this morning as i was stirring the tea in the teapot, in my peripheral vision the dog on the floor appeared to be moving backwards and forwards, only when i racked my vision to the dog it stopped moving. because it was me that was moving, and not the dog. this is a visual phenomenon known as parallax.
parallax arises due to a change in viewpoint that occurs due to the motion of the observer, of the thing that is being observed, or both. what is essential is motion occurring relative to those things. or put it another way, relative changes in position affect your ability to perceive the distance or the apparent position of a thing.
a thing of importance here is the notion of position relative to a thing. sometimes things appear to be in different positions because of our position relative to them. in that sense things are not always what they seem.
parallax occurs in stair making, or rather it appears to occur, and the effects of its occurrence are evident by your ability or inability to pay the correct amount of attention to what is going on further away from your immediate line of sight.
when looking down at the treads of the first flight of stairs i installed in my house here, the last tread before the first kite, appears to be out of square and at an angle more relative to the first kite, when in actual fact its completely square and parallel to to the preceding treads, yet your eye adjusts for the oncoming change in direction created by the kite winding treads.
this is an important lesson to understand when making stairs, especially stairs that go through a change of direction. things can appear to be not what they really are. thats the trouble with appearances. things are frequently not what they appear to be.
and when making stairs, its key to pay attention, to the things that are going on in both the immediate field of vision and in the distance. what you do at any point in a flight of stairs affects the rest of them. one wrong calculation can ruin them, and there are a whole heap of calculations to make.
compound error is very easy to occur with stair making, where one small error gets magnified by the quantity of treads and risers you have. it is imperative, well only if you want to be able to walk up and down the stairs without tripping, that all the component parts are of an even thickness, housed parallel to each other, square and upright. this requires correct measurement, setting out, and cutting.
it is essential to iron out as many potential problems as possible before glue up, so that means a dry run of complete assembly, and in order to do that all the parts need to fit tightly as well as correctly.
stairs are something of a paradox, they appear to be something quite simple, yet their construction, if they work successfully, is anything but simple. in fact their apparent simplicity is often a direct result or correlation to the amount of thought and effort that has gone into their design and construction.
as a maker of things, what i am looking for is the best possible design that is most appropriate for the circumstances. i would say that goes throughout all the things i design. looking to achieve (in my mind at least) the best possible solution to that situation. i don’t see it as perfectionism, but betterment, looking to improve always on the last one i made, using systems of construction that have stood the test of time, yet to find ways to make whatever it is more precisely, more accurately, with fewer errors, better crafted, and more skilfully made. not just because to have made something practical beautifully is a joy to behold, but because each time you make something well it further enables you to make other things well, each thing begats another, each creation gives rise to more possible creations, and for me, this is the point of a hand made life, that you have the opportunity to create, endlessly. there is no limit to what is possible. autonomy is the goal, and the more you are able to make things, the less you need to consume and the more autonomy you can achieve. if you are looking for fulfillment you may be surprised at how much you can find in making things yourself. it doesn’t matter what. for me, if that thing has practical value then it has worth more over, possibly immeasurably, and perhaps most so when it enables the creation of other things, or the furtherment of your life. this i think is another purpose of self sufficiency, enablement. its a thing that enables you to do more, more with your life, and more for others whose lives your path crosses. and this is enrichment. this is a kind of wealth money cannot buy. a wealth that resides inside.
so when someone wonders, as they invariably do, why have i made stairs that are so “complicated?” my answer would be, so that they are a joy to use, beautiful to look at, because they further my ability to do other things well, and to live my life.