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JOEL Joel's Blog

The Winter of My Discontent


The Winter of My Discontent 1

I have not written a blog entry in a while. I've started a few, but nothing has made it all the way. I agree with the idea that a few good blog entries are better than a bunch of mediocre brain dumps. I have been working on some new tool designs, but it would be premature to write about them. And many of my favorite ways to connect with creativity are off-limits or severely circumscribed by Covid.

I’m trying to help my creativity -- and fight the inactivity and isolation I know I’m not alone in experiencing -- by taking some very long walks. The picture above is Madison Square in the snow. The iconic Flatiron Building can be seen in the distance on the other side of the square. Many people know the name “Madison Square” in connection with Madison Square Garden, which takes its name from prior incarnations of the venue that were located on Madison Square, about ½ mile from the present location of Madison Square Garden. The current location of Madison Square Garden is atop Penn Station, the busiest transportation hub in the world and certainly one of the ugliest. I also recently visited Penn Station’s new annex in the former Farley US Post Office. The new Moynihan Train Hall was airy but sterile, which is a big improvement over the cramped, claustrophobic and confusing style of the rest of Penn Station. The original Beaux Arts Penn Station, which opened early in the 20th century, was a majestic building that got torn down in 1963. Its replacement with the current, hideous Penn Station is widely believed to have galvanized the contemporary historic preservation movement. I am a huge believer in public transportation - I take the subway to Tools for Working Wood -- so I eagerly await the rest of the Penn Station renovation, even if it is unlikely to take inspiration from the Baths of Caracalla.

I have also been helping a friend with a different design challenge. I just finished up proof of concept for a friend who's doing a kinetic sculpture and needed technical assistance on some robotics and pneumatics. It was very good to be able to help out and provide technical assistance and mechanical construction.

Theoretically this work took me away from tool design, but (1) I was still happy to help a friend and (2) you never know when and how ideas will beget other, seemingly unconnected but ultimately very useful ideas.

I realize that this first blog post in a long time is a bit all over the map, but there is a certain unifying aspect. Taking a walk, getting in touch with nature, good design, making things, helping a friend out: all profoundly satisfying and good for your mental health. All require effort and getting out of our ruts (and many of us are in big ruts right now) but ultimately very well worth it.

And how have you guys been doing?
Join the conversation
02/10/2021 @cyberwoodsmith
So happy to see your blog. Was getting a bit lonely without your insights. Hopefully we are at a crossroads in this pandemic and things can get back to normal. Really looking forward to seeing your future tools.
02/10/2021 Dave Polaschek
It’s been a long pandemic, hasn’t it? Been so thankful the construction of my new shop was completed last spring before things got too bad. I’ve had a refuge from the craziness where I can just make stuff.

Waiting on the last few Fisch Jennings bits, but Sally has been great in providing updates. And I’ve got an order of plum brown coming from Brownell’s to do a brown treat on some steel for an upcoming project. Couldn’t find the color of metal to go with some nice citrus wood I have (it’s got a pale yellow tint, which seems to be enhanced by tung oil).

Thanks for being open and helping supply me with the tools and parts I need to keep making stuff. You guys have helped make this past year a little less crazy.
02/10/2021 Christopher Alan Hachet
Spending a ton of time in the shop at the wood lathe and reading a bunch.
02/10/2021 Robert Sheipe
You're right. Fewer of this sort of blog would be better.
02/10/2021 Walter Davis
I have been moving around in my loft, tore down the loft bed I made a few years ago out of reclaimed pine, and decided to make a new kitchen island out of the 4x4 posts from that bed. It came out great! It weighs about 350#, so it's solid as a rock, unlike the old section of Costco shelving I had under a piece of Boos block counter previously. And I got to try milk paint for the first time (bought from TFWW, naturally) and really fell in love with it. Great to hear from you again, and great to hear that you've got the urge to help others. I find I learn a lot that way, and it gets squirreled away and used again later, as you said.
02/10/2021 Dan Moerman
Hello Joel. This is clearly the world of discontent for all of us. Hah! Let's spend an hour on FaceBook!! At least I did get my first vaccine shot last week. Inference? I'm an old duffer. Turning 80 this summer. I've said to several folks, "Wow, wouldn't it be great to be 60 again!" I haven't spent as much time in my shop because, between me and it lies a long flight of stairs. Who would have ever thought that 13 steps could be a serious barrier to the work I love best? I thought about installing an elevator, and found the perfect spot for it. Then I realized that precisely beneath that spot was a steel beam holding up the whole house. I'll have to look at one of those little chair lifts that run down the stairway. Enough of this! I'm currently crafting a lovely 16 inch pizza knife. . . got the blade at Woodcraft, and found a beautiful piece of cocobolo for the handle on my woodrack. It will gleam, and it will slice pizza (which make from naan bread with sauce, mozarella pearls, and fresh basil leaves). Next, set up my shave horse in a new location (in from the barn); I got one of those tiny draw knives of yours a few weeks ago. Aching to try it out. Those damned stairs. . .
02/10/2021 Don Hutcheson
Joel, I'll happily take any and all ramblings you care to push out. Your subject choices and writing style are eminently enjoyable.
So thanks, and please keep 'em coming when you're able.

