Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Making of the Tenzin Sake/Tea Set: An Odyssey in Two Parts

Part One: Let's go back in time...waaay back...

The Tenzin Sake/Tea set is the first in a series of limited edition, handmade objects for the home, made from a couple of wide logs of a walnut tree that I split myself (using only an ax and a couple of log splitters) almost eight years ago.

My then neighbor had a few big sections of a walnut tree she had chopped down.  Why you would chop down a walnut tree in your backyard is beyond me, but hey, I'm not complaining, since I ended up with a nice little harvest of beautiful walnut.  It did take some effort though (a lot, in fact).  I had to bring over the logs to my yard using a furniture dolly (I figured the logs would end up as furniture so I thought it was appropriate to use that--also, the logs, which were still wet after sitting for a few years, probably weighed about 250 pounds each).

I was only beginning woodworking back then so, once I had "transported" (in quotes because each of the logs fell off the dolly at least three times on the way and the effort required to put them back on the dolly felt like I might as well have just carried them) the logs back to my yard, I thought to myself, "Huh...?..." as in, what the hell do I do with this now??

After learning the hard way that you cannot split a 3 foot wide log, Abe Lincoln style, with just an axe (unless you like the feeling of your hands and arms ringing like the Liberty Bell--or unless you're Paul Bunyon), I read up  on splitting a log the proper way (which is probably what I should have done in the first place, I know--but I like to get myself into trouble first and then figure out creative ways to get out of it).

Four days, all of my muscles sore and ten pounds of weight loss later, I had successfully split the logs the proper way, using the other side of the ax head (as a mallet), a few log splitters and some blood, sweat and (probably) some tears.

But the sections I had cut still had to be cut down into smaller, useable boards and then air dried for god knows how long to actually be useable (1 year per inch of thickness, I later found out is about the standard).  Instead of massively wide logs that were only useable as a place to put your drink down outside, I now was the proud owner of smaller (yet still massive--to me, anyway) chunks of wood.

"Hmm..." I thought to myself, "what the hell do I do with these?"  They were too big and chunky to make furniture out of.  And even though I like "rustic" furniture, any furniture made out of these meteorites of wood would only be suitable for hobbits, forest creatures or  wood nymphs.

So, like a good Wile E. Coyote that I am, I put my visor and sleeve garter on and went back to the proverbial drawing board.  That's where I learned about the wonders of the bandsaw.

If I could get a big enough bandsaw (I told myself, foolishly), I could cut down these chunks into useable planks or slabs and maybe even some boards.  Problem was I didn't have any bandsaw.  (I later discovered, by the way, that I probably could have taken this to any decent sized cabinet making shop or small mill, and for a reasonable price and very little effort on my part, they could have easily cut down my massive logs into slabs, boards or hell, veneer! for all they care, and done it in a fraction of the time and energy that I expended.--That being said, however, I have discovered in my life that timely, useable knowledge comes to me in the form of a very slow, often erratic, crosstown bus, driven by an older, nearsighted fellow who goes around in circles until he eventually arrives at his destination, not always, but often, more worse for the wear.  But I digress...  If I could just get a bandsaw, I thought to myself, then I could make these logs useable.  I just had to find out what an actual bandsaw looked like, as I had no idea.

Eventually, I saw a bandsaw listed in the local Pennysaver (this was before Craigslist's hostile, corporate takeover of the local classifieds market).  The owner of said bandsaw lived in the tony section of San Marino, in Pasadena.  When I met him, I was kind of surprised, by him and the beautiful place he lived.  His house was old, like, REAL old.  Tuscany old.  The house was made of stone and the grounds were beautiful.  Here was this young guy, casually dressed (can't remember his name now) who didn't look like he had made his fortune on Wall St. (which he would have had to in order to afford such a place), living in this beautiful stone house that looked like an old mill or something.

It turns out it was an old mill, The Old Mill, in San Marino,  a Historical site in California (you can read more about it here: and he was its caretaker.

He gave me a private tour of the place and told me about its history (all of which I've forgotten, naturally, because I have the retention skills of a sopping wet sponge) took me to his living quarters and in the back he had a little workshop that looked like it had been built by hobbits or a whole lot of gnomes (Mmm...No, it was more likely hobbits.  Gnomes are dilettantes by nature and therefore have no use for work).

There, in all its glory, with a halo of light surrounding it, was this massive (bigger than any of the logs, that's for sure) bandsaw...for cutting meat.  It was a meat cutting bandsaw.  (It kind of looked like the one below except not as nice--I ended up selling it later, which is why I don't have a picture and which was a lame ass move on my part, I know, because I wish I still had it).

"A meat cutting bandsaw?  Really??  They make those?"  I thought to myself, followed by, "Wait, does this guy think I'm a butcher?...Is he a butcher?..."

I then looked at him and thought, "Are you the killer?"

Turns out he was a very nice young man (and not the killer) and had taken this meat bandsaw and converted it into a wood cutting bandsaw (see, I made it scary for a minute but it turned out not to be so scary at all).

300 bucks later, and some muscle delivering it to my garage (he was nice enough to deliver it in his truck [because it wouldn't fit in my Ford Explorer--which I later sold, without regret] and help me put it in my garage).

I had the mother of all bandsaws in my possession and now it was time to get medieval on some woods (that's how I talk when I get medieval, in non-sequiturs).  Anyway, you get the picture (This post has turned into  a novella and I have to get to the shop and actually make stuff so I'm cutting this "short" here--TOO LATE!).

Part Deux next...

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