Archive for All Things Artisanal

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.

Instagram

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Stack Laminated Walnut Console

Posted in Artisanal, Furniture Making, Interior Design, Studio Furniture with tags , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2014 by johnwiggers

Sometimes we find design inspiration in places we least expect.

This winter has been one of the coldest we have had in several decades. Because of this frigid air most of the snow that has fallen has managed to stay loose and powdery, making it prone to drifting with even the slightest of wind. This has resulted in many snowdrifts being created, including some very unusual sculptural shapes.

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A few weeks ago I was walking outside when I noticed this formation over a raised garden bed. Right away I began to think about possible shapes for some stacked laminated designs I have been pondering for a while. Before long I was off to the lumberyard to buy the necessary Walnut.

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What you are looking at is roughly 100 board feet of 8/4 solid Walnut. This should be enough material to make a wall hung console and a table base.

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Kevin rough cuts the planks and prepares the edges for glue.

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Gluing the boards together.

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Planing the segments down to a consistent thickness.

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The boards ready to be marked for bandsaw.

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Aligning the templates to mark the boards.

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Marking the boards.

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Gluing the stacked layers together.

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The stack lamination in the bench vise, ready for shaping.

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Shaping with an angle grinder.

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Sanding the final shape.

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Applying the oil finish.

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Wiping down the finished console.

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Console shown mounted on wall.

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Corner detail, showing the layers of stacked lamination.

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.

Artisanal Furniture Making Has Become Cool

Posted in Artisanal, Furniture Making, Interior Design, Studio Furniture, Woodworking with tags , , , , , , , on February 15, 2014 by johnwiggers

Although designing and making custom furniture is one of the more challenging ways to earn a living in today’s world, one of the upsides is that artisanal furniture making has now become cool.

On the television series Sex and the City Carrie’s long term boyfriend Aiden Shaw was portrayed as a sweet and good natured furniture designer.

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Channing Tatum, in the movie Magic Mike, plays a male stripper whose biggest dream is to become a custom furniture maker.

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The real life Brad Pitt actually designs and makes his own line of custom furniture out of a studio in New Jersey.

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And finally there is Nick Offerman, who portrays Ron Swanson – the manliest man amongst manly men – in the television series Parks and Recreation. When not on the set the real life Offerman makes custom furniture out of his own woodworking studio, located near Los Angeles.

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A few weeks ago I attended the Interior Design Show (IDS14) in Toronto. For all intents and purposes the IDS has become an upscale version of a home show. Although corporate mega-exhibitors such as Ikea have become behemoths at these events, one has to admit that these brands are doing an effective job of marketing their wares to the mainstream audience that enjoys watching home improvement and DIY interior desecrator shows on television.

But to be fair I have to admit that when comes to design Ikea has come a long way from the days of the Allen key.

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For me, the best part of the IDS is Studio North and Prototype, which is a tiny display of micro booths that is usually tucked away in one corner of the main show.

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Studio North and Prototype is where student work and the wares of emerging makers gets displayed, and in my book this is the coolest and most inspirational part of the show.

At this year’s show, however, I noticed something unusual. There were all kinds of skinny jeans and an abundance of plaid shirts milling about, but the attire looked more American Apparel than proletarian Mark’s Work Wearhouse. It was only when I noticed the odd handlebar moustache and numerous well combed gnarly beards under a sea of carefully coiffed bedheads that I fully understood where I was. Studio North had become Hipster Central, and Hipsters were everywhere checking out the latest artisanal stuff.

Hipsters have become the butt of many jokes and parodies in recent years, but as a small scale furniture maker I actually appreciate the fact that they exist.

What I like most about Hipsters is their intense dislike for commercialization, mass production and mainstream brands. This, I believe, is one of the prime drivers behind the reemergence of craft in America, with the ‘Maker Movement‘ and the embracing of All Things Artisanal making it cool to be making things here again.

Of course, when it comes to making things, embracing the artisan and being the artisan can be two totally different things.

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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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.