Monday, September 3, 2007

Golfer in Paint Pants

Next Stop...Central Illinois.
I spent over 2 weeks right in the middle of cornfields, bean fields and stories of Abraham Lincoln. While there, I took a job as a painter. Donning the required white paint pants and white t-shirt, I reported to work at 6:30AM & clocked out at 4:00PM for a week. I spent my days touching up dorm rooms at Illinois College in preparation for the fall semester. After work, I spent time on my newest athletic pursuit-Golf. I would tee up in my newly marked paint pants. My hair would be speckled with little white dots & the paint was still dripping from my hands as I gripped my 7 wood. Working on my swing at the driving range was a great way to relax & let the paint dry.
I'd never played golf before, minus the variety. Driving on a course, pitching with an iron and putting on the alien surface of green was a recreational revelation. Who knew you could have so much fun carrying around a big heavy bag of tools. Swinging a club is a bit like swinging a hammer-nice & smooth with the follow through, staying square with your target & keeping focus on a single point. And like it is for any carpenter, it is also true for any golfer: know your tools & know what they do.
I loved being outside exploring the contours of the course, choosing the right clubs & swinging away- sending my little white dimpled ball on a scouting flight as we mapped our journey together. I loved hitting balls in the afternoon and I loved my time in Central Illinois as a golfer in paint pants.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Walk in Oak Park Illinois

It's been a busy summer.
Lots of sawdust and lots of tears, along with a little travel.
I was fortunate enough to have a month to travel and work throughout the Midwestern United States and see some of its architectural and geographic treasures.
The first stop on this journey was Oak Park Illinois, a Chicago suburb & early home of famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, where he designed & built his first residence and studio.
The streets of this Victorian village were full of beautiful gardens and well kept homes, many of them designed by Mr. Wright during and for a few years after his employment as draftsman for the well known turn of the century firm Adler & Sullivan.
My walk through Oak Park was a peaceful botanical & architectural feast.

Saturday, June 30, 2007


There's a great website called Woodweb that I find myself coming back to-not only to use their extensive knowledge base and to read their really great forums on everything from adhesives to cabinetmaking-but also to read stories and advice from other carpenters and remodeling professionals.

Below is an excerpt from a forum about dealing with a client that is impossible to please. One carpenter found himself in a precarious situation after installing a vanity and asked for advice about how to walk off a job...

From contributor J: What you've got here is a job that has gone sour due to the behavior of the client. There is nothing you can do to make this person happy, bar doing the rest of the work to museum standards and paying him for the privilege of his letting you work on his house. Your job now is to detach yourself from this situation as quickly and as gracefully as you can. If you can't manage graceful, then settle for quick.
From contributor B: I too have had clients this way. There is nothing you can do to satisfy this guy... nothing. He will always find something to complain about. If not yesterday, it's today or tomorrow. I'd take the above advice. Remove the vanity, saying that he's not pleased with it. Also take yourself off the job, saying that it is beyond your ability to make maple look like cherry... color, grain and all. The client I had like this, I figured he suffered from OCD and had to have everything perfect, which is impossible to achieve. I am convinced he contributed to my heart attack. Walk and be in better health.
From contributor L: Been there, analyzed it to death, finally concluded the same thing everyone above has said - bow out quickly and whatever you do, don't go back. Some things never change their stripes!
From contributor K: Absolutely... get out now. He sounds like the kind of guy that will be shocked that you don't kiss his butt. When he frantically says "What are you doing?" (while you're carrying your stuff out), just tell him how sorry you are that there was an obvious misunderstanding from the beginning and that you cannot give him what he wants at that price. If he tries to barter with you, ask you to stay, agree to pay more, etc. (savor the moment), tell him you'll consider it and then just keep on walking. Leave him hanging.

Monday, June 25, 2007

More On Labels

There's a good article from the New York Times today

Friday, June 15, 2007

What is FSC Certified Wood?

Environmentally sustainable practices are at the forefront of many new home builders, designers and green enthusiasts minds and in the minds of many Americans that believe in retaining the Earth's precious resources and atmosphere.

