The cover project for the upcoming August 2013 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine is like many of the pieces I’ve made for articles. Picking projects is one of the best parts of my job and when I meet readers, one of the common questions asked is “How do you guys decide what pieces to build?” I imagine other magazines conducting reader surveys to see what’s trending, or reviewing other publications to see what the competition is up to. We are nowhere near that sophisticated or scientific.
Here’s our process in a nutshell: Whoever is in line to build a project pores over old books, auction catalogs or online images in search of something they like, or he or she designs something. Then we meet as a group every now and then and if most of us like it, we go ahead and make it. We choose the things we would like to read about, if we were on the receiving end.
I had seen this clock before, and last winter while surfing the web for project ideas, I came across it again. The best known iteration of this clock is painted, but there are also a few existing pieces in ebony and oak with inlaid faces. I wondered what it would look like with contrasting woods and pitched the idea, both to my fellow editors and to my wife. Some pieces set off a spark that triggers “Ooh! I have to have one!” That happened to me when I saw this piece for the first time, and it also happened to my wife, although she prefers the painted version.
On the technical level, there is a lot going on in this design; interesting elements on a small scale, and an opportunity to play around with combinations of materials. We thought it interesting enough to shoot a video of the process, and “Build an Arts & Crafts Mantel Clock with Robert W. Lang” will soon be available. Like the project itself, this video is a little different than the norm.
It drives me crazy to see woodworking videos or TV shows where most of the steps are covered by showing a piece of wood coming off the blade of a table saw, or the host pointing and saying “I set this up to do that” with no further explanation. That works if you’re a cinematography major or if you have to squeeze a project into 22 minutes, but it isn’t what a woodworker wants or needs to see, and there isn’t much valuable information there. I want to know (and see) how the guy set things up to make the cut, why he decided to do it that way, and what do things look like from his perspective.
While we were filming, I made sure that the cameras came in tight and that we recorded what was going on before the machines came on, or saws, chisels and planes were brought into play. We shot with the camera looking over my shoulder whenever possible, and I tried to explain what I was looking for in each step (most of the outtakes are of me smacking my head into the camera).
One of my best-developed skills as a woodworker is based on my inherent laziness; I’m usually looking for the easy way out. So I bounce between hand tools and power tools without an emotional or philosophical attachment for either process. In the video, you’ll see a simple jig for cutting tapers on the table saw, and how to set up the router table to make small mouldings, safely and consistently.
You’ll also see an easy setup for cutting miters by hand, how to mark them precisely without measuring, how to adjust them with a block plane and a few scraps of plywood, and how to glue mouldings together without worry or fuss.
You’ll also see how to keep from getting lots of small parts mixed up, learn about a source for mother-of-pearl inlay so you only need to do half the work on the face, how to turn walnut jet black by raiding the kitchen, how to lay out complex shapes even if you can’t find a pencil, and how to make sure everything goes together at the end without making yourself crazy.
The August 2013 issue will enter the mail stream around the end of June, but the video will be available a week or two ahead of that. “Build an Arts & Crafts Mantel Clock with Robert W. Lang” is now available for pre-order in our store.