September 26, 2007


Another Day in Paradise

The fogs of fall have descended on Whidbey Island. The dawns walk for the morning newspaper has become an impressionists dream: firs loom dark and protective, grassy fields are golden paint strokes, webs are bedewed. Traffic, slowly moving, shrouded, appears and fades silently as if waiting for everything to jump back to summers frenetic pace. There is always an expectancy at this time of year. Like comfort food, falls fogs are a relief, cradling me before winters gloom.

No, this is really a good time. Time for reflection and regeneration. Time and space to regroup to create the next best thing, whatever that may turn out to be.

The shop is full at the moment with some unfinished projects. Cynthi's amoire. Just a few more coats of finish, then reassembly. That will occur this week as the Whidbey's annual artist's "Studio Tour" will be this weekend, Sept 29/30 with over 100 artists participating. There is also a book case for the Enso House that is due for completion. Mortises have been cut, while the tenons await completion. White oak is the material and one of my least favorite woods, only that it is so hard and I seem to trash my hands when I have to clean tenons cut by my by my slot mortiser. There is an osage orange step stool rough cut as well as an elm coffee table to be completed. A small book case in red oak waits for my attention as well as a custom saddle rack, that was a result of our annual show. Cynthia has also asked for a kitchenette for the Birth Center, design is in progress. I am in discussions with three sets of clients for kitchen work. These discussions seem to take forever. One potential client spoke with me last year, and just is now getting back with me. People like to take their time making considered decisions. For me that is the best. There is time for everyone to become totally comfortable with the project that will be central in their lives and mine for some months, at least and comes at considerable cost. Mean while, my bank account is slowly deflating. Even with all the pending work, cash flow is slow, very slow.

Got work? How are you all doing? Is the economy in flux, or is it just me? Even though this mornings PI reports that Seattle housing market is better than any where else in the US, requests for new work seems slow. Are your phones ringing off the hook?

Last month was an electrical disaster. Why me? First I had a run capacitor melt and fume on my band saw ($45), then I destroyed my table saw motor($603), then the mother board in my dust collection automatic sensor system burned out($40), and then a dust collector switch stopped working(full of saw dust:free). I feel like I am forgetting something, but never mind, that is enough to slow any bodies cash flow. ( An electronic ballast on a florescent fixture died. $45) All are working again after lots of cursing and gnashing of teeth. Poor Max just slinks around when my volume increases. I always have to reassure him it is not his fault.

Work awaits. May you chisels be sharp and your shavings long,
Rob Hetler Cabinetmaker

September 22, 2007


Letter from Whidbey Woodworker

Dear Dustheads,

The show has folded. We had more than $10,000 in sales! This is truly spectacular. Some twenty visitors appreciated your work enough to shell out the bucks and make our collective day. Plus there were commissions arranged. The show was a wonderful group effort, with special thanks to Tom Fisher, our fearless curatorial leader and his exemplary cat herding abilities. Thanks also has to be extended to all the fine artists who put the incredible work out there for all to see. The wine flowed, the eats were eaten, the party was jammed. I guess we have become Whidbey's own dust laden party animals. Just wait till next year. Woodpalooza V will the best yet!

The recent months have been interesting. I have spent time reassessing what my business is about. After the Furniture Society conference in Victoria, B.C., I was invited to participate in the Patterns Show at North West Finewoodworking in Seattle. I have never done the gallery thing, except for the Guild's annual show. All my work has been on commission. So I am pondering a change in my business format to include gallery work. I have also been questioning my business name. All to often folks think of a cabinetmaker as on par and in competition with Home Depot and Ikea. The creativity and artistry involved with what I build and the complete mechanization of the commercial products sets them far apart.

I built a revised version of the Victoria Step Chest for the Patterns Show. The posts now pierce the steps with a pyramidal shape capping the post. The steps are notched to accommodate this. This gives the structure a more significant emphasis. I have also built several step stools with exotics. When I look at my shop floor and see purple heart and orange paduk shavings I am reminded of Kim Kelzer's lament for anything but brown. I was loathe to sweep it up.

Both paduk and purple heart are what are called rowed woods. The grain goes both directions simultaneously. This is murder to try to hand plane. Does anyone have a suggestion? Sanding works, as does scrapping but neither produces the desired surface with the requsite control.. Perhaps I need to use a scraper plane or a high angle frog on my smoother. Or an infilled spiers type plane with a massive blade. I will keep trying. There has to be a way.

For now, may your chisels be sharp and your shavings long,
Rob Hetler

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