Akin to the organic food movement, wood certification is the new question raised when people are in the market to buy "responsibly". And like the organic food movement, that raised the question of "why eat chemically modified, or toxic food-when there is a better, cleaner food called organic?".
Wood certification asks "why buy wood from those who butcher the world's forests, when there are resources derived from forests that are managed to particular environmental and social standards?"
But ethics and practices are very different and both equally hard to monitor.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), is one of leading global organizations that has had an impact on rethinking and branding forestry management. But they are not alone. Starting in the 1990's third party organizations began developing standards and practices in responsible forestry. They offer certification and accreditation to companies and suppliers that adhere to their standards and definitions of best practices. You may see the FSC label at your local building supply store or hear more about sustainable products as green building becomes more widespread. But like many organizations the FSC has their critics.
Just some food for thought as we consumers grapple with labels and their meanings. We want to know that something is safe and good for us and the environment. I believe that there is a lot of good work being done to insure the future of the world's resources but I also believe that we have a ways to go.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I Dig This T-Shirt

I picked up this shirt in Pierre South Dakota at Runnings Farm and Fleet Store.
I love the all-purpose farm and feed store!
One stop shopping for bunny rabbits, beef jerky, anti-freeze and cool t-shirts.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The "Accidental Business"

photos courtesy of domus, new york

A couple years back I found myself with a glut of cherry, maple and walnut wood scraps & cut-offs from furniture & cabinetry jobs I had finished.
Wood is expensive & precious so I didn't want to just throw it away. I figured I'd use the scraps to make cutting boards for friends & family and offer them as nice little handmade gifts. Furniture jobs kept coming & so did the scraps and suddenly, I found myself in a shop full of experimental cutting boards. I started to think I might be able to sell them on the street or at some little craft fair-or if nothing else, continue to give them as an all occasion gift: housewarming, wedding, birthday, Christmas, Hanukkah...
One day, I ran into a friend, Jim Seffens, who has an art studio/storefront in Hell's Kitchen. He was telling me about his annual holiday group show and arts & craft sale. When I asked him if he would be interested in selling my boards, he said sure. I thought I might end up selling a couple boards, but they sold really quickly and I ended up even having to borrow clamps and collect other scraps from friends to make more.
When the holiday season ended, a neighborhood shop DOMUS, approached me about selling my boards year round. A year and half later, I continue to sell my work at DOMUS and it has been featured in a number of design blogs & in "This Old House" Magazine.
The success of this endeavor has inspired me to take the design elements of the cutting boards even further into a collection of furniture.
What's really neat about this "accidental business" is that it came from wanting to come up with an artful way of not wasting scrap wood. Sometimes the simplest ideas can prove to be the most inspired.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Also A Carpenter: David Lynch

David Lynch

Best Known For:
Film Director and Artist
Coffee, Wood and Big Boy Restaurants
Construction Experience:
Furniture Designer
Eagle Scout
Showing his artwork at Fondation Cartier in Paris
Hosting a "David Lynch Weekend" dedicated to Transcendental Meditation
Favorite Tool:
Sensitive Carpenter Level:
Fire Walk With Me

Monday, May 21, 2007

Coffee Bean Floors

Ah...that delicious first sip of morning coffee is anticipated and longed for as you wake to the deep, lush and wonderful smell of French Roast, Sumatra Mandheling or Eithiopia Yrgacheffe brewing. I really do enjoy nothing more than a great cup of coffee.
Recently, a client of mine asked me to prototype a coffee bean tile to use as her new kitchen floor, a coffee bean terrazzo if you will, so I've taken my love of the delicious brew to new extremes by infusing the wonderful aromas with polyurethane resin.

Once people discover you work with plastic, they have all sorts of ideas that involve plastic. I've spent less time working with wood and more time becoming somewhat of an expert in release agents and the multitudes of molding materials.
Here's what I discovered prototyping the coffee bean terrazzo:
  • Coffee bean floors are not a casual weekend warrior project
  • Green unroasted beans have more moisture than roasted beans, so when combined with the 2-part polyurethane the moisture creates bubbles
  • As the plastic cures, it heats up and releases vapors which mixed with the coffee beans, smells really good and then really weird
  • Even a sub-par casting came out looking pretty awesome
  • It's a really expensive process
And just an FYI-David Lynch has his own line of fair trade organic coffees available to purchase on his website. His slogan is "It's all in the beans...and I'm just full of beans".

Thursday, May 17, 2007

David Lynch Furniture

"I day-dream of furniture" -David Lynch

David Lynch designs furniture. I think that's really cool.
He seems to like everything I like-wood, designing furniture, coffee and David Lynch films.
Influenced by mid-century minimalist design, David Lynch created a line of furniture a few years back and which was sold exclusively through Casanostra, a design company based in Switzerland. Some of Lynch's first pieces were sold through Skank World, a mid century furniture shop in Los Angeles.
Pictured are a couple of those pieces. They are simple and complex-eye catching and improvisational-much like his films.

His furniture is also featured in the movie Lost Highway, where his personal home (designed by Lloyd Wright) serves as one of the settings. An article from Form Magazine further discusses David Lynch's design influences and inspirations.

