A Study in Form I


This was the first study in hand crafted woodworking that I have undertaken for my thesis project to this point. This project began with learning two of the more basic tools in the shop: the band saw and the sanders.

I started out working with a piece of foam cut into the same shape as the wood I was using to get some practice with how to manipulate the piece to make the cuts that I wanted before working on the actual wood.

The goal was to create a pair of salad tongs out of the block of foam by cutting away on the two perpendicular faces to create the form of the tongs. It was made even more straightforward by the use of a pattern that was overlaid on the block to cut along.

After cutting along the lines of the pattern on the block of wood and continually taping it back together I completed the pattern cuts in the practice block of foam.

Upon opening up the block that had been cut the form of the salad tongs that I was making could be found perfectly cut in the center. Because of the soft nature of the foam I couldn’t use the disk sander because it was too powerful, so instead I used some sand paper to hand sand the edges and faces of the tongs to a smooth finish as I would eventually do with the wooden ones that I would make next.

I appreciated the use of a different material to prepare me for making the final piece as it gave me experience that I did not have and an understanding of the form and machine. I think the material in this piece lent itself quite well to the nature of the work as the preparation and learning was and important part of the practice and process to create the final piece for me. I was however a bit concerned with how I thought of the nature of the design. I was following a pattern. I didn’t design this I was only honing a mechanical skill. Does that degrade the level of craft that I am imparting on the piece? Where do individuality of the piece and ideas of the actual crafts person begin to factor in? This was not my design, it was someone else who figured out how to make that pattern work and allowed me to use it.

The creation of the final piece followed much the same process as the practice foam model. It started with a blank, squared piece of wood.

This wood then had the paper pattern glued to the perpendicular surfaces and was continuously cut and taped back together until all of the lines on the pattern had been completed and forms were created.

Upon opening up the taped block I was able to pull out the two salad tongs that had been created quite easily. They were not completely identical and had certain parts of the handle and spoon that were thicker on one than the other. Those imperfections and varies qualities could be seen as a mark of quality and individuality making them unique. The are something that wouldn’t happen with a more mechanized process, but does that make them more valuable? Or does it really change their functionality and usefulness? As the craftsperson is this something that I want to highlight and celebrate, just make do with, or work out through sanding and other means later on? The fact that I get to make that choice for each individual piece gives me more power in the design decisions related to the piece, so does that give me more authority as the craftsperson even though I was following a pattern that I didn’t even design?

After taking the rough forms out of the block I used the disk sander to smooth down the faces and then used a finer grit sandpaper to smooth all the rough angles, faces, and edges of the pieces. Eventually I can also finish them with salad oil to be used for cooking. The pieces are not completely identical and have their own unique markings based on the different grain patterns of the wood.

I am still unsure how I would classify these as I did not create the design and I was following a pattern, but I did have to make more design decisions when it came to finishing the pieces and when there were points of improvisation or questions of technique in how I was cutting them out. Does that make me a true craftsperson or am I just another form of transferred labor to create someone else’s piece?

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