Monday, June 28, 2010

The Bench As Temple

I think it was Mark’s comment ‘This is my temple’ that stopped me short. Like everything he does, the details are not always apparent at first glance, but dig a little deeper and there are layers, lots of them.

Mark and I spent a lot of time in Japan in the 80’s when the bike biz was still there and we were lucky enough to be working near Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan and home to what for me, represents the high water mark in woodworking. On the surface, some of these ancient structures look so simple, until you happen upon an interlocking timberframe joint laid out to reveal what is hidden once the building is complete. Truly inspirational stuff, especially when considering the simplicity of the tools used to build them.

We both packed home handmade planes and laminated steel chisels, but it was when I saw a simple patio trellis Mark constructed that I knew I should simply keep mine in the wrapper. While I only aspired to the task, he ‘got it’ and had the hands to pay honor to the gentleman who made the chisels. It was looking over this bench, that I saw that same level of deliberate simplicity and deceivingly subtle craft.

Finding materials that underwrite the intent of the project is the starting point and in this case, it was salvage old growth timber. The stability of 100 year old beams offsets the typical checks and splits of age.

Despite being constructed largely with handtools, the design takes shape here in Mark’s computer.

Viewing the translation into wood, it’s hard to imagine anything electronic was ever associated with the design.

Here you can see the gorgeous, even end grain, offset by deep checks that somehow seem perfect even though they are considered flaws.

Looking under the bench, the relative simplicity of the working surface is contrasted by complex joinery. Each of those massive legs is joined to the deck by mortise & tenons.

The surface is finished without sandpaper, relying instead on razor sharp planes to remove layers thin enough to see through and a surface so perfect that it reflects a bolt head.

The bench top is then covered in thick sole leather, fitted perfectly around the vice and finished with beeswax and pine pitch.

This is where the next DiNucci frame will begin.