His aesthetic, lifestyle and vision inspires me. I also day-dream of furniture.

search The City of Absurdity website under furniture for links to archived information.
reference "David Lynch", by Justus Nieland for more info on furniture/art design

Monday, May 14, 2007

David Lynch Week Kick Off

Ever wonder what David Lynch has to do with carpentry? Quite a lot actually. This week I will be focusing on all things David Lynch-the artful filmmaker and also...sensitive carpenter."Catching the Big Fish-Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity" is Mr. Lynch's new book about his experience as an artist and the effect that meditation has had on his life and career.
It is a sort of meditation in and of itself-more than a book about meditating. Lynch offers a window into his mind and reveals his thoughts in a personal, funny and heartfelt way and he discusses his love of wood.

In a few pages he talks about working with wood and how he loves to chew on Ponderosa Pine pitch . He says the flavor "will make you crazy, in a good way"- ironically, that also describes the author.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Green Furniture

My experience of furniture making has always been to wait for the tree to grow, harvest it and use the wood. Here's a way to make furniture without chopping down a tree.....
Ready Made Magazine has a DIY tutorial on growing your own "lawn" couch.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Home Improvement Show Biz

We've all seen the show...A married couple from Akron or Boise have a room in their cal-de-sac nestled tract home that they "just never got around to".
The couple is looking for a zen adult getaway with a warm sense of elegant style that can be enjoyed by family and guests and last but not least...contains storage for all the kids toys that litter the room. All of this for under a thousand dollars.
Enter Phoebe and Chet, the designer and carpenter. Phoebe is known for her offbeat sense of style & color choice and faux painting skills. Chet is known for his svelte, tanned, shirtless torso and an endearing G-Rated sense of humor. These are the trustees of the Caldesac family's zen multipurpose paradise. ..for under a thousand dollars.
Thirty minutes pass by with little tension or effort. Chet finishes off the "meditation alter/toy chest" with a couple of knock-knock jokes. A series of camera dissolves gives us the anticipated "before & after". We almost forget the incident where Phoebe burned herself with the hot glue gun in an attempt to fasten grass from the lawn to the black & white photos of the children playing with puppies and turtles that now adorn the faux marble mantel.
The reveal is a tearful reunion of the Caldesac family and their new favorite room. She "loves it!" and weeps in appreciation. He likes that the colors aren't too crazy & they left his recliner in the room. A wonderful new space for the Caldesac family done in 30 minutes and all for under a thousand dollars, $938.46 to be exact. Really?....
I watch these shows and love them as a viewer, but rarely do I actually consider them believable as a designer and carpenter. The budget & time line for these shows are laughably unrealistic. Housebuilding, cabinetry and furniture fabrication fall into the easy category of summer camp boondoggle weaving. From my experience (with both boondoggle & cabinetry) construction is a bit more of an investment. The truth about Chet is that he probably makes between $5,000 & $10,000 an episode and has a fair amount of off camera help. There are people who specialize in buying & negotiating material prices and those who assist with the actual renovation tasks (painting, cutting, nailing,sanding,etc..) And that's not considering cameramen, electrics, catering,etc..
So the show about that room that cost $948.46 and was completed in 2 days actually took months to plan and had a budget of over a hundred thousand dollars all to make an "affordable DIY project".
I love watching home improvement shows. The ideas, the personalities and the drama are the real elements-but if I'm designing a home, a shelf, or a piece of furniture, I hope no one expects Phoebe or Chet. I don't have a production staff or a home in Malibu where I can cultivate my tan and all the latest knock-knock jokes.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Lobster Crown Moulding

I was commissioned to create one-of-a-kind crown moulding for an architect's personal home in Maine. I was given a lobster tin that was purchased at a roadside shop in Rhode Island. The architect had the idea to duplicate the lobster to make a decorative pattern around the ceiling of his new home. I was given the tin to make millable and paintable pieces to adorn the crown moulding. Click on the lobster for a step by step presentation detailing the project thus far.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Great Woodworking Resource

I was really excited to stumble across a great website run by an Atlanta based tool supplier and education center called Highland Woodworking. They have a nice collection of hard to find tools and a blog that is a good how-to resource for woodworkers. I am also impressed by their focus on education and training. It's nice to come across a community of like minded individuals that care about craft and craftsmanship.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Circular Saw: Tabitha Babbitt

I was just in the power tool section of a home improvement store, what some might call a citadel of manhood, at least "mannishness", surrounded by sharp edges & high torque motors, the creative powers of the gods held in one's hand. I could almost hear the ghost of Tim Allen barking with delight at the power of a 10 inch blade chewing its way through a helpless piece of birch that screams, as some muscular man imposes his masculine demands on it. Nothing could be more manly than a screeching, dust spewing, completely undaunted circular saw...
Don't bark too loudly he-man, the circular saw was actually invented by a sweet little Shaker lady named Tabitha Babbitt in the early nineteenth century!

