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18 August 2012 | Category: Building | Author: Clare

Having already built stairs to the cabin and the deck, I had put off the
stairs to the loft for one reason or another, but not because I anticipated
the inordinate amount of time they were going to take, or the inherent

But wanting to push the domestic scene forward a notch, finally throwing up
an interior wall, and finishing the ceiling under the loft, it was finally
time to tackle the stairs.

Granted, deciding to experiment with timber framing at this stage did not
hasten the process.

Digging away with a chisel at the most recent mortise, or slotting a well
fitting tenon into that hard earned joint however, really does feel good.

Kind of like the difference between archery and shooting.

Rifles are a wonderful tool, and definitely not bereft of interest
mechanically and technically. But the more artisanal and old-school joinery
techniques (particularly if you are endeavouring to be a puritan, and deal
with these things without recourse to power tools) are akin to shooting with
a bow and arrow.

That primal feeling as you pull the bow string intimately back to your
cheek. Your hand resting lightly against your face, your entire anatomy
poised and one with the tool you are using. Releasing the force contained in
the bow into the quivering arrow, and watching it tear through whatever you
were shooting at leaves your body alert and alive, and at one with every
single part of that process.

With shooting, you are directing and managing the tool. But there are
chemical forces at work to provide the bullet the energy it needs to reach
that vital zone. There is a lack of intimacy with both shooting and the
ultimate target, that cheats the exercise of that wonderful physical, mental
and emotional proximity.

With archery, it is all you. And you tend to be so close to your quarry, you
feel like you have just taken a step back in time.

It feels more honest. Same with joinery.

There are interesting parallels with modern warfare, versus something more
ancient, a bloody battlefield in medieval times. Of course, how could there
not be, both marksmanship and archery are the epitome of technological
development in that field.

The alienation of action and reaction must wreak havoc on the mental and
emotional response to modern warfare. A thought for another now.

You need patience with archery. Strength is a pre-requisite too. I am
finding with attempting to truly work with wood for the first time, I am
short on both of those attributes. But as I continue to beat my head against
that proverbial wooden wall, it is starting to come.

In some ways it feels the way I imagine studying martial arts in East Asia

You have to constantly refine, fix, re-do, counsel your disappointment, try
again. It becomes as much a mental exercise as anything else. The most
exciting part for me right now is that it demands a lot of attention, and
unlike the comparatively unsatisfying banging away with nails, or screws, it
steals your entire focus.

I find myself eating dinner, mulling over how to figure out just how much of
the post I need to lose to house the next stringer. Brushing my teeth in the
morning, staring out at the wetland, pondering over whether the beam can
tolerate another lap joint; crawling into bed with nothing but the thought
of how to make the necessary router work for the kick boards invisible.

A million different thoughts and calculations.

Planning is also key, and requires a vision I do not have as yet. Like being
able to see 4 chess moves ahead. I have always been a
'fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants' carpenter.

I am finding that has no place in timber framing.

A poorly designed object will quickly result in mediocre strength and
compromised integrity as the required joints clamour for position in an
over-stressed or burdened post or beam.

Dimensions of lumber are suddenly very significant. You have to marry the
right sizes together to provide sufficient strength to the male component,
without jeopardising the receiving, female joint.

There are so many parallels philosophically and otherwise.

Perhaps that is part of the stimulus.

As it stands I must be 4 or 5 full days into building, and am not half way

Granted, this is the first go around, though I am not sure where else I will
be building stairs!

Still, I honestly do not think I will be able to consciously whack away with
nails anymore and feel satisfied.

A new level of maturity with wood? Who knew that was even part of this educative process?

Good luck to anyone getting into this. Only recommendations I have are to
really try get to grips with this using a hammer, chisel, and a good saw.
The temptation to throw these rudimentary tools over your shoulder and grab
your skill saw or router cannot be underestimated. But I honestly find
grappling to ensure the facing edges are tight and flush, trying to
understand the idiosyncrasies of different tolerances, and the response of
different grain directions, etc to your assaults is much more acute if you
are not distancing yourself from the education with power tools.

Really, we rush through life consumed by the notion of time, the next thing
on the list, etc. Just once, can we not be good to ourselves, and recognise
the inalienable right to skill and experience that comes from simply doing
your time.

For a generation raised on short-cuts and convenience, I struggle a little
with this. But thankfully tradition and ludite tendencies are engrained just
enough to make me relish the opportunity to learn; wrap your arms around the frustration and turn it into incremental steps toward knowledge.

The old way. Isn't that what this was all about?

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