Nakashima and Wright

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Tom
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Nakashima and Wright

Post by Tom »

I recently finished Nakashima's Soul of a Tree. His is an interesting life. He was an architect as well as a woodworker. I did not know that. He had degrees from the University of Washington in St. Louis and then MIT. He worked in Paris at the height of the avante-garde and also in Tokyo with Wright's former associate on the Imperial Hotel, Antonin Raymond. When back in California he tours Wright's work and decides not to go into architecture because he finds Wright's work disappointing, especially in terms of detailing and workmanship. So he becomes a woodworker so he can have more "control."
I'd like to point out that one can also have the opposite experience. Accuracy in woodworking is INSANE! How does anyone get anything accurate when working with wood! For example, the simple act of making a finger joint jig. It's just not possible! ...Or is it?

stoddard
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Post by stoddard »

I believe he felt that as a woodworker he would be personally in control of the quality of his "art." Whereas the realization of an architect's work, execution wise, is dependent on the competence of numerous contractors, craftsman and laborers.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Nakashima twice. The first was in the mid-70's during an exhibition of his work at IIT's Crown Hall. I asked him his opinion of Wright's work; it hadn't changed. The second was in his studio in New Hope while ordering some of his furniture. A very pleasant 30 minutes or so. I have the sketches he did that day and, of course, still enjoy the furniture daily. By that time most of the pieces were produced by craftsmen under his direction and they are all quite accurate as far as I can tell. They've also held up well through many moves and 30+ years.

Correction: I had forgotten that I spoke to him a third time. I called to make an appointment to discuss ordering some furniture and was quite surprised when Mr. Nakashima answered the phone himself. Not unlike the experience of many Wright clients. After the date and time were set, I asked if he could recommend nearby lodging. He suggested the 1740 House Inn, on the west bank of the nearby Delaware River. A google search indicates they're still there.
Last edited by stoddard on Tue Mar 26, 2013 10:48 am, edited 1 time in total.

Tom
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Location: Black Mountain, NC

Post by Tom »

Wow. I would have loved to have a conversation with that guy. The Soul of a Tree was a worthwhile read for me. I would have asked him more about the experience of his disappointment with the Paris avante garde too. Incredible and ironic how he doesn't really learn Japanese Woodworking until he is imprisoned as a POW here in this country during WW2!
I want to go to New Hope and visit the studio. I really like what I've seen of the buildings. ... I think there is a Breuer house in New Hope too.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Wood can be (i.e., is) a persnickety material; the very irregularities of appearance which draw us to it as a "natural material" reflect irregularities of substance which translate to technical challenges in milling and fabrication.

The word "milling," in turn, raises the question of method. Tom may be thinking of hand-craft when he bemoans the difficulties of working wood, but there is an alternative, namely machining of joinery. The mechanic (all of us who use tools to work material are "mechanics") can apply some of the discipline and technique of the machinist (metal-worker), with gratifying results.

David Pye usefully addresses the subject of method in his writings; he coins the terms "workmanship of certainty" and "workmanship of risk" to define the distinction between mechanized work and handcraft. A recommended volume:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Nature-Art-Wo ... 0521293561



Joints produced with relative ease on the table saw, arguably stronger than the typical finger, dovetail, or mortise-and-tenon connections:

Image

Image

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Nakashima's kind of work involved the selection and careful sawing -- and stickering and seasoning -- of unusually large and fine tree-trunks, so that he could make big book-matched table tops. Other parts -- legs, bases, case pieces, chairs -- seem to have been ancillary; nicely-conceived forms and appropriate details, with a Japanese flavor in many cases.

I think many Wrightians see his work as being unusually appropriate for placement in Wright's later houses -- despite the fact that Wright himself would never have designed as Nakashima did.

SDR

DRN
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Post by DRN »

I've seen Nakashima pieces in a number of Usonians...SDR is right, it is not what Wright would do, but it seems so right in a Usonian. Clean lines, honest material use, elemental forms?

