Fall sky outside the workshop
Friday, November 22, 2013

Hunting Season in VT - Where is Everyone?

You would think that after living in Vermont for over 21 years, I would remember that hunting season is a very big deal to a lot of people in this state. Yet, every year, I somehow manage to forget this fact until it has a direct impact on me. When we were living in Starksboro, it became very clear, very quickly, what time of year it was because our little dead end road out in the middle of nowhere became a major thoroughfare overnight. The deep growling sound and the exhaust from the big 4x4's passing our house at 4am was all we needed to remind us to walk in the woods covered in head to toe orange and to make sure our dogs were brightly colored and never out of our sight for the next few weeks. Now that we live in Hinesburg, however, hunting season doesn't appear in the dead of night, causing us to head for the basket containing the orange bandanas and vests.

So it took a drive in to Bristol to remind me what time of year it is. There are 2 excellent local wood suppliers in Bristol, and I like to share the love by purchasing my wood from both lumberyards. A Johnson Company has a wonderful supply of local domestic hardwoods, such as cherry, oak, walnut and ash. Lathrop's Maple Supply also has an excellent supply of domestic hardwoods and I tend to buy my maple from them as well.

On Monday, I arrived at Lathrop's with the intention of buying some soft maple for drawer components, and the place was locked up as tight as a drum. It was mid morning on a sunny November Monday, and there was no one in sight. I left and headed over to Johnson's for some cherry of various thicknesses, which I need for a few pieces I am about to start. Johnson's was open - the door wasn't locked and the barn door was wide open, but I didn't see Jody or any of the boys who are usually there to help. I started poking around in the cherry piles and eventually a stranger appeared to help me. When I asked what happened over at Lathrop's, with a belicose bark, he said, "Huntin' season! Hardly anyone here either!" Of course.

O'Brien family with new table.
Happy O'Brien family
Monday, October 28, 2013

Defiance Boards - Final Resting Place in the O'Brien's Kitchen - Part 3

The O'Brien's have finally received their table. The wood used is steeped in history - from contraband hidden in the late 1700's, to bathroom floor boards, and ultimately in to a beautiful dining table. It has been quite a journey! It took many hours to plan the board layout, create the rustic look that Sean and Nicole wanted, and bring out the beauty and lustre of the wood. They desired a table that looked as though it had always been a part of their home and I believe their smiles show we did just that! Finn and Kiera are already arguing over who will inherit the table! So far, it seems there will have to be some sort of shared custody...

Final sanding of the top
The final sanding of the table top
Farmhouse Table base for defiance board top
Cherry Farmhouse Table base with pegged mortice and tenons
John is finished!
Table is finished and ready to be delivered
Raw floor boards clamped and glued.
Raw floor boards being cleaned after the clamping process.
Monday, October 7, 2013

Defiance Boards - From Bathroom Floor to Gorgeous Table - Part 2

A few weeks ago, I began the story of my neighbors' "defiance boards" going from the floor of their upstairs bathroom, to a beautiful dining table. This is the next installment:

Once the boards were tenoned, glued and clamped, they sat overnight to dry and set. The next day, I removed the clamps and sanded the top surface to remove the old dirt and floor wax that had accumulated over hundreds of years. This revealed the mellow nature of the beautiful old pine wood that had been hidden for so long.

The under side of the top was lightly sanded, but the old dry surface was left mostly undisturbed.

The top was then cut to size. This table will have bread-board ends because the usable wood did not provide enough length for the final dimesnsions my clients needed. The bread-board ends are an attractive addition to the overall design, plus they solve the length problem!

Stay tuned for part 3 in 2 weeks time.

The under side of the boards while in clamps.
The top is now sanded and mortises are prepared for the bread-board ends
Defiance Board
This board was removed from the bathroom of the oldest house in Chittenden County. It will be used to make a beautiful dining table.
Monday, September 23, 2013

Defiance Boards - From Bathroom Floor to Gorgeous Table - Part 1

The project I have just completed has a fun story behind it. As I shared in the latest newsletter, my friends and neighbors, Nicole and Sean, discovered "Defiance Boards" had been used as the floorboards in their old bathroom. Back in the 1700's, certain wooden boards were hidden in places like floors because they had been illegally cut down by Vermonters -they did not want the British using them for the masts of their ships. When Nicole and Sean discovered they were in posession of something so special, they asked me to transform the boards in to a new dining table for them. The ironic fact that I am British but have just become a US citizen was not lost on any of us!

It was necessary to prepare the boards while maintaining their original character. First, I had to mark lines on the boards to see how much yield there was - could I make a 96" x 42" table? Only 78" of straight, clean board existed, so we discussed what to do and decided to put bread-boards on each table end. I then stripped all of the old finish.

I had to "square" the 3 main pieces which was not an easy process, as there were old nails hidden in the boards and I didn't want to ruin the blades of my saw! Next, I sanded the surface being careful to maintain the character of each board. Before glueing and clamping the 3 main boards, I tenoned the edges to help align the irregular surfaces.

More in the next blog...

The boards were not in great shape
Fitting tenons prior to glue-up
2 boards prepared for glueing and clamping
Farmhouse End-Leaf Table and Chalford Chairs
Sandra and Jorg’s Farmhouse End-Leaf Table with Chalford Dining Chairs
Tuesday, September 3, 2013

It Was Meant To Be!

I’ve recently had the pleasure of completing a dining room set and bar stools for a couple who live in Germany and who also have a summer home on Lake Champlain. I'd like to share with you this wonderful story of serendipity...

A few years ago, Sandra and Jorg came in to my Stowe Cotswold Furniture Gallery and we talked for quite some time about the furniture. They were in the process of buying a lake property which would need major renovations. Sandra put my business card in her wallet and there it stayed. During that time, my family and I moved, I closed down my retail galleries, downsized the business and simplified my life.

