Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Rack 'em up

With the arrival of the shaper in the past weeks, my shop space, about 650 square feet, was starting to get a wee bit cramped. Looking around for ways to use the existing space a little more efficiently, I decided it was time to do something about my wood rack. I had been using an 8' long section of metal pallet racking, which was 4' wide and 6' high. Even with an added-in extra platform I built, I was only making use of about 50% of the volume taken up by the racking. And beside, I didn't much like storing all my wood horizontally, as it seems like every time you want a board it is on the bottom of a pile and the rigamarole of pulling boards off and restacking them was leading me to feel a vertical stacking arrangement, at least for a good portion of my stock, would make more sense.

So, I pulled all the wood out of the pallet rack, knocked the rack apart and cleared the floor. Then I spend a little while drawings up a wood rack. This rack is largely made of plywood, and is screwed together. Nothing fancy, but I thought it might be of interest to some so I took a few pictures during the construction.

I started with a 2x6 sill:

Then the 3/4" deck was screwed down:

As you can see, I dadoed the sheet for other sheet goods, and mortised, if I can use such a term, for the studs.

Next in is a second piece of 3/4" ply, which has been dadoes for shelves:

Then the shelves, also 3/4", and assembled to form 12"x12"x48" horizontal boxes:

Another view - the top shelf overhangs to the front, and is dadoes to fit onto the front piece of ply:

Time for a few 2x4 studs, and an upper piece of ply which is 1/2" thick:

A check to be sure things are coming together reasonably well:

Then I fitted in some 1/4" pegboard, which serves as an aeration baffle between both sides, and as a shear panel as well:

This was followed by the remainder of the studs, and the plate. I pushed the assembly back into place, shimmed it level and bolted it to the brickwork with a pair of 2x6 cleats:

Here's a look at the other side:

The next step was to fit some heavy duty racks to the front - these racks I obtained from Lee Valley:

They are heavy duty all right, but it would be nicer if they had pre-drilled holes for fastening them - instead you lag screw through the openings for the support bars.

Rack 'em up:

With this new rack I've economized on floor space by 40% or so compared to the previous 8' long pallet rack, and have been able to store far more material than previously. 'Win-win', I think they call it! I'm planning to hang clamps from the front face of the shelves, along with a few other gizmos - for now it is a convenient place for some left-over plywood. I am still thinking about how to best store the little short offcuts - maybe in 5 gallon buckets?

Now, with the room gained, I may have enough room for a sliding saw - - some day.

Speaking of the machinery, I have completed wiring for the new shaper, and hooked it up to the air supply. It works just fine:

Still learning the ropes with the controls, but I've figured out most of it:

One of the first tasks I will tackle on the T20 will be a bit of templet routing using the Shelix cutterblock and rub bearing:

I took the opportunity to fit the Bowmould Master on top, as this will enable me to have a safer working condition and collect most of the chips:

It's made of cast aluminum and is a nice little unit. I'm glad to have a means of chip collection, as I know all too well what a mess can be made - in a hurry - without such means.

The BowMould Master incorporates a sprung lead-in arm to the rub bearing, which again, aids in safe guiding of the cutting:

I think I goofed with the ductwork - while there is enough room to swing the fence back out off the table, there is not quite enough hose length to reattach the hose from the fence over to the Bowmould Master, so I will need to obtain another bunch of 120mm hose and remount the duct work another couple of feet higher up:

All for now.

I hope my American readers have a pleasant Thanksgiving! Thanks for dropping by the Carpentry Way.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Can't See the Forest for the Trees

There is a Japanese proverb used in temple carpentry, "木を買わず山を買え", ki wo kawazu yama wo kae, which translates as "don't buy the tree, buy the mountain". This proverb is known to have been uttered by Nishioka, Tsunekazu, who was tasked with the rebuilding of Yakushi Temple in Nara.

The meaning of the proverb relates to the building of a large complex of structures, like a temple compound, a situation in which you will have buildings, and portions of buildings, which are in a variety of unique environmental situations. Those conditions might be south facing, or north facing, or down in a valley, or up on a hill, there might be places where the columns are crowded together or spaced widely apart, etc. The idea behind the proverb "don't buy the tree, buy the mountain" is trees that are to be used in such buildings, and compounds of buildings should ideally come from a place which replicates the idiosyncrasies of conditions as closely as possible. So it's not a matter of choosing trees for cutting into building components on a one-by-one basis, each tree considered more or less the same as the next, but rather to make one's assessment each tree on the basis of where that tree grew in relation to its environment and to other trees around it. As environment has an effect upon which genetic traits are expressed more strongly in the tree, and which growth form is seen in a given tree. A tree growing in a damp place, or a windy place, in a grove with other trees or alone with no competition for sunlight, or on a slope, will all vary in how they form. There's no reason to believe that trees aren't every bit as varied in terms of how they turn out based on the mix of inherent and environmental factors they experience than are people.

