Friday, December 10, 2010

New Work by Andrew Pitts

Snowflakes ... a new blanket chest for the season

Cherry, red cedar, tulip poplar
Milk Paint and Shellac Polish Finish

36"H x 51"W x 20"D

Enjoy the festive spirit of the season all year long with snowflake carvings in the tulip poplar front and back, highlighted in white milk paint on a background of bayberry green contrasting nicely with the bookmatched cherry crotch on the ends and the cherry legs. The gently curved hardwood laminations are from local Chesapeake Bay trees that have fallen in storms or were dying and given new life. The finely finished shellac polish on the cherry is a joy to touch. Open the blanket chest on its fine brass hardware and take in the soothing aroma of the red cedar laminations on the inner walls. A wonderful piece that will bring years of joy to a home!

This piece will be in the window of the Studio Gallery, Kilmarnock, VA
30 November thru 2 Januar

Please visit Andrew's gallery on Fine Wood Artists to see more

Monday, November 8, 2010

Woodworker Scott Armstrong- On the Radio

Scott Armstrong, a member of Fine Wood Artists will be on the radio, this Saturday.  Please tune in if you have time!
More about Scott can be found on his gallery
Antelope Table by Scott Armstrong

Please join me this Saturday, November 13th between 10:00 a.m. and noon mountain time on the like talk radio and webstream show "Circles of Change with Dr. Zara Larsen: Where Your Path is Created by Walking on It".  Tune in to Journal Broadcasting KQTH via computer or in southwestern Arizona, 104.1 FM.
Dr. Larsen has hosted over 200 shows in over two years, generating some 350 informative and inspirational podcast segments.  The show is dedicated to spotlighting the careers and organizations of business professionals, non-profit leaders, entrepreneurs, and public servants, as well as artists, consultants, academics and those with inspirational stories to help others embrace personal career and organizational change.  Arrowleaf Studio and my career as an artist and entrepreneur will be featured in a special segment, along with other guests as committed to offering pragmatic advice and likely some unconventional wisdom in the mix.
If you are unable to join us live, the podcast will be posted by Wednesday, November 17th in the 2010 Featured Guest library on  Or "opt in" to Dr. Larsen's iPhone/smart phone mobile site by sending the simple text message of drzara (no spaces) to box 69852 to receive every Thursday the direct link to the four segments from the preceeding Saturday. An example is posted at
Hope you can join us!
Best regards,

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

In depth, Artist Dean Robertson

Tennessee Cedar Earring by Dean Robertson
Dean Robertson, a Washington based member of Fine Wood Artists kindly offered to talk a bit about himself and his work creating and selling his his wood jewelry.

My name is Dean Robertson. The name of my business is Forestlife Creations.  I am a woodworker and  bone/ivory carver, amongst many more skills that I have. 

I have been making things since I was about ten. I like to keep my hands busy. My skills didn’t really develop till I moved into the Alaska wilderness to learn to live like the old Native Americans, or maybe it was Grizzly Adams. Either way I spend eight years learning to make most things the Northern Natives used to make. My specialty was bone, antler and ivory tools and hunting weapons.

Eventually I moved south again. Not finding satisfaction working as a carpenter I signed up for Wood Boat Building School, The Wood Construction Center of Seattle, Marine Carpentry division. During the two year program I learned to make use of the amazingly exotic wood scraps in the recycle bins. I was making toys for kids, gifts for people, and wood pendants for my wife. 
Custom Hair Rods by Dean Robertson
 The pendants seem to have been a hit since her friends and relatives starting asking for them. My wife was a beaded jewelry vendor at farmers markets at the time, so I decided to show my wood pieces too. They turned out to be quite popular, so any time the teachers weren’t looking I began making jewelry during class.

It was not long before I discovered earrings are where it is at, so I went into production. I scored some used tools through a tool swap and set up shop in my garage used the wood from the schools refuse.

The rest is history. I’ve been making wood jewelry now for over two years with over six thousand pairs of earrings sold. I sell at markets and fairs. I’m represented in about 30 stores in 7 states and I sell on Etsy.
California Buckeye and Epoxy Earrings by Dean Robertson
 I think I have really found a way to express myself artistically and make a living, following my passions. Since I began I have tried many different products and often introduce new ones, going with the ones that sell best. I have found many creative ways now to come by reclaimed wood, or buy bulk quantities of end cuts from other wood workers. I feel this is a sustainable way to run a business and to bring the beauty of nature to the public the way I see it…

In the future I would like to expand my business to 100% wholesale and let go of the markets, but for the time being they are a really great way to get yourself out there and network.