Friday, April 6, 2007

Also A Carpenter: Jesus

Best Known For:
Jewish Spiritual Leader
Founder of Christianity
World Peace
All Human Kind
His Mother
Construction Experience:
Architect of Western Civilization
Favorite Tool:
Sensitive Carpenter Level:
Off the Charts

Monday, April 2, 2007


I was commissioned to make 150 corbels for a restoration project of a turn of the century "landmark" mansion that is being converted into an upscale bed and breakfast. The original corbels have almost completely degraded over their 100 year life due to the instability of their terra-cotta & horse hair make up. My job was to make exact (or close to exact) replicas of the original corbels in a more durable material & make them look like the new versions of the handmade antique architectural details.
Every child has fantasies of being a lab technician that concocts potions that steam, bubble & foam out of control. The tools of making corbels- an apron, giant gloves, measuring cups, beakers, trays, buckets and strangely enough, cake mixing spatulas-are closer to the world of a mad scientist than a carpenter.
After several pseudo-scientific experiments with various foams and resins, I decided to use an exterior grade UV rated polyurethane that was recommended to me by one of the well informed & helpful salespeople at Polytek. Polytek is a supplier of different casting materials and they also supplied me the silicone I used for the negative molds.

After sculpting a crisp new plaster prototype of the 100 year old corbel, I made 3 silicone molds and began a long gooey plastic making journey. I became fully consumed in mix ratios, room temperatures, release agents, solvents and de-molding times.
The first 10 corbels were fun & interesting. The following 140 were a bit more work. But when I saw my little army of architectural soldiers in formation I was a proud general. I then packed them all off to battle the elements of extreme heat, cold wind & rain and hoped they would make it past the infantry line of construction workers.
It was a pleasure to be presented with the challenge of learning about space age materials and using them in an historical pre-industrial age application. I hope those corbels hang on that landmark building for hundreds of years to come.

Friday, March 30, 2007

April Fish Papercraft

April Fool's Day is celebrated in France as Poisson D'Avril or April Fish.
A day where children make paper fish and stick them on the backs of unsuspecting people. Because really, there is nothing more embarrassing than having a strange paper fish on your back all day.

Here's a way to celebrate Poisson D'Avril without the embarrassment-a neat website of down loadable Paper Fish that you can print out and assemble. You could try and stick them on someones back-but I wouldn't recommend it-unless you live in France.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

If I were Andy Rooney

I wanted to do a simple posting about an Internet tool vendor called Amazon Tool Crib. It saved me the time of wandering from store to store asking for information on specific tools I was interested in. Like all of Amazon's available products-the tools came with a vast array of reviews. I liked this and felt it was helpful.
In my attempt to get a link for you, the readers, I learned that Amazon Tool Crib is no longer tool crib (Now Just Amazon Tools) and tool crib is no longer one but many many cribs, like a hospital nursery where none of the babies are labeled.

Legal actions (at least what I am supposing are legal) have now given us The Real Tool Crib-tool crib alternatives-Tool Crib of the North. North of what exactly? www Tool Crib South?
What was a simple referral service has become a trademark that is claimed by everyone and owned by no one.
The exhausting search for "tool crib" made me think I should go and get the domain names for-
The Very Sensitive Carpenter, The Real Sensitive Carpenter, The Wicked Sensitive Carpenter of the East, The Only Sensitive Carpenter....

Monday, March 26, 2007

Pixie Dust: A Woodworking Phenomena

The first time I ever experienced Pixie Dust I was ripping a piece of birch plywood on sight with a jigsaw. Halfway through cutting the large vibrating veneer something very strange began to happen. The pattern of the wood grain began to move. Swirling wood lines were like a moving psychedelic backdrop at a Grateful Dead show. The flowing river of wood continued streaming as I tried to keep on cutting and tell my mind "This isn't really happening man". Even when I stopped sawing, the wood continued it's slow dance for at least another 15 seconds. I was afraid that I was trapped in a world of wood hallucinations. Would the wood begin talking? Would it begin spelling out secret messages? Was I going to become one of those people who write sonnets to world leaders or chase UFO's through Utah?
After I caught my breath and thought about it a minute, I realized that I hadn't been having hallucinations. I was both the magician and gullible audience of a magic trick. By sawing a board in half, I created smoke and sawdust mirrors that moved and swirled the lights to create a great psychedelic "Saw Dust Illusion".
Weeks later, I discussed this phenomena with a carpenter friend of mine. He looked at me mysteriously and said in a knowing voice,
"Ah, you've had the Pixie Dust".