Since the environment in which a building is situated also places similar varied conditions upon the timbers in the building - a sunny side, a windy side, a damp place, etc., it makes sense to take a broad view than a narrow one when choosing the trees which will form the basis for wooden structures.  In optimum circumstances then, the role of the master carpenter is to take the variances of the environment in which the trees were grown into consideration, and select the use and position of the material cut from those trees in the building, or even in the compound of buildings, most carefully.

As one tree has its north-, east-, south- and west-facing sides, one could divide the trunk of that tree into four posts which are placed in the building as the northwest, northeast, south east and southwest posts. Moving up from the consideration of a single tree to the mountainside covered with trees, and imagining we might take an entire tree and convert it into a single large post, say, we can similarly place the trees from the north side of the hill to the north side of the building, and so forth. The challenge with such an approach however is that of labeling. Not only do the trees need to be tagged so their position in the originating environment is clearly indicated, but the north, east, south and west faces of the trunk must also be indicated. After cutting, these delineations must be maintained in the sawn timber. For any of that to have a hope of working, the master carpenter would do well to be present from the outset and oversee the processes of conversion, and that is a rarity today, even in Japan.

Most workers in wood are buying their lumber from a dealer in sawn lumber, and never see the log from which the timber was obtained, let alone the place in which the log grew. And neither did the dealer for that matter. And sometimes not knowing those things can lead to poor outcomes. We've all bought wood which had a lot of reaction in it, rendering tremendous waste and frustration instead of smooth progress in our work.

Trees are structures adapted to resist loads from gravity, which increases as they get larger - I refer to compression loads. The lowest portion of the tree trunk is subject to the greatest compression loads as the mass of the tree lay above. A tree is stressed by the wind, on a regular basis, which induces bending and or torsional loads. Other bending loads can be induced if the tree grows at a lean, or has become curved at the bottom of the trunk in response to ground creep on a hillside. The middle of the trunk, considered lengthwise, takes the most of these bending loads, as it is able to flex more than the butt of the tree. The thinner the trunk, the more it will bend and yield to wind, gravity and snow loads. 

Given these differences in how the loads are apportioned in a tree, it makes sense to consider which timbers in a structure come from which portion of the tree trunk. Posts should, logically, come from the lower end of the tree, a little bit up from where the most pronounced flare at the very butt end is located. The section of trunk above that bottom 10~14' would be a good place from which to obtain beams, as beams are subject to bending and torsional loads to a greater extent than compression in most cases. The role of the master carpenter is to assess a given tree trunk in light of such considerations, considering the timbers required and make decisions about where the trunk is to be crosscut and which timbers come from which section. Some projects will require posts and beams, some will also require wide planks, and how one might choose to cut trees for a project would be factoring in such things.

All of this makes good sense, however all of this is almost an impossibility in this culture, as we simply do not consider trees in their individuality, rather we see it more often as a material to be purchased by the cubic meter, or linear foot, and only have the coarsest divisions to consider, like flatsawn vs quartersawn, etc.. It's a very rare opportunity for a woodworker to even pick the logs from which the timbers are sawn, let alone pick the logs in the forest, or select from what portions of the mountain the timbers are cut. The people who make the decisions about where and which trees are cut are making those decisions not on the basis of fiber quality and best use, but in terms of things like property rights, landscape design (so as not to horrify too many people driving by the cut block), forestry regulations, the amount of cubic meters permitted to to be cut, the health of the trees to a certain extent, straightness of the logs, and which lengths are convenient to fit on the logging truck. The people who saw the logs into timber are generally considering volumetric conversion efficiency as it is most profitable to do so, or, less commonly and especially in certain woods more than others, based on obtaining quartersawn or rift sawn material for particular needs. Obviously, if you're processing 50,000 board feet of material or more a day, say, then slight changes in cutting process for a few percentage points improvement in conversion rate can make a significant difference to the bottom line. And since the bottom line is really all that matters in such concerns, it is inevitable that they move in that direction. 

