Hugh McKay – Tripot #5


Artist Name:  Hugh McKay
Title:  Tripot #5
Details:  Maple burl

Why It’s Notable:

When I first saw this photo, I thought, “Those are three nicely-proportioned vessels made of nicely-figured wood.” And then I looked again. What I failed to realize at first was that the three hollow vessels were actually made from a single piece of burl, and still connected!

This is a level of multi-axis lathe work that I have never encountered or imagined before, and it has reignited my interest in turning.

Defects Are Hints For Something Better

In all the creative work I have done with live-edge material, I have always looked at a cut section – where a limb was removed or the material cut to length – as a shortcoming.

But recently, I had an epiphany.

Like so many of my revelations, this one came while experimenting on a piece of scrap wood worth nothing to me. This particular piece of wood was about the size of a 2×4 roughly three feet long. The middle foot had the bark intact and the area to either side was cut straight.

I was carving for no reason other than to carve for enjoyment. I started removing material, trying to make the cut edge flow into the live edge. Then, as I like to do, I began forming a twist. Completely by eye, I carved a quarter twist into the first third of the board, blending it into the bark as best I could.

The result was very interesting. It was no longer an area of defect that you should divert your eyes from and politely pretend you hadn’t noticed. It was not apologetic, rather it was a bold feature that demanded equal, if not greater attention than the live edge. I think that the irregularity of the done-by-eye twist worked favourably with the organic bark edge.

Moreover, I feel that if used between two sections of live edge, this twist would not only fit in with equal authority, but it would in fact visually tie the two live edge sections together.

I am never satisfied when I have to make a compromise in a design to make up for a shortcoming. This, however, is not a compromise – it is taking a problem and fully exploiting it for what it really is: a design opportunity.

twisted edge sculpted into live

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.

What Defines Form?

There’s no part in [a motorcycle], no shape in [a motorcycle], that is not out of someone’s mind… a person who does machining or foundry work or forge work or welding sees “steel” as having no shape at all. Steel can be any shape you want if you are skilled enough, and any shape but the one you want if you are not.

– Robert M. Pirsig (from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)

One of the questions I am frequently asked is how I come up with original designs. Although I do study existing designs, when I want to create a design that I can call my own I start at the very beginning – with the purpose.

Take, for example, a table. If the purpose of a table is to support items at a convenient height, the requirements are to provide an adequate amount of support for the items, elevated to an appropriate height.

One of the most common forms has four legs, aprons, and a top – as seen here in my Table with a Twist.

Table with a Twist (42"x12.5"x30")

Table with a Twist by Chris Wong

Why are tables built this way? Do tables need to have four legs, four aprons and a table top? Of course not. This combination of parts is simply one solution that meets the requirements of a table.

There are other solutions, and once you open your mind to the idea that you are not limited to the usual, or even existing forms you can start designing any sort of table.

Here are a couple interesting table designs.

Brian VanVreede’s Cantilevered Coffee Table features a daring, curvaceous base.

BCCM Cantilevered Coffee Table

Cantilevered Coffee Table by Brian VanVreede

Sculpted Ash Table, which I built, is comprised of a sculpted table top half-lapped into an upright, which is bolted to an over-sized foot.

Sculpted Ash Table Front

Sculpted Ash Table by Chris Wong

Paul-Marcel St. Onge’s Tim Burton Table… well…

Tim Burton Table by Paul-Marcel St. Onge

Tim Burton Table by Paul-Marcel St. Onge

Find more interesting designs on my Pinterest board.

Wireframe Cabinet

Wireframe Cabinet

Ever since I started Insanity 2, I’ve been thinking about cabinets. It seemed to me that cabinets meant for displaying things more often than not accumulated so many things that they ended up looking messy.

I realized that the problem was that too much horizontal surface was available. My solution was to provide only enough space for one item. I sketched a few designs before I figured out that I could make the cabinet from a single line.

I first made a model, Wireframe Cabinet Mini using scraps of maple I had laying around. This version was only two feet tall and I used bridle joints at all the corners.  I don’t remember why I decided to twist the post, but I liked the effect.

Wireframe Cabinet Mini

After building Wireframe Cabinet Mini, I realized that there were many other paths that the line symbolizing the cabinet frame could have taken to arrive at the centre. I returned to my sketchbook and drew as many as I could.

This is the other path I liked that gave the cabinet frame a closed feel, which I wanted.  (I may build some frames that are more open at a later date.)  I decided to try mitres with blind splines.  (While I was happy with the look of the bridle joints and mitre joints, I would like to try splined mitres next time.)

Wireframe Cabinet Right

The object of interest rests on the centre cradle and is framed by the cabinet members.

Wireframe Cabinet LeftThe frame looks different from every angle.

Wireframe Cabinet Front

The post is rather curvy and twisted indeed.

