Archive for the Woodwork Category

A Late, Great Source for Silk Tassels

Posted in Artisanal, Canadian Woodworking, Furniture Making, Interior Design, Studio Furniture, Vintage, Woodwork with tags , , , , , on March 21, 2014 by johnwiggers

Images of our recently completed Aquaria Desk are due to be published in a magazine at some point later this year.

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One detail that we were looking to feature is this beautifully crafted silk tassel by Theodore Merwitz Textiles, Inc. of Chicago, Illinois.

The Merwitz company was founded in 1953 and is well regarded in the interior design trade for its ability to turn out elegant, one-of-a-kind trimmings using high quality yarns, Old-world looms and traditional hand-tying techniques. Amongst the many commissions that it has received over the years Merwitz was involved in the restoration of Carnegie Hall and they also supplied trimmings for various renovations at the White House.

Sadly, we have recently learned that Theodore Merwitz Textiles has closed it’s doors and is no more.

Our remaining inventory of vintage Merwitz tassels will be used judiciously on select upcoming projects, including a recently commissioned Diego Humidor for a cigar aficionado in Tennessee.

We’re now on Instagram

Posted in Artisanal, Furniture Making, Interior Design, Studio Furniture, Woodwork, Woodworking with tags , , , , , , on March 19, 2014 by johnwiggers

We’re now on Instagram!

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Please click on the link below to check out some of our work.

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It’s Interesting How Memory Works

Posted in Artisanal, Furniture Making, Interior Design, Studio Furniture, Vintage, Woodwork, Woodworking with tags , , , , , on February 27, 2014 by johnwiggers

Earlier today I dug up some vintage furniture handles that have been stored away for almost 20 years.

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I knew exactly what box to find them in, and also where in the hardware room to look.

What surprised me, though, is that I also remembered that 8-32 x 1-3/4″ machine screws would be needed to mount these handles onto a 3/4″ thick drawer front.

It’s strange how I can remember that, but not what I had for supper 3 nights ago.

Wood Buttons

Posted in Artisanal, Furniture Making, Knitting, Woodwork with tags , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2014 by johnwiggers

My wife loves to knit, and this is an art form she is very adept at. As part of her creative process she also spins and plies her own fibre, to make yarn from raw wool that has been sheared from sheep or alpacas.

All things being said her hobby is almost totally vertically integrated, and about the only thing she hasn’t done is to shear her own wool – but I have not yet ruled this out as a possibility.

When our son and daughter travelled to Iceland last year to celebrate their graduations from school they were sent with explicit instructions to bring back some wool.

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Icelandic Lopi wool is special in that it is a 100% pure wool that is known for being being lighter, warmer, and more water-resistant than wool found elsewhere. Over the centuries, the wool of Icelandic sheep has developed in a way that ensures as much protection as possible from the harsh northern climate.

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Icelandic sheep fleece is double layered. The inner layer of light fine fibers are soft and crinkly, insulating well against the cold, while the outer fibers are long, course and smooth – and as a result, water repellent. These fibres are also irregular, and they create air spaces when loosely bound together. The two combine to create a light but sturdy water resistant yarn.

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After knitting this magnificent sweater my wife found herself having unexpected difficulties finding appropriate wood buttons.

This is where I got involved.

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Using offcuts of solid Black Walnut I sculpted each of these buttons with a slightly rounded face. After drilling the holes and carefully sanding by hand each button was then hand rubbed with multiple coats of a protective urethane finish.

Given how well these turned out I will likely make more of them, and possibly offer them for sale on Etsy.

Custom Clock Case for a Charles Frodsham Regulator

Posted in Artisanal, Furniture Making, Woodwork, Woodworking with tags , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2014 by johnwiggers

We received an inquiry a few months ago from a collector and restorer of antique clocks. This fellow had a rare 19th Century Charles Frodsham timepiece, and he was looking to have a proper cabinet made to showcase the craftsmanship of the mechanism.

It was decided to build the cabinet out of Mahogany, and finish in a traditional French Polish. Some non-traditional details were added, including a removable crown to allow for easier adjustment of the clock mechanism. A portal window was also added on the left side to make it easier to view the inner workings of the clock.

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We completed the woodworkIng portion of the project with relative ease. The bigger challenge came from building the layers of shellac necessary for the French Polish finish. We opted to use a natural amber shellac dissolved in ethanol to a 1-1/2 lb. cut. Multiple layers of this finish were then applied using cheesecloth.