I’ve always believed in following my dreams and see no reason why one could not. There is always a way.


More about Dean can be found in his Gallery

To purchase his work, visit his Etsy shop

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Woodworker Video- Andrew Pitts

Andrew Pitts, a fine woodworker in Virginia, shares a glimpse into his studio with this video showing the carving an oak candle stand.

For more about Andrew, visit his gallery on Fine Wood Artists

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tree in peril, the Whitebark Pine

White Bark Pine
Photo by Misty Garrick Miller 

Whitebark pine is regarded as a keystone or “foundation” species. Keystone species are considered important  in their promoting of biodiversity in a habitat.

The majority of the range of Whitebark Pine habitat is on public lands in Canada and USA, in national forests and protected lands. Even though most of these trees are on protected lands, they are threatened by an introduced disease and fire suppression, as well as a surge in the Mountain Pine Beetle populations.

White pine blister rust is a fungal disease which was inadvertently introduced to Vancouver, British Columbia in 1910. Whitebark pine mortality from the combination of blister rust and Mountain Pine Beetle exceeds 50% in many areas. Widespread mountain pine beetle outbreaks killed  many trees throughout the Rockies, creating "ghost forests" of dead pine trees. In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, more than 700,000 Whitebark pines were killed in 2004.

Several conservation groups are working to restore, preserve and protect this species and the ecosystem they are part of. For more, please visit-

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Q & A with a Woodworking Gallery Director

Sharon Ricci, the director of Northwest Fine Woodworking in Seattle,  kindly offered to answer a couple of questions about the business of selling fine woodworking.
Sharon Ricci

Please tell us about your role at Northwest Fine Woodworking.
I am Director of the gallery which entails managing day to day business, developing and orchestrating events to engage the community about fine woodworking in the Northwest, and selecting a revolving inventory of furniture and craft that meets the criteria set forth by the cooperative membership.  Being a coop, the gallery is run by many helping hands so my role is key in keeping things on track toward the bigger picture. 

When an artist approaches a gallery with intent of showing there, what do you think are the most important things they should consider? 
 A gallery is a business geared toward customer service.  Be prepared before you approach any gallery with a clear idea of how to describe your work, and have professional looking images of current designs that are available.  Know that each gallery has its own rules for reviewing new work and if you want to succeed you will have to work with them on their terms to get your foot in the door.  Also there is a fine but definite line between persistence and annoyance. 

What is the biggest mistake in your opinion that woodworkers make in regards to showing or selling their work?
Not having media worthy photos of their creations!  Bad lighting, wrinkled bed sheets, a cluttered background, blurriness – all of these things can be corrected so that a photo is crisp, clear and appealing.   

What do you think is the best way a woodworker should market themselves and their work?
Be prepared with the above (good photos, a brief but direct description of your work and a body of available designs) then talk to lots of people about what you do.  You have to visit many shops and galleries to see where your work would be a good fit, absorb what else is out there as competition or compliment and talk to the sales staff about what clients respond to. 

Woodworking is a rather solitary career pursuit and many artists and builders get into a grind of working in the shop for long stretches of time at the sacrifice of social interaction.  If that sounds like you - force yourself to go to at least one gallery, museum or community event a week so that you can talk about what you are in the process of making and grow connections.  Having a website and dropping off cards will never be as appealing a meaningful conversation and a hearty handshake. 

Any advice for seasoned and aspiring woodworkers in this tough economy?
Follow your inspiration!  When you make something from a place of passion and enthusiasm it generates passion and enthusiasm.  We are all starved for those things that are genuine and uplifting.  If you can work in that state of mind the end result will be successful on multiple levels.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

30th Anniversary Show at Northwest Fine Woodworking

John Thoe with his Mirror
I was privileged to attended the recent opening on Friday night for the 30th Anniversary Show at Northwest Fine Woodworking in downtown Seattle. The large gallery was not only full of beautiful furniture, turned wood and wood art, but a great crowd of admirers, collectors and resident artists.

Northwest Fine Woodworking started 30 years ago as a woodworking cooperative and has been a Seattle destination for woodworkers and collectors alike. This show embraces the new work of some of its long standing members such as David Gray, Grady Mathews, Tom Stangeland, and Curtis Erpelding, as well as relative new comers such as Hugh Montgomery and Seth Rolland.

