Thursday, December 17, 2015


so where were we last time? 

somewhere between valparaiso and a handrail i think. btw there is no caps key on my keyboard anymore so excuse the i's. 

long story short, we managed to move and we have the dog there in valpo, and plenty of pigeons squatting our ceiling and a small trash problem. julia also has cutaneous leishmaniasis, produced by a parasite she got in bolivia from a sandfly and has been creating wounds in her legs that later get infected and make life annoying. the treatment in chile involves a kind of chemo drug, and hospitalization while they apply it. in brazil seems that they use an oral drug with fewer side effects and it's free. so we may have to travel there sometime soon. i may get some brazilian rosewood or pernambuco for bows. 

the problem with these infectious diseases is that they happen mostly in poor countries so a) western doctors have no idea about them and b) there is no real treatment or vaccine since only poor people get them (not like heart attacks which happen to old white males all around the world). that meant that we needed to show the wounds to ca. 15 doctors in chile and europe to find one who knew what it was. ie. a gigantic waste of time, money and hope (we were quite hopeless a 2 weeks ago before the diagnose). oh, and all this without health insurance since we haven't had time to hire one in chile. 

so that's the update.  in case you were wondering where i've been all this time. mostly at the doctor. they mostly don't use wood, so no picture today. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Screws, sandpaper? Jawohl — Stairmaking III

Indeed, I used a screw to make one of the joints, since eventually you will need to take apart the handrail and I guess that the guy doing it will need it. So the handrail has a screw on it. I also needed it to close the 2mm separation between the two pieces. 

I also finished it with sandpaper. It goes against my religion but it was really difficult to put the spokeshave on that corner. Lesson learnt, you need an open workshop where the full size handrail can be mounted and accessed by all directions. You also need spoon kanna and little spokeshaves, and those single handled ones would be a nice addition to the collection.

All the time this was going to be just a tryout thing, not the real thing. It broke in the way so I put several patches, and didn't even bother on using the same wood, so in the side it looks a bit funny. 

Julia wants to paint the whole thing blue, and I may agree to that eventually. Ours in graz was yellow. 

 There it is, most certainly the smoothest handrail made in Chile in the last 100 years.

Did you realise the way the curve produces straight shadows on the wall? In the night the shadows are beautiful, it really finishes the whole thing.

I want to change the one in Valpo now, so wait for more sexy curves soon right here.

I'm really proud of this one. It's like if a whole new dimension has opened, not only in what respect to tangent handrail but the process of understanding by making, the skill of just screw things up, fix them and in general just go for it not being sure if you will manage it. It took me like 2 years to finish this piece, almost 6 months for the little piece of the corner. And this is stuff you cannot buy and I won't sell, and has a quality that you will not find in any professional handrail here in Chile (I've been particularly keen on handrails lately, checking them in houses, restaurants, my university and such, and all the new ones have sharp edges and horrible discontinuities at the joints).

Next one I make, promise I use matching colours for the glue ups and mark the joints when the wood is still square.

Now I can move out in peace.

Monday, November 23, 2015

New house

Today we signed the contract and got the keys. So we have a house. A house with no kitchen and in a very chilean state of "conservation".

When you enter you see this:

 At the left Julia's workshop

 Then the reason we like the house

 and more
 and another

 and this is from my office, on the other direction

 some sash to do eventually to replace that beautiful mdf

 The stairs. Need to change that metal handrail.

Very tall ceiling

Something Don will like to see. No portland no sir, this is real adobe over here. I think I need to repair that.

 And from downstairs. We have 4 windows in the upper floor, and 4 in the lowe floor.

 That the "ascensor cordillera" if you ever drop by here

And that's a bakery making bread with wood, the smell of fire and bread in our house is quite gezellig

 Next to the kitchen. You don't want to see the kitchen. There is no kitchen actually, we need to buy one soon.

 And the stairs going up.

There they took the moulding off or something like that, need to figure out how to repair it.

 And the hallway with all the windows. That's ceramic on the floor, over the wooden floor. Sigh.

Let's see how it develops. We need to hire a truck and move some tools, sewing machines, a couch and 2 bikes. An a dog, of course.

