Archive for All Things Artisanal

Interior Woodwork for the Knight XV

Posted in Artisanal, Furniture Making, Woodwork with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 21, 2012 by johnwiggers

In my previous post I described some work we recently completed for the Knight XV – a vehicle considered by many to be the world’s most luxurious armoured SUV.

Because it is difficult to convey a sense of scale about how big the Knight actually is, I thought the following photo of a Knight standing with a Hummer would do the trick.

A current special order for a Knight is being fitted with luxurious interior details, and for this project we were also commissioned to complete a set of custom wood fascias, bezels and trim pieces that are to be inlaid into an all leather interior.

These pieces were crafted from quarter cut Zebrawood and encapsulated in a poured resin finish. After many hours of meticulous hand sanding these pieces were then polished to a mirror-like sheen.

The 1950s GE Toaster Still Works

Posted in Artisanal, Vintage with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2012 by johnwiggers

For Christmas last year my son Kevin received a vintage 1950s General Electric toaster as a gift from his grandmother.

It is the very same toaster I grew up with as a kid, and I was surprised to see it still around and in such great shape.

It still works perfectly; the chrome finish still glistens, and aside from a small chip in the Bakelite (from one of the many times me or one of my brothers knocked it to the floor) this thing looks good as new.

This is certainly a testament to how well things were once made.

I remain optimistic that an appreciation for this level of quality is going to come back to America.

Custom Woodwork in the Bentley Mulsanne

Posted in Artisanal, Woodwork with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2012 by johnwiggers

In 2010 Bentley Motors reintroduced the luxury Mulsanne to their collection.

The interior of each Mulsanne has a total of 33 hand crafted panels of Walnut Burl veneer that have each been exquisitely fitted into place.

It takes an average of 7 hours to craft each panel, largely because Bentley’s quality standards are such that the grain pattern of the entire car is perfectly center matched. In other words, the grain pattern on the door panel on the left side of the car will be the exact mirror opposite to the corresponding panel on the right.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the following video is the way in which Bentley has integrated advanced manufacturing technologies (i.e. CNC and laser) with many traditional Old World techniques of hand craftsmanship.

In many ways this emulates what Philippe Dufour is also doing with respect to his hand crafted watches, although in Dufour‘s case he limits his use of technology to the CAD (computer aided design) end of the spectrum.

Please enjoy the following video:

Ultimate Factories – BENTLEY MULSANNE – by National Geographic TV. from Colaps T on Vimeo.

Three of a Kind?

Posted in Artisanal, Canadian Woodworking, Furniture Making, Woodwork with tags , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2012 by johnwiggers

About a year ago I received an urgent email from a freelance writer who claimed to be on a deadline to submit a design article to Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper. She was keenly interested in my Bow Tie pedestal table, so I quickly sent her specifications, pricing and high resolution images.

It was only after the article was published that I realized what it really was. Called “Three of a Kind“, the article was one of an ongoing series of abbreviated sound bytes which take 3 similar looking pieces of furniture to compare them – primarily on the basis of price.

One previous article compared a $2560.00 Le Corbusier club chair to a $499.00 POS from Ikea. What was the main point of comparison between the two? Both were chairs covered in blue fabric.

A solid birch 3 legged table by Tom Dixon was ambushed in a similar fashion when compared to repackaged landfill offerings from Ikea and West Elm.

What I find unfair about this kind of homogenized design pseudo-journalism is that it doesn’t properly compare apples to apples. For example, my Bow Tie table is a hand made one-of-a-kind piece that is crafted from FSC and NAUF certified woods, non-UF glue and low VOC finish. The top has a hand cut diamond matched inlay pattern, with additional inlays in the collar and plinth made of traditional holistic woods such as Black Walnut and Narra. It’s no surprise that this table ended up being the priciest of the three shown.

The cheapest of the tables was a variation of a block stool that is imported by the containerload from some place in Africa. The table at the intermediate price point is a similar looking piece of mass production that is also imported by the containerload, only in this case from a factory run by Gus* Modern in China.

In the grand scheme of things this “Three of a Kind” concept of literary penmanship isn’t all that difficult to emulate, as I’ll demonstrate here with the following 3 examples of cars.



Please study these images carefully. One is of a finely engineered $2900.00 precision instrument manufactured by Tata Motors of India. At the middle price point we have a Buick Regal by General Motors, which has a base price of $27,000.00. (It’s unclear from the photo whether this particular Regal has been manufactured in North America, or at one of the new GM factories recently built in China). Finally we have a Maybach 57S Coupe that has been customized by Xenatec of Germany to the tune of $1,000,000.00.

Can you tell them apart, even though all 3 of these cars share seemingly identical silvery paint finishes?

Ellipse II Table – The Story Behind Its Creation

Posted in Artisanal, FSC, Furniture Making, Woodworking with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2012 by johnwiggers

In 2002 I began to experiment with ideas on how to bend wood across complex three dimensional planes. In the course of doing this I inadvertently created a tapered elliptical cone shape that, at first glance, looked ideal for a dining table base.

