Design challenge accepted

There I was, recently learning my fate regarding CFC, feeling really dejected and did not really want to attend the Port Townsend woodworker’s show the first weekend in November. It turned out to be the best thing that I did and was immeasurable in helping me get back on track and away from the pity party I was having. In my next post I think I will go a little more in depth on the show itself, but I wanted to relate a brief moment of a conversation I had with Tim Lawson, the director for the PT School of Woodworking. I consider Tim a good friend and I value his opinions and suggestions, even if he were not a part of the school. Besides, Tim is a fantastic furniture maker in his own right. Anywho, as we were discussing my recent woes and how I could come back from it, Tim threw down a design challenge for me.

The rules were simple, before the end of November, I was to design a piece of furniture that only had three straight joints and forward that to him for review. My mind was a whirlwind the rest of the weekend and before I went to bed on Sunday evening I had drawn this on a yellow sticky…






If you can’t make out my chicken scratches, it is a three legged glass top table. In the center of the table is a segmented cylinder with veneered top and bottom. The legs are to be ebonized ash or poplar.

I emailed it to Tim and he responded in part with this:

“I like your sketch of the table so my challenge to you is this:

  1. Day one: Sketch 20 variations on the table in 20 minutes. Take 5 sheets of paper quarter them and let yourself go. Don’t worry about detail – this is all about form. Play with the curves. Limit yourself to the twenty minutes and focus on exploring – pick up on themes you like as the sketches evolve. This exercise is about tuning into design elements that are important to you. This is not about thinking – this is about channeling your inner moose.
  2. Get Elizabeth to look at them with you and identify the ones she likes best.”

So off I went. I completed the task as instructed, scanned the images and uploaded them to a shared folder on Google Drive (which I love!) Tim was able to open the documents and comment on designs and elements he liked. Elizabeth picked seven designs of the 20 I completed and Tim agreed on almost all of them, save one. I cut each of the good designs and taped them, each to page, in a design sketch book I have and will be working on them as time permits. But the sketches that did not survive the first cut I taped to a sheet of cardboard. Here they are:

You can see that the one Elizabeth liked has a check mark next to it. Are these rudimentary designs, well yes, but this was one of my main reasons for wanting to go to a formal school of instruction. This is one of those skills I need to develop. I have been used to designing on the fly as I build from the very beginning and I am not used to putting any ideas down onto paper and refining to a working design. I will be posting the designs that passed the initial round as I work on them, in the meantime feel free to comment on what I’ve done so far. I have thick skin!

Posted in furniture design, Furniture maker, port townsend school of woodworking, The Butler Did It, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

My very first cyber-reflection

So I’m noticing that a bunch of bloggers are posting their reflections of the year ending 2012. I guess I am no different in the aspect that I always sit down during this time of year and think back on what transpired over the course of the last twelve months and look forward to the New Year and things I hope to accomplish or challenges I need to prepare for. But I guess it does no good to write them on a piece of paper where the world can’t read it as I have been doing in the past! At least this year I can get a couple of you that actually come to this blog to read it. Score! 😀

The big thing was in February I started this blog! I am amazed that with only the nine posts I wrote this year, I’ve had just over 1000 visits! I know it won’t seem like a lot to some, but for me, I never expected that anyone would want to read what I put out there. The biggest surprise is my web SEO has increased. Before when I did a web search of “The Butler Did It” or anything close to that, I found us on page three or four. Now we’re usually on page one or the very first hit. The other big thing this year was hiring a graphic designer to help us completely redo our business logo, which we couldn’t be happier with. It’s not like we didn’t like our old logo, it’s just that after six years it was time to “grow up” a bit. The new logo helps do just that. This year I also really got into the swing of twitter. I have met some really awesome people on twitter and have a really great core group of them that I interact with. I won’t list names, lest I forget someone, but you know who you are and I appreciate the friendships I have made with you.