On a personal note, I've had arguments and hassles with sawyers in the past because I've asked them to saw for quality when their habit, as it soon becomes apparent, is to saw for volume and profit. The easiest thing to do is to lay the log down on the deck and run through and through as many cuts as possible, with as few flips, set-ups and rotations of the log as possible. Get it done fast and move onto the next one is the mantra, even when it is a one-man sawing business with a Woodmizer. You may as well be cutting styrofoam for all the consideration generally given to the nuances of the tree's fibers. How the tree is constructed by nature seems almost besides the point, and this is too bad really.

Also, it might be worth noting that since the vast majority of lumber is either going to be used in largely unmodified form (as with framing lumber), or is going to be processed almost entirely by machine and power abrasion when it is further converted after sawing and drying, the issue of grain orientation becomes less of a factor than it is when the wood is to be worked by hand tools. Only a very small percentage of people are going to work wood that way, so it hardly makes sense to consider their needs in terms of how timber might be cut. And of course, it is worth considering the fact that wood was worked by riving, using straight-grained timber  - this was the norm for millenia, and the saw was a relatively late comer on the scene, coming well after other carpentry tools had been developed. The saw allowed a move away from following the grain of the wood, allowed wood without straight grain to be conveniently worked, and in many ways this seeming technological advance was in fact a negative in terms of the craftsmanship side of the picture, in terms of working wood truly according to its nature. Such was pointed out by H. Phleps in his work The Craft of Log Building: A Handbook of Craftsmanship in Wood, and I agree. But there is no going back in that regard, and our forestry practices do not tend toward the production of large, knot-free straight grained slowly-grown timber.

I'm just pointing out that the people choosing the trees to be cut, the people cutting those trees and converting those trees into lumber are all people who are NOT working the material and building the structures. How could they possibly know what might be most ideal from those end-use perspectives? So they perform their work with other imperatives in mind. And on the end at which the timber is being fabricated, the framer or furniture maker typically knows very little about the place from which the timbers originated, and had no option to consider anything other than a cost/board foot equation and maybe select grain to an extent. We work bubinga or redwood, or hornbeam or pond cypress and we may never have even seen one of those trees growing, producing cones, nuts, flowers, or such. It's just so disconnected.

So, carpenters tend to end up largely oblivious to the organisms from which they obtain their material, and such is the same, I would observe, for many other artisans. How many blacksmiths have mined ore and smelted their own iron? How many potters have dug their own clay out of the ground? I'm sure a few, but not most. Some crafts, like basket-making, do feature, at least more commonly, a much more direct link between the artisan and their material, but it seems more the exception than the rule. That link, if it was there, would be of some benefit to the maker I'm sure. I'm not suggesting it makes sense for a woodworker to also be a logger, skidder operator, trucker, sawyer, and dryer of timber, but at least to try to have an increased familiarity with those aspects  - this seems a worthwhile avenue of investigation, does it not?

The point here is that, the way the system has been set up, the woodworker ends up in many cases with little real connection to the trees they use, and the planting of pine boughs atop the timber frame (which may not be made from pine in any case) remains, I suppose, a quaint custom at best, and strikes a slightly bittersweet chord for me. This situation is unfortunate, and it is a result of the inexorable process of division of labor (specialization) in our society. There is little in the way of a constructive feedback loop happening here, except on the industrial scale, where big woodcutting outfits, like Weyerhouser and Fletcher challenge, own the cutting rights to vast swaths of land and also run large mills of various kinds, and thus their concerns alone drive much of the decision making in regards to how the forest is treated. And the evidence would seem to show it hasn't been treated all that well, has it?

That's another issue of course, and I guess for this post I'm choosing not to head down that path any further. The path I do want to head down is to look at logs and their conversion into timber. In the next post or three in this series we'll do that.  It seems like a topic worthy of some exploration, and I hope you'll stay tuned.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Shape of Things to Come.

Several months back I found myself in the fortunate and unexpected position of being able to purchase what some might consider to be the holy grail of jointers: a Martin T54. I've been exceedingly pleased with that purchase, and am grateful to the machine every time I run material over it and obtain flat stock. And that's all that ever happens, frankly: obtaining flat and straight boards quickly and easily is now more or less routine in my shop.

