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!
Amidst all the Christmas craft shows, custom orders, and everything else going on in life, I applied for the One of a Kind Show in Toronto (Spring edition). I’m quite new to all these craft shows, but at the big Etsy sale in September I was approached by someone from the One of a Kind Show who raved about my stuff and said she would hound me until I applied for the show.
It was a very lengthy and thorough application, and I’m happy to say that I’ve been accepted for the spring show. So anyone in the GTA can come see me March 25-29, 2015. More info to follow as we get closer, now I’m off to the studio to make more products… I can sleep next year.
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.
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…
Typo? Nope. That’s right, I was too busy this week woodworking and so didn’t have enough time to…. do woodworking. I landed a job with a local furniture maker, which is super exciting and great for me to learn and get paid to do it, but at the same time, it means my projects (which are for once paying projects) aren’t getting done.
Basically I feel like Luke Skywalker, I’ve learnt a bunch at Rosewood (ie. Yoda), and now I see an opportunity to use my skills to do projects that people need (ie. saving my friends from the bounty hunters), but I have taken this job to learn more (kind like when Luke returns to Yoda, except my teacher isn’t dying… nor does he have big green ears and talk funny, well maybe a little).
I’ve been working on my projects after my daughters bedtime, which means only a couple of hours a day at best, and after spending 9 hours building cabinets and drawers, I don’t feel like I’m really awake enough to do anything to precise, or with power tools. Speaking of power tools, one exciting incident this week with a panel saw, thankfully I still have all my fingers, and due to my short stature, the piece of wood hit me in the stomach instead of the family jewels…
Anyhoo, all this is basically a big fat excuse why I didn’t post the projects that I promised to post last week. Next week isn’t looking much better, but we’ll see what we can get accomplished. It’s a good problem to have, more orders than time to do them, but at the rate I’m finishing them, it might be Christmas before I catch up…
Week 5 of my 6 week study at Rosewood Studio was focused on drawer making. A whole week to build a drawer? Well when it’s made of solid wood and fitted to a shaker table, it takes a little longer than simply slapping some metal drawer slides onto an mdf box like ikea does… Unlike ikea, the drawer front won’t fall off in a year, nor will the bottom sag, and the slightest bit of water won’t turn the entire thing into a pile of wet sawdust….
First part of this week involved fitting some runners for the drawer in my shaker table. I used walnut simply because it matched the table and I had a bunch of scraps left over, however this part isn’t visible unless you are lying on the ground underneath the table. Next it was onto the drawer building.
The drawer was made of walnut with a piece of birds eye maple for the front. The sides are dovetailed (half blind on the front), and the drawer bottom is a few pieces of solid walnut laminated together to form a panel. The front of the bottom panel is glued with the back edge being left unattached for seasonal expansion and contraction.
Birds eye maple, while beautiful to look at, can be a bit of a pain to work with. This particular piece had some cracks and of course very curly grain which made smoothing it very trying, however after many passes with a high angle plane and a card scraper (and some light sanding), it was eventually made smooth. I spent almost an entire day perfecting this piece of wood, only to ruin it by cutting on the wrong side of the lines for my dovetails. Thankfully the second attempt went much quicker.
Fitting the drawer was very finicky. Not only does it need to slide in and out smoothly, but the reveal around the drawer opening has to be identical (9000ths of an inch). While it was a huge pain to do, I was very pleased with the results and can honestly say I have never owned a piece of furniture that had such a smooth drawer!
The drawer was finished off with a simple walnut pull turned on the lathe. I really enjoyed the lathe work (all 5 minutes of it… after-all it was only a pull), hopefully I can afford one in the future to add to my shop. I put several layers of shellac on the drawer front and pull, but left the sides and bottom natural.
Next week is my last at Rosewood! It’s gone so fast, wish I could stay for another 6!