After building a prototype of the cone my next challenge was making the top. After heeding advice to “keep it simple” I settled on a pure elliptical oval shape with bookmatched grain and flat edge apron. A 1″ high stainless steel plinth was added to the underside of the base. The resulting table was finished in Tobacco Mahogany, and named the Ellipse Dining Table.

Although the resulting table looked OK, there was something about it that was just plain missing. What bothered me most was the finish – which was a basic chocolate/mocha/expresso brown. At the time this was a safe finish to use, because just about every professional in the interior design industry was using it in one form or another since it “went with everything”.

One could probably credit Holly Hunt and Christian Liaigre with first introducing this look to the high end of the market in the 1990s. By the early 2000s, however, the finish was everywhere and I soon realized that to be the main problem. Namely, because of the finish this table was looking like everything else out there – even the cheap dross knock-offs that were now beginning to flood the market by the containerload from offshore.

By 2006 I decided to refine the design with some subtle changes. I began by using a wood called Nero Chaquiro, which is a lesser known species that comes from an FSC certified forest in Brazil. In addition to being certified as sustainably harvested the use of this wood also helps support an indigenous community living along the banks of the Amazon River by providing a tangible incentive for the peoples living there to manage their surrounding forest responsibly.

The main structure of the table was crafted out of FSC certified ply, which was also NAUF and CARB2 compliant due to the fact that there were no added urea formaldehydes in the glues and binders. To minimize the heaviness of the top the grain pattern was changed to sunburst and the edge profile became a deep undercut bevel. The stainless steel plinth was removed in lieu of a small convex inlay of Narra being added as a subtle detail. The resulting table was finished in a low-VOC water based urethane, and renamed the Ellipse II Table.

Taken together these changes created a more sculptural look to the design, and the response from the design community was tremendously positive. Our ability to custom tailor this design to meet the requirements of each individual client has since resulted in the Ellipse II Table becoming one of our most popular offerings today.

In October 2008 a custom commission of this table for interior designer Wendy Blount was even published in an issue of Metropolitan Home magazine.

Thanks to the positive response this article received, the table photo was subsequently republished in the book “Glamour: Making it Modern” by Michael Lassell.

Sustainable, Environmental, Eco Lifestyles, Healthy, All Natural, Home and Garden, Interior Design, Eco Friendly, Green Furniture, Green Furnishings, Green Designs, FSC Certified, Reclaimed Materials. Organic, LEED compliant, NAUF. CARB2, Bamboo, Natural Fibers. Non-Toxic, low-VOC, Non VOC, Natural Finishes.

Custom Ellipse Dining Table

Posted in Artisanal, FSC, Furniture Making, Woodworking with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2011 by johnwiggers

Last month we made a custom Ellipse II Dining Table measuring 123″ long x 47″ wide x 29″ high.

Crafted from silver dyed anigre veneer, the grain pattern of the top was configured in a custom sunburst pattern.

The tapered elliptical cone base has internal counterweights for support.

The inlay medallion is stainless steel.

This table was delivered to the Trump Hollywood in Florida in time for Thanksgiving supper.

Live Edge Dining Table

Posted in Artisanal, Furniture Making, Woodworking with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2011 by johnwiggers

Recently we were commissioned to make a live edge dining table for a custom residence in Muskoka, north of Toronto.

For those of you who do not know what it means, “live edge” is a style of furniture that was inspired by the late George Nakashima in the 1940s as an extension of the Arts and Crafts movement. The term is derived from the incorporation of the natural edge of a wood slab into the design of a piece of furniture.

For this particular project our client was looking for a dining table that would seat 14 people, and measure approximately 144″ long by 44″ wide. Black Walnut was the original wood of choice, but it soon became apparent that available walnut slabs were far from suitable for a table of this size.

As can be seen in the following images, walnut is notorious for having interior voids and rot – especially in older trees. In addition it is rare to find reasonably clean slabs in excess of 132″ in length. Therefore, walnut was deemed to be unsuitable for this particular project.

After a great deal of effort a magnificent slab of African Bubinga was finally procured.

Based on the width of the slab and the concentration of growth rings it is estimated that the tree yielding this slab was roughly 2 meters in diameter and over 300 years of age before it fell.

The live edge slab arrives in our shop.

The rough surface of the bark is still on the edge.

An air drill with nylon wheel was most effective for cleaning the edge.

Cutting the slab to length. This was a very challenging task, considering that this piece of lumber weighed almost 700 lbs and needed to be counterbalanced at the opposite end for stability.

The sanded top ready for finishing looked like the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.

Sanding the sealer coats and thoroughly inspecting the surface before final finish.

Applying the precatalyzed lacquer finish as a protective coat.

The steel legs arrive from the platers.

The unwrapped legs showing antique bronze finish. Given the extreme weight of the top we decided to fabricate the legs out of 1/2″ x 4″ cold rolled steel. Welded corner gussets were added for additional stability. Given the asymmetrical taper of the wood top the legs were made in proportional widths to maintain a visual balance.

Recessed holes in underside of legs to receive acrylic feet.

Inserting the acrylic feet.

Antique bronze legs ready for mounting.

The finished wood top, ready to receive legs.

Mounting the legs to the underside of the wood top.

The finished table.

Detail of live edge.

Another view of table.

Corner detail of wood top.