Archive for cabinetmaker

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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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.

Whale Tail Desk – for Canadian Woodworking Magazine

Posted in Artisanal, FSC, Furniture Making, Interior Design, Studio Furniture, Woodworking with tags , , , , , , on February 16, 2014 by johnwiggers

The story behind the creation of my Whale Tail Desk was published in issue #79 of Canadian Woodworking Magazine, in August/September 2012.

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What follows is the content that was submitted for publication.

In the Autumn of 2001 my daughter was working on a school project that had to do with whales. Her writings contained all the standard textbook information available on these creatures, i.e. “whales are the world’s largest mammals; they live in the sea; they eat fish or plankton, and they are endangered.”

After reading her project to me, she asked what I knew about whales. I told her that when a whale turns up dead in the St. Lawrence River it’s carcass is so contaminated with pollutants that it has to be handled and disposed of as toxic waste. Needless to say, her eyes went wide as saucers and her whale project evolved along a whole new tangent.

That conversation made me wonder about what it is that our schools are teaching our children. Or, rather, what it is that our schools are not teaching.

My daughter and I ended up talking a great deal about whales, and out of those discussions came a promise that the following summer we would take a trip out east to see some real whales, up close and in the wild.

Not long after this discussion I received an invitation from World Wildlife Fund to build a showcase exhibit for the inaugural “Forest Leadership Forum” to be held in Atlanta, Georgia in April, 2002. Given that the show was focussed on protecting the world’s forests, I was challenged to come up with a cool idea for a piece of furniture made of FSC certified wood.

For several months I wavered on the idea of whether or not to even participate in the show, because after 9/11 the thought of flying anywhere wasn’t holding much appeal for me.

By early 2002 I was still undecided about whether to participate, but now faced a deadline. I was stuck with the furniture designer’s equivalent to writer’s block. Nothing clever was manifesting in the way of ideas, although I had concluded that my furniture piece should be a desk of some kind.

Then one night I’m watching television and there’s a program on about saving whales, and I see the actor Pierce Brosnan speaking on behalf of the whales.

I was already familiar with Brosnan because at that time he was also a spokesperson for FSC.

The connection of Brosnan to both whales and FSC suddenly melded with my idea for a desk, and everything came together in a flash: FSC + Whale + Desk.

Grabbing a pencil and a thin piece of cardboard I scribbled out a quick rendering of a desk based on what a whale’s tail would look as it breeched in preparation for a deep dive. Cutting this out with scissors I then Scotch taped the pieces together into a crude scale model. The result was an actual miniature prototype, and the whole process probably took no more 15 minutes to do.

This model was then scaled into working drawings, and the woodworking process began. The main face of the torso and tail started as an oversized T-shape slab of 1-1/4″ veneer core ply that was cross laminated with Macassar Ebony veneer. Relief kerfs were cut into the underside for bending the curve. Plywood offcuts were used to make elongated L-shaped vertical gables, with the 1″ ply floor set into dadoes.

An anthracite grommet was inset into the top, to allow wiring to pass through to the vertebrae wire management column running vertically inside the torso of the desk. For stability the desk was engineered to be secured to the floor with lag bolts.

After a thorough sanding the exposed surfaces were finished in a high gloss low-VOC polyester finish to enhance the grain and give a glossy “wet look” to emulate a whale rising from the water.

The finished Whale Tail Desk was displayed at the “Forest Leadership Forum” in late April, 2002 along with a custom made Andiroba Credenza crafted from the same wood and finish. These pieces are both now part of a private collection in Moscow.

A few months later our family travelled east to New Brunswick and took a long ferry ride to a remote island called Grand Manan, which lies just off the coast of Maine. We arrived on the island on August 6th and had advance reservations to go on a whale watching tour the following morning.

As we travelled around the island I soon learned from the locals that whale watching was not an exact science. Even in optimal summertime conditions such tours are highly dependent on the weather, the seas and the fog. I was told that in the previous 2 weeks hardly any tours had managed to make it out to sea because of heavy fog. And even when boats did make it out, there was no certainty of even seeing a whale – let alone seeing one up close.

I now felt concern that expectations for the trip might not unfold as planned. We had a wedding to attend in a couple of days, and our only opportunity to see whales would be the following morning. My daughter in particular was excited at the prospect of seeing a whale, and I did not wish to see her disappointed.

That night I took a walk to a small rise of land overlooking the sea. I prayed for good weather and silently called out into the darkness – asking for a whale to make an appearance the following day.

We arose before dawn and made our way to the harbour where a small converted lobster boat took us into the Bay of Fundy, to an area where whales traditionally feed. Luckily for us, the weather, the fog and the seas were all working in our favour, and conditions were nearly perfect.

After a bitterly cold 2 hour ride, the boat’s captain spotted a pod of 6 or 8 whales on the horizon. He slowly eased to within about 1/2 mile of where these whales were, and shut off his engine. Now we had to wait, with cameras ready, scanning the horizon in anticipation of the whales coming to the surface. We didn’t know when, or where, these creatures might appear.

For the next 20 minutes we enjoyed sporadic sightings of whales in the distance. These massive creatures would suddenly and unexpectedly emerge from the depths, then crash back into the sea with huge plumes of water and spray. Everyone was crowded to the starboard side of the boat, methodically snapping off frame after frame of film.