I had other Martin machines in my sights, including the planer, the sliding saw, and the shaper. With any of the three, it was not likely I would be able to spring for a new machine, and my hopes had been to find a clean, one-man shop-owned unit with a decent range of options, no more than about 15 years old. While I like the older machines, the parts side of things can be problematic, especially when it comes to some of the original factory options, most of which are not available any longer for machines made more than about 15 years ago. Martin will always support you for common replacement parts like bearings, belts, and the like, but technology is ever-changing, and they can't stock every single thing for every machine they have made. They will sometimes custom make you an older part, but be prepared for sticker shock. Well, I should add to be prepared for that with any of the parts for any European machine.

Also, I was a little bit leery of some of the newest machines as they are getting fairly computerized and automated, whereas I was looking for something a bit more 'old school' I suppose. I'm fine with powered raise and lower of a spindle or blade, find I like a digital readout, but when they move into the realm of programming and full automation, touch screens, and the like, I'm thinking the complexity is moving a bit too far, at least too far from my own capacity for servicing the machines. And those electronic parts, when they do crap out, are very expensive.

The ideal of a clean, lightly-used, robust and simple Martin machine is all fine and good, but they don't come up too often for sale, even in this economy which has been seeing cabinet shops closing in droves. After locating a reasonably priced, lightly used SCM 24" planer earlier this year, I figured I didn't really need to consider the Martin planer any more, at least not for the foreseeable future. Other than the SCM's digital height readout, which is not what you might call perfectly reliable, the machine performs very well and serves my needs just fine. I may fit an accessory linear scale to it to improve that  one 'glaring' weak spot, but no hurry on that.

I had been keeping an eye out for a sliding saw, and looking for a particular model and configuration which is not too common in the US. There were a couple available in 2012, however I hadn't the funds in place then, so it was a case of bad timing.

A few months ago a Martin T20 shaper popped up on the market, and it was pretty much configured as I would like it were I buying a new one. It was a 2000 model, and came from a one-man shop. It had the somewhat rare accessory of a sliding table. The price was, well, not exactly a 'fire sale' level, but was reasonable for the machine, given its condition and specification,  and considerably less than a new one would cost, maybe 1/3 the price. Those accessories can really add up. The Martin sliding table for the shaper, while listed at $9800, actually is sold from the factory for somewhere north of $12,000 now. Hence it is quite uncommon to find a Martin shaper in the US that is equipped with this option.  I've always thought the sliding table a desirable option to have as it greatly facilitates the joinery for door and window frames, more or less replacing a tenoner altogether.

Business has been solid for the past year, so the possibility to purchase was there. I talked to my wife about it, and she was okay with the investment. Talked to my insurance agent too. What sealed the deal was that the seller of the T20 was Ed Papa, who runs Simantech Inc. in Long Island New York. He sold me the Martin jointer previously and I felt very comfortable with the prospect of doing business with him again. After a few discussions, we came to an arrangement in regards to the purchase and delivery, and today was in fact the delivery day:

Note the color of the machine - it's blue. The fluorescent lights in my shop, together with my camera's flash, will make the machine look green in later photos.

Here's the carrier for the tenoning table - super heavy, taking two people to lift:

The machine comes with a small pattern routing hood, and I obtained a larger one as well, the 'Bowmould Master' (☜link) made by Aigner:

The yellow hood at left is made by the same company that makes the plastic porkchop guard on the Martin jointer and came with the machine. The larger hood is something I added on later. Ed has already drilled and tapped the table top to mount the larger hood, as he has a magnetic base drill press.

Here's the tenoning hood:

The tenoning hood drops into place on the main table with a pair of threaded pins, and there is a switch underneath the table which is triggered when one of the hood's pins is tightened down, activating a shut off so the tenoning spindle (1.5") cannot be operated over 4500 rpm. This is a good safety device, as the machine can handle up to a 350mm blade for tenoning, and spinning that size of cutter at 9000 rpm could be disastrous.

The stock hold down clamp and associated parts for the sliding table:

All these components are really heavily built and ooze quality - such a nice change from what is otherwise encountered. I was surprised at how heavy the tenoning table was - must add 300 lbs to the machine.

The fence for the sliding table is an aluminum extrusion and comes with stops which are designed expressly for European tilt and turn window making - I'm not not sure I'll make such windows in the future, however the fence and its sliding stops can be adapted to work with other tenoning tasks, and other stops can be fitted:

The fence for the shaper, like the fence on the jointer, is the 'Integral Fence' (☜link) made by Aigner, and is a tricked out bit of equipment to say the least:

The fence has a tiny saw blade cut in one corner, so it was slightly damaged but completely serviceable. I could choose to replace that half of the fence, and Ed gave me the low-down on how damage commonly occurs to the fence - little things, like not tightening a screw adequately, and the fence can creep towards the cutter while its spinning, stuff like that.

