Sunday, November 20, 2016

Danish Chair Building Extravaganza - Epilogue

I've been back to Spain for a couple weeks, and have had some time to reflect on what happened during that awesome week of chair building in Denmark.

Jonas, Brian and Alex on the last day.
But first, let me catch you up. Day 5 turned out not to be the last day, like we were supposed to. Alex and I talked Jonas into letting us stay one more night, so we could cram in a bit more woodworking the morning before we drove off.
Here I am slathering BLO on my elm chair parts.
Alex was a bit slower, but to be fair he built two chairs in tandem. He had never built a Roorkee chair before, and actually had quite a few firsts, including first time turning on a lathe and first time working leather. That being said, he came up with a pair of the finest Roorkees I've ever seen.
Alex's chairs approaching completion. One elm, one sycamore.
I started an elm version after I completed the sycamore one.

I think I could have gotten a bit farthur, but I wound up re-doing a stretcher, as one of them disintegrated in the mortise. I posted this pic before, but just to jar your memory:
Rotten stretcher.
We made a giant mistake when milling the wood. The ends of the sycamore board we were using were gray in color. I figured that was just on the surface, but it was gray all the way through. That was my first sign, but I figured it would be OK.

This particular stretcher happened to be running fore and aft, and the broken part was in the back again. Funnily enough, the chair still sat even when the part was broken like in the picture. I thought it had a funny lean when I was watching some of the others sit in it.

If you look closely at the above picture, there was enough of the tapered tenon in the hole that the chair still held up. I only noticed this when I disassembled the chair.

The gray colored wood turned out to be rotten. It was about the consistency of a wine cork. There was no strength left in it.

The fix was easy, I just milled another stretcher and was back in business. It did take a while, though, as I didn't have a spare stretcher octagonalized.

Moving on - I tried something else for the elm chair. Up until now we all had used the Veritas tapered reamer (12 degrees taper) and tenon cutter for all of the chairs. Having examined the original Klint chair (I'll have to do a whole additional post on that chair) we borrowed, it looked like those tenons were less of a taper than the 12 degrees we used. Why not try a six degree taper, since I have a six degree tapered reamer here?
Using my six degree reamer.
This is what it looks like when the taper is done being reamed.
This was amazing. This reamer is much more accurate to use. It is possible to check for square after every half turn (or less, if you wish)!

Stretchers with six degree tapers.

Assembled joint.
The design of the Roorkee allows for the joints to be a little sloppy. It will still sit and hold together if everything isn't perfect. The leather keeps everything from falling apart.


Using the six degree tool allowed for an insane level of accuracy so each joint was perfect. Plus, I think the six degrees holds a little tighter.

This means that the wooden bits stay together on their own as in this photo:
My elm chair and the saw benches already in use.
In fact, the chair has been sitting in my office waiting for leather since I got back without falling apart. I'm curious as to what difference this will make in how the chair sits, if any.

Alex and I stayed up until after two in the morning working on our chairs that Friday. When I got up Saturday, Alex was already in the shop. "This isn't a chair building vacation," he he explained, "it's an extravaganza!"
From top to bottom, the original Klint, Jonas' bench from two years ago, his Roubo stool, his Safari chair, and mine in black.
Jonas and Mrs. Mulesaw were busy Saturday morning, but let us have our way in the shop. We finished up about noon and made our way back to Germany.

We stopped in Kiel to visit Pedder and have a cup of coffee. Pedder was kind enough to show us his shop.
Pedder in his shop.
Pedder's shop, just like mine, is in a Kellerraum in the basement of his apartment building. His shop isn't a whole lot bigger than mine, but he has it set up a little smarter, I think. One thing I really liked was his light which can be seen in the above picture. I might have to get one like it someday.
Pedder's saw vice.
He has a really cool saw vice. It is like many other's, but it has ebony inlaid in the jaws to aid in a contrasting background when filing saw teeth.
A perfect idea!
We left Pedder's after a short visit, and spent the night at my in-laws.
Alex and the Schwiegereltern.
When I got home, I put a final coat of paste wax on the sycamore chair.
Glamor shot.
I then packed it up and mailed it to my brother.
I figured out a way to pack up the legs to take less room.
Here is another shot with the belts undone.
While I was home in Munich, I tried out the brass screw Jonas made for my No. 12.
You can see the old one was bent.
I don't know how he did it, but it is a perfect match. He turned it on board his ship without the original to look at.
Perfect fit.
After two days, I boarded a plane back to Spain. I booked 50 kilos of luggage, and wound up taking 60!
Here's why.
Alex finished up his chairs the day he got back.
Alex enjoying one of his new chairs.
I had a little work to assemble my saw benches that I brought in my checked luggage (along with the elm Safari chair, and enough wood and leather for two more chairs).