From an art show perspective, the last year has seen some ups and downs. We were accepted into some new shows this year, in addition to our staples. Two of the most notable were the Port Townsend Woodworkers show and the Seattle Best of the Northwest. One became our favorite show and the other being a total disaster. I’m not one to air too much dirty laundry, but suffice to say, we will most likely not be going back to the Seattle show and would only miss the PT show if we were dead or otherwise incapacitated! We stopped going to a couple of our regular shows this year, as I think the direction of those particular shows was going the wrong way. This year we were also started selling our wares in a local gallery that just opened in the town next to us, which has been a learning experience all its own. It is added pressure as the only furniture maker for the gallery to keep it stocked and change out product every three months, in addition to getting ready for the show season. There were a few times that we had to pull stock from the gallery to fill in open spots in our show display. Not ideal for either parties involved. A thing about art shows I have found this year in particular: We have been so fortunate this year to have made new friends with some of the other artists we were located near in the shows we did. If you do shows can I suggest that some of your time should be spent getting to know those artists around you. Regardless of what media you create with, the art community is relatively small, and everyone is trying to do their best to survive and share what they do with others. This is a great community of people to associate with and you miss out on that interaction if you just huddle in your booth.

This year saw me make a huge life-changing decision. Back in July I decided to take a four month leave of absence from my day job so I could attend the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport Maine. I had a tentative approval from my work and simply needed to secure the funding to attend. If you read my blog, you’ll know that both of those things fell through within a few hours of each other back in October. Needless to say I was devastated. For those who really know me, just the thought of me wanting to take a step as big as this in my life, was a gigantic deal in and of itself. But to be as excited as I was to go and have that taken out from underneath of me as quickly as it was, was almost more than I could bear mentally. Even now as I sit and ponder this as I type, I can feel the knot in my stomach. But as I have a strong faith in God, I know that all things work according to His plan, and so I find comfort in that. Not that I understand it or necessarily agree with it, but I accept it and I believe that this wasn’t the path I was meant to be on or perhaps the timing wasn’t quite right. Patience is not something I am good at, just ask Elizabeth, my wife! Speaking of her, I couldn’t be more proud. This year in June, we took a class at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking with Seth Rolland about bending techniques. I was so pleased that she took the class with me and the fact that she dove right in hands first to what we were doing was phenomenal! She has been making wooden jewelry for a just over a year now and the class helped her figure out her process better. Seth even encouraged her to enter the Wharton Esherick museum annual competition this year which was wooden jewelry. Although she wasn’t selected, the son-in-law of Wharton Esherick personally wrote Elizabeth to purchase a set of jewelry for his wife Ruth. She was tickled to say the least, but it wasn’t until they called her and asked her to send a few sets to sell in the museum’s store that she started getting a little more confident in what she was making. The museum celebrated a milestone this year, and in the pictures of the ceremony, you could see Ruth was wearing Elizabeth’s jewelry, which was too cool! She’s had a couple of other galleries call about carrying her jewelry, so I think it’s up to three or four now for her. For Christmas this year, I got her very first tool, an electric bending iron with accessories. I hope she’ll like using it. I also think she really wants to learn some new skills from a friend of ours and fellow woodworker Martha Collins. Martha is really a phenomenal woodworker and a person that I admire the heck out of. I know Elizabeth really would love to spend time with her and learn and I believe Martha really wants to teach her as well because Elizabeth has mad skills!

There was so much more that happened but there is no way to condense 365 days into a couple of paragraphs so I’ll leave it with that.

As I look forward to this coming year I have made a big decision I will share with you. I am going to be taking a step back in 2013. This is the end of our sixth or seventh year of going to shows (I actually forget which, but I think it’s sixth) and I am going to take a pause this year and focus on other things. Oh we’ll still go to most of our staple shows, but I think it’ll only be the main four or five we do. I possibly might end up on the board of one of the shows, so we’ll see how that plays out in a couple of weeks. Not a big fan of getting involved with politics, but I believe in this show and I want to see it do well as it is the best two shows financially we do all year. I’m also debating whether or not we’ll continue the gallery. One of the down points of a gallery is that any furniture you make becomes display for other’s work. I love the gallery I’m in, but I’m just not sure it’s the right place for us. But mostly I am tired of working on the same few small pieces of furniture that I make which sell well. I don’t want to spend this year frantically working on the same old styles of work and finishing up the finish on the day before load-in. I’m tired of not being able to work on larger pieces because they take too much time and I won’t have enough pieces for a show. I think I am just tired!