One of the weaknesses of most shapers I have used is that the fence sections are not easily made co-planar to one another, or square to the machine table, and require much tedious shimming with bits of paper, etc, and I'm hoping this fence will be better than that. If the jointer's fence is any indication, it should be good.

The machine comes with a full set of tools, plus grease and oil guns:

The gray plate with the two knobs is part of the sliding table mechanism.

Rolling on in, all 2900lbs:

The stock feeder on the machine is made by Univer, a German company. Sad to say, this company no longer makes feeders. In fact Martin now must source feeders from China as there are no suppliers making them left in Europe. I'm glad to obtain a German-made one and have heard good things about Univer feeders from what researches I have made.

We got it swung around in roughly into position, and we attached the sliding table and related parts:

In this view of the rear of the machine, you can see the fence swingaway mechanism by which the heavy fence and hood can be removed quickly from the table and pushed to the rear:

This is a nice option to have as it eliminates any necessity to wrestle the fence off the machine and put it on the floor, a process which could easily result in damage to the fence and or hood, not to mention a person's back. The tradeoff with such a mechanism is that the machine can't be placed close to the wall, as you need room to swing the assembly to the rear. Not a big deal though, as the sliding table already means the machine can't be too close to the wall.

It's a big sucker (and it really is blue, I swear!), and it is now part of my shop:

The machine is in excellent condition overall, and Ed gave it a thorough service before delivery, including replacing a drive pulley and the drive belt, greasing all points (good for 600 hours of operation), and touching up paint chips here and there. He even obtained a new machine data plate for the machine as the old one was scratched up and was in fact an incorrect plate from the factory, stating the machine was a T26, which is the tilting version. Even Martin goofs up at times it seems.

The sliding table:

The beam upon which the sliding table travels can be moved in and out, right now it is in its most rearward position. I think there is something like 53" of travel available. To the far left of the above photo you can see the two oiling ports fitted on the main table's edge.

Here's a look at the 1.25" spindle, and you can see that wear on the inside of the hood from chips getting sucked out is fairly minor, a sign of how little use the machine has had:

Notice that on top of the spindle there is a gray rubber plug. This is the access point for the special tool to remove the spindle. That tool is stored below the table. There is a pneumatic connection, a system called 'DornFix', which enables different spindles to be swapped out in a matter of moments. To operate that system, I'll have to obtain another small single phase air compressor, like I did for the SCM planer (it uses pneumatic rollers) , or run a splitter and extension line from the current compressor. As the air needs is rather minor, the current compressor will be adequate for both machines, so I'll probably go the route of the splitter and extension hose.

Besides the 1.25" spindle, I also obtained a 1.5" spindle for the tenoning function, which can fit 7.2" under the nut, and a router spindle adapter with 0.5" collet. I want the machine to be as versatile as possible.

Martin pays a lot of attention to safety in its machine designs, something I appreciate as shapers can be a bit scary frankly:

A view of the 4-wheel stock feeder, which has eight speeds, works forward and reverse of course:

The feeder wheels are a little chewed up, but fine. New ones are around $25/each.

Tonight's reading material:

 A look through the front with the access door swung open reveals the motor and main spindle assembly:

Stored below, at center in the following photo, is the tool used for removing the Dornfix spindles (with safety cutoff switch to register whether the tool is in place or not), and to the left is seen the dedicated switch for use when operating the tenoning table - note the sign indicating to use only 3000 or 4500 rpm with a tenoning head:

 Again, I really appreciate the safety features on Martin woodworking machines.

The main spindle housing is beefy to say the least:

The pneumatic brake mechanism is visible to the left. The line going to the spindle housing is for oil lubrication. The bearings have separate grease zerks fitted.

The motor is huge, and puts out 11 or 13 horsepower, depending upon speed setting:

There are two rear dustports, 120mm diameter, and both the tenoning hood and Bowmould Master have the same size of dustport:

I have most of the dust collection mods done already beforehand - I ran out of rivets to complete the last few connections. As before, I obtained the flex hose and dust collection fittings from Air Handling Systems in Connecticut, the only place to buy in the Northeast as far as I'm concerned, as they make fully welded fittings out of heavy gauge steel, and strive to produce a quality product.

