nice, thoughtful post. On reflection, I must say that the hook for me is just getting shop time. I spend so much time thinking about woodworking Vs. actually doing it, that almost any time actually spent on the craft is a delight. Some day the kids will be in school, maybe I'll work less and shop time will be more abundant. Until that mythical time, I savor every moment.

Unknown said...


I'm looking forward to following this project. I am just beginning to experience the drawknife's pleasures. Very similar to the joys of making shavings with a plane. When I searched for a bench I never found one that looked just right. But I love some of the ideas you and the other posters are leading toward. I'll add another vote to the saw vise attachment.

Kari Hultman said...

Peter, a nice finish certainly does bring out the beauty of the wood. So any tips on flattening a corkscrew? ; )

Dyami, I hope you get more shop time in the new year. I know it can be hard to find the time when you have kids, but on the bright side, you may have an apprentice someday!

Skordog, I keep finding more things I'd like incorporate in this horse, like the saw vise. If you hear of more ideas, please send them my way. :o)

Jerry said...

I thought of a sub heading for your woodworkers list. Sitting and staring at someone else's pile of wood.

Unknown said...

I found this on another Galoots page. It is a double-ended carving sit down carving bench. I really like the bowling ball swivel mount. Some really nice features.


Ray Drake

Kari Hultman said...

Jerry, yes, that also qualifies as woodworking. ; )

Ray, a big THANK YOU for the link! That guy came up with some clever ideas. I now have more brainstorming to do. :o)

Adrian Baird Ba Than said...

Hey Kari,
That link to the carving bench with swivel bowling ball is phenomenal,been meaning to make an engravers block for a while(they start at £250,a lot of money for something I only do occasionally!)but the idea of turning a massive 5-6 inch sphere out of steel was quite daunting to say the least!!!
You really do have some superbly helpful friends.

JimK said...

Happy New Year Kari !

Gary Roberts said...

Repeat after me:

Finishing is not ewww
Finishing is not ewww

For 2010, accept the challenge of learning to love finishing. That, or make two of everything, send both to me for finishing and I'll keep one as payment.

Happy New Year!

Kari Hultman said...

Black, indeed! That's what I love most about social networking—the exchange of helpful ideas.

JimK, Happy New Year to you, too!

Gary, thanks for the offer. That's a tempting idea. ; )