I was finishing up a set of kitchen drawers this past week for a client. While they aren’t a style I would design myself, they were a big improvement structurally on what they had and it would match the rest of their cabinets in both grain and colour. This is no easy feat as the red oak in their kitchen had darkened with age, so while the rest of the cabinets have a clear varnish, these drawers needed staining to match the rest. The drawer boxes were made from baltic birch and I was using some heavy duty glides. I was proud of what I had made and couldn’t help but think how much of an improvement over their old drawers this would be.
Then my mind wandered to our own kitchen. Some drawers are had to open, some don’t open at all. The construction is pretty horrible and they get worse every week. You see, while I make furniture, good furniture, for all sorts of people, the one person I don’t make it for is myself. While I’ve made several beds, our mattress sits on the floor. Do I make tables? You bet! But we use one my parents got rid of 30 years ago. Desks? We have a door propped up on a book case. The problem is at the end of the day, clients pay me to make furniture, I don’t pay myself to make it. So I’m far better off building furniture for other people than I am for myself, at least financially. The one exception is my daughter. I’ll build her anything, it might take a bit longer to do, but she has some of the nicest furniture in our house.
Now while this is good financial sense, it does lead to an unattractive living space (some would say college dorm style). And some days you walk into your room, see the mattress on the floor, and think, why don’t I have a nice bed?
So my new goals are to own furniture as nice as I make. This means I don’t have to make all of it, but if I buy, it needs to be as good if not better than I can make it. I think this will give me great practice in trying out new designs on myself, and it will help pad my portfolio to show others what I am capable of.
What’s the first piece? Either desk or bed, I’m on the fence. Desk would be faster, but bed would be nicer. Stay tuned… (although it might take a while)
It’s been three years now that I started my professional venture into woodworking. What was once a hobby is now my full time job and so far it’s paying the bills. The goal was to sell small runs of custom furniture, not one-offs, but limited editions. For the area I live I don’t feel there is the customer base for bespoke pieces designed and created for one customer alone. I do think there is room for small runs, enabling me to make jigs in order to speed up the production process but not making such huge numbers that it becomes mind numbing.
Where am I going with all this? Good question. When I started I decided the best route to get me to my furniture goals was to start with small items, cutting boards, bird houses, wood toys, etc. These items can be fun to design and make, and selling them at craft shows definitely spreads the word about who I am and what I do. I also ended up in many shops selling my products wholesale. This was even better as the sales were guaranteed and much less time me being a salesman (something I hate) and more time me actually making things (something I love).
The only issue is you end up making what you make. By this I mean if you always make cutting boards, you’re always going to make cutting boards. Sometimes you need to throw yourself out there and start new projects, projects that might not pay, might not work, but new things. Making salad servers or iPad stands is a good way to help pay the bills, but I can’t say I’m fulfilled at the end of a day making these items.
To this end I’ve not signed up for any craft shows this year. I’m doing one last big show in Toronto (One of a Kind) and that’s it. I’ll still work on wholesaling to shops, custom canoe paddles, and I might try an art show in the fall, but for now I’m going to take some time, time where I won’t be making money, and start building the furniture in my many notebooks. I have a lot of designs that have never left the pages of my books, and it’s about time I get started on them. Will they sell? Who knows, but they definitely won’t if I don’t make them!
I’m the first to admit that I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and I don’t take failure well, which is a bad combination. Things are never perfect and I’m rarely satisfied unless they are. It doesn’t really matter if it’s my first attempt at something, I still expect myself to do it perfectly. The problem is I’m not perfect and things don’t always work perfectly, which leads to me getting down on myself.
The other day I started work on a small lap desk for my daughter. My dad made me one of these when I was little, only he made it out of three pieces of plywood and a couple of piano hinges. My design consisted of bent ply lamination, veneer pressing, and through tenons on the legs… Were all these aspects necessary? Of course not, but they are all things I wanted to try so why not do them all in the same project?
I started with the bent ply. First attempt, the 3mm baltic birch snapped on the third of four corners. Second attempt, same thing but on the fourth corner. I gave up for the night. The next morning after some cheering from friends on Instagram, I gave it a third try and the bend worked. Normally I give up on the first or second try, sticking out three times is a new record for me, and an example of the patience I need in order to improve my woodworking.