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After allowing for the base coat to thoroughly dry some dark brown powdered stain was then sprinkled onto the surface and rubbed in with additional coats of shellac.

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By the time about 20 layers of shellac had been applied it was apparent that more work would be needed to fill the pores of the wood.

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Fine Rottenstone was then rubbed in with the shellac, and I quickly learned that it is possible to apply too much Rottenstone.

The excess material was carefully washed off and burnished back with ethanol, and the final layers of shellac were then applied.

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After lightly sanding with 2000 grit sandpaper and rubbing with 0000 steel wool the finish was then polished so that the cabinet could be readied for assembly.

Special thanks to Alfred Sharp of Alfred Sharp Museum Quality Furniture for mentoring us through some of the trickier nuances of the French Polish finish, including the ‘Rottenstone Incident’.

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Our client was thrilled to receive the cabinet, and he described the workmanship as “superlative”.

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The butt hinges and the English half mortise locks were crafted from brass.

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The above image shows the half mortise lock detail.

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This is the detail of the portal window on the left side of the cabinet.

It was evident that an exceptional level of craftsmanship went into the making of this mechanical timepiece. This prompted me to learn more about who Charles Frodsham, the maker, actually was.

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What I discovered was that Charles Frodsham is regarded as one of England’s most renowned clock and chronometer makers. This particular clock is one of his better timepieces, and it was made sometime between 1850 and 1870.

This clock is actually known as an astronomical regulator because it is crafted to the most exacting standards of precision. The style of its dial evolved from the earliest days of astronomers wanting to be able to more accurately track seconds and minutes of time. This design would later become a favourite of the wealthy who wanted the very latest/newest/best clock.

Part of Frodsham’s legacy stems from the fact that he published many papers discussing the nuances of how to mechanically keep a precise measurement of time, including the effect that electromagnetic fields of the Earth had on the movement of metal in timepieces. He was also cognizant of the effects of temperature, and how warmer temperatures would expand the metal on pendulums, thereby lowering the position of weights and slowing the clock movement which, in turn, would adversely affect the time measuring accuracy of the timepiece.

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To compensate for this he incorporated mercury into the pendulums of his regulators so that the mercury could expand with the heat and raise the position of the weight in the pendulum in a manner that would offset the simultaneous lowering of the weight due to the expansion of the pendulum rod.

Although Charles Frodsham was not the first to use mercury in pendulums for temperature compensation (George Graham first discovered this in the 1720’s) Frodsham did develop an improved design that ended up under patent.

Charles Frodsham’s preeminence in the world of horology coincided with the rise of the Industrial Revolution. In 1842 boatloads of cheap, mass produced clocks from New England began to flood global markets at the seemingly improbable price of $1.50 each. Over the next 20 years, in part because of this American competition, the British clock industry declined to near extinction.

Because of its distinguished reputation at the upper end of the market Charles Frodsham & Co. did manage to survive this onslaught of cheap product and steadily grow their business until the onset of the First World War. According to this recent article in QP Magazine a group called The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers honoured the legacy of Charles Frodsham & Co. Ltd. by presenting a reworked Frodsham fusee mechanism to Her Majesty the Queen in celebration of Her Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

Charles Frodsham & Co. Ltd. is currently located at 32 Bury Street in London, UK where they are enjoying more than 180 years of continuous horological trading. They also have workshops and a small manufactory in East Sussex where they undertake conservation and restoration work on stock and clients’ pieces, and make modern technical timepieces.

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My Robocop Story – I’m Just the Installer

Posted in Artisanal, Furniture Making, Woodwork with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2014 by johnwiggers

My Robocop story is a funny one and it goes back to 1992, which was during a time of severe economic recession.

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Business was brutally slow and I was being hard pressed to find work to keep my shop going. Although few projects were happening at that time there was a wealthy real estate magnate building a large custom home in Toronto, and his project required a number of custom cabinets, furniture and built ins. Unfortunately all of this work had already been bid on, and won, by a kitchen cabinet shop that managed to convince the client that they could do high end custom work.

While this kitchen company was able to handle most of the straight forward cabinetry, they quickly found themselves in over their heads on some of the more complex pieces. At this point the interior designer in charge of the project contacted me to find a discrete resolution to the problem.

I was offered the opportunity to make the more complicated furniture pieces  under the condition that it was sold under the kitchen company’s name. The kitchen guys were to get full credit for my work. My name was not to appear on any of the paperwork, and if the client ever saw me and asked who I was my response was to be: “I’m just the installer”.

