Mortise and Tenon Magazine

Two years ago I decided to declutter some of my eclectic interests (goodbye beer making) and focus on upping my carpentry and woodworking skills. Partly, this was out of necessity. Our house needed some work and those skilled with planes and hammers are busy building custom staircases for Barbara Streisand and don’t have the time for a 980 square foot bungalow in the HaFoSaFo district.

I took a few classes, subscribed to some woodworking and home building rags and I now spend my evenings pondering the grain orientation of drawers. To further my interest in traditional woodworking, I just signed up for the twice a year Mortise and Tenon Magazine.

As is fitting for a magazine that focuses on craftsmanship, Mortise and Tenon, edited by Joshua Klein, is itself a work graphic design artistry. In the current issue woodworker Kate Fox turns a neighborhood tree that had to come down into a Viking sea chest in a process she describes as, “four days of hard labor, one friend with a chainsaw, a scissor-jack pinched from my ’67 VW bug, lots of swear words, and a Costco bottle of ibuprofen.” In another article we get to see the inside joinery of a 18th-centry mahogany tea table. Two other articles focus on woodworking in apartments.

I especially liked the article by Kim Choy who does some amazing work in a small apartment in Singapore. What was refreshing about his writing is that it was, basically, a long list of all the mistake he made in his self-educated attempt to build things with traditional Japanese tools. It’s a refreshing take in an era of Instagram boasting. Despite those mistakes and the limitations of Choy’s space, he manages to create large and very elegant furniture.

My prediction: Mortise and Tenon is the new Wired (Un-Wired?).

No Tools? No Problem

From Wooodworker West, a story that should come with a dental trigger warning,

Designer Nikolas Bentel wanted to create a stool by hand . . . or better said by teeth. Not wanting to use any tools, he harvested wood by venturing up into New York’s Adirondack Mountains and rocked a dead Birch tree until if finally fell over. He then shaped the soft wood by slowly and methodically rubbing it with his hands, scratching it with his fingernails,, and chewing it with his teeth, in much the same way one tackles corn on the cob. “I got a few splinters along the way, but in ended up working out,” with all his teeth intact.

Here’s the video to prove it:

And another video where Bentel becomes an entire (NSFW) furniture collection:

Who needs Ikea?

You can find Bentel at All Purpose Nik.

An Arts and Crafts Masterpiece in San Francisco

During a spare hour on a trip to San Francisco to visit relatives I remembered an Arts and Crafts era landmark I had only known through books, the Swedenborgian Church of San Francisco on Lyon Street in the Pacific Heights neighborhood. Thankfully, the church is open for visitors during business hours and we popped in to take a look.

The church was designed and built by team of architects and designers that included Bernard Maybeck, A. C. Schweinfurth, A. Page Brown, William Keith, Bruce Porter, and the Rev. Joseph Worcester in 1895. On the walls are a series of stunning California landscape paintings depicting the four seasons by William Keith that echo the naturalistic theme of the building. The upright and stern chairs allegedly touched off the mission furniture craze.

Should you find yourself in San Francisco this church is a must see–and it’s free! Visiting hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday. The address is 2107 Lyon Street at Washington Street. You can also arrange a tour. See the church’s website for more information.

The Walls Have Eyes

I was at the “Big Orange Store” as Eric of GardenFork calls it, looking for shelf hardware. Using their app (because human employees can be hard to find) I searched for “hidden shelf.” I was looking for something like this:

The app, however, autocompleted “hidden camera.” That’s odd, I thought, and followed the link. It turns out that Home Depot has your pervy spying needs covered.

There’s the “LizaCam USB Wall Plug with Hidden IP Camera.”

The “Revo Wall Clock with Hidden Built-in Covert Camera.”

The “Bush Baby Smoke Detector DVR Hidden Camera with 30-Hour Battery and 16GB Memory” and many more: fans, alarm clocks, power adapters etc all equipped with hidden cameras.

Could their be legitimate uses for these devices? Maybe the sight of a baby monitor offends your aesthetic sensibilities and you’d prefer it discretely hidden in a smoke alarm? Possible but unlikely. We all know but don’t want to think about these inexpensive electronics in the hands of Airbnb voyeurs. While our ancestors once scanned the savanna in the hopes of bagging a gazelle for dinner we moderns can spend our time searching for cameras hidden in our toasters and lamps.

I’ll also note how the Home Depot website has come to resemble Amazon, where every whim and thought of our collective subconscious achieves physical embodiment via an ever growing network of cheap Chinese factories. Marcel Duchamp’s readymades are seeming less like conceptual art and more like a blueprint for eCommerce. If I blog about a “R.Mutt urinal fountain with hidden camera” will they make one? How about a hidden camera with a hidden camera in it?

Truth and Beauty

John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, Robins of Modern Times, ca. 1860.

Get thee to the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco before the end of the month to see a spectacular show, Truth and Beauty: the Pre-Raphaelites and the Old Masters. The show combines works by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood alongside the medieval and Renaissance paintings and manuscripts that inspired their work.

It’s easy to forget the context of the PRB’s work: an England decimated by industrialization, coal dust and income disparity. Rather than simply looking backwards, the PRB visualized a better future, one of meaningful work, of environmental stewardship and beauty.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Beata Beatrix, 1871/1872.

The vivid colors of the PRB’s work can’t be translated to books or the web–you have to see them in person. Gardeners will love the botanical accuracy. In fact, the PRB’s paintings almost seem like they’re about to be taken over by the vines, flowers and grasses that tangle around the central figures.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what we can learn from the PRB and from the English and American Arts and Crafts movements. To be frank, I’m tired of my own and my generation’s cynicism and irony and I’m haunted by Adam Curtis’ critique of self-expression in contemporary art. I think it’s well past time to get back on the the road not taken, the one started for us by the PRB.