The electrical is another story. That's not in place yet. This machine all by itself needs 50 amp service, and the panel in my shop is ancient and is in the process of being replaced and upgraded. So, I will have to wait until that work is done before I can run the wiring. Given that the wiring run is about 90' (27m) it's going to require some hefty cable, probably #6 gauge if I were to hazer a guess, which will be expensive given the price of copper these days. I'll do the calculation soon enough to figure out the correct wire size and conduit diameter. I'm looking forward to the day I can switch it on and fire it up, and will take some video perhaps, but in the meantime I have a pile of reading to do. It's a complicated machine with lots of functions and things to learn, but it is one step short of the touchscreen control panel, which suits me fine.

It's exciting to have acquired a second 'crown jewel' from Martin, and I remain in some disbelief that this has happened is such a relatively short time frame. It was only a few short years ago I was making pieces on a sawhorse in my kitchen. This new machine engenders a certain wonderment and disbelief on my part, and I know that the next few times I go to the shop I'll be a little surprised to see it there. It's going to take some time to get used to the presence of 'the monster'.

Looking at the new iron in my shop, I feel a bit like I did when I first obtained the Hitachi CB100FA resaw many years back - a bit daunted by the fact of having such a gigantic machine. It's kind of intimidating, to be honest. Not quite sure what to make of it, not totally clear on how it all works. Like the bandsaw though, I'm confident I will form a strong liking for this beast in short order. Can't wait to get it running and making chips!

Thanks for dropping by the Carpentry Way.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Taking the East Fork

A few weeks back I took a fact-finding trip out to S. Oregon to visit a sawmill that is the primary mill in the US sawing first growth Port Orford Cedar: East Fork Lumber, based in Myrtle Point.

Here's the scene that greets you at the driveway:

It's an old saw, and takes a fat kerf with its cutting, but gets the job done. They also have a large band mill on another portion of the property. Most of the time the mill is cutting fir. The don't cut POC very often.

East Fork Lumber has been operated for more than 30 years by a fellow named Bob Spraul. He's been in the business of logging, milling and selling Port Orford Cedar longer than anybody else on the planet and it was great to spend a few hours talking with him and looking at some fine logs he has stashed away for the Japanese gate project for the MFA that I am involved in.

We journeyed over to one of East Fork's nearby log yards, where they have a quantity of large fir logs reclaimed from a large forest fire, and we stroll on over to look at the POC log pile, passing many large logs in the process:

I'm now thinking about obtaining a bit of that juicy Sugar Pine!

We climbed up onto the log pile, as I was trying to get as thorough a look as I could at all log surfaces, and we continued to talk about, you guessed it: Port Orford Cedar. One question I had for Bob concerned the issue of the root fungus that has been killing off a lot of these trees, and pathogen spread by water it appears. A portion of Bob's comments:

It's interesting how the problem goes beyond a  disease containment issue. Because of the root fungal attack and consequent die-off of many trees, private land owners won't plant new POC trees, and now it seems that most of the remaining privately-owned trees have been milled. What remains of the resource is in fact a fairly vast stock of trees, however it is a largely inaccessible one: they are on government land and cutting is not permitted in most instances, even in cases where wind storms and other natural events take the trees down.

I spoke with Bob a bit about the logging history of POC, and the scene today:

I hope the above clips are of interest to readers here - I know I learned a lot talking with Bob Spraul at East Fork. All the above films are raw footage. As you can see I am a novice when it comes to filming stuff, but the camera I have seems to do a decent job so I am likely to do more filming and video uploads in coming months.

If you're ever in the Myrle Point area I can highly recommend the back country drive eastward to the town of Looking Glass - spectacular!

Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hammer and Nail

At some point in a building process a bit of of nailing, kugi-uchi (釘打ち) in Japanese, comes up. Great technique with the hammer here:  

His rhythm is perfect, like a drummer. No wasted moves. Takes some practice I'm sure!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Gateway (III)

Much has happened since the last post in this series, from some three weeks back I guess. I went to Oregon and looked at a bunch of Port Orford Cedar logs. I have met the gardeners involved in the project and now find myself in a bit of a war. Not something I am going to get into discussing here, and what has devolved from this situation is that the design of the new gate remains an open question. As in 'unsettled'. In fact, 'open' in more than one way too as the Museum of Fine Art in Boston now says they are giving freer rein to the design. This is good, despite the lingering uncertainties otherwise, as the previous design I showed (last post) was as much a compromise as anything else, trying to fit between the various competing visions and interests in regards to the new gate. Now that some of those visions need no longer be satisfied, I can take the design in a more 'pure' direction. While the previous iteration was a low pitch mukuri (convex) roof atop a framing system that was a cross between that seen on kabukimon and yakuimon gate patterns, I can now move into a gate which is really purely a yakuimon, the 'physician's' gate. And the mukuri roof, while a form which is likely my favorite among the many shapes and styles of Japanese roof, turns out, after some further research, to not be entirely suitable in this setting. So, now instead of a convex roof body, I am designing for a concave roof body.