There was also a wonderful showing or new work by Fine Wood Artists members John Thoe, Brad Gallahar, Robert Spangler, Spencer Horn, and Tom Deady.

Northwest Fine Woodworking is indeed a unique institution in the field of fine woodworking and this historic show is worth a visit. Whether looking for inspiration or a heirloom quality item for your home, now is the chance to see some of the best craftsmanship and innovative design out there. 

You can see more of the show on there website here:

Northwest Fine Woodworking is located in downtown Seattle, in the historic Pioneer Square district-
101 S. Jackson St, Seattle WA 98104 (206) 625-0542

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

New Work- Andrew Pitts

Cherry, walnut, white oak, red cedar, tulip poplar
Shellac Polish Finish
36"H x 51"W x 20"D

The gentle curved hardwood laminations that make up the Blanket Chest are from local Chesapeake Bay trees that have fallen in storms or were dying and given new life. The ebonized carvings in the Tulip Poplar on front and back are two different coastal bay scenes with whimsical play, and the bookmatched cherry crotch laminates on the ends lend a bit of formality to the piece. The ebonized white oak laminated legs and the top and bottom of walnut with the sapwood intact build on the theme of my Shadows of Night cabinet. The finely finished shellac polish exterior is a joy to touch. Open the blanket chest on its fine brass hardware and take in the soothing aroma of the red cedar laminations on the inner walls.

But this is only part of the story! The back is another scene from our shoreline!

Please click here to see the entire piece!
More of Andrew's work can be seen on Fine Wood Artists

Friday, September 3, 2010

More Thoughts on Sustainability - Erik Wolken

Bench by Erik Wolken

When last I visited the issue of  am I green enough, I was reluctant at best to take on the moniker of a green maker, but considered myself at least on the right path. Now the subject has come up yet again.

I was recently approached to join a website selling eco friendly art to the the design trade. So once again I must ask myself if I am worthy to join such a select group? My first thought in responding to the request was to chant my mantra, “I am not your typical green maker who uses groovy bamboo recycled plastic and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood in their work. I just make well-crafted work mostly in solid wood from mostly locally sourced materials that hopefully will not end up in a landfill for a couple hundred years.” The response I got back, “ yeah that works for me,” was not what I expected. I expected to be politely declined and to take the easy way out of having to further explore my greenness. Instead, I felt like I had just gained entry into a club in which I did not belong and now had to come up with a new rationale to justify my membership.

So I set out on a quest to make myself greener. My first step was to call my local family run lumber yard, where I buy most of my lumber, and see if I could get that holy grail of greenness - FSC certified wood for future projects. When I spoke with the owner, he replied that because he was not FSC certified he could not sell FSC products and because it cost $3,500 a year to become certified it was unlikely he would be able to do it. That seemed like a lot of money to me as well but I figured as long as I had him on the phone I would ask a few more questions. I was curious if he knew the source of most of his domestic hardwoods, to which he replied all most were from the southeast and mostly came from Appalachian hardwoods or roughly about a 200-mile radius from us. He also went on to say that he had certificates from the U.S Forestry Service certifying most of his hardwoods as sustainable harvested. While not the green seal of approval I sought, that all seemed pretty in line with my own beliefs on green and it would allow me to continue to support a small family run business instead of a large corporation - something also in my belief system.
But I decided to continue my search anyway. I did a Google search and called the large local lumber yards. As I had suspected, nobody local stocked FSC products but it could be found within a couple hours drive. The suppliers were almost all the big boys and I would have to pay trucking fees, buy in larger quantities and of course pay more for the materials as well as not being able to hand pick the lumber for color, grain, and the least waste as I usually do.
If there is a moral to this story it is that being green involves trade offs. I might like to build my furniture from FSC certified woods, but to do so the wood would have to be trucked in from further away, bought from a large corporate entity and would result, ironically, in more waste than carefully hand picking what I need from my small time local dealer.

It was a long trip, but I've returned to my beginning. Being green is many things. I may not be able to claim the sexy aspects of it but I do my best.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Lessons in Woodworking, A Cautionary Tale - John Thomas

September 20, 2008 will be a day that will be etched in my memory forever. I've been using table saws, routers, and the regular run of power tools since the winter of 1994. I have owned my personal saw since 2003 and have felt very comfortable using it. On this day I learned that I was too comfortable. I was tired and in a hurry. I had overwhelmed myself with getting ready for my first ever Arts and Craft show in Asheville, NC.