And sorry Gabe, I left the hammers in my Dad's place for the last carpentry class next sunday... next week they are here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Pitufina, computers, valpo and all that

Here she is:

The new member of the family. She's still not used to see hammers or bikes or anything... had lived 5 months in a house with a woman and 4 other dogs. So we need to teach her about the world.

Next week hopefully she will be going to Valpo:

and maybe take some rest with the others perros there

 She needs lessons on french philosophy and british architecture it seems

Those were a few of the pics I took monday, tomorrow we need to go again to check another house, our landlord sounds like a dragqueen, says the house has a view. 

I've already started working, that is academic work, so I'm spending more time at the computer. This is what I'm doing:

I define an interaction matrix giving the forces between (A,B)x(A,B) and check what kind of structure appears. When there is a structure that has some functionality, bang, write paper and try to convince an experimentalist to make the experiment.

Not that you care, what's important for this blog is this:

 That's where you start. Then you file nicely to get this (red line)

 But if you are sloppy
 Or sloppy on the other direction

What I'm trying to illustrate here is how to push the file while you sharpen to keep a proper geometry on the teeth. This was one of the things difficult to explain during the class in netherlands, and I will try to explain the process more detailedly in the near future. For that class I promised the guys I was going to write a pdf with all the info I have on saw sharpening, and a bit after that Jason asked me to make a new write up on saw sharpening after all this time. My plan is to have edited by Jason and Gabe (and hopefully Mark too) so we have a "peer-reviewed" article on saw sharpening. Being close to a computer then means that I could work on this faster.

It's been almost 6 months since I was working for the last time, and something has changed in my way of working that I attribute to all the woodworking.

Before, I just sat behind the computer and spent time till I had an idea or something worked, and made lots of mistakes, debugging and rewriting since in the computer to undo things is quite easy. Not so in violin making. Each step needs to be well thought and you know what you are going to make before start making it, otherwise you waste your time. When you don't know what to do, you put the plane down and look at the problem till you understand what you need to do. I'm working now much more this way, writing code with almost no mistakes because I know what I want to do. And when I don't know I put the computer down and go make some tea.

On the other hand, if I don't plane in a few days I get angry and very stressed. I need to feel the steel cutting wood to sooth my soul.

Tomorrow we are going to see another house, hopefully this is the right one and I can finally start to build my shop. My shop.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

It's sunny here

It's sunny. That means there's fruit. That means there's juice. That means there are plenty of naps.

Actually I've been signing papers, working a bit, moving stuff from one house to the other, and in general looking for ways to start a new life here for the now 3 of us. Yes, we got a dog. More on her later.

Today was the second day of a class in Chile (no pictures sorry, too busy) and got two mails from guys in Netherlands.

One of them was Roeland from

When I knew that he was coming, and after checking the tools he made, I knew I had found a new home for one of my kanna blades I had there in Europe. It's part of my drug dealing job. The first for free and then you start charging for it, just that I forget always the second step.

Anyway, here two videos Roeland made, first a small kataba he started during the class in Friesland and then a kanna sole repair. I bet these won't be the last japanese tool related videos we will see from him.


Edit: and what he says about the kanna: Ben echt heel blij met deze (gekregen) Kanna er gaat echt een hele nieuwe wereld voor mij open ik schaaf al 28 jaar handmatig maar deze benadering is een openbaring, dat wil overigen niet zeggen dat japanse schaven beter schaven maar dat ze simpelweg op een andere manier werken. Ga me in ieder geval verdiepen in deze materie en vind het leuk om deze technieken me eigen te maken. Je kunt met een scherpe Kanna zonder veel kracht heerlijk schaven en de controle over de schaaf is zeer natuurlijk en makkelijk eigen te maken (vele malen makkelijker als het leren schaven met westerse schaaf) In mijn beleving :)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Singing my little song

In one of his interviews, Francisco Varela, the great Chilean neurophenomenologist, says that scientists are like a modern troubadours, singing their little song from place to place and getting food and shelter for it. And so, he says, I go from country to country telling my story about how to the human mind works.

