I don't really plan a Blog post, they are normally plucked from my nebular musings on woodworking and joinery, or something I see or hear that piques my interest. The catalyst for this post was uncovering some photos during a garage clear out at home. The two photos are of an oak dresser I made some 10 years ago for a local client. For something I made in my mid 20's I was pleased to reflect some 10 years later and feel pleased that I had captured a good concept of a vernacular style dresser with a strong 19th Century country influence.
Dressers were a common piece of furniture but are less prevalent now due to the widespread adoption of fitted kitchens and such. However if there is room in the home they still offer a versatile solution to both display and store items. I have no formal training in designing furniture, thankfully when creating vernacular style pieces this can be quite useful. This "design" was pretty much down to years of mental osmosis, taking an interest in the word around me, rather than relying of fine designs or a fixed principle. Working in this way ensures you'll likely never find anything quite the same as you make yourself.
There is normally something odd to be found in a design like this. What drew my eye was what I had done to the plinth, instead of a flat plinth with a modest moulding on the top it was in two pieces. My reasons were the uneven floors of the house. The second piece is a non load bearing trim I applied which was fitted to floor to prevent a dust trap. The only disappointment in the design for me was that I had chosen to fit an adjustable bookcase strip. Not a big issue but on reflection a few oak pegs and a few holes would of created a much more pleasing look. Although I prefer fixed shelves the reality is most clients change what is on display and sadly it's a compromise that is made to prevent frustration in the future. It would be interesting to see how the wood has mellowed as clearly there are some strong colour variations. However on a piece like this it does not upset me at all and I also like the dark and contrasting wooden knobs too.
Most often these days dressers can be found second hand or from a generic modern furniture warehouse, with that in mind it's all the more pleasing to think I had the chance to make something like this in a world of diminishing opportunity for such work. If these photos of old photos of a vernacular/country dresser have interested your either to make yourself or to commission, then I recommend a few things. If you can track down a copy of "English Country Furniture" by David Knell please do so. It's narrative, examples and details give a rich flavour of the vernacular style like no other. Also, make a visit to some Antique shops or auction house, photograph, sketch and look and plenty of stuff. And lastly try not to conform to fixed ideas, the joy of this style is the variation not the standardisation!
Just before breaking up for Christmas I had some generous feedback from a customer regarding some garage doors we made and installed. The email read;
Just want to say a huge thank you to you and your team for making the doors to my barn. They do look great and have made a big difference to the warmth of the kitchen. The doors make a difference to the look of the building and they have created a new area which for many years has been an open space.
Last night my wife found me sitting in the barn with a beer and asked what was I doing to which I responded, "admiring the new doors!" I stayed in the barn for 2 more beers.
Have a relaxing Christmas and enjoy the family time and once again a huge thank you and do pass on my thanks to those involved.
It's always great to hear this and very encouraging. It made me reflect for a moment and decided it could be useful to have a quick overview of how we get from initial inquiry to finished product. In this instance we had a call from the client who came via a recommendation, we then typically visit site, discuss what's required and take some basic sizes. Back at the office we'll then design the item and submit a drawing and proposal for consideration.
Clearly we don't win them all, but thankfully this time our proposal was accepted. We then make another trip to site and complete an accurate survey and iron out any design issues. A deposit invoice and a purchase order is then sent to the client. At this point it is critical the client reads the purchase order, looks at the design and understands it. I never have an issue with further questions at this point from our clients. They are committing themselves to a substantial investment and another hour of discussion is never wasted if it leads to a clear understanding.
We then book in the work an indicate a projected completion date. Often we can hit out dates with a degree of accuracy, however! In this case we were unable to keep to our projected completion time. Perhaps having an open door policy where a client can arrange to come in and see their project underway creates a degree of reassurance, and allows us some flexibility if a bespoke project takes a little longer or staff fall unwell, etc. We made the client aware and they were very understanding of which we were very grateful for.
When the joinery is finished, and coatings are applied we install on site. Most often our own joiners install our work, this gives us a more complete control over what and how things are done. There are times when we need to return to site after installing, on this occasion it was to adjust the action of a bolt and ease and edge of the door. Again, in this instance the client deserves credit. Too often people can loose site that wood is hygroscopic, in Devon this tendency to adsorb water, will at times mean items of joinery will require attention. And in this case on large garage doors it was little surprise. So there you have it, thanks again to our client. Without good clients you'll seldom do good work!
There is often an interesting discussion about exactly what "hand made" means. I'm not going to delve into that can of worms too deeply but I'd wager most people have a romantic view of no power tools being used. I think there are very few, if any working in that way, although many like to lean heavily on the term "hand made" for various reasons. The tightrope most craftspeople work is using wisely the tools at their disposal while not undermining the unique skill required to make things.
As an example the stair strings used in my current project were prepared using machines the edge glued sections were leveled with my smoothing plane. I could of set up a sander but the reality of small and bespoke projects is you need to work smart. For anyone considering a career in modern Joinery or Carpentry you'll need to master both hand and power tools if you want to be really effective. Personally I've always enjoyed using hand tools the most and I think they should be the first group of tools to be understood, followed by fixed machines with power tools coming in last. However they all have a lot to offer and no group can be neglected.
Stairs are a really exciting project and we really enjoy the variation on designs we get to deal with from our clients. In the next few blog post I'll give an overview of some steps involved in making a set of winding stairs. This particular flight will be in hardwood with a few interesting details on the handrail. The first task is to set out the stairs to ensure the rise and going comply with building regulations and also they'll fit into the hole left on site for them to fit into. It's not unusual to find that the space left on site is far to small! We don't have CNC machines at our workshop yet so we set out complex areas, full size, on a setting out rod.
Especially when working on stairs with clear finishes, exposing the grain, I surface plane the strings to see what I'm working with. Even though it would be easier to handle the string cut into shorter pieces I'd much prefer sweating a little more at this point to enable me to discover the true beauty of the wood below. It also enables one to move any areas with a hint of defect to hidden areas such as wall strings or the underside of the staircase.
Even with the benefit of a robust and modern planer/thicknesser, preparing the stock is hard work and soon fills the extractor. I think the extractor is one one of the most wonderful machines in our workshop. I'd hate to work in a environment full of dust and mess, a good quality extractor, independently inspected every 14 Months is an absolute must in a professional workshop. Next time out I look forward to sharing some of the joinery used withing the making of the stairs.