Wood Grain Direction | the Custom Furniture Design Process

Hello furniture fans, Jenn here! Dave is working on a piece for a client right now and wanted to share a little bit about the depth of the custom design process.  Most of us understand that custom furniture will involve the client being able to choose the wood type, the finish type, and the shape and function of a custom piece.  But it doesn’t stop there – something as simple as the grain direction for a feature panel can change the look and feel of a piece.  Take it away Dave!


These are the panels before finish is applied.

I am making a simple frame and panel door setup for a jewelry cabinet. The style is Shaker or maybe minimalist Arts and Crafts. The design is very clean, and the star of the show is the wood for the panel doors. I had a really sweet piece of curly cherry, so bookmatching the panel seemed a simple but attractive design.


bookmatching: when panels are oriented with the grain as a mirror image of each other.  Imagine the opening and closing of a book – when the panels are one board they face each other, and when they are split into two up to the grain is mirrored around the “spine”**


The wood has been resawn and planed to thickness, then left to mellow. Since the door frames are very thin, the panels need to want to be flat. If they curl the doors will twist. The panels behaved themselves, so today they went into the cherry frames. Picture one shows them in their frames, bookmatched, before the application of any finish. Pretty nice.

When possible, it’s good to finish panels before putting them in their frames – that way if (or when) they shrink, the newly exposed wood is sure to be finished. The finish for this cabinet is polymerized tung oil which really brings out the depth in cherry.

The bookmatched panels with one coat of sealer are shown in picture two. Sorry for the glare. Looks great, yes?

cabinet door panels-3

Ah, but we have options. The downside of bookmatching is that the reflectance of the wood on the two panels is reversed, so the color of the two rarely looks the same. The Japanese solve this by slip-matching rather than book-matching. The two sequential pieces have pretty much the same pattern, and have the same reflectance. That is picture 3, and is generally not my favorite. It looks better here than most times.

cabinet door panels-4

The last alternative is to slip-match but then rotate one panel 180 deg, which results in a pinwheel approach. I really like that here, but it creates a movement to the piece that may not be to everyone’s individual taste.

cabinet door panels-5

This looks to me like a customer decision point – part of the fun of ordering custom furniture.

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Marquetry Demonstration this weekend – Artisans Studio Tour

lily of the valley cabinet diagonal view showing joinery

Have you ever wondered how Dave makes all the veneered designs in his shop? Marquetry is a traditional technique dating back to the early 16th century of using cut wood veneer to create a design, and it can be as simple as a bookmatched burl veneer applied to a panel, or as complex as thousands of individually sand-shaded pieces carefully assembled to form a work of art.

organizing then sand shading a marquetry picture-1

Dave will be giving a demonstration of how he would assemble a floral marquetry design as part of the Artisan’s Studio Tour – plan to stop by around 10:30am or 4:pm on either day if you’re interested in watching!

organizing then sand shading a marquetry picture-7


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Artisans Studio Tour – November 7 and 8



Hello! Jenn here, with a quick update to let you know that we are excited to participate an event this weekend – the Artisans Studio Tour! This is our second year being a part of the tour, and we’re really looking forward to showing you around the shop. Thanks in large part to your feedback at the show last year, Dave has been hard at work preparing some beautiful marquetry pieces for sale in addition to his end-grain cutting boards, and as a bonus he’ll even be demonstrating assembling a marquetry design.

heller and heller custom furniture shop

Meet the Makers

The studio tour is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about local craftspeople, and to get a real look into their studio spaces!  Don’t worry though, we did clean up a bit. If you’re interested in learning more about custom furniture or how Dave can create exactly the piece you’ve been thinking about then he’d be more than happy to talk your ear off. At 10:30 and 4:00, unless the studio is absolutely packed, he’ll also be doing a demonstration of how he creates his marquetry pieces.

Joining us in the studio this year is quilt artist Jane Hicks – you can read more about her free-flowing batik designs on the tour webpage, or visit her site for more information.

carved raised trivets
end grain cutting boards

Shop the Studio

The shop is FULL of finished chopping boards, serving trays, marquetry panels and boxes, and traditional shaker boxes!  There are plenty of new designs and sizes this year as well as old favorites, and we think there’s a little something for everyone.

The studio is open for the tour on both Saturday and Sunday, November 7th and 8th, from 10 to 5. You can catch Dave over on Instagram with sneak peeks of everything he’s been working on, and getting ready for the show.

arts and crafts marquetry
marquetry morning glory boxes
nouveau iris marquetry

We hope to see you there!

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Almost ready to show it off

shop reflected in buffed out cabinet top
cabinet top

This cabinet is almost ready for show time! It has just been buffed out, and is looking pretty fine. Tomorrow the other parts will get the same treatment. The drawer fronts can then be attached to the drawers, then the drawer interiors get fitted out. Then it’s ready for a real photo shoot. This one is going to be a real looker.

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Almost done!

carving my name into a piece of furniture

carving my name into my most recent piece of furniture

The best part of building a piece of furniture is putting the first touch of finish on the piece. The wood bursts into life. The richness of the grain pops, and all of the work becomes worthwhile.

The second best time in building a piece is signing it. Partly because carving is fun, and the results are immediate. But mostly because it means we’re almost done. I do this right before final assembly. The only things left to do are to sand and finish the piece. It’s been a challenging piece to build, and it’s been fun. Now it’s time to move on.

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