But the modern scientist goes from conference to conference by plane, stays in a good hotel, gives a 15 minutes talk, and gets drunk with taxpayers' money. And to organise that you apply for grants, you work for institutions and need to comply with several rules that you don't really agree with but say it's ok as long as I can keep doing my own little thing.

This weekend I sang my song, a song composed of shavings flying from the wood and metal vibrating to the pass of a file, in the misty flatness of northern Holland, also known as Friesland. We sharpened saws, eat bean soup, and set up and planed with some beautiful kanna.

All this was possible since Don had the great idea of making me give a course/demostratie in his workshop, and arranged everything for it to happen. We came here, got fed and had a bed to sleep in so I could sing my little song saturday in front of a few people and a dog. And we didn't get drunk with taxpayers' money nor costed 4000 euros to organise it, as the conference for the scientists costs.

That was something really funny when I was going as a student to critical philosophy school in Birkbeck, in central London. The school was 600euros or so, we had lectures the whole day in the university, and then later we hit an italian restaurant and kept talking of Derrida and Kant and their relation to Capitalism and how to overthrow it (while eating a very tasty capitalist pizza that's it.)

In that way, the explicit content of their philosophy was undermined by the material organisation of the workshop, or so I felt.

(A similar irony was at play in the Leipzig degrowth conference, where from 50 people 5 years ago the last conference was 5000 or so.)

As usual when we handtool workers meet, we talked about the lost knowledge and how the government, universities and the market are not doing anything to preserve it. Well, that knowledge was created and maintained long before universities, nation states and capitalism existed, and it was alive simply because people cared enough to teach it to others and to learn it from others. From which follows, I think quite clearly, that as long as we learn from and teach each other that knowledge will be alive. We need nothing but to meet and share what we know, and learn what we don't (and hopefully doing it in a way that doesn't destroy what we actually want to save, if you catch my drift.)

Anyway, nuf said. It took me 15000km to finish writing this post, not something I usually do. I leave you with some pictures of the workshop (of course I forgot to take pictures, was too busy checking people file. When my friend Pauli comes to Chile in 2 years I will hire her for taking analog pictures of it.)

Thanks again Don.

Friday, October 23, 2015


When life gives you spruce, you make violins with it, isn't it?

All the japanese planes are packed. So why not to use a few real rabbit planes?

 A closer look to the rabbits. The brass was patinated before I started using it, and my arm was ok. It's real slow and real nice to work with such planes. I missed a proper japanese iron and the lightness of a white oak body, but it was fun.

 You start feeling the curves, seeing the smell and hearing the shavings.

You walk with your fingers over the skin, and think that god may have felt this way when making the first woman's tits. Take a bit here, a bit more there... now, it's perfect.

 or not so perfect and you need to keep working

 And this is how it looks after an afternoon. I started  from the rough gauged surface and planed away what was not a violin. The shapes on the left help  a bit, but more than anything is the feeling of it all. It feels right, or it doesn't it. Or you don't know and somebody tells you.

 I thought of all those days spent planing away wood for no reason at all besides the planing itself. And now making a violin top becomes a particular instantiation of a general principle.

I like the way I've learnt. A year ago piece of wood I touched it was mostly certainly destined to fire, but now it's ok. Ich kann dass machen. And I can sharpen the blades, and change the blades to get the result I want, and modify them if they don't work as I know they are able to work.

Opa likes to make fun of me and say that I'm just a sharpener. His way of teaching is more violin centred and he gives you a violin and shows you what to do and you try to imitate it. It's very difficult and frustrating, since you cannot make what the master can and have no idea why.

I try to promote a tool based approach to making. You need to understand your tools and know in which way they realise the principles at play for any given task before trying to accomplish the task for its own sake. It's never about the result, but the process is as, if not more, important than it. And while you work you think "a plane with such and such shape would come real handy here... and a better iron with exactly this curvature would make everything so much easier. This part I would take with an spokeshave and this a gouge of the right size." Making becomes then a conversation, a story, a very creative act despite reproducing the same curves that del Gesu made three hundred years ago. The process cares about itself and thinks itself.

