I believe that each of us is endowed with a font of creative energy. If we are lucky we find both an outlet for that energy and the time and means to create. For the past ten years or so I have been designing and building furniture and other things from wood. I think I have some aptitude for it, and like anything, practice has improved my skills. I really don’t know how my work stacks up with what else is out there – what I do know is that I thoroughly enjoy the entire process – from conceptual design, the trigonometry most of us forgot before high school graduation, joinery, and finishing. Wood is a complex substance with a wonderful spectrum of scents, feel, and looks, and I derive great satisfaction from working with it to create objects that are functional, durable, and pleasing to the eye and touch - to me it is the perfect blend of the aesthetic and the practical. I set this blog up to allow my family and friends to see some of what I have done from across the thousands of miles that may separate us. Comments are always appreciated.

Early 2012 - One Tree Project - A Birch Side Table

After I shipped my keepsake boxes to Italy (see immediately below), I felt I needed to build something with all the birch I got from my friend Arthur for his One Tree Project that I could exhibit locally when the time comes (maybe Fall 2012?).  At the same time Corinne wanted a side table for our desk that could hold the computer peripherals (scanner, wireless hub, surge protector, etc).  With these two ideas in mind, I designed and built this small table.  I wanted to go for a design that was complimentary to that of the desk, but at the same time different.  Thus I created the table with a similar design for the top, but with tapered legs and a lattice under shelf.  It has a light feel to it, and I think compliments the desk well.  Thanks again, Arthur, for the material, and Corinne for the idea and of course the design assistance.

Early 2012 - One Tree Project - Boxes for Italy

In October 2011 we went to Tuscany to visit the places my mother's ancestors came from.  There were six of us on the trip - my mother and father, my sister and her husband, and Corinne and I.  We stayed in two cities near Pisa - Lucca and Barga.  Of course a great time was had by all.  My mother still has first cousins living near Lucca, and they've always been such gracious hosts whenever we visit.  I was thinking of some way of thanking them with something I could build, when I happened to notice the emblem of the City of Lucca on a municipal trashcan on one of our many walks through the city.  Iinspiration struck and in a few minutes the idea was pretty much fully fledged.  As I've said before, creativity works in strange and marvelous ways - but a trash can for inspiration?
A few months after we got back, we were up in Talkeetna and we ran into our friend Arthur Mannix who told me all about the "One Tree Project".  It apparently originated in England about 15 years ago and tells the story of a single tree and the extraordinary value it brought to society, its beauty and the versatility of its wood.  Since then there have been several other One Tree Projects, in Tasmania, the UK, and Fairbanks, Alaska.  From this, Arthur, who is a man with a great deal of initiative, started one in Talkeetna, felling a large birch tree, milling it, and giving the lumber away to anyone who would commit to building something with it.  Eventually there will be an exhibit of the finished pieces.  Well, free wood, a chance to exhibit my work, and a project in my mind just waiting to be gotten after?  Who could refuse?  So I loaded up several birch boards, took them back to Anchorage, and my first project was two small keepsake boxes, built as gifts for my Italian relatives.

The tops of the boxes are made of maple and bloodwood to provide the red and white of the Lucca city seal, while the remainder is made of birch from the One Tree Project with the exception of the small Italian Tricolor band, which is made of two strips of maple and one of bloodwood with one of the maple strips painted green.
They're now in Italy.  I think that really adds something to the idea of the One Tree Project.  Thanks, Arthur.

Spring 2011 - Torii Gates

Our friend Julianne McGuinness, Executive director of the Alaska Botanical Garden, asked me to submit something for the annual ABG Gala, their big fundraiser.  These two creations are the result.  Traditional Chinese and Japanese design has had a pretty big influence on the early 20th century American furniture styles that inform a lot of my work, and this was a chance to explore the unique form of a Torii gate, an icon of Japanese temple architecture.  When installed at a temple entrance they serve to mark the trasition from the profane to the sacred.  The exact meaning, origin, and derviation of the Torii gate design is apparently lost to history, but they are quite evocative regardless.

I chose to hang two traditional symbols from the gates, pierced relief carved into large disks.  The one in the first two pics is Japanese lettering for "tranquility", or so the internet says.  I know no Japanese so I'll have to assume it is correct.  Even if it's not, I still love the lines.  The second is a pretty obvious one, yin and yang, or positive and negative.  The gates are made of western red cedar that I bought at the local chain big-box harware stores and machined as needed.  The disks were shaped using a system I dreamed up that amounts to a (really) poor man's lathe in which I punded a nail through a board, clamped that board to a work bench with the nail sticking straight up, drilled a hole in the exact center of the cedar disk and used my Granddad's massive disk sander to both spin the disk on the nail and remove material, pushing my leg into the piece as a brake if it got going too fast.  To my utter astonishment, it actually works pretty well.
It was great fun attending the gala as a "featured artist" (whoda ever thunk it), and I actually made my first sale in the history of my hobby, to a lovely couple in East Anchorage, for $1900!  Honestly, given the hours I put into these things, that amounts to chump change if I were paying myself an hourly wage, but then I never got into this as a way to get rich.  There are lots of guys out there with a lot more talent and skill than I have who barely make ends meet trying to do this a profession.  Kind of too bad, but that's the way it is.  Anyway, in this case it's all immaterial anyway since I donated all the proceeds to the gardens.  As I am fond of mentioning, I just like to build stuff....

