Saturday, October 6, 2012


First of all, I want to note that it has been 5 months since I sat down to post a blog.  I have no excuse.  "I've been busy" is not really an excuse.  As it has been pointed out many times to me by close friends, it is just a matter of priorities.

That is not to say that I don't think posting my thoughts is not a priority.  I sincerely believe that old "masters" need to pass on their experience for the benefit of the next wrecking crew.  In fact, I am encouraged by the many emails and messages which ask about my absence and reinforce my hope that what I post has value to them.

The past 5 months has been eventful and I promise to start posting about events with a renewed energy.  We completed an interesting project for the Art Institute of Chicago, which opens a new show at the end of this month.  I was able to spend some quiet time in the mountains of Montana, which was covered in smoke from the fires and dry from lack of water.  I have been working on several projects that I can report on, and other activities have kept me away from the computer.

Recently, I have been watching a new series on NBC, called "Revolution" which is an American version of a French science fiction book, by Rene Barjavel, "Ravage," published in 1943.  I love science fiction, and grew up reading amazing books from the 1950's.  There is nothing more stimulating than science fiction which seems to accurately predict a future that may, in fact, happen.

In this TV series, there is the usual stress and tension of fighting and egos, which is typical American script writing.  However, under the predictable and required amount of action is a basic plot premise, derived from that earlier French novel.  That is, what would happen if all the electricity in the world suddenly stopped working?  How would that change civilization?  Would be become savages?  Hence the killing...

I would like to point out that civilization survived for thousands of years before we plugged in.  I know it's hard to imagine, but I would guess that the percentage of time humans have lived with electricity compared to the total time we have lived on earth is rather small.  Very tiny.  Almost zero.

In fact, if all the power went out in my shop,  I could easily continue to function normally.  I would miss the radio and I suppose I would have to use a wood stove to make coffee and glue.  I couldn't work much after dark, so my wife would see me more at home, over candle light.  That might not be so bad!

I am thinking mostly of cutting on the chevalet, quietly making marquetry art.  Only the sound of the blade as it cuts through packets of ebony, and other exotic materials.   If you have read anything on this blog, you already know I have a certain affection for the chevalet.

That is why I made an effort to introduce this tool to North America some 15 years ago by creating the American School of French Marquetry and selling kits.  Now that I have sold some 50 kits, which are all over North America, people are starting to understand what it is all about.

In most cases, the student or marquetry artist builds his own chevalet.  However, it requires some amount of timber framing and woodworking skill to build, and marquetry art is essentially working with tiny pieces of wood; quite the opposite skill.  That is why I expected, at some point, to find those workers who would specialize in making the tool itself, to sell or give to others, as a supplier.

This is, for me, the true revolution.  The time when American woodworkers would produce pre industrial wood tools for consumption.  Full circle.  Post Industrial Revolution.  Return to real hand workmanship (a term which has been "slightly overused" in recent times.).

One of my students, Paul Miller, lives on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and has a lot of experience in boat building and other diverse woodworking skills.  He recently made several videos, and has produced several chevalets.  He is well known on the Lumberjocks site.

Here is his independent review of his experience in our school (sent to a prospective student):

First to answer your specific questions.

Not too bad. I took the course in Feb (they are also offered in Sept and June) which is more off-season than the others and I shared accommodation with another Lumberjock, Mat Nedeljko. We got a suite at the Sommerset Inn and split the cost. It would be a long walk but doable. There are accommodations in North Park nearer by but it didn't matter to me as I had a car. I spend winters in Az so I drove over. Patrick's literature will suggest several options and there's always the internet. I think Mat got picked up at the airport by the hotel limo. The school doesn't do that. they only have a max of six students at a time. When we went it was four.
Hours of work:
You are in Patrick's shop. He arrives around 7:30 and classes start at 8:00 as I remember. There's an hour off for lunch. (You don't have to go) Shutting down time varies but we stayed late a few days (an hour or so) Anyway you get all you can absorb. and it will be more than the advertised 40 hours.

Cameras are fine / encouraged. He's not jealous of his techniques at all.

Tarsia geometrica is parquetry. Boulle is a form of packet cut marquetry.

No experience is required. Both Mat and I had built and used our own chevalets, in my case for almost a year, but this was the first time Patrick had taught a class where people already owned chevalets. The course work is exactly the same experience or no and even though I was going over a lot that I already knew or thought I did, I still got full value from learning the little nuances that make everything work better. Look at my LJ projects before and after last Feb and you will see a jump in quality and complexity.
There are some lecture periods but mostly you are working on three increasingly difficult Boulle pieces. You will complete all three but as I said you will learn many little tricks and nuances along the way that really make it worth while. You will also get a demo on hammer veneering, a lecture on hide glue and a French polishing demo. (Be prepared to chuck the tightbond when you get home)

Chevalet advantages:
In a word, control. You are in a comfortable position looking straight ahead, not stooped and looking down. You have complete control over the blade in your right hand and the packet in your left. Hard to explain but you can just do things that you can't on a scroll saw. IMHO.

It's not cheap if you have to travel and stay in a hotel but you have to decide how that works with what you hope to do with the knowledge. For me, driving from Green Valley Az and staying in a hotel, shared, it cost just under $2000. My latest piece, that I could never have done without the course, is worth that a few times over (maybe). I will be biting the bullet and going back this winter and will be happy if I only refine my cutting, sand shading and french polishing techniques.

I guess that if I had to make one point about the value I'd say this. Someone like me could teach you most of what you will learn there but the difference is that this a unique experience to learn from two real masters who, for some reason are willing to take time from their busy lives to teach hobbyists and inexperienced wanna be's like us. You get more by osmosis around that shop than the price of admission.

I'm not in Patrick's employ, but I am an admirer of the man and the artist. He's a very cool guy.

He also has made some videos about his work on chevalets, including a valuable video which demonstrates how you adjust the tool for accuracy.  This involves cutting a keyhole shape from thick material.  If the keyhole piece passes out of the packet in both directions, then the blade is perpendicular to the packet.  If not, then you either adjust the vertical or horizontal or both until it works.

Here are other videos by Paul:

Here is a video by one of our students, Mat Nedeljko, working in class:

I am encouraged to make some videos of my own and will keep you posted.  Thanks for sticking with me during this "pause" in my posting.


Anonymous said...

Great to see you are back
I very much enjoy your blog
and have learned a lot
thank You


Anonymous said...

Very happy you are back. It's funny but if the electricity went out for good I wouldn't be able to work at all. My shop is in a concrete basement with no natural light. Not the best place but it works for now.