So... it seems that arriving in Chile I cut to pieces an old kanna-mi and make some violin planes out of it. I like the Ibex but cannot stand these western irons that never let the burr go.

add to my to make list: small planes 22, 18 and 12mm wide; 60, 30 and 25mm long. (In case you wonder what else is in my to make list there is another bench (damn students like to work standing) a log table for the grinder and the anvil, a pond, and a table for Julia's sewing, that may be just a planed piece of wood on top of saw horses since we will move first to santiago and then to valparaiso when we find a place.)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Universal Dozuki

Long time with no teeth pictures isn't it?

I got myself a disposable dozuki from dictum to check the shape of the back and the teeth geometry. And more importantly, so my students don't break the teeth of my hand made saws.

The one I got is a 180mm. All the others I have (1 new, 2 buyee) are cross cut 240mm and they feel a bit large for most of the cross cut I make, to not mention for cutting dovetails in a normal 7/8'" piece.

Part of my diabolical plan with this dozuki is also to make replacement blades out of old ryobas I got. I'm thinking in particular in 2 thin ones that broke at the rip side.

Anyway, here it is. I keep on packing my stuff so no much workshop work or cutting pictures, I just let you know the geometry.

The teeth are cut like rip, ie 90 degrees to the plate with a third bevel that changes direction as the set does.

Fairly fat and slightly negative rake they should have no problem with hardwoods. As in tropical woods, not normal hard woods. Tried it in rosewood and cuts fine if a little rough on the cross cut. Didn't try dovetailing since had to make lunch.

And this is what I find most interesting:

A very fat and large top facet.

I didn't manage to catch on picture but there is a subtle blue at the very tip of the teeth on the sides. However the top facet doesn't seem to have it. My guess is that after a few months of use I will be able to sharpen with a normal file. That is, if I manage to find a one sided pack of files for then in Japan.

A few months ago I sent a mail to Gabe, Mark and Jason asking how we could turn a rip saw into a diagonal cutting one. Something like the madonoko but starting from a rip. Maybe this is the path albeit in the case of a rip saw the teeth increase in size along the length of the saw, and who knows how well this geometry works for larger pieces. What I want to say is that I haven't seen this in large saws, so there may be a reason for it.


Me misses workshop and saw vice.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Two months and counting — a look from the other side of the pond

This is a post I never finished writing in Chile, so here it is: what I've learnt moving to a third world country with tools as your luggage, with some comments written now in italics. 

Call it the immigrant's tool list oder so:

in Graz, ca 1 year ago.

I was talking with a friend, about how this time here in Chile has been, and I was telling him that it's a bit difficult: there are no manuals to open a workshop in a third world country.

This doesn't mean that you cannot get things, but getting them takes you ages and the shipping is expensive, far more expensive than to the first world. I call them poverty taxes.

So, this is a list of what I have learnt in these two months, and what kind of tools I used most and which one haven't seen any use.


Everything I have in 55mm to 65mm is used everyday, changing only because one has been sharpened that day so the other pass to reserve. I have 6 planes on those sizes and I could use 3 more or so. That way I could have 3 sets of planes always sharp, and sharp roughly once a week for a few hours.

From the joinery planes only the internal angles planes have been used, a lot. I miss a rebate plane so at the moment I'm using the crappy grazian one I have here. At least has a laminated iron but the body is crap. I have also 2 metal bullnose plane but haven't got any paper to put under them.

No chamfer plane, moulding or rounding pl
ane has been significantly used. I haven't made any dai for all the blades I brought — correction I made one of chilean oak and didn't like it. That's because I haven't found any nice wood to make them. I payed 15usd for a piece of american oak with the right grain pattern but it's not too appealing. For that price I may get white oak from japan, I saw 2x2000yen in buyee.

Hammers: I have used all my hammers and constanly. I should make a bronze hammer in a squar-ish shape, the cross pein I got doesn't fit the style of the kanna (plus is not symmetric and it's too long/not heavy enough). I got a cheap genno here. I'm glad I bought the expensive hand made, they are so much nicer. Shorter handles are also a good idea. Don't waste your money in a cheap hammer, save your pennies and get a(nother) hand made.