I think the night before I had worked until 2 or 3 am and only slept for maybe 3 hours. The project was something I've done countless times; build a box. With this particular box, I decided that I wanted to run a couple of strings of Purple heart around the perimeter to spice it up some. One of the lessons here was to leave a perfectly fine figured plank alone, the other make sure you have a splitter if you plan of using your table saw to resaw anything!

I had the blade raised more the half the width of the plank and was using my trusty orange push stick. I had about 1 to 1.5? to go before completing the cut when I was blinded by pain in my hand and bizarre sounds from the spinning blade. It was over before it began. The pain wasn't searing, but more like blunt force trauma.

I remember thinking, So this is what is feels like to get you hand smashed with a 2x4? Of course that thought was a hour of so later, but it's the closest memory I've got. Lucky for me I wasn't alone, my wife Dawn was sweeping just on the other side of the saw. She heard the unfamiliar sounds and quickly turned to see me hopping across the shop floor, and flinging the orange push stick as hard I could. I could see the droplets hitting the floor way to quick, and knew this was bad. I couldn't look
at my own hand.

It's different when it's your skin and blood. IIn my life prior to working wood full time I spent seven years of working the worst neighborhoods, the true "Wrong side of the tracks". I enjoyed being the first cop on scene and remember all of the carnage I saw. What people can do to each other is frightening. Well, it never phased me much, the carnage. We treated like the job that it was then figured out where we would go eat, and no, it was never once Dunkin Donuts. The lesson I learned from this is, no matter how strong a stomach you thnk you have, that all changes when you see your own finger splayed open to the point you can watch the actuall knuckle pivot when that same finger is being bent.

John's hand, the saw blade (now a clock) and the piece of Purpleheart.
My whole life changed. I can no longer play guitar and was a very avid guitarist all through the 90s, the Gen X thing and all that good stuff. Now I'm lucky to play one chord and get the notes to ring clear. On the bright side to all of this, my work excelled much past the injury. The hand surgeon told me to allow my hand 6 months to heal. I asked him for living expenses for the next 6 months. He just gave me a weird look.

I cranked the saw back up after one month. It took about five minutes to hear it run before I could send a piece of wood through. I needed to feel the resistance we ALL should feel, and not forget its distinct feeling.

Separating age old dense fibers with super sharp high speed metals and the results that came forth are what I now show in my gallery on Fine Wood Artist. A lot this work was started with the mean
tools then brought to life with some pampered hand tools. Right now I feel a change coming and I'm letting it happen. I'm not questioning too much, just going with it.

As convenient as a well turn table saw can be I'd trade in for a nice Bad Axe Tenon Saw and maybe a refurnished Disstion rip saw. I could honestly do this with out looking back. I'm excited to see what's next and glad to share my story with you.

Being safe means don't work fatigued, or stressed, and make sure you remember the sharp tools are safe tools.

All the best-
John A. Thomas

Monday, July 26, 2010

Q & A with Furniture Maker Andrew Pitts

Andrew Pitts is a self taught furniture maker, working out of his shop in Heathsville, Virginia. With over 35 years experience, he kindly answered some of our questions.

What is my favorite wood and why?

I can say Cherry is clearly my favorite wood, seconded by Red Oak. Both these woods grow locally in Virginia, and I use a lot of windfall wood I mill with a Woodmizer sawmill and dry in a solar kiln, so it is somewhat plentiful. Cherry looks great, works well, and the combination of cherry and red oak in the same piece, well, I just really like it!

Do I have a favorite tree?

Hmmmm ...  I live and work in an eastern Virginia hardwood forest and I really like just being among the trees here. For milling and making lumber, I like the tall straight trees that grow in the forest. Tulip Poplar comes to mind, not a true poplar but a member of the magnolia family, I believe. These grow like an arrow and are the tallest trees in our forests, and they mill and dry great! For peace and quiet I love the tall pines, but I am not a softwood artisan (except for the occasional cedar) so I just like to see and smell the pines and keep it at that. Although I love the grain of small pieces of American Beech, the trees themselves are too full of sucker branches that mar the wood with knots and cause drying defects, so beech is not my favorite milling tree, but as gnarly as beech can be, I have never seen one fall in a hurricane so they are good protection. The oaks in the forest are majestic, although the mighty oaks are real targets for wind storms as the roots don't go too deep. I guess I'm giving a bad answer to the question, because I really like all the trees - like people, they each have their own personalities!