I glued the legs up, and since each bench had one elm leg and three ash, I figured I would put an elm wedge in the ash legs, and a sycamore wedge in the elm legs.
OCD therapy.
I also constructed a precision instrument for marking the legs for cutting.
The finest of construction.
After that, it was just a matter of cutting to the line...
Using one saw bench to make the other.
Action shot.

Ready for finish.

I really like them.
They will have to pull double duty in our apartment, so they will need some kind of finish. I decided to just put a coat of boiled linseed oil on them.
Finished staked saw benches.
I was going to write a bunch about what I learned from each of the other woodworkers here, but I might save that for later. Let me just say that if you ever get a chance to work with other woodworkers, whether it be a cooperative build like this, or a class, the projects you take home are just a bonus compared to what you really get watching the others work.

Once again, a big thanks to Jonas and Mette for being such kind hosts.

Learning a Language

It's time I get back to the important business of blogging. I have been busy since I've been back from Denmark, but I have been busy with the business of learning Spanish.

In other words, this particular post is not about woodworking at all, but my journey so far with español.

Traditional Spanish dancing.
This post is more for me to record my thoughts more so than to be some kind of expert on the Spanish language. Someday I'm going to have to learn German properly, and this hopefully will be a nice record of what I did to learn Spanish.

Perhaps a little bit of my personal history to put my journey into context:

I came to Germany in 1997 with the US Army. Until recently, I have worked for the US Army either as a soldier or a civilian. This means I have always worked in an English speaking environment on a US Army post, where I could spend dollars, eat peanut butter and speak English.

Early on I met the Frau who speaks better English than I do. For some reason (and I think I'm not alone), we find it excruciating to attempt German at home.

I could go on with lots of excuses, but in the end, after 19 years in Germany I am not at all fluent in German, and there is no one to blame but myself. I can follow a conversation pretty well, can read a bit, and can order the hell out of a Big Mac. The problem is when it comes time for me to speak, my brain turns to jelly.

I've been in Spain since August, and I vowed I would not let the same thing happen to me here. I want to speak to the people here. I think it would be way more fun that way. I could get away with English in the part of Germany I was in, as the education system there does a great job of getting young people fluent enough in English. I could get away speaking English because there would invariably be someone who could speak English nearby.

We will go back to Germany in a few years, and I will need to learn German, full stop. I think being in Spain now is an excellent opportunity for me to learn how one should go about learning a language, as I pretty well know what NOT to do to learn one.

I think learning a language is a bit of a catch-22, because in order to really get it, you need to speak it. But, to speak it, you need to know something.

Hmmm. What to do?

There was one giant mistake I did when learning German: I allowed fear to prevent me from trying. I was afraid of making mistakes, afraid of getting the articles wrong, afraid the grammar was in the wrong order, etc. In other words, I was afraid of sounding dumb.

Other people seem to be great at languages. The Frau is fluent in German, English and French. Jonas has Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, German, English and who-knows-what-else. I would call him a polyglot. He would consider himself able to talk to anyone within an hour's drive of his house.

I know this is completely irrational, because I always appreciate it when someone bothers to learn English. They might not be perfect, but it doesn't take too much effort to help someone get out what they are trying to communicate.

For some reason, it is different when the shoe is on the other foot.

I am well aware of this folly, and my propensity to fall in it. I've caught myself a few times already choosing to keep my trap shut rather than say what I want.

OMG! This is going to be a long post. I'll have to find some more pictures to break it up.
Ham! What could be more Spanish than Iberian ham in a market!
Learning a language isn't necessarily difficult, but it does take effort, patience, and you MUST stick to it.

My regimen up until now has turned out to be pretty effective so far.
  • I am in a Spanish class downtown for two hours three days a week.
  • I am taking private lessons from Spanish teachers via Skype
  • I supplement my lessons with YouTube videos on the subject I'm working on.
  • I use my limited Spanish every chance I get.
I feel the need to break these down a bit to explain what I am doing to get anything out of them and what they are.

Spanish Class

My Spanish class is taught by a very nice lady at a language school in town. There are about six students learning basic Spanish, and the teacher speaks very little English in class. I suspect she doesn't really have English at a conversational level, but really I don't know.

