Cherry Is a Journey
I’m almost done with my new coffee table design for the Sellers’ Home living room series seemingly coming together from nowhere piece by piece. By that, I mean that the design is finished in my head and now on paper but as yet not quite fully made. We have videoed the first few episodes though and this week I laminated, laminated, laminated. Therein is the first clue! I have the sixteen mortise holes cut and twelve tenons fitted so far, but the four remaining come on the ends of laminated rails and that is clue two. Clue three may be something that you have never seen before so don’t strain the grey cells too much. It pivots from a fixed point and replaces a drawer to hold pens and pencils and a notepad. Why? Well, it goes with my rocking chair where I plan to work my sketchpads, write (as I always do) in notepads and then at my laptop. I have used a rocker as a working chair to work from for 25 years so far. It’s unlikely now that I will change the habit (especially with the new design that fits and supports my lifestyle).
Sometimes my work is a little sloppy in that to complete sections in time for the next video work I must push myself so as not to lose a day because of ten minutes. A haunch may not be perfect but the outcomes make no difference to the appearance or structural strength and the longevity of the finished work. In a way, this puts me back in time with the Victorian craftsmen who had to produce many drawers in a day to satisfy the demands of an austere master and so we see that the dovetail saw sailed past the demarcation lines every time. Therefore I make no apologies!
Cherry seems to me mostly a joyous wood to work. It is like many fruitwoods in that it has both a pleasing texture to touch beyond the plane’s final stroke and then the grain seems always to take gentle meanderings as if by a brook in a wide, low-lying valley. I trace my fingers along lines of growth rings and fine myself amidst meadows filled with wildflowers. This is the time when its canopy covers the dome with pompoms of pure pink and white and the bark shimmers in its burgundy coat.
The panel of four planks begin to level and the floor around my bench is ankle deep before I sweep and fill yet another large bag for the third or fourth time today. I spent time shaping the legs and shaving them with my spokeshave. The wood glows and the cherry shavings are the softest of all woods even when thickly taken from the board. But it’s the final fine skins that wrap around my wrist and fingers and cling to the plane by the static create by my planing that are the softest down. They curl en mass and roll in the breeze from an open door until they rest, piled beneath my workbench. Why cherry does this to me I don’t know but this wood is like no other.
In my making, I think of my decision to use mainly hand tools all those years ago. This was one of those rare points where you recollect a punctiliar decision – a point of positive wisdom that everyone else sees as stupid. To do what I did this morning with a hand plane by machine would deprive me of all that I felt above. Were I to make and sell this coffee table as a hand-made piece I would make at least £1,000. I would take five days to do it and I would have felt no anxiety but only utter peace. I would have a beautiful piece of work I would be proud of, sell to a very pleased and appreciative customer, reflect each day on the beauty of my work and my working and put the £1,000 into my bank account to pay my bills. Were I to do this by machine, I would likely make one and a half of the same coffee table, sell them for the same or similar price and they would look exactly the same as my handmade one. The customer would be unlikely to see the difference and would most likely not care if the one was hand-made and the others machined through and through. I would put £1,500 into my bank account and pay the bills the same as before. But, to me, it’s the bit in between that matters the most. The waking in the morning, knowing that I would soon be exercising my whole body for several hours AND engaging all of my senses in the process of knowing and working, is part of my “good morning” to myself. The Greeks use the word ginōskō to describe something far more than to simply know something as we limit ourselves in a single use of the word.
One Lexicon says that it is: a prolonged form of a primary verb; to “know” (absolutely) in a great variety of applications and with many implications (as follow, with others not thus clearly expressed):–allow, be aware (of), feel, (have) know(-ledge), perceived, be resolved, can speak, be sure, understand.
ginōskō: to learn to know, come to know, get knowledge of perceiving, feel, to become known, understand, perceive, have knowledge of, to understand to become fully acquainted with.
My neck and shoulder muscles will begin to bulge beneath my shirt with every stroke I take and every piece of wood I lift. Over many hours in any day, I will repeat this stroke, stroke on stroke and pull and push, lift, place and lower. My upper arm muscles too, “big guns” I am told, will work the planes and the saws all day long no problem It’s the bit in between starting and going to the bank that I cannot take to the bank or hide under the matress and nor would I. I do have to pay my bills, as we all do. I have done that since I started work at 15.
What you get from power equipment is good in its sphere of mass-making or to help out now and again when your strength wanes. This is a provision for all of us at certain times. It’s not what you get though, so much as what you must miss, and I say this because it cannot exist with power equipment. What pulses through the brain, what takes us beyond our own finiteness, what pulses through the veins, things such as these, mean much more than we might realise and we don’t need to put titles to them, we just need to acknowledge and accept that we feel better when we make with our hands, when we overcome opposition and fears, self-doubt and when we fight for what we believe in.
Is that the final design for your new chair? Whether it is or not I have to say this one is totally stunning, and I much, much prefer it over the previous ones, with the tenon coming from the seat and the curved back. Maybe just a personal thing.