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Wood of the Week: Maple

When I was 5 years old, I moved from the western plains to New England. Trees were a new thing for me. I remember walking past yards in the early Spring & wondering why there were buckets hanging from the trees. The explanation was particularly absurd to me. They were "harvesting pancake syrup". It's hard for a child to accept the idea that syrup comes from trees and not from a magical talking woman shaped like a bottle. I've since shunned Mrs. Butterworth & now go for the real stuff.

The North American Sugar Maple (hard maple, rock maple) serves as mascot to the States of Vermont, New York, West Virginia, Wisconsin & the entire nation of Canada where its leaf flys proudly on flags and airplanes. The syrup derived from the maple sap is a fixture in the North American- flapjack, waffle, french toast-sweet breakfast. The wood harvested from the Maple tree is a staple of North American cabinetry & furniture making.

Maple is a hardwood. Grain patterns go from soft and straight to "birds eye", "fiddle back" and "curly" patterns. Maple wood is used for simple utilitarian things like butcher blocks and flooring because of its rugged durability. It is also used for high end furniture and instrument making because of its lush silky sheen. Everything from solid bowling pins to veneered harps utilize the strength and beauty of the wood. Maple has a mellow clean bouquet when being milled. It's an easy strong wood to use in joinery and woodturning. Maple wood is referred to as a tone wood because of its acoustic qualities, making it a favored wood among drum and guitar makers. On an early Spring morning, as the sap rushes up to make new leaves, you can almost hear the Maple tree sing as it works.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Longfellow Poem

The Builders
All are architects of Fate.
Working in these walls of Time;
Some with massive deeds and great,
Some with ornaments of rhyme.
Nothing useless is, or low;
Each thing in its place is best;
And what seems but idle show
Strengthens and supports the rest.
For the structure that we raise,
Time is with materials filled;
Our to-days and yesterdays
Are the blocks with which we build.
Truly shape and fashion these;
Leave no yawning gaps between;
Think not, because no man sees,
Such things will remain unseen.
In the elder days of Art,
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part;
For the Gods see everywhere.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Gorilla Glue Debate

Gorilla Glue at
Lately, I've been talking to carpenter friends of mine and Gorilla Glue has come up in more than one conversation. I haven't solicited for any opinions on glue, but it's ironic that Gorilla Glue has been a topic of late.
Most of the friends that I have talked to don't like Gorilla Glue. They don't think it holds any better than yellow wood glue-or are put off by the fact that it is super messy.
When I ask them if they wet the surfaces they are trying to bond-most answer no-and I believe that is a big reason they are not getting a good result. The reason you wet the bonding surface is to activate the foaming polyurethane- which then allows the glue to expand and seep deeper than the surface of the join-bonding it tighter.
I work with all kinds of glue for all kinds of jobs and I like to use expanding polyurethane glue (like gorilla glue) for gluing solid wood boards together or interior joinery. Since it expands as you work with it, the join needs to be held in place with clamps. It has a pretty slow drying time and you have to machine sand your surface to remove the excess foam to get a nice seamless finish. Just be sure to wear gloves or it will be on your hands for weeks.
Gorilla glue isn't good for small repairs that can't be held tightly in place. If you can't squeeze what you're gluing together-it will just make a big foamy blob.
I work with many brands of expanding polyurethane glue. Elmer's Ultimate is what I use most, but Gorilla Glue is the marquee brand and surprisingly a hot topic among carpenters.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Wood of the Week: Cherry

George Washington's admission to chopping down his father's cherry tree was a pivotal moment in American history. "Honesty is the best policy" was the moral of the story told about the first American president when he was a child. An honest boy became a great man and the cherry tree became an American symbol of "The Truth".
The ideals of America live in cherry wood. The simplicity of the Colonial, Shaker, or Arts & Crafts furniture ,often utilizes the somber warmth and rich beauty of cherry. Joints and plugs are often left in full view as a testament to the honesty & integrity of the cabinetmaker and his creation.
American cherry wood (black cherry) is a domestic hardwood indigenous to North America. The heartwood can vary in color from a dark brown to a light reddish brown (occasionally with small dark streaks and flecks known as gum pockets).