What pieces that you have crafted from wood are you most proud of and why?

Another tough question to answer. Don't we love all our pieces? They are our "children", after all. Lately, I have moved from doing mainly rectilinear work to using a lot of curves - using bent laminations and such. So, I am partial to the really graceful pieces such as my Shadows of Night cabinet, where the ebonized legs sweep the bent laminated upper cabinet away. I also like that I could do some carving in the doors, making a Chesapeake Bay wetlands scene. The same can be said of Chest of Drawers sans sides, which also uses a curved leg structure but as the name suggests has no sides, but simply drawers with all the joinery exposed. But some of my more "square" work is also nice, as the beauty is in the details. Take, for instance, the Roll Top Desk with walnut as the main wood but cherry trimming it out and a red oak tambour (there is that cherry and red oak combo I like so much). The desk has few curves, but is still delicate and nice and I am very happy that I was commissioned to make it.

Chest of Drawers Sans Sides

What is the hardest piece you ever made from wood and why?

I would have to say that Chest of Drawers Sans Sides was the most technically difficult piece to build, because just does not have any square corners! All the joinery had to be figured out at weird angles ... ditto with the drawer dovetails. I think the second most difficult piece may have been my jewel chest, of which I made two. These use drawers that are pie shaped and pivot on a steel rod. The drawer sides are curved bent laminations of holly, and the dovetails had to be cut on the curve - a first for me - and then the swing of the drawers had to be made smooth. And above all, the piece had to be made so when the humidity changed the parts would not all lock up or come out of alignment. Both cases have been through several summers and winters, and all is still well!

More of Andrew's work can be seen in his gallery here-

Monday, July 5, 2010

Northwest Fine Woodworking Box Show

Ocean Cathedral by John Shrader

Northwest Fine Woodworking here in Seattle getting ready for their annual Box and Container show and are looking for entries.
Over the years several Fine Wood Artists members such as Jim Christiansen and John Shrader have had wining pieces in this annual event.
There is no fee to enter and the rules are simple-
Items must open and close in some manner, be constructed primarily of wood, be for sale and be new to the competition. 

Completed applications are due by Saturday September 18 th , 2010.
This is a juried show; artists will be notified if their work is accepted by September 30 th . 
Show opens November 4th and runs through to January 30th, 2010
People's Choice is voted for by  customers.
The NWFW Jury and staff select 1st , 2nd , 3rd and Honorable Mention.

To apply, click this link on Northwest Fine Woodworking's website.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Virtual Shop Visit with Jennifer Schwarz

Jennifer is a talented woodworker who blends art, sculpture and fine craft in her work. Here is a little about her in her own words.

I work in a studio on my land on the Big Island of Hawaii. When I moved here, I bought raw land, had some of it cleared, and built my wood studio and a small sleeping cabin. I can see the ocean from my place, and incredible sunsets. It takes me about an hour to drive to the nearest real town.
My schedule varies depending on what I am working on. Since I am still actively building my place, I split my time between construction and fine woodworking. I have also been playing with dying silk scarves.
I brought quite a lot of wood with me when I moved here. Most clients in Hawaii want local hardwoods. The best source for the local woods is  small mills. I was lucky enough to get introductions to the owners of two very good mills, and can buy directly from them. 
 I love to have a lot of space to work in. The studio I built has 1200 square feet of workspace. There is an additional office, bathroom and storage room on the building. Unfortunately I have the tool lust common to most woodworkers.I have  beautiful equipment. Of course it would be lovely to have more! It is a challenge here to keep the machines from rusting. I do regular maintenance of the machine beds, and also keep them covered with canvas drop clothes when not in use. This is a tip I got from a boat builder friend. 
  When I am designing a piece, I start with some small "thumbnail sketches". Then I draw the piece full size. This usually takes place in the shop because of the space demand. I actually love the completion of pieces... that moment when you see your imagined piece come to fruition in three dimensions. 
I am just beginning the discussion of several possible pieces with a new client. I will probably use Koa for all of the pieces... I am awaiting a call about dimensions so that I can come up with the thumbnail sketches. 
Q & A