I'm using quarantine to build an English pub in the basement to go with the wine cellar I built a few years ago for the boss. If you're interested I can supply pics when there's something to see.

Meanwhile, keep safe everyone. I think I can see light at the end of this long cold tunnel.
02/10/2021 Jeffrey Kusama-Hinte
Thank you for this contemplative post!

Walking, thinking, feeling are all vitally important during this time. I assumed thought that you were going make an observation about the "occupational hazard" that woodworkers experience when walking around trees, which is that every tree becomes lumber-to-be. Sometimes its really hard to see the forest or trees without imaginatively reducing their natural beauty to the service of human needs!

I also want to put my vote in for hearing about the new tool designs that you are working on, even at preliminary stages. I enjoy seeing the "problems" spelled out as much as the eventual "answers." I am sure that seeing into your decision and design process would be enlightening and engaging, what ever the end result of the process might be.
02/10/2021 Rob Beebe
Your blog is inspiration to do some reading and thinking about historical preservation in America (and the too-frequent destruction of architecturally "good" buildings and public spaces), and maybe go find the works written by or about Jane Jacobs, Ed Bacon, and others.
02/10/2021 David Lewis
Not to pick nits, but I'm pretty certain Penn Station is a pygmy in comparison to any of several stations in Tokyo. To say nothing of some in China (though I can't speak of those from experience).
02/10/2021 Joe Pirret
Thanks for your post Joel. I had always wondered about the difference between Madison Square Garden and Madison Square Park. It's good to hear a sincere and creative voice.
02/10/2021 Sverre Aune
I've been reading Samuel Pepys' diary, which you referenced in a previous blog. Having already read "The Great Influenza" by John Barry, it is interesting to note the similarities between the Plague that Mr. Pepys writes about, and the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1920. In both cases the dead bodies were literally piled on to "dead wagons" for transport to a burial place, where they were dumped into mass graves. So far, we seem to have escaped such a lethal level of pandemic. It could be a lot worse, as history shows.
It seems I was unknowingly prepared for the isolation this pandemic has brought. Being a sort of loner anyway, as many woodworkers are, and retired as well, I had my hobbies all lined up: riding my motorcycle (in fair weather), woodworking, and learning a new musical instrument. Initially I was learning banjo, (stay tuned for banjo joke) but it was rather annoying to my wife, so I switched to a digital piano, which I can practice using headphones. So apart from the physical distancing thing, I'm doing OK, thanks.
I really enjoy reading your blogs, Joel. Keep 'em coming.
Banjo joke:
A man walks up to the airport security checkpoint with his banjo case. The agent tells him to open the case. He complies, opens the case, and inside is a sub-machine gun. The agent says "OK, you're cleared. I just wanted to make sure you didn't have a banjo in there!"

I can find my own way out, thank you!
02/10/2021 John Higgins
Thanks for your commentary, Joel. I, and a host of others, knew that winter would really pose a challenge-lots of folks that I know (myself included) laid out projects that would hopefully carry through into the spring....mine have, and are. While I'm happy with the results to this point, it all rings a bit hollow, as I've seen my family very little, and my friends less. The good news is that spring is not far, as is the time change. Being outside is always a good thing, and I'm looking forward to more of it. Best to you and yours.
02/10/2021 Joe Zuerker
Great to hear from you again. Always enjoy your blog and like everyone I am dodging Covid and working in the shop AMAP. I hope the vaccine will help put an end to the isolation. Cannot wait to hear about your new projects. Stay safe and keep up the good work.
02/11/2021 Brian Ward
Last year near the end of springtime, I thought, "now begins the summer of our discontent." Then there are thoughts that all of last year felt like winter.

Like most, I made a good amount of progress at the wood pastime, and learned a few new tricks (like how to make upholstered cushions), but I reserve the right to be bitter about the situation. Hang in there?
02/11/2021 Jesse Griggs
Hi Joel, glad you are ok, at least physically. I’m a professional musician so have been taking advantage of the forced sabbatical from performing to spend more time with family and do more woodworking. speaking of inspiration, a recent project needed an odd solution which then inspired me to write a woodworking guide in the style of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’m also really excited to take my first online class with Roy Underhill—something I couldn’t do if it weren’t for the pandemic forcing such things to go virtual.
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