This coming year I am going to focus on improving my design and stepping outside my comfort zone on larger more involved projects. I also want to work on improving the fit and finish of the pieces I make. Rushing to finish a project for a show cuts into that. This coming year I am also going to be working on a couple of really exciting things. One I don’t think I can let the cat out of the bag yet, but I will say that I am a strong believer in the phrase “when a door closes, a window opens”. I have something in the works that is a perfect example of that I hope to share with you in a few weeks. I will say that it has to do with the CFC debacle. The other thing I am excited about is I am also going to go back to doing metal work. For those that don’t know, I am a school trained welder. I worked for Lockheed Martin for four years welding on rocket handling equipment and loved it. I’ve worked in welding and fabrication shops and loved it. Oh and not to toot my own horn but I’m really good at it to, so that helps! 😀 I was originally going to start my own welding and fabrication shop as I have most of the equipment needed but for whatever reason I didn’t, but I think this coming year I am going to blend the two trades into a couple of pieces of furniture and just see what happens! My design wheels are turning!

Wow, this has been a long post so I’ll end by saying…I truly hope 2013 will be prosperous and filled with ground breaking awesomeness for all of you as well! CHEERS!!

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I wish I knew how to make lemonade!

So it’s only Tuesday and it’s already been a bad week. I’m trying to stay positive and figuring out a way to make lemonade out of these lemons but so far the recipe has eluded me. So what happened you ask…Well let me start with the miscellaneous stuff.

The finish is coming along quite nicely on the tops for my gate leg folding table. I’m not sure I like the Waterlox finish though. It’s quite expensive, and I find that it seems a little more finicky than the Minwax I normally prefer. I wanted to give it a try, as that is what they use at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, but so far I’m just not sold and will probably not use it again.

The gate legs are mostly complete and just need a little touch up sanding and final assembly before finishing. I was pretty proud of myself too. I love woodworking, but I need to view what I do as a business as well so I need to be efficient as possible when pumping out new pieces. However, in this case I wanted to see how efficient I could be by hand planning all the pieces prior to glueup. Then all I would have to do was some minor sanding and go. Plus I really wanted to give my new Scott Meeks mulberry smoothing plane a good workout. It did not let me down. I’m still a big metal plane guy, because I’m just not proficient enough with making minor blade adjustments as I need to be with the new smoother, but overall I love the feel of the plane in my hands and I noticed my hands don’t hurt as much as they do with a full plane session with my Lie Nielsen’s. And I found I was just as quick as I would have been using my Festool sanders. Plus I could listen to my stereo while working so, bonus! I do still have to sand, but literally it’s once over with 180 grit and go. Oh yeah, I also used my domino XL on this project as well. I normally use 10mm x 50mm tenons for my table base joints, but for this I used the 10mm x 80mm tenons. Doesn’t sound like a big difference, but it really is. Also the XL is very nice to use!

Yesterday was pretty not bad. When I got home from work, this was waiting in the mailbox for me:

That’s right; it’s my official welcome package from Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. I already had most of the information, but it was still nice to receive. It’s official now. The one part I was anxious to get started on today was a questionnaire they send to get more information as to your furniture background, what you hope to get out of the class, etc. I was really excited this morning to make it through the day and to get started when I got home as I had plenty of things to write about…and then mid-morning the wheels fell of the bus. Not literally but very, VERY figuratively. Just before lunch and in the span of an hour or two at the most I found out that not only did my funding for the class fall through but also that my work was considering canceling the leave of absence approval they had already given! Wow, nothing like crushing a man’s dream so thoroughly! I won’t go into a lot of detail on what exactly happened. But sufficed to say I was pretty dejected on the drive home. I haven’t given up total hope, and I’m still surprisingly optimistic considering, but it will pretty much take a miracle for me to be able to go now. I still have until the end of December before final payment to the school needs to be made, so there is still lots of time for something good to happen! So if you’re into prayer, please send one for me! Or just good thoughts will do! Also if you do know a recipe for making lemonade from the kind of lemons I received today please let me know.