There are several words in Japanese used to describe the shape of a rafter, and the associated roof plane which follows it, when made concave:

照り(teri): the usual expression for concavity, and one which would be paired with mukuri when describing concave/convex roof forms in general, as "teri-mukuri ya-ne".

弛み (tarumi): this indicates sag, which is one way to look at making a rafter concave - pull the middle of the stick down relative to the ends.

反り (sori): this indicates upsweep, which is another way of looking at making a rafter concave - pull both ends up relative to the middle of the stick. Sori is more often used to describe curved hip rafters, which are almost always, in Japanese roof framing, curled up from the line of the theoretical straight hip.

I adore Japanese roofs in general. They are the important architectural element in most Japanese traditional wooden buildings, most especially temples and shrines. As I've mentioned before on this blog, the word in Japanese for roof is ya-ne (屋根), which literally means the root (根) of the house (屋). Without a roof, you don't have a dwelling.

For the many years I have been studying and, occasionally, building Japanese roofs, my fascination has been primarily with hip-roofed forms, and learning the geometrical methods to produce these forms has been of keen interest. I was less interested in gable roofs (kiri-zuma yane) generally, and tended to think of them as I suspect many carpenter might, as essentially being fairly simple. I prefer the visual of a continuous eave line right around a building, and consider hip roofs to be inherently stronger, so that is where I have focused my attention for quite some time now.

Well, 'simple' as such is not really the case at all when it comes to Japanese gable roofs, except insofar as their appearance - and this is particularly true if they have curvature in the body of the roof. I have found the 'simple' and clean appearance of such roofs conceals an underlying degree of complexity that is quite astonishing. I shall underestimate these no more.

The curves, you see, make the curved gable roof very much akin to a boat hull, and just like boat hull construction, there is lofting and layout to get you so far, and then there is fairing the curves to reach the desired outcome.

I have a predisposition towards finding a clean geometrical means to lay out and construct a roof, not interested in the cut-and-try, fudge-and-fit methods so often seen. I hold to the idea of all the components of a roof being laid out at ground level, cut to the line, and when positioned in the roof assembly, clicking into place like a German car door, without question fitting perfectly. That ideal and reality, however, don't always meet so tidily; nonetheless that is the possibility to which I strive toward.

With the curved gable, while geometrical layout techniques will get you most of the way there, what you will find is that there are intersections between parts that cannot be cleanly resolved on a drawing. There are areas where surfaces must be 'faired' to one another judiciously. It took me quite a long time to realize this, and much hair pulling in the interim as I tried to get curved parts going in different directions and with different slopes to mesh together on the drawing. I'm surprised I have much hair left at this point frankly.

I'll show you a simple example first - here is a view of the corner of a gabled roof build up, the upper level called fukiji - look closely at the corner where the boards meet:

It looks at first glance like a simple goof up in cutting, however I have found that when using only 2D drawing it is quite difficult to eliminate these little offsets. And note that the above offset is among the most minor tricky bits at this corner of a roof.

Directionally, geometrically, there's a lot going on at the corner:

It's a really interesting procedure to delve into a roof design when a certain amount of it is flying blind. I have most every Japanese carpentry layout book in print, and a good number of shrine and temple architecture books, pattern books and so forth, and it is curious how little information one finds on kirizuma roofs. You will find the odd sketch or two showing the proportions of the barge board on a gable, and some of the geometrical techniques to produce their curved shapes, however the gables in question are invariably part of hipped gable roofs, and are not pure kirizuma.

This might seem like a small matter, however there is a key difference between a hipped gable roof's gable, and a pure gable: the hipped gable's barge board's lower end terminates on the body of the roof and there is no clear visual tie to the rafter pattern, while the gable roof's barge board finishes at the edge of the eave, and the end of the barge board is part of the pattern of rafter tips visible along that eave.

