Butternut & Ash Side Table

I recently completed this small side table and it has already become a much-appreciated addition to the home. With a table top about 10″ x 18″, it has proven itself to be compact yet stable, and suitably sized to hold a book, or a dinner plate and drinking glass.

 

ash-butternut-side-table-low

Followers of my blog may recognize the top as a slice from the same piece of ash that was used in the doors of Insanity 2.

ash-butternut-side-table-high

The form took a while to realize, and I had fun mixing straight lines and convex shapes.

The butternut base is joined with bridle and lap joints, and the teardrop ash top is joined with a pair of floating tenons and a little glue.

Responsibility of the End User: Reflections on Skeletal Ash Chair

The Skeletal Chair at my desk is my favourite seat in the house.

skeletal-chair-21st-century-writing-deskI designed and built this chair three years ago and it has been in regular use ever since. It is comfortable and ergonomic, allowing me to lean side to side or forward, or pivot and turn on the front leg. It is lightweight and can be easily carried with just a single hand. I do most of my writing in this seat, as well as manage paperwork, socialize, and eat the occasional meal.

I like the aesthetics of the design, but have concerns about the strength. I’ve had to repair it four times so far, and that has highlighted the areas that need to be built stronger so that it lasts.

A well-made product should be durable, but the question is, how durable? Is it good enough for an item to endure regular use, or should it also tolerate occasional, or regular abuse such as standing on chairs, lifting furniture by their tops, or being toppled? If a chair intended for adult use cannot support an adult of any size, is that okay? Where is the line between the responsibility of the maker and the user?

If durability was the only concern, we would all be sitting on blocks of concrete. Obviously there are other important factors that lead to a successful design, and each must be carefully weighed in importance, and a good compromise established.

See the evolution of this design, starting with Prototype #1, Prototype #2Prototype #3, and Prototype #4.

Limitations: Are they Restrictions that Block or Focus?

If you had access to all the greatest woods in infinite supply, what would you make?

Questions like this are difficult because there really are no boundaries – anything is possible, so you must consider everything.

It is much easier to be productive with limitations that restrict what is possible. Instead of looking at the entire inventory at the lumberyard and wondering what to build, start with a single interesting (or not interesting) piece, and build around it.

Next time you are at a roadblock, pick a particular problem and find a solution. If you’re not sure what the problem is, create one. Sometimes, when I’m in the middle of building something and get stuck, I will just make a spontaneous cut and then continue to work it into the design – either by enhancing it or removing it with another cut.

This TED Talk by Tim Harford, and his story about the jazz pianist resonated with me. You can find a list of other TED Talks that I’ve enjoyed here.

What is there to be Afraid of About Failure?

Well, for starters, I’m not sure what failure really is. I’m always experimenting and learning and, to me, what others may perceive as failure is really just an indication that something can be improved. I am always looking for ways to improve things, and constantly analyzing things for weaknesses.

Developing a solid design on paper (or in CAD) is exceedingly difficult, and perhaps impossible. For that reason, many designers, after they have put together a workable idea, create a 3D prototype that they can interact with, test it, and understand ways to make it better.

In almost all cases, there will be a desire to change something. Maybe it doesn’t look or feel right, or maybe it doesn’t operate as it should. These are not failures, but merely a part of the process.

This same mentality can be applied to the work that we woodworkers do. If I make a three legged stool, I might realize, when I test it, that the legs are too close together so it is easier to tip over than I might like. This isn’t a failure – it’s just a step in the design process. Next time I make something similar, whether it be the next day or next decade, I will take into consideration what I learned from the previous versions of the design and make adjustments.

I guess what I am saying is that creating good products requires patience. Developing a good design requires caring and often requires numerous versions, each a little more refined than the last. Quality workmanship takes an investment in time. And it takes time to fully understand a design – the best way I know is to use it in everyday life just as you normally would.

The Relentless Push to Fail

One thing that really helped me learn and develop my woodworking skills was having an abundance of materials. Having an adequate supply on hand meant that it wasn’t so valuable that I felt the need to be especially careful using it. This allowed me to experiment and take chances with less to lose.

Failure, or more precisely, his relentless push to fail, is the single most defining thing about Chris’ work.

Working with live edge slabs further improved my abilities. This material presented unique design opportunities and challenged my mind, as often there were no straight edges or reference surfaces on which to rely. The knowledge and experience gained here helped me conquer my future designs with complex curves, twists and angles (although a few designs still elude successful completion). I came up with many of these designs as a challenge to see if I could really make them a reality (many I did, some I did not).

A fine woodworker makes what he believes in. He makes what he sees in his mind's eye. Jonathan L. Fairbanks

I recall that at one point, I actually believed that everything had already been done. Now I know that is not true. Never one to simply follow what’s already been done, I am always looking for ways to do things differently.

A lot of my work is inspired by the thought: “I wonder if it would be possible to…” or “I wonder what would happen if…”

Venturing down paths unknown can be difficult, both technically and mentally. You don’t have the reassuring thought that “it’s already been done before, so I can do this too”. To realize new ideas takes a great deal of belief in yourself. It is definitely helpful to have time and materials to invest in the process. Having a good assortment of tools, visualization skills, and a healthy imagination is helpful too.

Faith is not being sure where you are going but going anyway. Frederich BuechnerAlthough I feel that being able to do something well is important, knowing that you can carry on after something has gone sideways is even more valuable. This confidence, this faith that you can succeed is key in being comfortable taking chances.

Techniques are a starting place, and I do believe that in a sense, technique sets you free. Tom Loeser

The slides in this post were used in my PechaKucha presentation.