Spring 2011 - Hawaiian Trivets

We visited the Big Island of Hawaii in February 2011 for something like the seventh time over the past 10 years or so. I picked up these tiles there, and when I got home I made two trivets - one for us and one for our lovely hosts in Hawaii, Pam and Roger Robinson. They're made of mango (which I brought back from Hawaii on a previous trip), maple, and mahogany with walnut splines.

I am always inspired when we go to Hawaii.  There are some really amazing artists working in wood there, and their work is featured in several galleries throughout the island.  If you ever go and are so inclined, the two best places to visit to view the stunning work these folks create are the Volcano Art Center adjacent to the Kilauea Visitor Center in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and if you're fortunate to be there when it's on, the annual exhibit of the Hawaii Woodworkers Guild in late January-February at the Isaacs Art Center in Waimea.

One of the members of the guild is a friend and neighbor of Pam and Roger's, Alex Franceschini.  He built a HUGE and amazingly well equipped shop under his house, and there are few more enjoyable activities I've engaged in recently than to stop by his house and work with him in his shop, with all the doors open, the tropical breezes wafting through, and piles of mango, koa, and other exotic local woods just waiting to be turned into something.  He not only has a pretty amazing set of tools, but also the skills to use them and to keep them in top operating condition.  As I've mentioned in earlier posts, of late I've been spending more and more time learning about the proper use of hand tools, and I spent a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours under Alex's tutelage learning the finer points of hand planing, scraping, and tool sharpening.  How generous with both his tools and his time!  I look forward to working with him again - to the point where I would probably return to Hawaii just for the privilege of working with him in his shop again.

Spring 2010 - Spring 2011 - A Cherry Desk

This desk took over a year to build.  I started in the Spring of 2010,  took the summer off and completed it the following Spring.

It's more overtly oriental than any of my previous pieces.  The design is completely original, and I'm not totally sure I know where it came from - creativity can be such a deeply mysterious, almost mystic process - I just knew I wanted something completely unique.  I think it might have stemmed from an idea I had after seeing the detail of the recessed door pull in a friend's custom bed side table coupled with my experience building the coffee table after the design of my sister's VERY overtly oriental table (see below).

My "design process" usually involves nothing more complicated than rough pencil sketches on scrap paper.  Surprisingly, it works.  This time though, I tried something different - a free software program by Google called "Sketchup".  It allows for modeling in 3-D, the ability to rotate the model to show any face, and can be dimensioned to any degree of precision desired.  I think that for the smaller projects the pencil sketches is still the way to go, but for the more involved projects, or anything where a 3-D model would be helpful to visualize the design, or perhaps as an aid in working with a prospective client on a comission, Sketchup can be a useful, powerful, and pretty entertaining tool with which to work out a design.

The desk is made of cherry with accents of maple and walnut.  The drawer cases as well as the drawers themselves are joined with dovetails, made using my neighbor's Leigh D4 Dovetail Jig.  This was my first experience with a dovetail jig, and to be honest it was a bit trying.  I suppose alot of it is that anything new takes time to master, but man, I struggled.  However I did persevere, and I would rate this as my finest piece yet.

Late 2009 - Two Foot Stools

 Corinne wanted a foot stool for our little cabin in Talkeetna.  I was looking for a project, so these were the result.

Made of mahogany, they feature legs that are tapered on all four sides, allowing me to experiment with non-standard mortise and tenon joinery.  Most of the time builders "cheat" by only tapering the outside surfaces, but I was interested in making things a little more challenging - it's the best way to learn new things.

I also took the opportunity to further explore the raised detailing I first worked with on my side table (featured on a previous post).  Fussy, yes - but again, that's how one learns, and I do this for enjoyment after all - not expedience.

These stools were even more of a collaboration than usual.  On every project I avail myself of Corinne's ideas regarding design, form, and function, and invariably the finished piece is better for the inclusion of her ideas.  With these, not only were they her idea to start with, but she collaborated on the design and fabricated the cushions.  So she got her footstool at our Talkeetna cabin and its twin lives in our living room in Anchorage.