This still may seem of little consequence until one realizes that the gable barge board, or hafū ita, on a Japanese timber building is not plumb. The gable's barge boards are in fact tilted forward - termed korobi - as part of a sophisticated set of aesthetic tunings which reduce the visual foreshortening effect when looking upward at a surface. To be clear, the barge boards do not project forward at the peak of the roof like a prow, rather the entire unit of both barge boards is tilted forward. This might sound jolly nice until one starts to look at the connection points between the barge boards and the rest of the frame. At every purlin, you have compound abutments, and at the eave ends, where perimeter fascia stack up, and may also curve up and if so also usually swell in thickness, you have a bit of a nightmare where the parts come together.

But wait, there's more! One sophistication of Japanese roof work is the creation of visual effect, such as having very light appearing rafters which are in fact a soffit. The true rafters are within the roof and usually unseen. Another trick is to create the appearance of a thick roof edge. Thin roof edges connote an insubstantial roof, and are generally only seen on cheaper work and some modernistic stuff. We won't go there. A thicker roof looks much beefier, however it is also desirable not to burden the roof structure with excess dead loading. So, there are methods of building up a thick roof edge, an application generally termed noki-tsuke.

One way to build up an eave edge is with a stack of wood shingles, which are quite readily chopped and planed into the desired form along the front face of eave build up thus attained. However with a copper shingled roof the wood-shingled build up is not appropriate, and instead a tilted board on a support piece is added (refer to the above picture). The tilted board will eventually be shingled in copper.

This tilted board is called the fuki-ji, and as it has a different front face tilt than the parts immediately below it, there is a curious effect which occurs as the eave curves upward toward the corner: the fukiji board wants to deviate outward from the support piece. The dreaded 'fukiji problem'. I wrote about this issue a few years back when designing the Japanese bell tower (←link) and I had forgotten about it, but sure enough it reared its pretty head. Nice to make your acquaintance again my friend.

Once it became apparent the same problem I had seen previously was presented afresh, I was able to solve it readily enough. Been there done that. Essentially there are four different solutions to this problem, one of which is a bad solution leaving only three choice really. I went with what seemed like the reasonable path: curved the fukiji upper board inward so that it follows the support board and maintains a parallel line to the piece below when looked at from below.

After the intial redraw, I produced this roof shape, viewed in elevation:

Note that the minoko are absent from the roof at this stage - they are very time consuming to draw and I wanted to look at the overall form before getting into penciling in all the details like that. The above rendering was not too bad, but right away I could see something had gone awry when it came to tilting the board boards outward -these had way too much forward tilt. Not sure what happened there, but it was unintentional. I'll blame SketchUp, as I'm used to doing so.

I needed to do a complete redraw of the entire gable end assembly, but in the short term I decided to reduce the tilt of the boards so i could see how things looked.

Here you can see the effect of that re-tilting backward as the connection points at the corner, throwing the planes slightly out:

A while later the overall shape of the roof was coming together nicely, at least to my eye:

I was planning to get back to the drawing the next day to complete the work, thinking that this was shaping up nicely. If I can draw it, I can build it.

Then I got an email from the MFA indicating that the decision had been handed down: the plan was to simply replace the existing gate with one that was the same design and appearance, with minor foundation and flashing improvements. Like that, it was bye-bye roofed gate. A mirage I guess.

Glad, I suppose, that I didn't put huge hours into the drawing - though I learned some very useful information in that exploration - and sad too that the decision makers were pressured away from doing a construction direction that did justice to the magnificent Port Orford Cedar 300~400 year old logs on hand. 'Political' considerations can trump what are otherwise rational decision making processes and a view to the 'long now', which is regrettable but this is how the world works folks. I'm glad to have the project, even if that project isn't what I consider to be the best course from a carpentry perspective. It's a rare opportunity to build a traditional Japanese structure, and that is all good as far as I'm concerned.

At the end of the day, I at least can say that I did my very utmost to steer them towards a roofed gate, and was nearly there. Close! So damn close....

So, the project is to build a kabukimon pattern gate after all. It will be fun project, and a much simpler piece than a roofed gate, and the time frame remains in place with installation slated for April 2015. That's plenty of time to complete the work; in fact, most of the time will be spent drying the wood.

I will of course update this thread as things move along. I've already drawn the kabukimon replacement, and expect only some minor tweaking as far as the flashing detailing goes at this point. Here's the gate I will build, more or less:

Thanks for visiting the Carpentry Way. Comments always welcome. On to post IV