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Archive for April, 2015

Gender

In an unusual break from the typical themes of my blog, this post will be related to gender issues, and how those issues relate more specifically to woodworking.

I just read this article written in 1883 on the Lost Art Press blog and was completely floored. Good god. There is so much that is so wrong going on in this article that I’m really not sure where to begin. The stereotyping of women is unbelievably offensive. As I read it, I found myself feeling glad for a moment that we have come as far as we have in the past 130 years.

Then I found myself checking out a blog that WordPress suggested because it’s related to other blogs I read, and I found myself reading her about page:

http://sheworkswood.com/about/

Growing up in the South, the writer wasn’t even allowed to take a shop class because she was a woman! I think the writer is just old enough that this isn’t necessarily surprising, but especially as a teacher it got me a bit fired up. What kind of jerk who calls themselves an educator actively prevents someone from learning something they are interested in! It also brought the profoundness of these issues back to the present for me.

As an educator myself, teaching with the Wind and Oar Boat School, I still see the effects of gender bias on a daily basis. Especially when we are introducing new power tools, I have had young women on numerous occasions give me a look of surprise that I am actually handing them a power tool. Often is seems like they are surprised that I am handing them the power tool or chisel as if I shouldn’t trust them because of their gender. I It is my hope that they find the experience the boat school provides empowering.

Recently one of the guys I see at ADX that I haven’t gotten to know well yet arrived wearing a skirt. It was fascinating for me to overhear different people reacting in a wide variety of ways while I continued working. Some were super excited and supportive, others seemed to tease him and give him a hard time. Regardless, it was definitely treated as something that was not normal. As I was leaving to teach a class, I had a short conversation with him and asked if it was his first day wearing a skirt at ADX, and whether he was surprised by people’s responses to it. He said that he had been crossdressing around town, but that it was the first time he had worn a skirt to ADX, and that during the morning some folks had been jerks while others had been supportive. Seeing the range of reactions people had left me thinking about how I could be supportive beyond simply not treating it as a big deal.

Clearly, the messages in our society regarding gender run deep. As someone who works in a maker space, who works with wood and spends a lot of time in hardware stores and lumber yards, I am sure that I enjoy a lot of privilege as a straight white male. Thinking about the female student’s I have taught, about this woman who wasn’t even allowed to take a shop class, and about the really intense stereotyping in the article shared by Lost Arts Press has me wondering how my female colleagues at ADX or teaching with the boat school may be impacted by their gender and assumptions made about them because of it.

I don’t think I have any profound conclusions to offer, except to say that I’ll be carrying an increased awareness of these issues with me over the coming week. I’m curious so see what conversations it leads to and what I might learn.

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Over the weekend I took my Shearwater out to explore a new spot. Too often, I have taken my kayak or even the Shearwater out to familiar spots. There is nothing wrong with revisiting favorite spots, but its important to cover new ground, especially in a boat where there always seems to be some promise of adventure.

After spending some time on google maps and looking for boat ramps I decided to check out the Chinook Landing Marine Park. It is located about a mile west of where the Sandy river enters the Columbia. The put in was quiet and I got underway quickly under oars. The weather reports predicted light and variable winds so I had not even bothered to bring my sailing rig along. It would also have been a hindrance for parts of my intended journey. I had never checked out the spot where the Sandy river hits the Columbia and while looking at google maps, I had discovered a small channel running that split off from from about a mile up the Sandy to the Columbia well east of where most of the rivers meet. Seemed like a worth while channel to investigate.

The initial row upriver went well, working against the current, but with lovely weather and few other boats to contend with. The entrance to the Sandy lived up to its name. The mouth of the river was braided with various shallow islands interspersed. I ducked into the first channel I came to as much to get out of the current as anything, and promptly grounded. I proceeded to form and test a wide variety of conjectures as to which bank or sandy island I was too close to and where I would find deeper water, but the moral of the story is that I ended up walking my boat through shallow water much of the way over the mouth of the river before finding what could be called the main channel. The water was cold on my bare feet, but not unbearable. I found myself wondering how much time Lewis and Clark spent wading through water while dragging their various boats.

After finding the main channel I was able to row perhaps a quarter or half mile before grounding again. This time I didn’t have to walk my boat quite as far before finding deeper water. By this time I was definitely beginning to feel like a proper part-time adventurer by this point. After another 15 minutes of rowing up river, always keeping an eye on the depth of the sandy bottom I spotted a narrow side channel that led into the woods.

As I neared the channel I watched the river bottom become much more rocky and carefully maneuvered myself to where the current pulled me down into the side channel I had seen in the maps. It was narrow and I could see riffles in the surface down stream just before it ducked around a bend. I pointed my stern down the channel so that I could see where I was going and wondered what I would find.

I carefully watched the riffles and worked to stay in what seemed like the deepest portions while avoiding fallen trees as the narrow channel wound its way through bend after bend. Eventually it slowed and I found myself among a collection of low islands. I pulled my grandfathers binoculars out of their case to see what birds were around as I continued drifting stern down flow. I spotted a kingfisher which I always enjoy, but didn’t see too much else.

While I was drifting backwards, I found myself musing about the parallels between exploring new areas by boat and starting new endeavors in your life. I didn’t expect to find myself grounded so many times, and I didn’t know what would happen around each bend of the small channel I drifted backwards down. As I start a small business with an initial run of the chair I recently designed, there are so many unknowns. I’m not sure where it will lead or what all the challenges are that I will face. Thankfully, at the moment I am still doing a lot of teaching for the fabrication team at ADX and teaching with the boat school, so my current risk is limited. I’m also excited that with a bit of luck I will have a bit of space to keep more tools and chair parts at ADX which will help my productivity. At the moment, I am excited about my future prospects and proud of the work it has taken to get where I’m at. I’m excited to see what’s around the next bend. Along the way I’ll try to enjoy the view.

IMG_1489 IMG_1490 IMG_1493Look! Aquatic mammal!
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Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge in the distance. If you zoom in, you can see the Vista House.IMG_1496 My grandfathers binoculars.IMG_1491 All the rails, arm parts, and legs roughed out for 5 chairs.IMG_1499

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Here are some better pictures of my three legged side chair. At some point I will get some help from someone who knows more about photography than I do, but here they are all the same. In particular I wanted to share some of the details I have enjoyed figuring out on this piece. Every piece is curved or turned. Every piece has both tenons that fit into a adjoining pieces and a mortise to accept another piece. The legs are canted and splay out for stability. The seat and seat back are laminated. All these details make the chair both challenging and satisfying to build.

Perhaps most challenging parts to cut well are the shoulders of the tenons where the rails meet the legs. I decided that for a clean aesthetic the shoulders had to fit the radius of the legs. Cutting the shoulders takes several steps and utilizes both carefully made jigs for my router and hand work with a chisel. IMG_1455

The holes that the let tenons fit through on the arms must be precisely cut to match the angles of the legs which are all canted out for stability. This picture also highlights what seems to be becoming my signature detail: The tenons with black walnut wedges.
IMG_1462The sweep of each curve must gracefully lead into the next. Though I liked the curves on the prototype, every curve has been tweaked for the revised set of patterns that I will use on the next 5 chairs. The final chairs will have plugs covering the screw holes for mounting the seat back.

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The design has the minimal number of pieces needed for an upholstered chair with arms, but there is plenty to draw the eyes in for a second look. It is both light weight and elegant. IMG_1442 IMG_1444

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