Given the unpredictability of the whales appearing on the horizon, I was snapping through an incredible amount of film in the vain hope that one of these shots might yield an incredible photo. At one point I stepped back from the group to change film when the most amazing and magical thing happened. Unbeknownst to any of us a huge Humpback Whale had quietly surfaced behind the boat. This whale didn’t make a noise, and not one of us even noticed he was there.

As I busied myself with changing my film an odd feeling suddenly came over me. Casting a slow sidelong glance over the stern I found myself looking – no more than 10 feet away – right into one of eyes of this massive creature. In one brief moment I felt the whale say to me, as if telepathically, “you asked for me to appear. Here I am.” Needless to say, as soon as I announced the whale’s presence behind our boat everyone stampeded to the back for a better look.

The feeling of being small and powerless was overwhelming. Humpbacks can grow to a size of 40 tons, and if he wanted to this whale could easily have flipped our boat like a cork in the water. But this was not how things unfolded.

It was as if this whale had been waiting for us to show up, and he was floating patiently in the water until he was sure he had our undivided attention.

He slowly raised the top of his bumpy head out of the water, as if to confirm with his own ancient eyes that we were all watching. He then exhaled a huge, bushy spout of misty air with a sound not unlike that of an elephant’s trumpet. And let me tell you, after a lifetime of eating seafood that fellow could definitely have used a breath mint. Children were giggling at how bad his breath smelled.

But the best was yet to come, and the only way to describe it would be to say that this whale grabbed this moment to, literally, seize the proverbial stage and ham it up for our cameras.

It was a most amazing few minutes of time, during which this wild mammal – of its own accord – decided to approach our boat in a manner that gave us both the time and the angles necessary to take some absolutely phenomenal photographs. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this whale was probably posing for some of the shots.

On our long ride back to the harbour I considered what might have motivated such an untamed creature to behave in this manner. I know that whales are highly intelligent, so on some instinctual level this individual would probably know that the greatest threats to its survival (i.e. pollution, collisions with ships, entanglement in fishing nets, and slaughter by commercial industry) all come from humans.

In spite of this, this whale took incredible risk to reach out and connect with us.

Perhaps, deep down, it was because this whale also realises that as much power as Man has to destroy, Man also has the power to change – and to protect. And maybe through connecting with us, this whale is also trying to secure his own future survival by sharing with us that feeling of oneness with him.

It would be easy to dismiss this magical moment was an isolated incident, a coincidence, or a figment of my imagination. But I do not believe this to be the case.

When we arrived on Grand Manan the day before, there was a story circulating amongst the locals about a Humpback Whale and her calf which had become entangled in fishing nets earlier in the week. Such entanglement is a guarantee of certain death for a whale, especially calves. To the amazement of the locals these two wild mammals instinctively swam right up to a research vessel and waited patiently on the surface of the water while deckhands used knives to cut away the netting. Somehow these whales intuitively knew what they needed to do in order to survive.

Life always finds a way, and we should never underestimate the magic at work in Nature.

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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Our Brief History of Woodworking Clamps

Posted in Artisanal, Furniture Making, Woodworking with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2014 by johnwiggers

Moving into our new furniture making studio last year allowed us to gather together all of our woodworking clamps in one place at one time; probably for the first time in decades.

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The process of doing this was eye opening, to say the least. For one thing I was a little taken aback at how many clamps we actually own. We ended up covering one entire wall with a wide assortment of woodworking clamps, and we have unofficially dubbed it ‘The Great Wall of Clampage’.

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Over the years a few different brands of clamps have graced our benches. Amongst my favourites are the Jorgensen handscrews, even though these rarely get used except for a few specialty applications.

On a day to day basis we use mostly F-clamps in our shop, and without question the ones that have endured best over the years have all been made in Germany.

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Our oldest clamps are ones that my father brought over with him from Holland, and they are now over a half century old. Their brand names are Bessey, Diepaca and Richa.

Woodworking clamps get heavily used and abused in our shop, and even though the Diepacas and Richas have each given us many decades of good service each of these of these brands has eventually worn out. In both of the examples shown above the steel eventually bent and the clamps lost their ability to function.

There is little question that Bessey has made the best preforming clamps in our shop. As old clamps either broke or wore out we ended up buying Bessey to replace them. The net result has been that the vast majority of woodworking clamps in our shop today are now heavy duty Bessey Tradesmans.

In all the years that I have used these clamps I have never seen them fail. In fact, I cannot recall a wood handle ever breaking on a Bessey either.

There is a saying amongst woodworkers that you can never have enough clamps. That saying is very true because even the simplest of projects will often require more clamps than you think you need, which invariably means that you will need more clamps than you actually have.

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On the console shown above somebody once told me that it would have been quicker to use cauls (and fewer clamps) because the clamping would have gone faster. I have always believed that the fastest (and best) way to do any job is to do it right the first time, and doing it right means having proper pressure along the entire glue joint.

There is no such thing as having too many Besseys.

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Incidentally, while looking for information on the history of Bessey clamps I came across a cool blog post showing excellent examples of vintage clamps. The link is here.

Some colleagues have also told me good things about a brand of American made clamps called Wetzler. I cannot comment on these because I have never used them and, unfortunately, it seems that Wetzler is no longer in business.

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.