What is your favorite wood to work with and why?
I fall in love with every wood as I use it. Some woods are just so pleasant to use.... with even grain and dependable stability such as Honduras Mahogany. Other woods have fabulous grain patterns with color and sheen that is extraordinary like western walnut, and Curly Koa. Other woods smell wonderful as you saw and machine them... such as cherry and walnut. Each wood has its own beauty and characteristics that make it unique and wonderful.
Do you have a favorite tree?
I love the big old trees.... giant cedars and firs in the northwest, giant Koas and Ohia's here in Hawai'i.
What piece have you created from wood are you most proud of and why?
This bench was commissioned by a woman for her husband, an avid fisherman. She wanted a bench that had carved fish and a feeling suggestive of  water. Technically this piece was very challenging. I wanted the wave pattern of the back rest to be exact. I needed to make a jig that had perfect sections of arcs so there would be a perfect spacing to the repeating waves. After carving the fish, I needed a way to connect them to each other and the bench that would hold up through the years....My client and I were equally pleased with the results! It is a showpiece as you enter their home.

What was the hardest piece you ever made from wood and why?
This piece was challenging in many respects. It is the "Gift Table" for a church in western Washington. Liturgical work involves working with a committee of volunteers to identify the congregation's needs, and then coming up with a design to fit. The design must fit the very personal spiritual needs of literally hundreds of people. This particular table was to include a piece of round stained glass that was made with drawings done by the elementary school classes. The glass needed to be sandwiched between, but not touching, two layers of clear glass. The table itself was to be octagonal to match the other Altar pieces. It stretched me in my ability for interpersonal communication, as well as woodworking skills, and there was a short turn around time on its construction!

Do you prefer working for clients, or doing "spec" pieces?
I like to make  a mix of custom pieces made specifically for a client, and "spec" pieces that I make and then see who falls in love with them. In both instances, it is seeing my work in my client's home, office or place of worship that allows for the final sense of completion that, as an artist, I truly value.
To see more of Jennifer's work, please visit her gallery

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Q & A with John McAbery

John is a talented wood sculptor living on the rugged coast of Northern California. We asked him a few questions about his work.

What is your favorite wood to work with and why?
California Bay Laurel (it masquerades as Myrtle in Oregon) is my favorite wood to work with because it has an interlocking grain which makes it possible to create very thin pieces.  The wood has strong grain definition and has a variety of colors.
Do you have a favorite tree?
I'd have to say that Madrone (Arbutus in your neighborhood) is my favorite tree.  I'd love to work with it but it checks violently when it is cut into.  I did manage to create one sculpture out of it and a couple of spoons, but most of my attempts to work with it have ended up in the wood stove.
What piece have you created from wood are you most proud of and why? What was the hardest piece you ever made from wood?
My sculpture titled "Whelk" on the Previuos Works page of my website is the piece that I most proud of because It was radically different from anything I had done before and probably the most difficult piece I ever attempted. When I started it, I was almost positive that I would never complete it, but it came out perfectly.
Where do you get your inspiration and ideas?
From my enviroment.  "The coast is alive, full of magic, music and motion.  Some of that is bound to show up in my work."
More of John's work can be seen in his gallery-

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Shangrila Rocker

This is a new piece made by Scott and Stephanie Shangraw  of Shangrila Woodworks. Made from mesquite wood, this rocker is all about comfortable and eye catching curves.

They are limiting the production of this piece to only 10, so if you are interested, be sure to contact them soon.

More of their work can be seen in their gallery

And see the building process on their website here

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jim Christiansen - In his Own Words

      Offering to Narra by Jim Christiansen

Like many others who have become serious woodturners later in life, I had my first exposure to the lathe in high school shop class. I completed two projects, a walnut bowl turned with very dull scrapers and a gate leg table that was mostly shaped with sandpaper. While these projects were challenging at the time and turned without any finesse or skill. The most important thing I learned was an appreciation and love for wood.

My life has been quite varied. After military service I moved from being a teacher to a professor to consultant to school administrator. There was always lots to do to keep my type-A tendencies at bay. It seems, however, that I have always spent a lot of energy in a search for meaning and purpose. My thoughts frequently focused on the how and why of design. I developed a deep admiration for those who created objects of beauty. Without realizing it, I was setting the stage to make another big change in my life.