It turns out the Sweetons saw and admired Nakashima's work in New Hope, and bought a chair with an "arm desk" in the mid '60's, it shows up in some period pics. Their daughter still has the piece.

KevinW
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Post by KevinW »

Buck Fawcett commissioned Nakashima to design a dining room set and some chairs. The new owner is also going to incorporate some Nakashima designs.
KevinW

Tom
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Post by Tom »

SDR, I was hoping you'd reply! First, those joints took my breathe away man. Admittedly I'm new to this world but that stuff strikes me as absolutely first class and passing credulity. For the past two weeks I've been trying to machine fabricate a simple four sided box (1ft cube) out of 3/4 baltic with 3/4 finger joints. I've actually come to believe that there is a gremlin in the table saw that changes things when I'm not looking ... either that or I am loosing my mind. Which do you think it is? I've simply not been able to do it! So I'll definitely check out the book you recommend and let you know if I make some progress.
Gorgeous wood by the way and impeccably surfaced. Would you mind letting me know what species we're looking at here.

KevinW
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Post by KevinW »

KevinW

Tom
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Post by Tom »

SDR: I looked at Pye's book on Amazon and a little bit on Google. Is "The Nature and Art of Workmanship" a book of theory. I think what I need is a very detailed and very experienced manual on fundamental accuracy. Nevertheless Pye looks interesting and I'm going to see what he has to say.

stoddard
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Joined: Fri Apr 29, 2011 7:59 pm

Post by stoddard »

The Hagans' Kentuck Knob had a number of Nakashima pieces. An 8', or so, long credenza with the top ends cut at an angle to match the design grid. A coffee table, dining table and dining chairs. Perhaps other pieces that I don't recall.

I've seen photos of the Coonley Playhouse extensively furnished with Nakashima pieces.

To my eye they seem more appropriate in the Usonian houses.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Right. I can't see Nakashima in Wright's Prairie work . . .


Tom, the Pye book isn't a woodworker's manual by any means. I don't read a lot of books of that type, so I can't recommend one to you. Where I have read of a method of achieving accuracy, the mechanic has usually devised his own technique or device. Many of us are essentially self-taught, relying on previous experience, and inventing as necessary based on a new problem.

One method of making finger joints relies on a pin or bar which fits the first notch cut, so the second is a fixed distance from the first. It is easy to see that this method could, with almost any degree of variation or accidental movement of the workpiece, introduce random error which could accumulate, so that after a number of cuts the "comb" becomes a unique object, never able to fit with the next notched piece produced by this method.

A better method would be to select a unit dimension for your pins and notches -- say, 1/2" -- and use a dado set shimmed to just a hair over that dimension. Then, use the scale on your table saw fence rail to move the fence precisely an inch for each successive cut. And, to save time and effort, clamp all four box sides into a single block (with a sacrificial back-up piece), and move them together over the blade, keeping the block square to the fence with the miter gauge or a similar device.

I see lots of Baltic-birch type ply with finger joints; to my mind this is a questionable material choice, as the many little tabs of veneer are just asking to disintegrate while the piece is being cut, or assembled. The surface grain of the ply should always run perpendicular to the finger-jointed edge, of course, as a first defense against this damage.

SDR

Tom
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Post by Tom »

Yeah, I'm stopping with the baltic for the time being. I was trying to work with the edges you know but the tear out was monstrous. I have a feel for what you are saying about most woodworkers being self-taught. These past two weeks have not been a total loss, just a lot of negative knowledge. My finger jointing experiment behaved as you describe in your last post here.
I'll try your alternate method once I read through it several times in order to understand. Thank you.

egads
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Post by egads »

You can't beat watching episodes of the New Yankee Workshop for woodworking lessons. I think he has some books as well. I know he has a shop made finger joint jig. Woodworking is often about making jigs and testing on scrap.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

This is true . . .


SDR

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