Oh and I’m still going to go forward with my tool give away, once I can iron out the details!

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For those about to woodwork, I salute you.

It’s been a while since my last post, and I’m going to keep this one short. I have some ideas for upcoming posts, so hang in there; I promise it will be worth it. I’ve been planning a series on how my wife and I designed and built our show set up, so I think that’ll be a good a place as any to start delivering you worthwhile content if you are interested in that. I am also quickly approaching my departure to Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in February 2013, so I will be bringing you along as I prep for that. I really need to make a tool chest to ship my tools out to Maine in, but I am not going to build it using the traditional type chest design or materials. So that will be an interesting build. And of course, I will be blogging my adventures while I’m at the school so that should be interesting.

Now as far as the title of this post. I am in the process of thinning out my tools as I prep for February and have decided that in an effort to increase traffic to this blog, I will be having a give away to one lucky individual. I have put together a pretty decent tool kit that should have many of the things a person just getting into woodworking may need.

As you can see it has a lot of nice things; some in really good condition, some that may need some minor tune up, but all of them work. So here is a quick rundown of what’s there: Disston sash saw filed rip. Stanley Bailey No. 3 (w/Veritas A2 blade) and no 5 (with Stanley blade), unmarked Jack plane with Stanley blade (about the same size as my no 6), old school craftsman block plane, Kuntz spokeshaves in flat and rounded bases, Stanley no 93 shoulder plane, Veritas marking knife, scraper set (w/Clifton gooseneck), scratch awl, bevel gauge, pin style mortise gauge, and 4 piece Irwin chisel set. Now for the only problems: 1) I’m not sure how I should conduct the contest and 2) Because of the size and weight of the box (and associated costs) I will not be able to ship it outside the continental United States. Sorry, that’s just how it has to be. So if you have any ideas on how I should set this up or if you are interested or knows somebody that might be, please let me know. One major caveat I should mention, I will not give this away unless I have good participation. I just want to get the word out there and have this nice tool set go to someone who will use it and appreciate it. Thanks for reading!!

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Mid-life crisis, who knows, but big news anyway

So I consider myself a pretty decent semi-professional furniture maker. I make the pieces I want to make and have been very fortunate to have a great following of customers who also like the furniture I make. But there are a few things I’ve noticed over the last few years that just bug me.

One is I have a lot of really great designs I can picture in my head, but just don’t have the skills to get those ideas on paper in a manner that I can use, which is really frustrating at times. I’m pretty skilled at sketch up, but I want the ability to draw it out on paper quickly first before I lose the ideas. Another thing is that I always second guess myself on how I approach the production process. I know there are things I could be doing differently to be more efficient in how I work and still make a beautiful piece of art. Efficiency when working equals a greater bottom line, I mean this is a business after all!

There are many more things I could go on and on about, but I’m sure I’ve droned on long enough. I have big news I want to pass on! Earlier this week in the twitterverse I alluded to the fact I had some life changing news in the works but I didn’t want to jinx it by letting anyone in on it until I had the major pieces in place. However, I am no good at keeping secrets, so here it is…

For a while I have been looking at taking a leave of absence from my full time day job and actually learning more about my craft. Well the time has come. At the beginning of this week I officially enrolled in the February 2013 twelve week intensive course at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine. I know right?!