A year ago last summer, I built my workshop on our new property. During that time, Sandra and Jorg were in the middle of their lake house restoration. One evening they were invited to have dinner with some friends in Hinesburg. They noticed a structure being built next door to their friends’ home and asked what was going on next door. Our neighbor and friends, Nicole and Sean, told them all about me and my furniture making business that would be housed in the new barn.

They were intrigued, but said that they had been to a furniture maker in Stowe the year before and they really wanted their new furniture to be made by him. Then Sandra took out her wallet, pulled out a business card, showed it to Nicole, and said, “This is who we want to make the furniture for our new dining room.” Nicole couldn't believe it when she looked at the card and saw my name!

I cannot tell you what an honor it has been for me to make the Chalford Farmhouse Table, Chalford chairs and bar stools for Sandra and Jorg. The fact that they loved my furniture enough to hold on to that card for so long, in the hopes of having me make their dining room set one day, is one of the greatest compliments to my work that I have ever experienced.

Sandra, Jorg and friends enjoying their new dining furniture
Farmhouse Dining Table in Cherry
Farmhouse Server in Cherry

Friday, May 10, 2013

Middlebury College & the Founders Canes, a Graduation Tradition

If you have ever attend a Middlebury College graduation ceremony, you will have noticed, not just the usual, jubilant, throwing up of the caps upon completion, but an enthusiastic waving of a "Gamaliel Painter" walking cane. These canes are modeled on an original, belonging to Gamaliel Painter himself, the founder of the college.

I have had the honor of making these canes for the last 16 years. In the early days, the college wanted every living alumni to be presented with a Gamaliel Painter cane, so orders were sometimes as many as 5,000! It was quite a task and my craftsmen would move into a Zen state, while repetitively completing one cane to the next. A hush would come over the usually bustling and noisy workshop, and instead it felt like a hive of bees, gently humming as one!

I am proud to say that every component of these walking canes are Vermont made; from the locally grown, turned ash shaft, the brass foot and ring, as well as the commemorative plaque. It is a true joy for me to make the Gamaliel Painter canes and to be associated with such a great institution as Middlebury College.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The extraordinary science of the vacuum press

Much of my handmade furniture employs the use of exotic veneers to highlight cabinet sides, drawer fronts etc. In an earlier blog, I talked about how matched veneers can provide decorative opportunities not always available with solid wood alone. The system I use to lay my veneers down is called a vacuum press. It is a very simple device that consists of a large, heavy duty plastic bag measuring 4ft x 8ft with a flat platen inside and a venturi machine that sucks the air out of the bag. The work is placed in the bag, then the air is removed for as long as it takes for the glue to harden. It's that simple.

The part about this whole process that always leaves me amazed is the shear force that is applied through the use of a simple plastic bag. Atmospheric pressure, as I am sure you all remember, is 14 lbs per square inch, so, when you create a vacuum, that is the pressure you apply to a single square inch of surface. There are 144 square inches in a single square foot, so pressure applied to that square foot is approximately 2000 lbs or 1 ton! Therefore, the pressure over the whole 4ft x 8ft bag is a whopping 32 tons!!! No hydrolics, no clamps, no heavy weights, just Mother Earth helping us out.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Pinnacle Collection

This Spring I would like to highlight some of the most popular custom handmade furniture I build in my workshop in Hinesburg, VT. Whether we work together to design a unique piece to act as the focal point of your living room, dining room, bedroom or office, or whether you desire a complete set, adapted from one of my JLCF lines of artisan furniture that I have developed over the years, my handmade furniture is always designed and crafted to your specific needs. These collections may range in price, but each piece of hand crafted furniture is made by me with the utmost care and attention to detail.

I would like to begin by sharing the most popular line of furniture I have designed, the Pinnacle Collection.

The Pinnacle Collection was duly named because I perceived it, at the time, as the most challenging line designed to date. I worked on it in Stowe, nestled under the Pinnacle peak. It started with a bedroom set — a curvaceous bed (pictured here), a tall 7-drawer chest, a long 8-drawer dresser and 2 bedside nightstands. The sweeping legs, exotic wood and detailing gave this classic, yet contemporary line a slightly Asian vibe. The book-matched, exotic curly Bubinga or Pomele Sapele drawer fronts with Wenge accents are the highlights of the collection.

Shortly after designing the bedroom furniture, I designed a desk in the same fashion. Today, it is my largest selling and most popular desk to date. Right now, I am working on other handmade office pieces, including a new bookcase, which features curly book-matched Cherry and Bird’s Eye Maple with Wenge detailing. More about this in an upcoming blog post.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Letting The Wood Move You

All furniture makers are born with a vein of creativity which underpins the foundation of their design work. We apply our own carefully considered artistic visions to paper before creating a piece of custom made furniture. When I develop my furniture collections, I begin with a conceptual drawing of the finished product and then find just the right piece of wood to compliment the design before I begin the construction.

Finding quality materials is crucial — not only must the wood speak to my design, but it must meet exceptionally high standards to ensure it is worthy of my clients.

For a recent commission, I had the pleasure of turning my usual process upside down - I started my product design, not with a creative idea and a drawing, but with a beautiful and unique piece of live edge birch. This required my clients to be comfortable with waiting to see the final result once the table was complete. They own many of my pieces already so were very comfortable with the notion of allowing this free-form process to unfold. When I began preparing the wood, I knew I was creating a small free-form side table designed to sit in a wedge shaped space between a reclining chair and a window, but that was all. Ultimately, the wood spoke to me and I listened.

The process can be seen in a series of pictures. Click here to visit our gallery and see the final results. I hope you enjoy, I did!