Elm – Pleasant to Work and Full of Character

The latest addition to my catalog of air-dried slabs for sale is Elm (Ulmus americana)

A medium-density wood with pale sapwood and warm brown heartwood, elm often exhibits a coarser grain pattern.

Most elm trees do not grow very large and consequently it is rare to find elm mature enough to exhibit a substantial amount of darker heartwood. Pockets of in-grown bark is typical of this species, lending to the unique look of elm.

Elm works well, and common uses include furniture, boxes and veneer.

It was milled on one of the hottest days in 2013.

You may remember this table top that I made from one slab three years ago.

A pair of dovetail keys reinforced a separation in the slab, and epoxy was used to fill in voids.

See my catalog of air-dried wood slabs for sale here.

Butternut – it Carves like Butter with a Hot Knife

The latest addition to my catalog of air-dried slabs for sale is butternut (Juglans cinerea). A relative to the highly sought-after black walnut, butternut shares the same grain patterns but the colour is lighter – similar to the shades of bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum).

Butternut is also lighter in weight and softer than black walnut, making it an ideal wood for working with hand tools and is popular for carvings. Other common uses include furniture and boxes. It is an ideal material to use for a sculpted/carved panel, contrasting with a comparatively simple frame. It is also ideal for chair seats for the same reasons pine is the traditional seat material in a windsor chair.

It works well with both hand and power tools and glues and finishes well. Butternut is a great wood to work with – especially for beginners.

The seat of my workshop stool is made of butternut. The legs are bigleaf maple.

Butternut Stool Seat

I made the structural members and panel of this headboard out of butternut, and finished it with orange shellac.

Construction of the Butternut Headboard

See my catalog of air-dried wood slabs for sale here.

Stool with Sculpted Seat

This project actually started over eight years ago, but in a very different form.

While down in California working a trade show for Lee Valley, the crew and I made a detour to Sam Maloof’s house in Alta Loma. We got a very inspirational tour of the very unique house which he had built for himself and left me very inspired to make a sculpted chair.

I bought a copy of Sam Maloof, Woodworker which Sam signed for me. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to meet him.

Sam Maloof Autograph

Back home, I started by making a maple seat. I beveled the edges of four boards and glued them together to create a blank curved to the approximate shape of the seat, then sculpted it with my Arbortech carbide wheel on a grinder, and sanders. That’s as far as the chair progressed until I rediscovered it when I was cleaning out my old workshop earlier this year.

To turn the chair seat into a stool seat, I needed to shape it further. The chair required square edges to join into the frame members, but the stool seat was designed to be supported differently.

Curved workpieces have always been challenging to hold securely while working them, but that task was greatly simplified by using the Festool VacSys Vacuum Clamp at my workplace, Ultimate Tools.

Stool Seat on Vacuum Clamp

To make the seat look less bulky, I wanted to thin out the seat towards the edges. I started with a jigsaw, tilted at a 45 degree angle, followed by sanders.

Bevelling with Jigsaw

I designed a simple base and selected a suitably-sized board of Gary oak that I had bought years ago. I milled it into square sections and cut them to length to make three legs and two stretchers. I cut the angled dadoes by hand, and cut the mating open mortises with my table saw.

Stool Bridle Joinery

With carving gouges, I shaped round tenons on the tops of the three legs. I paused to admire the polished surface on the tenon shoulder left by my sharp tools. Then I assembled the base to locate where mating holes needed to be drilled in the underside of the seat.

Tenon

It have always found it satisfying to push together a well-fit joint. Or four. Or seven. It was a little nerve-wracking pounding the leg tenons into the holes in the seat, wondering if anything would crack. Nothing did.

Bridle Joints

I used the VacSys to hold the stool for a final sanding before applying a couple of coats of oil-based polyurethane.

Stool and Vacuum

And here’s the finished result.

Sculpted Seat Stool Front Right Sulpted Stool Stool Back Left

Local, Air-Dried Wood for Sale

Since 2005, I have been stockpiling local hardwoods. These are full flitches (entire logs) milled to my specifications for furniture making and stacked on pallets.

All of this material has been slowly and patiently air-dried. It’s a process that is not widely used commercially due to the time requirement, but the quality of the material is so much better than kiln-dried.

These are some of the primary benefits of air-dried wood.

  • Can be bent in tighter curves and with higher success rates.
  • The material feels less brittle and works easier.
  • Less tendency to warp as it is being worked.
  • Some say that the colours of air-dried material are more vibrant.

For the first time, I am offering the wood from my private woodshed to the general public. Cataloguing everything takes time, and I will continue to add more as time permits. Subscribe to my blog to be notified when I post more pictures of wood available.

Click here to view the wood for sale.

Black Locust sample, clear finish

Black Locust sample, clear finish (click to enlarge)

Cribbage Board 18, and a Pricing Structure

I recently completed this cribbage board in apple for a customer who also has one of my tables.

Like many others, this one was a gift. Interestingly enough, some customers have told me that they don’t play crib, but just like the look of them.

Cribbage Board 18 Right

Cribbage Board 18 Top

Pricing Structure

Up until now, I have only been making boards with three tracks since they offer the most flexibility (they can accommodate one, two, three or four players).

I am now offering cribbage boards with one, two or three tracks.

Prices for live edge cribbage boards are as follows, and all cribbage boards include the required number of metal scoring pegs.

  • $90 – 1 track without scoreboard
  • $95 – 1 track with scoreboard
  • $120 – 2 tracks without scoreboard
  • $130 – 2 tracks with scoreboard
  • $155 – 3 tracks without scoreboard
  • $170 – 3 tracks with scoreboard

Contact me if you would like to order a custom-made cribbage board.

Shipping within North America is usually around $25. Prices are current as of this posting and are subject to change.