Used for furniture, musical instruments & pipe making, as well as flooring & veneer-cherry's natural patina gets richer in color as it mellows in grain pattern. The sapwood is lighter in color and releases a sweet confectionary-perfumy fragrance while being milled. Imagine your Grandma baking a cherry pie after church on a Sunday afternoon-that's what cherry wood smells like.
While many breeds & varieties are celebrated worldwide for their delicate pink blossoms, fruit and wood-a special place for cherry exists in every American heart. Cherry wood is in our history-in our homes and in our ideals.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Also A Carpenter: Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter

Best Known For:
39th President of the United States
Nobel Peace Prize Winner 2002
Construction Experience:
Furniture/Cabinet Maker
Bestselling Author
Builds and auctions furniture to advance human rights
and alleviate human suffering.
Favorite Tools:
Sensitive Carpenter Level:
Very High

The Carpenter's Apprentice: The Spiritual Biography of Jimmy Carter - Hardcover - First Edition, 1st Printing 1996

Monday, March 12, 2007

Piece on Earth

Wood comes in so many colors: red, yellow, white, purple, green, brown, black and even zebra.
I love using these woods as if they are paints on a palette. I combine diversely colored hardwood scraps to make one of kind cutting boards.
Little pieces of maple, walnut, birch, cherry, purpleheart, wenge and padauk can become a beautiful composition with the help of glue, clamps and some imagination.
The woods of North America, Africa, Asia, Europe and South America look so good together-almost as if they were meant to be one piece- an international mosaic-a little piece of the world.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

A Beautiful Kitchen

I was sitting in a local falafel place having dinner when I over heard a man and a woman at the table next to me.
She said, "I'm sorry the food is so spicy I didn't know."
"It's fine" he said.
"Because we could go somewhere else"
"No it's fine"
They quietly ruminated over their spicy falafels until the woman pulled out a 9x12 sheet of typing paper. On it, hand drawn in ballpoint pen, was a rendering of what seemed to be kitchen cabinets. Crude measurements and cryptic scribbles lead me to believe she was the uncertain architect.

"So, I was thinking something like this-it would look like wood but wouldn't be made out of wood. There's a lot they can do nowadays. I'm sure we could put some sort of thermal skin on it...".
I have no idea what she is talking about.
"All these plastic laminates are less expensive and last longer. Wood is just too fragile", she said, as she reached into her bag. She hoisted out an overstuffed folder and began constructing a table top collage that would rival Russell Crowe's assemblages in "A Beautiful Mind" (if he was obsessed with kitchens).

As she rifled through one torn magazine clipping after another she would occasionally hand one to the man and say,
" See that's what I mean, except it won't be wood"
"The wood is nice", he said.
"Really? Because I didn't think you'd be interested in wood."

Meanwhile, every single page of these disemboweled home improvement magazines had pictures of kitchen cabinets that were made out of..wood!

She continued, "Well, it's just the wear and tear...with the kids. Let's say the cabinets get hit with a frisbee.."
At this point I wanted to ask her, "Why are your children playing frisbee in the kitchen?"

Just as my confused intrigue peaked-she rustled up her table top chaos. Stuffing it back into her bag she said, "Well, I can stop at a few shops and see what they can do. I really didn't know this place would be so spicy-you want to get some empanadas?"
"That's fine" he said.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Wood of the Week: Purpleheart

Imagine yourself in a lush green jungle dripping with dew. Rainbow colored birds dart in and out of bright neon flowers. You're surrounded by screeching monkeys and choirs of chirping insects and psychedelic tied-dyed frogs. Bright yellow moss grows with sparkling multicolored mushrooms beneath an old fallen tree. The heart of this tree glistens like a precious purple gem in a sea of bright green coins. You've discovered the treasure of Purpleheart. You begin to weep.

Also called Amaranth, Koroboreli & Saka-is native to Central and South America. It's color varies from light violet to deep purple and burgundy hues. It looks like wood that has been pickled in grape kool-aid.

Purpleheart's vivid color and straight grain make it a very desirable exotic hardwood that's used in wood turning, furniture and oddly enough boat building. The grain pattern and hardness make it feel like the long lost South American brother of walnut wood.
Purpleheart has a dark earthy dirt like smell when it's being milled. It is very brittle and chippy and can be very "squirrely" when ripping on a table saw. Squirrely describes wood that either begins to veer away or towards the straight kerf established by a circular saw blade- causing the cuts to be wavy-or the saw blade to buckle. I like to keep a few shims handy to avoid having this happen in the middle of a rip. I find that it sands very well & planes smooth when run across (as opposed to with) the grain.