  • I'm with a real-live person who can answer questions and demonstrate the language.
  • I can learn along with some of the other students who are in the same boat.
  • There are proper materials provided and a certain expectation that we do our part.
  • We really are getting into the weeds of the bits that make Spanish work and be correct.
  • One can "hide" in class. This is something I am predisposed to do. Remember, I said that to really get it, you have to speak. I've caught myself hoping she would call on someone else when I am not confident with an answer.
  • The class both goes really fast, and too slow at the same time. It sounds weird, but we are learning so much that it seems before I can really get a handle on a concept we are moving ahead to the next step. I could be at it for years before becoming conversational if this is all I do (I know, because I proved it with German).
  • All in all, a group class like this gets you good at analyzing Spanish, but lacks a bit in the creation required for speaking fluently.

Private Skype Lessons

I'm lucky here, because I am doing some private lessons with a company called BaseLang. I'm lucky because they only teach Spanish. I'll have to figure something else out when it's time for German.

  • It is really cheap - $99 per month for as many Skype lessons as you can do.
  • Quality lesson design with flexibility. I mean that this company's focus is to get a student speaking and understanding as quickly as possible. It is flexible in the fact that the instructors all will go over whatever you want them to. I could use them as tutors, for instance, to help with the lessons in my downtown class. I find their lessons to be a great compliment to what I am learning downtown, though. While I am hanging on by my fingernails downtown, here I get to really understand and gain confidence. Honestly, I feel more like my downtown class is a good companion to this one!
  • The instructors are all cheerful, knowledgeable and dedicated. There are dozens of them. I found one that I use most of the time, and I use a few others on days and times when he isn't available.
  • I can do it every single day, even days when I have my downtown class. The most I've used so far is five 30-minute sessions. At a $99 per month rate, this is perfect for me while I am not yet working. I think if I did have a full time job, I could still get really great instruction with a 30-minute class every day and perhaps one day on the weekend with one or two one hour sessions. I think if you do less than ten 30-minute sessions a month, you probably would be better off with a local private tutor.
  • I think the reason BaseLang can keep the price so low is their instructors are mostly from Venezuela, from what I can tell. I think if you are in the US, this is not so much a problem, but Castillian Spanish here in Spain has some differences. I think the differences are about the same as the differences between British English and American English. At the end of the day, I decided to go with this company anyway, as South American Spanish is better than nothing, and there is no way I could afford this amount of private tutoring with a language teacher here. I did find a BaseLang teacher who has been great in helping with the Castillian. He is knowledgeable about the differences, coaches me about them, and adds exercises to our lessons including grammar and pronunciation that I need. He even created one entire lesson for me just on this topic!
  • It is over the computer, which isn't quite as good as speaking face to face with someone. But I have to say it's close.
  • It is restricted to being able to communicate over Skype, which requires an internet connection, video and audio.


YouTube is an amazing resource that wasn't something I would have thought to include in a study regimen even a couple of years ago. Now, it has a TON of good content. Beware, though, there is also a TON of crap content. I find that there is some real gold to be mined here. Cherry picking the topics you need to assist understanding is a real boon.

  • It makes a brilliant companion to a proper language class, as you can search topics. For example, last week I was so mad and frustrated with my class because the teacher went over indirect object pronouns for probably 45 minutes. Very detailed. My problem was, I didn't get it. The more I didn't get it, the madder I got. I fell in my trap of keeping my mouth shut as it seemed that no one else was having problems, in fact they thought this concept was easy. Once I was home and calmed down a bit, I decided I needed to figure these things out, and I wasn't going to stop until I did. A quick search on YouTube yielded about seven years worth of content regarding indirect object pronouns. In ten minutes, I was good to go. Sometimes, you just need someone else to explain it in a different way.
  • I find it not very effective as a stand-alone language program. There's lots of opinions on how you should learn Spanish, and without guidance it can be a bit like walking through a swamp blindfolded.
  • No feedback. This kind of goes with the previous point. Just like any other kind of video instruction, the teacher can not observe and correct what you are doing.

Accosting Every Local With Limited Spanish

I jest a bit with this title, but the idea is to put as much of what you are learning into real world practice as soon as possible. I have to say the Frau is better at this than I am, but she is getting by.

  • You are really doing it! You're speaking a foreign language!
  • Speaking a word somehow cements it into your long term memory better, making it easier to pull it up without effort the more it is used.
  • They respond. Now, it's "omigodwhatthefuckdidhejustsay?"
  • Don't get me started on a telephone conversation at this point. How are you supposed to use your hands and feet on the phone?
  • Sometimes a local will speak to you in a dialect. Here, it's Valenciano, which is a different language entirely. 
I joke, but it's usually not a problem. People are understanding and supportive when they find out you are trying to learn their language (although I won't speak for the French). One has to understand there is a big commitment in brain calories required to learn a language, but there are big benefits.

Especially if you live in another country.

What languages do you speak, or would you like to speak, and what ways do you learn?