Reading how you describe working with cherry wood, I think I should ‘splurge’ a bit and buy some for me to work with, since it is considered very exotic wood in my country.
Das Design des Stuhles ist wirklich gelungen.
Auch die handwerkliche Verarbeitung ist, wie gewohnt von Ihnen, sehr beachtlich.
Ich habe aber ein Problem zu Glauben das es Kirschbaumholz ist.
Ohne zu wissen welche Holzart es ist würde ich sagen Esche.
Die Oberflächenbehandlung scheint Schellack zu sein.
Ich persönlich finde geölte Oberflächen schöner.
Aber das ist ja Geschmacksache.
I never use oil at all really. Just on the odd occasion when I don’t need something to last or where it is not in a particular wear situation. It always seemed such a bad choice though perhaps it does deepen the appearance if that is what you want. Bleached shellac is transparent and when taken care of, as all hand-made furniture should be, it is both durable and easy to repair and gives tremendous chatoyancy. I have seen shellac finishes on 200-year-old pieces that are as clear today as they were when first made. Oil has never been that durable but it is the easiest to apply and requires zero skill to apply.
I did some test samples of boards with tung oil, blo, shellac, blo and then shellac. There wasn’t a lot of difference except that for some reason using BLO seemed to give the cherry more of a suntan when left in the sun the same time as the other samples.
This reactive colour evens out over time but if you leave a book on a newly finished cherry piece the outline of the book will remain for a long time, many months in fact, after the exposed surfaces have reached their full honey-brown colouring. All oils will give depth of colour to wood but that is not what we always want; if it is then it can be used. If not, it is better not to use oil.
Well the problem was I had a bunch of cherry boards I was going to use for a project in my garage. My garage door has some small windows on the upper panels. I didn’t realize at the time but every day the hot California sun would shine through the windows and left rectangles of tan on parts of the boards. I was trying to find a way to even them out but eventually gave up.
Greetings from Greece, Master.
Paul, that is one beautiful chair, sir. I too love to use shellac on my cherry projects. I made two cradles for my first two granddaughters and I used shellac on both. One was in red oak and the other was cherry. Both had several coats of shellac using 0000 wool between coats. They final touch was the paste wax. I must say the finishes turned out great. Additionally, I wished I had 1/4 of your woodworking skills. You sir do amazing work. Thank you for sharing your love of wood. You are an inspiration. Warm regards, Phil.
I recently built a few things out of cherry, and I absolutely fell in love with the wood! Paul, I can only second what you said: the shavings feel like no other, and seeing and touching a planed board of cherry gives me such joy.
As always, thanks for all you do, and I look forward to the next project!
P.S. Forgive me if you have answered this before, but what do you do with all your shavings? I live in the city and haven’t been able to find a good use for them, so for now, they just go into the trash…
If this helps, some shavings get used to start the barbecue, mulch around plants, taken to my dad or father in laws to start their fires. Much of it still ends up in my green waste container and the city turns it into compost.
I’ll take a stab at describing wood grain. It’s like light, which takes a straight course until it comes under the influence of gravity, then it bends and twists, the same way that grain reacts to the presence of a knot, the hand worker’s bane. It’s my general relativity theory of wood.
Thanks Paul. Cherry is a wonderful wood for sure and I make many projects from it. I love the way the grain pops when I apply shellac to it.
This week, I took off from work and have spent the entire time in my shop woodworking. I had rough sawn ash that I have been dimensioning to make a Roubo frame saw so I can more easily resaw thicker wood in the future. I started the week not wanting to dimension the wood by hand. However, I kept at it. Each day day I’ve made progress. When I stopped for the evening my muscles were tired and I bit sore. I slept well. That was a very satisfying feeling at the end of the day for sure.
Paul, I’m a novice at best and I’m working on my first furniture piece. It’s a small book case for my wife. I let her choose the wood and in my ignorance, I agreed to a primary wood of hickory. I’m burning through edges on my tools having to stop and resharpen them several times a day. Is this normal? Or do you have any tips?
Hickory is good for pickaxe and hammer shafts because of its intrinsic strength – it’s a hard wood to work as flat boards and it does need sharp tools all the time because it rips so with its reverse grain that changes direction so. I am afraid we learn from things such as this but the experience tells us why hickory is good for pickaxe handles and less likely a wood for casework.
I was wondering if you could give me your thoughts, if you have any, on the quality of Narex rasps. I know sandpaper on a stick will do but I’m a bit of a tool freak.
I would love to buy a couple from either one of the two French makers just to help support ‘em, but my goodness they are expensive.
I have used Narex brand but they in no way compare Auriuo and Logier. You must ask yourself the question. If Paul Sellers works six days a week and ten hours or so a day and his Auriuo cabinet rasp has lasted him 8years with minimal wear but lots of use, how long will it last me at so many hours per week?. Divide cost by the years. In my case it is around £10 a year so 20p a week. It’s a no-brainer and they are not therefore pricey at all
Consider this lesson well and truly learned sir. Thank you for taking the time to reply and share your insight.