Purpleheart is a wonderful accent wood that compliments other hardwoods in parquetry & combined laminations. A gorgeous, unbelievable, exotic gem.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007


for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers
by Leonard Koren

"Wabi -sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete"

"Wabi-Sabi" is the Japanese equivalent of "je ne sais qua". While this aesthetic principle refers most directly to the Japanese tea ceremony, it also represents the way objects are revered on their journey from creation to decay.
Author Leonard Koren proposes that Wabi Sabi could even be called the "zen of things"
In his book Koren provides a western explanation for a very eastern concept. He compares Wabi-Sabi with more rationalized aesthetic, Modernism. Koren's book gives us another way of viewing nature, art, design, life & death.

"Wabi-Sabi" is a great read. It informed & enriched the way I approach design and appreciate the world around me.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Dog Cartoons

Speaking of dogs, I was asked to create and paint life-sized cartoon cut-outs for a K-Mart photo shoot.

I made about 30 pieces from foam core, cut them out and painted them with acrylics, aerosols, and magic markers.
Most of them were life-sized-an apple tree, a lamppost, clouds, a basket for babies to sit in-
But these dogs were a hit with the kids at the photo shoot.
I heard they had a great time playing with the cartoon puppies.

What I like most about this job was allowed to create my own designs and the fact that everyone seemed to really appreciate them.
It's nice to know that not everything you see in ads are done by a computer.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Designer Dog Bed

I was commissioned to make a dog bed by someone who had heard of me, but I had never met, for someone else I had never met. It was a very "soft" referral that found me with a strange phone number scribbled on a scrap of paper next to the title "dog bed". I picked up my phone and one answered...and there I was...

SC- Hello, uh, I was calling about a referral that I got-that you need someone to make a dog bed? That's all I know so...if you could give me a call back, we can discuss the details of exactly what it is you are looking for.
So later that week....
SC- Hello
DB- Hello. I was just returning your call. What exactly were you calling about?
SC- I'm not sure. A dog bed?
DB-Oh yeah! Yeah, I've been looking for a bed for my dog. She's crate trained and she's part coyote so she needs a den. She likes to nest. I was looking all over the place and haven't found anything for a 50 pound dog that doesn't totally suck.
SC- Okay, big is your dog?
DB- About 50 pounds.
SC- I mean, like how tall? How long? Approximately?
DB- I dunno. You'll probably just have to come over and measure her.
SC- Okay. Yeah. That sounds appropriate (I guess?). What do you want this bed to look like?
DB- It needs to be high, not too high, but you know...she is part coyote and likes to "den".
SC- Got it. Do you want it square or round or oval like those soft foam-core dog beds?
DB- Yeah, oval. But you know, I want it to be solid because those foam ones suck, but ovals are nice.
SC- Do you want it painted any color or?
DB- I either want it painted or out of wood.
SC- Something oval with a wood grain would cost quite a bit more...
DB- I just want something that will look nice in my apartment, but will blend a white oval would be nice. I want it to look like furniture.
SC-How high would like the walls?
DB- Like...sort of coffee table height.
SC- About 18 inches?
DB- I think that sounds good. You'll have to show me when you come over to measure the dog.
SC-..okay...sounds good.

Yeah. Sounds good. A giant oval dog den for a wild coyote/dog. It sounds reasonable that I should be able to make an elegantly inconspicuous-behemoth piece of custom designed furniture for a 50 lb feral dog. Why the heck not!
So I pulled out the cloth measuring tape and went to size this dog as if I were a tailor fitting her for a puppy prom dress.
I met and measured her, as I like to know who I'm designing for, even when they're canine. At the "fitting" I saw a
Noguchi table that inspired a more specific direction for the design. My goal then became the creation of a piece that would compliment the table.
I began laminating 1/8 inch strips of masonite together until there were 3/4 " thick walls wrapping around an oval base. I then cut a plunging rounded entry and smoothed the whole piece out with Automotive Bondo. Primed and painted with white semigloss paint, the bed was dog ready.
I loved the way this bed came out and luckily so did my clients, coyote & human alike. The bed is displayed aside the Noguchi table and I was told that when guests come over they say, "Nice dog bed".

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Wood of the Week: Padauk

Each week I will feature a different wood and discuss its qualities.
One tip to knowing more about wood is to understand the distinction between a hardwood and softwood. Not all hardwoods are hard and not all softwoods are soft. Most simply, hardwoods are from trees with leaves and softwoods are from trees with needles.

