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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Showing off a Daybed from 2010

cherry day bed

design details echo elements in the 1880

Day Bed detail

eastlake, day bed

Day Bed with Inspirational mirror above

Day Bed and Mirror

Original mirror foot detail

1880’s Eastlake mirror design details


I recently had the chance to visit a customer of mine from 2010. She had asked for a daybed that would convert into a King bed. The design needed to coordinate with an antique mirror.

Taking photos of a large piece like this needs space. Originally this bed was made to fit in an alcove, and the photos didn’t do the bed justice. These are much better.

The bed is a single, with a pop-up rollout single bed underneath hidden by the long panel. When it is out and popped, the two mattresses line up. They clamp together and presto – a King bed.

The mirror is in the Eastlake style.My Architect/designer daughter Jennifer copied design elements from the base and pediment of the mirror and used them to dress the bed. This helped make the frame less boxy.

This design was very constrained – lots of objectives and not a lot of wiggle room. I’m really pleased with how it came out and I’m told that it is a very comfortable bed.

The top three pictures are the bed with the mirror above it, and the lower two are details that are reflected in the bed.

Thank you to Nina and Dennis for  letting me share these images.

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Making Patterns to fill downtime – basketweave chopping boards part 1

tile basketweave and pattern on graph paper

tile basketweave and pattern on graph paper

very small poplar basketweave chopping board

first Maple and Cherry Basketweave chopping board

There is plenty of downtime in a small shop for any one project – it takes time for things to dry. I like to have a small job to work on at the same time as my main job – something that can be set aside often, then continued later. Since it can be weeks between bouts, something small or simple make sense.
I love patterns. I’ve tried to incorporate them in my woodworking for a long time. We had some tile work done this year, and chose a basket weave pattern for a decorative floor inlay. It looked great. This inspired me to figure out how to make it in wood.
I used squared paper to draw the pattern from the tile. If the black tile “hole” is one square, the white blocks are two squares wide and 4 squares. That pattern repeats everywhere except at the edges, where a partial pieces are required. Those pieces are the width of the blocks, but the length of the holes.
Armed with this knowledge and my dial calipers, I headed to the shop. My objective was to use some maple and cherry shorts for the blocks and holes respectively. I could make a chopping board. I like to make them end grain up – it’s better for the knives and there is a design opportunity with the wood grain.
First I made a test board. I had much poplar scrap from trimming out several rooms. It was ¾” thick, and seemed a good block width. So the block length was then 1 ½”, and the hole size was 3/8” square. I cut these quite precisely on the table saw then ran them through the planer to get thicknesses to within 5 thou. Small errors accumulate and make gaps, bad for chopping boards.
It worked out really well, though low contrast. I then made the maple and cherry board. It worked out very well, though the pieces were too small for the size of the board. Too many pieces at glue-up time, which is exciting. Glue-ups should never be exciting. The next one would have bigger pieces!

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Making walnut panels for the new jewelry armoire

edging the plywood

1/16″ walnut veneer

inside and outside sheets ready for gluing on

out of the press

trimmed to size and paper removed

I’ve got the second of two side panels for a jewelry armoire out of the vacuum press. I rarely make plain panels from veneer, but this armoire is very sleek. The case rests of a base with no transition. I can’t hide the spaces I’d need to accommodate the wood movement from a solid wood case. Therefore I’ve edged birch plywood panels with walnut, and then applied 1/16” walnut veneer to both sides. Sweet!

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So how does this custom furniture thing work?

I’m sure that there are many ways to work with a customer to design a piece of custom furniture, but this is how we are doing it.

Zenith 811

Gorgeous Art Deco

The design process is organic – how it is done significantly depends on the client.  In a typical case, the client has a concept for what they want, and has a list of musts and wants. This would include functional requirements, size, some idea of finish and desired character. There is normally also a list of must nots and prefer nots. We need to get those items out in the open early. Some of this is done by email, but meeting in person or over the phone really improves the efficiency of the conversation.

Inspirations are very helpful – photos of items that you find attractive. I often ask for a list of adjectives that would apply to the piece. Although obvious to each individual, sometimes they are a surprise to us! The priority of those words is also very important – it tells us where the client is coming from. Pricing is always of interest, and I can provide an estimate range at this point.

design sketch

We take all of that design information and turn it into some sketches – sometimes only one if the vision is pretty clear, sometimes more than one.We discuss it and refine the sketches. It often takes several passes to iron out the wrinkles (first) then clarify the details. Occasionally we build physical models or Sketchup models to show the piece from multiple angles.
Color(s) and finish get discussed early but are clarified once the design is set. Interior finish details are also clarified once the exterior is defined.

All of this information allows me to finalize a price. I will write up an email describing exactly what will be provided, with drawings attached and materials, hardware and finishes specified.  Delivery is defined or some options listed. A timing estimate is also provided, though it is only an estimate.

Sketchup model of table

Sketchup model of table

Once the proposal is satisfactory, a payment of 1/3 of the final price allows me to purchase materials and holds your place in the queue.

Once your piece starts production I will send you pictures weekly and questions as they arise. There are always details that need clarification. You will see your piece turn from rough boards into a finished heirloom – always more slowly than either of us wants.  Finishing in particular takes a while – there are several steps, then film finishes need to harden prior to rubbing out. The final finish has a glorious glow and feel that makes all that time worth it.

The balance of the cost is due upon completion. The piece is shipped or picked up or delivered as we have agreed.


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