I have been attempting to make a pair of cam clamps based on your video but have been unable to find the measurements of the lever. Would it be possible to obtain a copy?
Look at the project info page on woodworking masterclasses.
What pulses through the brain, what takes us beyond our own finiteness, what pulses through the veins, things such as these, mean much more than we might realise and we don’t need to put titles to them, we just need to acknowledge and accept that we feel better when we make with our hands, when we overcome opposition and fears, self-doubt and when we fight for what we believe in.
With the twilight colors fallin’
And the evening layin’ shadows
Hidden memories come stealin’ from my mind
And I feel my own heart beatin’ out
The simple joy of livin’
And I wonder how I ever was that kind
A sublime write, the Zen way of Sir Paul woodworking.
Wife’s great great grandfather was a woodwright for the local mill. A Mainer of French Canadian stock, he had a sandstone grinding wheel, handmade bench in a carriage house cum barn with exposed hewn timber joinery. In the house rested a cherry chest for his hand tools. The outside was painted a matte black with forged straps…but the real magic was inside: the colours of pink honey and gorgeous pools of grain. Of course when her grandpa went over the Rainbow Bridge his shrewish wife snatched everything into her bent talons and sold everything kit and caboodle to the lowest bidder as junk. She hated handiwork and disdained those people as servants and morons who were too dumb to work with their heads. Just to spite me she wouldn’t let me buy the kit and secretly auctioned the anvil and choicest bits. You aren’t supposed to malign the departed so i will just say i hope the Old Dear is plenty warm these days. Bless her heart!
I have to agree with you about the pleasure and wonder when revealing the amazing changing shapes and patterns as the wood is worked.I also have difficulty in tying down an appropriate form of description. I am very lucky to live in Botswana and am able to obtain wood from fallen trees that are salvaged I have recently been working with a number of indigenous trees African Rosewood (Large Copalwood), pine (from the timber yard), monkey thorn, yellow bells (an invasive species in Southern Africa from South America), knob thorn and mopane and all have their own feeling, smell, colours, textures and grain patterns. A smorgasborg for the senses.
Keep up the excellent work
Hi Paul. I am from Stockport like yourself and am new to woodworking. Do you have any advice on where to buy hardwood such as cherry, or oak from? I am really struggling to find anywhere and the prices online are extortionate. Many thanks Gareth
Surrey Timbers ships anywhere UK. Good, honest guys! Google it!
I second that Paul.
Wow! The grain on the seat is beyond beautiful! I stared at the picture for 10 minutes and could’nt get my eyes out of it. I guess the picture is not even close to show what it look like in real life. It is hard to take a picture that truly represent the chatoyancy left by a shellac finish. “Perfect”.
Never held a goose.
They’re always too suspicious of me!
Can’t blame them.
I’d be suspicious of the person carving away with a hatchet too.
Well “Big Guns” I have to compliment you on the grain of the cherry used. Even my wife said “that is a pretty chair!” When I pointed out the differences in grain from the seat to the arm rests I heard “do you think you could make one?” I smiled ever so slightly and said, “I think so.” While inside I was doing a fist pump “YES!”
Love the blog/website! I am curious if it is a good idea to do the first rocker out of 2×4’s in order to make mistakes on less expensive material and then graduate to cherry (or other varieties) once “the kinks are worked out”?
If not, is there another variety of wood less expensive than cherry that could work?
Thanks in advance!
Cherry is not an expensive wood. This rocking chair cost me around £60. Our UK prices are higher than anywhere so this seems a perfectly fair amount to pay for something that will last me 150 years and more.
Ditto on the pure joy of working with, and then having, cherry items. I’ve made one small kitchen table, one large dining table that will extend to seat 10, and a “hunt board” sized buffet out of cherry and delight in them, and as with you, love to just walk over and touch them.
Here in middle Georgia,USA wood species other than pine is scarce. 3 fold that when searching for seasoned anything other than pine. Then when you get your hands on a piece of wood such as cherry, it’s so warped and cupped that I have to ask myself, what can I make of you? Ultimately, we do the best that we did do.
Then might you consider going outside of Georgia, USA. Go online, find a supplier. If I can buy beautiful Americsan black cherry right here as imported wood in the UK then you can do so too in the USA. The US has some beautiful and dare I say mostly inexpensive woods compared to the UK. I mean, I just did one quick search and look at what I found in Georgia USA here;https://gatrees.org/directories/wood-using-industries-directory/
Thanks Paul! Ironically, I retired from the Georgia Forestry Commission. Yes our plantation planted pines do supply forest industry, however it’s the hardwoods that are the gold. Thanks for all that you do.
As a modern day Bodger I am get as much enjoyment as Peter out of the shavings but because I work the Cherry green the smell of marzipan is amazing.
It has to be experienced.
Comments are closed.