Padauk (pronounced- padook),
also called Barwood and Camwood,
is a straight grained hardwood from regions in Africa and Asia.
The bright or deep red color is what it is best known for and why it is considered a "dyewood".
The saw dust can stain your clothes, leaving them pinkish. Padauk wood, while being milled emits a warm-hot chocolate-like aroma.
(Wikipedia claims that African women have used it as deodorant)
It's very easy to cut, sand and carve.
It stays straight and is not too chippy.
Paduak works well for interior trim and furniture-some have even used Padauk as flooring.
It finishes well with linseed oil and paste wax.
Padauk is a beautiful hardwood and is very very red.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Article on Contractor Estimates

There's a great article in The New York Times this week about contractor estimates. I find that this information is just as useful for my would-be clients. I think no matter how large or small a job may be-it is best to be informed and to know what to expect when dealing with contractors, carpenters or any trade professional hired to do home improvements.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Burt's Bees Hand Salve

I deal with dry hands on a daily basis working with wood, glue and lots of dust. I've tried all kinds of hand balms and salves-but I've got to say Burt's Bees Hand Salve is my top pick. It feels awful going on when your hands are really dry-but then it soothes and relieves. I like that I can throw it in my tool bag and that it smells slightly of turpentine-which seems more appropriate than smelling like jasmine or lilac.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

What Wood You Do?

People ask me frequently "Where do you get your wood?"

As a freelance carpenter/cabinet maker I take on a variety jobs that require a variety of woods-from high quality domestic and hardwoods (Cherry, Walnut & Wenge) to industrial low grade composites (MDF, CDX & Masonite).
When taking on a job, a major consideration is "What material is best for this job?"
Unfortunately, there is no single vendor who supplies every type of construction material at the highest grade for the best price. There are lumber yards that supply quality hardwoods exclusively. As far as I'm concerned, that's your best bet for getting the best material at the best price. The price of all lumber fluctuates-much like oil or other natural resources-in accordance to demand and availability. Wood has its own trends-example: the price of plywood goes up in hurricane season.
So, when pricing for a job, I need to check with my vendor for current wood prices in order to give a responsible estimate.
I like Adriatic lumber for hardwoods like Cherry, Maple, Purple heart, Walnut, Padauk, Mahogany, etc . As far as standard lumber, any lumber yard or home improvement store is comparable in price and quality- especially when talking about composites like particle board & MDF.
In conclusion, buy your hardwood from a specialist-the highest quality at the best price. Don't think you're getting the same stuff from a home improvement store at a better price-when it comes to wood you pay for what it's worth.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Carpenter Quotes

"Measure Twice-Cut Once"
-carpenter law
"Carpentry is the Illusion of Perfection"
"The carpenter stretches out a line. He marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes. He marks it out with compasses, and shapes it by the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to reside in a house"
-The Bible-Isiah 44
"Every nail driven should be as another rivet in the machine of the universe"
"Everyone knows what a straight line is and what a point is"
That hand saw marks time
with the sound of poverty
late on a winter night
-haiku by Buson
"The self, though one, takes the shape of every object in which it dwells"
"Make it simple to last your whole life long. Don't worry that it's not enough for anyone else to hear. Just sing, sing a song"
-Karen Carpenter

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Job Will Take 200 Years

It can take a hundred or more years for a seedling to grow into a large, mature, and harvest-able tree. A lot happens in a hundred years. Countries rise and fall-generations of people live full lives-so much history happens around a growing tree. Hurricanes, blizzards, drought, corrosive bacteria, parasites, woodpeckers, beavers and the vast array of human interferences like pollution, war, and most directly clear cutting have an impact on the life of a tree. It is very hard for trees to protect themselves and in turn do their natural job of protecting us.

Forests have always provided food and shelter. They protect from flood and landslides. They provide us with shade and oxygen for hundreds of years. Then when a tree is done doing that job, it is harvested and provides fire wood, pulp for paper and lumber (perhaps the highest purpose designated to a felled tree). A craftsman, carpenter, or artist can re-purpose this already fully realized natural wonder and through skill, personal will and imagination create a new life intended for a hundred years beyond his own.

A bowl- an axe handle- a ship-a house- an airplane.

Through respect and skillful manipulation the bounties of a single tree could last 200-300-1000 years. Fulfilling basic needs like air, fertilizer, shade-then ascending into the transcendent realm of art and invention. Wood provides the flesh of a living home. Those early American colonial antique tables of yours were probably born before Christopher Columbus. Wood is a natural element that deserves respect and attention. It deserves to be expensive.

So when you think a job is taking too long or costs too much-think of your great grandchildren enjoying the same tree your great-great grandparents sat under.

100 years of growth-100 years of furnishing-a couple months of inconvenience.


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