On a whim, I purchased and restored an old Oliver lathe. At over 800 pounds and running on a leather belt, this lathe turned out to be a very competent machine for a beginning woodturner. I began where I had left off thirty years before—dull tools and literally sanding the work into submission. Then a fortunate event took place; I attended a Utah Turning Symposium. There I was exposed to the work of turners such as John Jordan, Michael Hosaluk and Hans Weissflog. I remember having a very intense emotional reaction to the beauty of the creations I was seeing for the very first time. I recall a level of excitement and wonder that I could not explain. I knew from that day that I wanted to create work of that caliber.

A chance meeting with another person who shared my fascination and interest in woodturning led me to discover the value of collaboration and sharing. Later I met others who were seeking to learn new skills. This led to an acceleration of my learning and to the opportunity to develop deep and satisfying friendships. I learned that the turning community has strong traditions based on sharing and friendship. There is a very obvious network that has led to the rapid evolution of woodturning as an art form.

          Hollow Vessel with Carved Figures by Jim Christiansen

My personal work has largely reflected my deeper feelings about the mysteries of life. I am constantly experimenting with new ideas only to move on to something else when the spirit moves me. I have been fortunate enough to have my work included in many national and some international exhibitions. It has been featured in several books as well as in a number of periodicals. I have published articles on critique and design, and I have had the opportunity to travel widely teaching others about critique and design. I have also curated two major woodturning exhibitions with Gerrit Van Ness. I spend a lot of time sharing my studio with anyone who expresses an interest in becoming a wood artist.

Woodturning is a very large movement. I feel I am fortunate to be a part of it all. I am pleased to have a continued association with a large number of very dedicated wood artists. They will help us shape the future and provide excitement and meaning to the lives of many men and women who will follow. We are limited only by our imagination.

More work by wood turner and sculptor Jim Christiansen can be seen in his gallery

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Interview with Wood Turner Roger Dunn

1. What is your favorite wood to work with and why?

Pacific yew, Taxus Brevifolia, because it is rare to find in a decent size to work with. But once found and turned it produces beautiful pieces with almost no need for a finish. The tree has healing properties as described on the National Forest Service website: “Pacific yew is again being used for medicinal purposes. In the late 1960's, taxol-a complex compound extracted from yew bark-was identified as a possible anticancer agent (18,48). The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has found taxol to be one of the most promising of more than 120,000 plant compounds tested for anticancer properties. Taxol appears to be effective against a wide range of tumors, and good responses have been obtained in the treatment of refractory ovarian cancer (9,38)”.

2. Do you have a favorite tree?

The beauty and mystery of Madrone, Arbutus menziesii, is unique. It has deciduous looking leaves but is an evergreen. Its bark is smooth like it has already been stripped. The bark sheds like a molting animal. The wood is pink when freshly cut. Turning it very thin when green produces wonderfully warped forms. In order to create a, uniform shaped bowl, the rough turning must be boiled to avoid the cracks that usually tear an unboiled rough turning apart.

3. What piece have you created from wood are you most proud of and why?

Spalted translucent Monkey Puzzle, Araucaria araucana, bowls take a lot of work but the end result is gorgeous. The pieces are turned end-grain very thin, sanded thinner and then soaked over and over in a concoction of boiled linseed oil, varnish and mineral spirits.

4. What was the hardest piece you ever made from wood and why?

I turned a tree’s fork in end grain orientation once, and only once. I wanted to make a bowl with a rabbit ears look. The spinning ‘ears’ were like a boring machine trying to bore a hole through me. The finished ‘object’ wasn’t what I thought it would be and I abandoned further attempts.

5. Is there a question we didn't ask that you would like to answer?

The ‘addiction’ of turning includes the thrill at getting a phone call from someone with a downed tree; traveling to see the wood, seeing promising blanks in the log, cutting it up with a chainsaw and harvesting the promising blanks, the journey back to the studio with the new found treasures, the roughing to discover the grain orientation and form, waiting for the rough blank to dry, final turning, sanding and finishing the bowl, the approval from a buyer who appreciates the bowl for the beauty of the wood and what became of the tree after the phone call.

To see more of Roger's work, visit his gallery

Jim also  curated the book
Masters: Woodturning Major Works By Leading Artists

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Andrew Pitts in WoodShop News

A wonderful article about Fine Wood Artists member Andrew Pitts has been published in WoodShop News April 2010 edition, you can read about it on his website here (.pdf document)

And see more of Andrew's work in his gallery here

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Virtual Shop Visit with Chuck Ellis

In our continuing series of virtual shop visits, we visit Chuck Ellis, a lathe artist working in the beautiful Cherokee National Forest.