Wireframe Cabinet Top

This piece is for sale. Learn more about it on the product page.


Armature Wire as a Modelling Tool

I have been looking for a material which can be used to develop scaled-down furniture designs.  I wanted something tangible that I could handle and manipulate. I wanted something that could be used to easily create a scale model of furniture that I could hold in my hand and easily make modifications.  Many options for modelling a design were available to me, including CAD, hot glue and coffee stirrers, but none of them felt right to me.  Then I discovered armature wire.

What is Armature Wire?

Armature wire is used for modelling.  It is used to provide strength to other materials such as concrete in buildings, or clay in models.  The aluminum wire is easily shapable by hand and is less prone to metal fatigue that other materials (I folded the 1/16″ wire over itself six times in the exact place before it broke).  Six dollars bought me 32 feet of the lightest gauge. Armature wire is round; however, I know that flat aluminum wire is also available and I would like to try that as well.

Day One with Armature Wire

For practice, I created this model of a table base with twisted legs in about five minutes.  I didn’t bother making the twisted aprons as well.

Table with a Twist - WireframeThe exercise of making the table base was fun, but not revolutionary or groundbreaking in the least… until I inverted it.  Suddenly, I had a four-post bed with twisted legs.  Cool!  (Does anybody want to commission me to make such a bed?)

Bed with a Twist - Wireframe

Another Intriguing Option: Taskboard

Another modelling product that I was made aware of is called Taskboard – an ultra-light wood fibre board designed for modelling.  When sprayed with water on both sides, it could be moulded into curves and other shapes.  I found some videos on Taskboard’s website that showed how to use the product and a gallery of models made with Taskboard (the submissions from the 2013 spring semester at Savannah College of Art and Design are impressive!). I am waiting for my local art supply store to get their delivery. Links:

Insanity 2: The Top

Last week, I put three sheets of 1/8″ Baltic birch plywood between two forms I made to create the top of the cabinet for the doors.


Although the glue-up seemed to go smoothly, I couldn’t be sure of the success until I removed it from the form.  I let the bent lamination set for two days before I unclamped it.  

In this video, I recapped my progress with Insanity 2 and removed the cabinet top from the form.  (Duration – 6:43)

The lamination appeared to be a success, but I couldn’t be sure until I trimmed the excess to see the actual edges of the top.  I used handsaws guided by the form to cut the top into a rectangle.


Yes, it was a success!


Then, I clamped the top in my vise as best as I could and planed the edges straight and smooth.  I was really happy with the result.  The asymmetrical shape of the top provided me with some ideas for the rest of the cabinet.


I suppose the cabinet sides are next?

Exhibition at Gallery Bistro

Since many of my readers are too far away to come to my exhibition, I have this video to provide an idea of what it looks like.  (As a reminder to my local readers, the Gallery Bistro is open 10am-3pm Tuesday through Sunday and I am at the gallery most Sundays.)

Some pieces which you may not have seen previously appear in the video and can be found in my  Gallery.  The video also shows different angles of the pieces with which you are already familiar.

I would suggest watching the video in high-definition.  The video is 8:36 long and free of dialogue.

Hilden & Diaz – Forms in Nature

Hilden & Diaz - Forms in Nature

Title:  Forms in Nature
Artist Name:
  Hilden & Diaz
Material:  Polymer
Dimensions:  60cm x 60cm x 60cm
Year:  2012

Why It’s Notable:

Light can be functional, decorative, or both.  The light from Forms in Nature is both.

As furniture designers, we usually think about the form of our furniture and how light will fall upon it.  Because light is usually not integral to woodwork, we have little control over how the two will interact.

Hilden & Diaz have taken light and made it an integral part of the design.  The light is manipulated to cast shadows created by the frame of the chandelier.

As I continue to design, I am realizing that I want to incorporate materials other than wood (including light) in my work.  In Deconstructed, I used a urethane resin for the casting and I incorporated metal into the base of Maple Slab Table.  I want to incorporate light into a future piece, probably in a decorative manner.

Broken Square

Broken Square originated from a drawing in my sketch book.  I had been playing with variations of a cube when this form emerged.  In the drawing, it stood on two edges but I later realized that it would sit nicely on three points.

Broken Square Sketch

Intrigued by the form, I built a version using square cherry stock.  Although I liked the appearance, I was surprised at how expansive it was – at only 14.5″ tall, it approached a diameter of 40″.

Broken Square

I mitred the corners and reinforced them with floating tenons.  Rather than leave the supporting corners sharp and vulnerable, I flattened them slightly.  I was relieved that this did not diminish the effect of the form.

Originally, I built Broken Square to help visualize the form and saw it as a sculpture of sorts.  When I stood back and looked at it, I realized that the design would work well as a table, particularly if scaled to be taller.

You can find Broken Square in my Store as well as my Gallery.

Let me know what you think of the form and possible variations in the comments section.