Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking, by James Krenov

It must be me.  Everyone else thinks this book is great.  I do think Mr. Krenov is great.   But his book, not so much.  So it must be me.

Well what did I learn reading this book?

The first chapter is about wood as art.  At least I think that's what it is about.   The illustrations are clear:  if you pay attention to the grain direction you can make furniture that looks really great, and if you don't you can make furniture that looks, now that I've seen the comparisons, pretty yucky.    As for the text, let's face it:  I'm too much the barbarian to really understand it much.     It sounds the same to my ear as descriptions of modern art.

Don't hate me for this.  I've confessed my ignorance.   Be compassionate.

The second chapter is about Mr. Krenov's workshop, about tools and machines.   I didn't learn much here either.  Except that the photos of his equipment in use were scary in the sense that someone with much less experience than Mr. Krenov (and isn't that most people?) might think they too should eschew all sorts of safety precautions.  Probably most people shouldn't do that.   I accept that Mr. Krenov could but it isn't clear what sort of message he was sending about this.  Perhaps he didn't consider it an issue.

I did like his idea of using the springs from cheap ball point pens to construct his wood bench dogs.

Then we got into planes.   He explained how to build a wood plane.   The instructions are not for neophytes like me.  (Not to mention not for barbarians like me.)  For example:

"If you can't find suitable breakers, it is not difficult to make them. Simply obtain some mild steel (or even iron) the same width as the plane irons you have, and make the breaker as the sketch and photo show."

He lost me at "obtain some mild steel."

(Remember, if you hate me for this, you might feel badly about yourself tomorrow.   Do you also aim your car at innocent squirrels?)

The third chapter is titled, "Details of Cabinetmaking."  This was pretty interesting, and illuminating both about the craftsmanship that Mr. Krenov represents as well as about myself.   I'm no artist.   At this point in my woodworking development, I'd be happy to be a competent apprentice.   All of Mr. Krenov's work is artistry.   His "unconventional runners" which extend outside the drawer to become pulls are amazing.

So how to sum up this book?  First of all, it is audience -specific.   All the really talented woodworkers stopped reading at the first paragraph of this post and will spit at the mention of my name.   The rest of us (if I'm not alone) can get some very positive use from this book:   an appreciation of the art of wood selection and respect for the medium, and some photographs of really cool cabinetry.

Is there a James Krenov book for me?   Maybe I will try "With Wakened Hands: Furniture by James Krenov and Students"as it promises to be more of a catalog of beautiful work.   And one day perhaps I'll achieve illumination and some of what he wrote in this text will click with me.   Hey, even barbarians can dream.

(Um, still though, I have to call this a miss.)

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