I’m Chris Hall and this is my blog. You might say traditional carpentry and furniture-making are my obsessions. It is not only my career path, but a focus of lifelong study. Carpentry arts run in my family – my Great Grandfather built library interiors and other forms of high-class casework in Manchester, England, and my Grandfather was a builder of clocks, making every piece down to the cutting of the gears on his lathe. On my mother’s side, Grandfather was a Master Decorator and Painter, and my Grandmother was a Master Seamstress. So, the way of the artisan sort of runs in my veins, and I am keen to develop carpentry as far as possible with my time here.
You see, the carpentry and woodwork I see around me today, while not always a complete disaster, is but a pale shadow of the shoulders it stands upon – this is my perception at least. Thus, I follow not the way way of current times, but the example of past masters. The carpentry that inspires and influences me is not of the 21st century – not even of the 20th.
I observe the path of Japanese traditional carpentry and its works of architectural art, its intricate and evolved joinery techniques. I lived in Japan for 5 years, living rurally and in a situation of cultural and language immersion that has strongly shaped my perspective on traditional crafts. I study Japanese roof layout techniques and use of the framing square extensively and occasionally have the opportunity to teach these techniques to others.
I drool over the works of Chinese Ming and Qing Dynasty furniture makers and their incredible pieces found in museums around the world, which demonstrate a masterful approach to joinery and technical virtuosity without equal. No richer tradition exists, in my opinion, and Chinese traditional fine furniture forms an almost inexhaustible source of design and technical inspiration.
Of late I have developed a strong fascination for 19th century French timber carpentry, particularly their layout systems. Where the Japanese are masters of the sublime in architectural mood, the French have whimsy and humor that I find delightful. I took a week-long class in French carpentry drawing with a campagnon a couple of years back, and have continued my study with renewed zeal of late.
Finally, I am a fan of natural building techniques, and seek to promote such methods in my own work. That means light clay/straw wall systems and earthen plasters, and an avoidance of off-gassing toxic materials as have become so common in conventional building practice.
I hope to explore these topics in this blog, to describe how I go about designing and building pieces of furniture and buildings, and share my views on traditional building and making, as a designer-builder, in light of the modern context. I hope to reach an audience who also find these topics of interest, I hope to inspire others through my exploration of the beauty and glory of traditional carpentry, as it is tremendously inspirational in my own life. This is the carpentry of solid wood, not veneers and glue, the art of joining with mortise & tenon, goose-neck and wedge, and peg, instead of biscuits or dowels, and the skills of the sharp plane blade instead of the sanding block.
I hope you enjoy following this path as much as I do! My thanks go out to those who encouraged me to start blogging. Thank you!
P.S.: the pictures I’ve posted are of my first attempt at an oblique version of a Japanese traditional scarf joint called kanawa-tsugi (金輪継ぎ). I had never seen this version before, but came across some examples of diagonally-oriented scarf joints in a French book, and decided to try it with this joint, normally oriented square to the timber face. I ripped a block of yellow cedar into two pieces with a handsaw, planed it square and straight, and then cut the joint by aid of other saws and chisels. I feel okay about it for the first run-through. The oblique abutment lines help hide the mechanism of the joint, a virtue in Asian carpentry practice. If this joint were to be used for real, then the piercing wedge-pin would be trimmed flush, and hopefully leave the joint hard to spot!