Saturday, July 11, 2009

Vocation and the Sedir Bed

It has been a cool July; sky blue and the large shop windows opened inward to allow a breeze. Inside, the sedir bed has taken shape, a long low platform with drawers, nothing fancy, the work of a week. A Turkish quilt and imported pillows will flesh out the decor. My job is to simply give them a resting place.

I'm counting out the final things in my mind, the little project minutiae that do not make it onto the flat scripted plan but are there to be done: pilot holes counter sunk in pine planks; maple pulls turned and installed; drawer front edges veneered; drawer fronts fitted and installed,; exposed surfaces sanded. Finally, the marking of parts, and disassembly and then off to the finishing room.

My client I've had for many years. Our relationship started with refinishing a formal dining room of furniture, and has grown to the point where, when I drop by for a project, I get coffee, talk politics and culture, and take a tour of their rock garden. They've just returned from Cappodoccia, Turkey, where a niece lives in a cave, something in that dry country that is actually as interesting and comfortable as the image is strange . A land of caves. Deep in the cave home is a sedir bed, a low platform upon which sit sumptuous and comfortable mattress and pillows. Being smitten with it, and thinking of a little room in their home back home, they have purchased and shipped the requisite, floral, black and red Turkish pillows, and only require the platform itself, modified for American tastes. And so the email came to me, asking if I might be interested in building the platform, the Sedir bed.

The shop has recently been cleaned. Piles of wood cut-offs, neglected since last Summer's building projects (these furniture-making sprees seem to be a Summer occurence, going back years); a pile of wood chips behind the planer; table saw and post sander and jointer and bandsaw surfaces needing a good cleaning and lubrication. I had the son of a friend over to help with the project, a day's work of hauling wood chips out to the raspberry patch, cutting and stacking fireplace wood, and dragging the plywood cutoffs out to the burn-pile. So, some semblance of order, like a clean kitchen before the creation of a feast. Everything works better, tools are where they are meant to be, the mind is more orderly and at ease.

A lithe, dangerous orange and white teenaged cat wanders in, chasing his fancy and the hopes of little things to bat around, things to climb on, things to nibble. He gets promptly turned around and sent back out the door. He is not yet shop cat. I'll let some of that young feline energy dissipate before letting him loose among the fresh finishes, fine wood furniture pieces, and power tools.

A bit of lathe work. Turning drawer pulls goes like this: the first one is spontaneous and creative, following a pattern developed over many years but always with a little variation. All of the subsequent pulls are laborious, an effort of copying closely the first, spontaneous effort. Squares of maple are cross-cut on the table saw, diagonal lines drawn on one face to find center, then corners band-sawn off before a center pilot hole is drill-pressed, and finally onto the lathe, one at a time. I select four or five lathe tools from a motley collection of an unmatched dozen or so, sharpen them quickly on the vertical sanding belt, and get to work. When doing lathe work, you cut or you scrape. The cutting action takes more skill but is cleaner and very much more satisfying, a laying of the bevel of the tool against the wood and slowing rotating the cutting edge into the work. It is something like that satisfaction of learning to ski: first the [scraping] laborious snowplow, and later the slow evolution into [cutting] parallel skiing, culminating in perfect, blissful, controlled floating down a mountain. With lathe work, there are occasional very nervous events as one learns how to apply the tool to this swiftly rotating spindle or chunk of wood. The two maple pulls turn out well, and I'm off to the next little thing.

This shop and I have been together for 23 years. I built it after working out of a garage for two years,. Like all relationships, after awhile we have taken each other for granted. The shop was mine before I was the shop's. Some part of the angst of
difficult, sleep-denying problem jobs has rubbed off on this place, so that at times I haven't liked it at all. There is also this other thing: a deepening sense of attachment. So many pieces have come through here, to be mended, sanded, color matched, finished. And many furniture pieces have had their origin here, taking a shape from ideas, plans, rough boards, plywood. Perhaps it is a growing sense, finally, that I know what I am doing and can relax a little, trusting my experience and the vocational guidance of the holy spirit.

The Sedir bed, stained and finished, will go out at the end of next week, making room for the next collection of broken furniture in need of mending.

Sedir Bed, installed.


Elephantschild said...

I love the particular lost-ness of simple work. Quilting a quilt, hemming a length of curtains, weeding in the garden, snapping beans, knitting, stripping paint, finish-sanding. The mind wanders in such a useful, meditative way.

I can be more mentally rested after a day spent in such work than any day spent "doing nothing."

Bruce Gee said...

Aye, and that is often my problem. I have so little routine in my work life. I'm constantly called upon to solve strange little problems and deal with strange little personalities. I've gotten to enjoy this aspect of my job, but nonetheless when Summertime rolls around and (strangely, this happens) the furniture orders start to pop up, there assumes a bit of nice routine that is as you describe it. Not that a guy like me wants too much of that. The art of working is to not get bored, in part.