Saws: Man, what a bunch paper weight I brought. Who needs 15 ryoba in the same size? Not me. The only handle I have made in these two months is the one for the madonoko, and took 15 minutes. (It cracked too.) If you bring saws, bring them with a handle. Also, get the biggest one you can get, the madonoko has seen hours of use, in fact, is the only one I had to re-sharpen in this time. The cross cut that arrived yesterday seems to follow the same path. So, big large saws and one or two joinery saws.

In general, an azebiki is nicer than a ryoba, and a dozuki is only for shoji. A disposable universal cut is good enough for almost anything. And you can lend it to people. Gosh, these people, they cannot saw and don't listen to you when you say don't push it, just do it gently. People do not get to touch hand made saws btw. I guess 5 saws would be a reasonable number to bring. And bring them with handle, you will be lazier, busier and tireder to make handles here.

BUY MARKING SUPPLIES. Seriously, you should have got all your marking supplies before coming here. Fixed that with 2 sashigane, a starret square, japanese mitre squares and ink line. 

Chisels:  Bring them ready to use, you are not going to make the handle here, see saws. From the ones that are functional 15 seems to see all the use. If you have two in similar sizes, the lighter one will be chosen 90% of the time. 3mm chisels are scarce. Paring chisels in 5 sizes. Slicks are not used unless you timber frame. They look cool though, and chicks dig them.

I need more starrett squares by the way. The 6in combination square is lighter than the 15in, thus I use it more.

Preston spokeshaves are heavy. Japanese spokeshaves get sharp(er, but actually sharp means japan sharp for me, so just sharp).

The sushi knife doesn't see much use without a wife to cook for. Marking knives haven't seen use. If you don't knife-wall your joints, they are useless. Can you live without knifewalling your joints? Maybe, but I haven't made anything real yet. They see lots of work in classes though, and if I want to make guitars, they will come handy. 

Sharpening gear: Get more red stones. Seriously. People will want to use your stones, you better have something cheap to lend them. Most of the time is spent in the lower grits, they wear faster than you thought. A kilo a year? maybe more... Need to think of a solution for that, one cannot sharpen a sharpening stone. I use all the stones I brought, plus the ones I had here, plus one I found. Buy more stones, they are like wine: eventually you will drink it all, and still you will be thirsty.

Files you can never have enough.

Did I say that metal planes are heavy and not pay they place in the bag? I'm not missing my record No4 but I do miss my rebate plane.

A good straight edge would be nice. Chinese rulers are convex in one side, concave on the other. Solved with a japanese ruler.

I should have brought at least 3 decent clamps. But they are heavy, so need to make them once I'm back in Chile. 

You will never find time, nor a excuse, to finish that roubo workbench. That's like 4 japanese workbenches worth of lumber, just on the top. If you don't have a warm shop, having a workbench is retarded. Unless you make some friends and do the glue up over a few beers, thanks Keiran!

A nail takes more than 2 months on growing back, so be careful. 3 months in fact.

A kanna can plane regardless to where gravity is pointing.

Inertia is a strong force, perhaps the strongest. Changing several things at the same time is a difficult process. Moving from place to place means changing your diet, light cycles, people you are around... if you woodwork after your 9to5, that means you are only trained to work after 5pm. Think about that. You only can achieve what you are trained to do, so you need to start by the simple fact of not being sitting in an office the whole day. It's not so easy, you will want to make more than what your muscles can take and you can injure yourself. So take it easy. You need to see the little achievements, a sharper blade, a straighter line, and you need to get faster too.

Beech gets dirty, japanese white oak shinny. Why?

It would have been different if I knew what I wanted to do here. Say, violin making. You know the tools you need, the space, the process. Finding 1 thing to do and sticking to that is reasonable. But I am not a reasonable man, thanks god. Moulding wood is nice, but working with other people's souls and bodies is way nicer. 

Most of the work is actually getting rid of stuff, not making new things. We live in the future of Keynes' grandchildren, and the economic problem is solved, even here in Chile. Our war is spiritual, or so they say. Who could have ever thought that there was people in this country who wanted me to teach them some japanese carpentry, and that actually they learn something here.

A dai is only a piece of wood as long as you have them around you. They are very very special pieces of wood. They don't grow on trees.