I cannot put into words how really excited I am about this, but I need to keep it in check. The reason is, there are three major pieces that need to be fulfilled before I can go. First is to reserve a spot in the class. Second is to get approval from work to take a four month leave of absence. And third is to find the funds to not only pay for the course, but also all the associated expenses and in addition to making up for the loss in pay I’ll have. If any one of those things fall through then this doesn’t work. Well, the first one is done. I have sent my deposit money and I am reserved in the class. I have also approached my work about the leave and have a meeting scheduled next week to discuss further with my bosses. The third piece is going to be a little more difficult, but I have faith that this too will also come through. This is going to be expensive, but I need to do this, if nothing more than to keep my sanity. Anyways, I’ll post more as I get more information, but as of now that’s my plan! Oh, and for my title for this post, the class ends five days before my 40th birthday! 🙂

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Don’t Be a Square Man Pt 2

In my last post I mentioned that we had taken a steam bending and bent laminations class from Seth Rolland at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking. My friend Vic Hubbard recently posted his blog about the class, which you can find here. I could write a great deal about the class, but I won’t, as Vic did a great job giving a thorough synopsis. What I will say is that if you get a chance and you are interested in learning new techniques to improve or to add to your woodworking knowledge you need instruction from those with that experience. PTSW is a great place to learn. I consider myself a pretty decent professional furniture maker and see the instructors as peers, yet every time I take a class there I end up leaving with some new tidbit to help make me better at what I do. This class is one of those times. I’ve always been hesitant to add curved work to my designs, because, at least for me, the learning curve was too great to go out and just muddle through it. The old time versus cost issue. It’s more cost efficient for me to build what I know and am comfortable with, than it is to spend time trying, failing, guessing, re-trying, re-failing, etc. If you are trying to make it as a professional, you have to be cognizant of your labor costs and try to minimize time wasted. Taking a class is not cheap, but in the long term, this cost is not only negated, I actually find that most times it is an investment that pays dividends.

As for the class…I took about 80 photos and 15 short video snippets covering many of the aspects of the class using my older Sony cybershot DSC-w200. The pictures aren’t great and the video quality isn’t the best but at least you can get an idea of what went on. What can I say; I’m a woodworker not a photographer, that’s why they get the big bucks! Any way I’ve decided that instead of posting all the photos and video to this blog, I am going to provide a link to my Photoshop page. I don’t like driving traffic away from my blog and I apologize for not knowing how to imbed the gallery into the blog, but this is the easiest way for me to load over a gigabyte worth of photos and videos to the web. Actually Photoshop does it for me, so that’s nice. If you click on the following photo it will take you to my page. You can go through each of the folders. I broke them down by activity. The photo is of Seth doing what Seth does, which is smiling. He brought such an easy going, creative and positive energy to the class. One of the best instructors I’ve ever learned from and a genuinely good person. Thanks for reading. Enjoy the photos!

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Don’t be such a square man!

Last weekend, Elizabeth and I attended a class taught by furnituremaker Seth Rolland at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking.  It was called Steam bending and bent laminations, but we went into much more than that.  Seth is an awesome teacher and just a great person to talk to.  He has a way of drawing out your creativity, even if you thought you didn’t have any!  It was also a treat for me because in the class was a friend of mine from the twitterverse, Vic Hubbard (@Tumblewood).  Vic and his wife Sylvia are awesome people and it was really nice getting to have a conversation face to face.  My only complaint was that we didn’t get more of an opportunity to talk about things not class related.  🙂 We really enjoyed meeting a couple of other new people that were really nice. Hopefully it will be the start of new friendships.  In my next post I’ll talk more about the class and throw in some photos and maybe a video or two!  If you have specific questions about the class please let me know and I will try to answer them!  Thanks for reading!

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Obligatory shop photos!

Please bear with me as I get going with this blog thing. I’ve found it’s like woodworking; you have to practice in order to get better at it. So I thought I would start with some basic stuff, first off being my shop. Some background information, it is a 21 x 30 foot three car garage. I am using less than that for my shop area because, as you’ll see, I still have all the crap a garage normally has! The first picture is the first thing you see when you walk out of the house onto the landing. This gives a pretty good overview of the shop. I’ve played with the layout several times and finally found one that really works for my needs.

The next shot is taken down by the clamp rack looking back towards the landing. You can definitely see why this is a one person shop! It’s hard to imagine that I was building cabinetry in it for a while.