This desk isn’t going to be a beautiful piece that people will lust after, but it has taught me some patience as well as improving some of my techniques. They are far from perfect, in fact some aren’t even good enough to sell, but I’m getting there, and it’s the only way I’m going to improve…
A month ago I ordered a custom brand from Heavy Industry. I found them on Etsy where I also have a shop. They were absolutely awesome to work with. I sent them my logo in jpg format, asked about what size would work best for the font, and presto, here’s my awesome new brand. I splurged for the electric branding iron, didn’t want to have to mess around with a propane torch trying to get it to the right temperature. I’m really pleased with the brand, and I think it helps developing an identity, plus it looks pretty cool. I’ve put it on a few items so far, including the business card holder seen above.
Last week I finished off this coffee cart for Patisserie la Toque. They wanted a modern looking coffee cart with a bit of an industrial feel. Seemed like the perfect opportunity to try my hand at a concrete counter top! The cart is 3/4″ Baltic Birch plywood and a 2″ thick concrete top. I put it all on casters so they can move it around for cleaning purposes. The cart + coffee maker must weigh in at around 200 lbs. so it’s quite sturdy. Already they have had lots of comments from their customers and it might lead to a few outdoor concrete table orders.
It’s been a busy week in the Studio. I’ve had many prototype ideas going through my head for ages, and I finally had some time to experiment. It’s always a bit tough for me to try out prototypes as I hate to waste the materials if it isn’t going to work out, and if they aren’t perfect, what to do with it?
First up was a production run of toy cameras. Made from Walnut for the body, and maple for the lens, these were a copy of a prototype I made (and gave away to my daughter). I love the simplicity of these, just the basics of a real camera, viewfinder-lens-shutter button. They are finished with a light coat of mineral oil, and are for sale in my Etsy Store, as well as in Patisserie La Toque in Wakefield, Quebec.
Next up, a mid-century modern inspired chair. Made from Baltic Birch plywood with padauk wedges in the through tenons. I curved the back using bent lamination and the seat is covered with an upholstery grade corduroy. I’d like to make these adult size, but for the prototype I decided to build it for a child so as to not use as much materials. It’s now my daughters favourite chair! After seeing me taking pictures of it, she yelled at me, “You’re not going to sell my chair are you???!!!”. She’s hard to please, but I clearly won her over on this one. These chairs will be custom order only as I don’t have the space to store finished chairs, and this will allow people to choose their upholstery colours.
Last up was a pyramid shaped macaron tower. Requested by Patisserie La Toque, how hard could a pyramid be to make? Turns out this was the hardest project of the week. Lots of angles made this very tricky, but with some glue, and a ton of brad nails and filler, it got completed on time and made the customer very happy. Might think twice before making another pyramid though…
Next week I’ve got some canoe paddles on the go as well as a few more prototypes to try out, stay tuned!
I’m away from my workshop this week doing some coaching, so I thought I would share my furniture beginnings…. The picture above is of the first piece of furniture I ever made. I did it in shop class in grade 7 or 8, don’t really recall to be honest! I had finished making all the projects in the curriculum so my teacher said I could make whatever I want. My dad suggested a bed side table, and I think he helped with the design. its made from plywood and maybe poplar? I hated putting finish on even back then so I think my dad put the stain and poly on for me. There was supposed to be a drawer but I ran out of time and while I made the piece for the drawer front, 20 years later I still haven’t made the drawer for it…
A goal of mine this year is to make some things for our use. While I sold many cutting boards, salad servers and spoons last year, we use plastic junk versions ourselves. I much prefer mine, but at the end of the day, I’d rather sell something I made than keep it for myself. This attitude unfortunately means although I’m a furniture maker, our house is rather sparse in the furniture department, beds without frames, etc. etc. Below is a pic of our current coat rack situation. It’s basically a collection of hooks I had lying around that was added on to this piece of pine the previous owner had used as a coat rack. surprisingly it was only held onto the wall with a few brad nails…
yes, that’s a saw… doesn’t everyone keep a saw on their coat rack? So I had an idea for an antler coat rack, without having to take out a few Bambis…. I designed a new rack using a walnut back with 4 baltic birch “antlers”.
The finish is simple boiled linseed oil on the oil, and a few coats of polyurethane on the baltic birch.
The “antlers” are attached by a mortise and tenon joint, but I used epoxy to glue them in. Finally, the whole thing was attached to the wall using some keyhole hangers with screws attached to studs. Likely a better attachment than the old coat hanger… I might put up a few of these on Etsy in the future, time will tell.