You Don’t Need to Know What You Are Doing

The New Furniture

Knowledge is good, but sometimes it can be blinding.  It can lead to incorrect assumptions and closed minds. Currently, I’m reading The New Furniture which addresses how technology is changing the woodworking industry.  In the book, Ken Susnjara made this comment on how his company, Thermwood, came to invent the first CNC control.

In truth, this was not part of any grand scheme.  Much of it occurred just because we didn’t know what we were doing.

– Ken Susnjara

When I haven’t been told that something can’t be done, I am more likely to try it for myself.  Even if I hear that it can’t be done, I may still test it.  I think that this attitude is exceedingly important in the world we live in today – the age of misinformation.  Learning the basics is important, but experimentation and figuring out things for yourself is the best way to learn what works and doesn’t work, as well as why.


Possibilities Inspire Me

One of my greatest inspirations is the idea of improvement.  I am not content simply reproducing existing designs – I always like to try new things and new ideas.

Man seems to be a problem-seeking as well as a problem-solving animal.  We are programmed to change, develop, and meet new challenges until we die.

Anthony Storr

(Find this quote, along with many other interesting quotes on my page titled Quotables.)

As I continue along my chosen career path, I continue to realize what my strengths are and what I want to be doing.  Design is definitely of interest to me.  Honestly, I don’t have much interest in recreating something that’s already been done.  I am an innovator and I enjoy creating original work.  Every piece in my Gallery is an original design of mine.



Sometimes my creative urges are driven by necessity – when there is nothing else available that does what I want.  This is often the case with the specialized tools that I make, such as this extra-long marking knife I made from an old socket-handle chisel.

Chisel Marking Knife

Most of the time, I find myself innovating because I think that I can make it better, or at least more to my liking.  This improvement may be functional or aesthetic.  Either way, I need to make it my own design – I need to add my own touch of flair.

These are my sketches and notes for my redesign of the conversation chair.  It’s a work in progress.

Conversation Chair Sketches page1 Conversation Chair Sketches page2 Conversation Chair Sketches page3 Conversation Chair Sketches page4 Conversation Chair Sketches page5

If you’re ever stuck for inspiration, pick something that you think you can improve upon or reinterpret.  Also, while on the topic of reinterpreting, don’t forget to sign up for #Woodchat’s Telephone Game Design Experiment.

Can We Be Replaced?

Is Technology a Threat?

As technology improves and machinery becomes more affordable, many people feel threatened – they fear that they are being replaced and will one day be unnecessary.  In the world of woodworking, the machine of primary threat is the CNC router.

What is a CNC Machine, Really?

I do not feel threatened.  First of all, I see CNC machinery as just another tool that excels at certain tasks, just like every other tool.  And, just like every other tool, CNC machinery has weaknesses – the primary downside being, I believe, the required set-up time for an operation.  For large scale production, the set-up time is a small price to pay for the efficiency the machine provides.

Can Machines Really Replace People?

The work that I do, and the ways that I work, does not lend itself well to mass production.  Each step requires careful consideration, mindful decisions and skilled, practiced movements to execute and there are numerous chances to turn all that hard work into firewood.  Also, sculptural elements are difficult, if not impossible, to produce on most machinery.

Even if there is a machine that can make those decisions and shape and assemble wood as I do, it is still missing one thing that I can offer – the fact that it was made with care and love by me.

One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men.  No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man. – Elbert Hubbard

(You can find this quote, along with many other interesting quotes about woodwork, art, and craft on my page, Quotables).

Bonus Resources

e-David is a robot that paints one stroke at a time, constantly analyzing its progress.  Paintings are not completely controlled by the programmer – the robot apparently makes decisions as well as using a visual optimization process.

David Pye’s book, The Nature and Art of Workmanship (ISBN 978-0713689310), explores the concept of “workmanship of risk” and the value of skilled hand work.  I recommend reading this book.

Magic Square Changed How I Work

Tolerances and precision in woodworking have been two ideas that I’ve been contemplating for a long time (see A Box Called “Tolerences” and A Box Called “Necessessity”).  That was why Magic Square captured my attention.

This video outlines the benefits of Magic Square (duration – 4:24).

This is the seventeenth slide from my PechaKucha presentation.


Artwalk 2013

Friday, April 12th at 6:30pm is when the 14th Annual Artwalk will kick off with the opening reception at Old Mill Boathouse (#3 on the map) at Rocky Point Park.  Then, Saturday and Sunday will feature the Artwalk event.  Most of the venues will be along Clarke Street in Port Moody and in the middle of everything you’ll find The Gallery Bistro (#8) – just look for the chair in the tree!