As you walk down the stairs the first corner is my cabinet making machines and is also where I store my sandpaper. I still use the Kreg machine, and only occasionally the multi-spindle boring machine. Even my mortising machine has seen little usage since I got the Festool Domino and it will see even less when I get the XL June 1st!

Next stop is my miter saw and drill press area. The miter saw stand is kind of weird, but it works. The dresser was left by the previous owners (who also left a dumpster full of trash behind, spread throughout the house!) Anyways, it works for my needs and it has a lot of storage, so I keep it. You may not notice, but behind it are my air compressor, dust collector and Super dust deputy from Oneida (which was a great investment by the way!)

Next to that is my newest purchase and is quickly becoming a shop favorite, Grizzly 21″ Band saw. This thing is a beast! Behind it is my two welders (TIG and MIG), as I was a school trained welder and I used to weld on rocket handling equipment for Lockheed Martin. On top of the MIG welder is my old Makita planer. And next to it is my sanding station and the 14″ band saw. I keep a ¼” blade on it for quick cuts and tight radius curves. Finally is my clamp rack (although I have clamps spread throughout the shop!) and work table. Also you can see that my ceilings are 14 feet tall which is super nice especially for my lumber storage. You can also see my western red cedar workbench I made a few years ago, which has survived amazingly well, considering it is a soft wood.

Next you can see my 6″ jointer (I added an aftermarket carbide spiral cutting head) and over on the far countertop is my sharpening station and general crap collecting area. The “island” is where I get a lot accomplished. On the far side of the island is my router table. The table saw may not be the best out there, but for me, works perfectly. I see no sense in replacing it with something “new” or “safer” just because. My own personal feeling is that more horsepower is not always better, sometimes small horsepower can be a safety mechanism as well!

To the left of the island is my planer (with helix blade that I bought at an auction) and oscillating drum sander (Which I bought at a trade show the day they went on sell!)

Behind the island is my festool corner. Yes I am a festool junkie! If you work for Festool and are reading this, have your people call my people and we’ll do lunch! J I would be a great spokesperson! I’ve really bought into the “work smarter, faster” mantra. Simply fantastic tools! (What you can’t see under the work table is stuffed with systainers; everything outside of it is overflow. Also, I have a CT26 with boom arm hooked up to a dust deputy and a midi vacuum.)

Finally as we come to the end of the tour, this is my hand tool area. The tool chest is stuffed with my hand planes and chisels and various accoutrements (maybe I’ll save that for another post!) and my saw till, which I tweeted about. Last, but certainly not least is my workbench. Sjoberg did a run of benches in 2003 or 2004 for Jet tools, and I happened to get one. I originally got it to take to shows with me, as I liked it better than a plastic table to display things! But I found myself using it more and more so I just decided to keep it in the shop. Is it a great table, well no, but it does work for what I need and if you hadn’t noticed I’m pretty packed in here. I have plans for a shop in the near future and will get a “proper” work bench when that happens (another topic for the future, bought versus built). But until then I love my little table!

I could go into great detail on everything, but really don’t want to bore you any further. If you have questions, comments or would like to see more or something specific, let me know! Thanks for taking the time to read this. I would really appreciate feed back!

Posted in Furniture maker, shop photos, The Butler Did It, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

About time!

Okay, I finally sat down and actually filled in my about page!  I know, I know, but I’m just not as punctual about doing non-woodworking things!  I am also tweaking the blog layout a little, so let me know what you think!  Also fun fact, I actually took the picture on my home screen.  It was taken at a campground we stayed at out by ruby beach on the coast of Washington.  Also wish me luck, tomorrow my wife and I have to jury for an art show!

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Uh-oh…I may need a little help!

I can definitely see that I am not so good at keeping this updated. So if you have ideas or suggestions on starting and maintaining a blog or how you go about finding time to take notes/photos while your working, please let me know. I find that I am good at woodworking, but I’m bad at social media. It must be one of those skills you have to learn or acquire through other means. How do you do it?

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