In "Just Enough", my bible on simple cool living, the author talks about location. "Location, location, location" he writes. The most important thing to build a house is where to put it, since it will determine everything. Where does the sun go, the winds, the water. For a tool list it's the same: location, location, location. Where are you moving to? Does it have electricity? Otherwise you don't want screws but nails. Do you have big trees lying around near you waiting to be turned into lumber? then get an a big whale saw. How wet it is, there is salt in the air, are there dogs eating your tools in your house?

Maybe a better way of putting is that you should bring your friends. Sharp and well set up tools are friends, rusty blades waiting for a dai are problems. You don't move with problems form one place to another, there are problems everywhere and you need friends to deal with them.

I moved with 75 kilos, and I guess that 50 would have done. Moving each extra bag was 80 euros and 160 the second, so you also can just ship the stuff directly to your arrival country from japan for that money. Now I that I know I would do the following. Order the sharpening gear again and ship it directly, also some big saws and axes. Take the small stuff with you, 20 kilos, and make do. You are moving to a place that has plenty of resources, just not the ones you are used to, or the ones you expect to find. So have fun, look around, observe. Meet people, locals and immigrants, one knows what it's there, the other wants to find out, you need both. 

Tools are important, but people are more. Go out, drink wine, coffee, have good talks. You are leaving your old country to find new things, and they are not going to come knocking at your door unless you put an ad in craiglist. 

 I just got a mail and I won the postdoc position I was applying in Chile. That means institutional support for 3 more years and this blog will continue running on my wallet. It also means I can easily put 100usd apart each month to keep the japanese tools coming at a steady rate or start organising my trip to Japan in 2016 and bring 20 kilos at once.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

frikin math

last one today since I just got it and want to write it before I sleep and forget. I copy the test and put comments on italics, ok?

Figure c) demonstrate how to layout the lateral pitch on the top surface of the hip rafter. The plane BCD on figure c) is parallel to O2B1G in figure b), that is, the roof plane which is at 45 degrees is parallel to the chamfer made on the rafter. That much is clear since you are going to nail boards on it and last time I saw boards are flat and go parallel to themselves. Oh, by the way, why not to draw the rafter in a complete different direction in figure b) and c)? Yeah, that's a great idea, otherwise is too simple. So remember, the rafter in c) goes down to the right, and in b) it goes down to the left. Great. The lateral pitch of the top surface is given by the ratio of EF/BF (the rise and run seen from the perpendicular cut of the rafter) on figure c). AD is the centre line of the hip rafter btw.

Assume AC = h. Since C is an arbitrary point we can take any triangle whatsoever, this is a good one. 

CB = 2h. What? Oh yeah, the slope there is 5/10 or 1/2. The line AB goes at 45 degrees.

AB = Sqrt(5)h. Five? Oh yeah, Sqrt(2^2 + 1^2) = Sqrt(5)

CD = 2Sqrt(2)h. That's easy no? The line CD is 45 degrees from DB

AD = 3h = Sqrt( 2^2 sqrt(2)^2 h^2+h^2) since to go from A to D you can go via AC and CD

BD = 2h Seems that CBD form a 90 degrees angle doesn't it?

AB^2 -BE^2 = AE^2 So this is 90 degrees on the chamfer plane

And the rest follows clearly...

if not so clearly, you apply pitagora's theorem to each and every triangle formed. We are interested in the BFE triangle but for that you need first ED, then EF. F' is used so you can use pitagoras theorem on each part of the triangle and to show that BFE is actually a right angle and then you can get the slope with happens to be 1/3. 

It's not difficult but confusing, at least for me the last time I called a triangle for its points as in ABC was 15 years ago in high school.   

So, do you need to know this? Not really. You could make 153 roofs with a regular slope and simply jigging the chamfer at 1/3 all the time. But what if you change the angle? The steps are the same, just replace the sqrt(5) and all the other numbers by what corresponds there.

I know this is an incomplete description, but part of the process is doing the thinking yourself, watching a video of how to use an axe is not learning to use an axe. Same with geometry.

Off to bed, got a cold with this lovely weather and feel like shit. Tomorrow will read the jack rafter section and continue packing my bags, we are off this land in 7 days.