I will be at the Opening Reception Friday night, then at The Gallery Bistro with my woodwork Saturday from 12-5pm.  On Sunday, I will be at The Gallery Bistro from 12-4pm and after that, at the closing party just down the block at the Queens Street Plaza Main Stage (#10).  I hope to see you there!

Click on the image to view it full size.

ArtWalk Schedule of Events-Centennial Page

This is the sixteenth slide from my PechaKucha presentation.


Include or Exclude?

Power carving is unlike working with hand tools because you can remove wood without regard for grain direction or knots.  To me, this is liberating as I can focus on form.

As I work, I constantly ask myself, “Do I want to save this section or obliterate it?  My sculpting approach is to simply remove the parts I don’t like and leave the parts that please me.  I often emphasize form and encourage the sculpture to be caressed by using a combination of hard and soft edges (something I learned from the work of Sam Maloof).

Pacific Yew Sculpture

Although I use an angle grinder with a power carving attachment to establish the rough shape, the final shaping is done with abrasives – first on a sander, then in my hand.  The sanding stage is perhaps the most critical stage of sculpting and I spend more time sanding sculptures than I do carving them.

The sculpture shown here is made of Pacific yew with a concrete base.  It will be for sale in my store when I finalize the price.

This is the thirteenth slide from my PechaKucha presentation.


The Value of Prototyping

Some of my recent designs have involved complex angled joinery, such as the base of this table inspired by a sketch by Vic Hubbard.  I was having a hard time visualizing in my head how the joinery would work, so I built a prototype to help me understand.

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 6.37.57 PM

Since it’s only a prototype to explore the mechanics of the base, I didn’t bother to make the top with the fancy joinery where one V penetrates the edges.  The base was made from two Vs joined with cross laps for a strong connection.  For the top I chose a piece of cherry that tapered in width, to match the footprint of the base and I secured it with dowels.

This is the twelfth slide from my PechaKucha presentation.


As a table it works, but not very well.  However, I now know how to improve the next one.

You can see more pictures and read details of this table here.

#Woodchat Discusses Furniture Shows

Ten months ago, my co-host Matt Gradwohl and I retooled the weekly Twitter chat known as #Woodchat and added a video component to include more content.  Last Wednesday, we talked with our guest Eli Cleveland of The Furniture Project about how to show work in a furniture show.

We had a lot of questions for Eli and he was equal to the task.  The hour went by quickly, as it always does, and we covered a lot of ground.  I found it very informative and timely, as I was accepted into two shows later this year (more details later).

Here’s the video.  Make sure the captions are enabled (the CC button) to display the tweets.  (Duration: 1:05:31)

Tune into #Woodchat Wednesdays at 7pm Pacific.

This is the tenth slide from my PechaKucha presentation.


Maple Slab Table

Roll With It

Many woodworkers are technically skilled and able to create an item exactly as detailed in a plan.  Some lack the willingness to take risks and push the boundaries.  Technical skills are important, but they only get you so far.

Creativity and problem solving are key skills for anyone making original work.  For me, design is very instinctual and I rely on my intuition.  Most of the design decisions I make cannot be made until I’m looking at the materials in front of me.

I believe that woodworkers who are able to adapt to the unique materials and circumstances are more capable of producing something special than someone following a design to the letter.

If you remain insensitive to the individual characteristics of the material you are working with and cut regardless to a predetermined, exact measurement, then the finished piece will lack a certain wholeness and be little better than something you could have bought from a factory.

– Graham Blackburn

 You can find this quote among many others on my pages Quotables and Quotes from Woodwork.

This is the ninth slide from my PechaKucha presentation.


A Box Called “Tolerences”

New Apple Cribbage Boards

I’m beginning to catch up on posting some recently-completed projects which are now posted in my Store.

The wood for these two cribbage boards is from a local apple tree.  While I cannot guarantee one of these spectacular boards will improve your game, it may be enough to distract your opponent so that you can call Muggins and steal their points.

Since I do not use a CNC (computer numerically controlled) machine in my work, it is up to me to precisely lay out and drill each hole.  As David Pye discusses in his book, The Nature and Art of Workmanship, these cribbage boards are an excellent example of “workmanship of risk” because the success of the final product relies on my abilities every step along the way.  One misplaced hole can literally ruin a cribbage board.

As with all my work, each of these cribbage boards is signed and dated.

This board features live edges and three tracks.  Epoxy is used to stabilize the centre area.

Click for more information and additional views.

Apple Cribbage Board II Front

The live edge of this board is removed because of damage.  I quite like vertical edge and how it contrasts with the rich tones of the top.  This cribbage board features three tracks and a scoring field.

Click for more information and additional views.

Apple Cribbage Board III End

This is the fifth slide from my PechaKucha presentation.


A Box Called “Necessessity”