Although the scenario didn’t thrill me I was also well aware that my ego didn’t pay the bills. Therefore, I agreed to the terms because my shop needed the work.

The pieces were delivered and the client was thrilled, and here is where the story should end. In fact, this is where the story gets interesting.

Shortly after this project was completed I was in Toronto to attend a design show called IIDEX . A client of mine by the name of Monroe Sherman flew up from Miami to attend the show, and one night he and I went out for dinner with a mutual friend by the name of Bill Stolz. Bill was working IIDEX with the Canadian Consulate General out of Atlanta.

After dinner the three of us headed to a nightclub for cocktails, and ended up at what was then the hottest club in town. I cannot remember the name of the place, but it was located in an upscale neighbourhood called Yorkville. Although the place was about 3/4 full by the time we arrived, it was filling fast.

We had just ordered our first round of drinks when Bill recognized a couple of guys standing nearby. He motioned for them to come over, and soon we were standing as a group of 5 talking about whatever it is that guys talk about. About 10 minutes later more people enter the club, and amongst them was the famous actor Peter Weller – of Robocop fame – who showed up with one of his friends.

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It turns out that Weller’s friend knew one of Bill’s friends, so before long there were 7 of us standing in a circle, talking in the middle of the club. I wound up standing beside Weller, even though neither of us actually knew one another despite our four degrees of separation.

By this point the whole club was abuzz with the fact that the famous Peter Weller was in the house. Bear in mind that the movie “RoboCop”, and it’s sequel “RoboCop 2”, had both been huge hits at the box office in recent years. And because Weller was the star of both films, he was a widely recognized personality at the time.

But what happened next was hilarious.

With the club now jammed full of people and our group of seven now the focus of everyone’s attention, who else should walk in but the real estate magnate in whose home I had been installing furniture only the week before.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see his startled expression as he looked over and saw my familiar face. I could tell that he recognized me, but was unable to figure out who I was. It didn’t take long before the bulb of recognition went off over his head. Of course, now he was puzzled as to what the heck his cabinet installer was doing hanging out with the famous Peter Weller.

We finished our drinks and prepared to leave. As we left the club I smiled and nodded to the client as we headed out the door.

There was no need to say anything.

After all, I was just the installer.

Growth Redefined

Posted in Artisanal, Furniture Making, Woodwork with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2013 by johnwiggers

Over the past 46 years our custom furniture making business has typically grown in slow, incremental steps. Today for the first time in almost half a century we have made the conscious decision grow our business smaller, and I can honestly say that I am pleasantly surprised at how good it feels.

In 2001 we moved into a large shop in Port Perry, Ontario that measured almost 13,000 sq. ft. in size.

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The vast open space and high ceilings allowed us to create a magnificent facility that at its peak employed as many as 25 artisans working full time to build exquisitely crafted examples of fine quality wood furniture.
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Times change, however, and in recent years it has become apparent that in order to remain viable in a now globalized world of craft it is imperative to radically lower operating costs and overhead structures. With that in mind we purchased a small studio in a rural location and set about to radically restructure our business model.

Thankfully all of our machines were already fully paid for, so the key decisions to be made revolved around which machines we would keep vs. which ones had to go. Over a dozen machines were either given away or carted off as scrap because, quite frankly, there is such a glut of old, used machinery on the market today that the secondary market for them is all but non existent.

Our Holz-her edgebander and SCM sander were sold, but only because we didn’t have room for them in the new studio. It was sad to see them go, because in many ways they had become like old friends.

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Much of our inventory of vintage woods was crated and packed into containers, and moved to an offsite location for storage.

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The best machines we decided to keep, with the result being that our tool collection has now been pared down to roughly two dozen pieces of equipment, ranging from a vintage 1940s Beaver cast iron bandsaw to an old but still productive Thermwood 5-axis machining centre.

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There is no question that moving the machines into a smaller studio presented more than its share of challenges. But even when we only had inches of room to spare it was gratifying to be able to find a way to thread the proverbial needle with tons of heavy iron.
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As you can see we are now officially moved out of our old facility.
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Please note that our new address is:

Wiggers Custom Furniture Ltd.
P.O. Box 518
Beaverton, Ontario
L0K 1A0

705-426-9141

For the next few months it looks like we’ll be quite busy unpacking and setting up the new studio. Photo updates will follow at a later date.