My shop is a dedicated building my wife and I built when we first moved to Tennessee in 2005. It's a dedicated building just for my wood working. Our original plan was that we would share and she would have a corner to do her painting and craftwork, but due to a health problem, she isn't able to work in the shop and because of the dust I generate, painting and craftwork wouldn't work in the shop anyway.

This shop is over twice the size of the shop I started with... before I moved to Tennessee I worked in a small shed in my back yard in Texas... that shed was 10x9 and held almost the same number of tools I have in my new shop. I actually had to take tools out of the shop in order to change lathes about when I would switch from the little lathe to the larger one or if I needed to use the table saw I had to set it in the yard as there was no room to maneuver lumber pieces inside the little shop.

I'm in my shop most days, weather permitting. The shop isn't heated, so on cold days, I don't work out there. Since I am retired, I can work as much or as little as I want... usually from about mid day until evening when I come in for dinner. My work day is usually about 5 or 6 hours per day.

As a wood turner, I'm always on the look out for wood. I don't cut living trees. I get wood that has been cut by tree trimmers, friends and neighbors. And if I need a special wood or some sort, I have a lumber yard in East Knoxville that I do buy wood from. I also belong to several wood working forums and sometimes the members will trade woods. Just last week, I received a box of pen blanks from a forum trade from Australia.

I had a customer come by my show booth last summer and offered some wood she had in her back yard. She told me she had a tree that had "that disease" and she had it taken down.... I looked at the wood, discovered a whole tree of spalted maple... Maple is a light wood that when spalted will black lines running in a helter skelter pattern through the wood... it was a fantastic find... I had to make two trips to haul all the wood home.

I also picked up some flame box elder that I discovered in a brush pile along side one of the back country roads. I actually had to go and buy a chain saw to get that tree. When I first saw the butt of the log I thought it was another maple, but when I cut the first section to load, I discovered the flame in the wood... Box elder is normally a pale yellowish wood that is relatively soft and not useful as a timber, but turns beautifully. The flame is a fungus in the wood that makes red blotches in the wood... this log had a flame in the center that looked almost like a Phoenix rising.

As I've collected wood, I have a huge pile of wood behind my shop. I'm trying to get the pile cut into turning blanks and getting them stored in my shop and on a drying rack. I have Cherry, Hackberry, Cedar, Maple, Box elder, Mimosa, Oak, Elm, Willow, Bradford Pear and others I can't recall right now. If I had to choose a favorite wood in that list, I would probably choose either the Flame Box Elder or the Spalted Maple.

My shop is pretty well organized... I have an area that is an open work area more or less in a circle with the lathes on one end, with work benches circling the open area. This takes up about 1/2 the shop... the other half has wood storage racks, and some tool storage, plus my table saw, band saw and a chop/miter saw.

I do all of my creative process in the shop... I turn whatever I'm turning at the moment... bowls, hollow forms, peppermills, pens, etc… including the finishing. I love the turning part and do the sanding and finishing as part of the process... my favorite part is the turning.

I have a new collection of woods that I actually bought to make some new style pepper mills. I have two or three of those in process as well as some bowls. The new woods a multi-color laminate wood. I am doing a test of the woods to see how they will work and then have been in conversation with the supplier to perhaps represent the company in this area as a vendor.

More of Chuck’s work can be seen in his gallery

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Philadelphia Invitational Furniture Show

Lily Cabinet by Tom Lederer

Held this weekend, The Philadelphia Invitational Furniture Show is one of the longest running craft furniture show in the US.

"The PIFS features a great range of work reflective of the diverse creative directions present in the field of artisan-made furniture. There will be shaker and arts and crafts influenced wooden furniture, historically based Grandfather clocks as well as contemporary timepieces, modern functional-sculptural pieces in metal and wood, table top accessories, wall art and much more. The price points also span from the affordable impulse purchase to works suitable for long-term investments as future heirlooms."

FWA artists Tom Lederer and Michael Brown will be at the show, be sure to stop by and see their beautiful work in person.

More of Tom's work can be found in his gallery-

More of Michael's work can be seen in his gallery-

The Philadelphia Invitational Furniture Show
Saturday, March 27, 11am-7pm
Sunday, March 28, 11am-5pm
The Philadelphia Cruise Terminal at Pier 1
Philadelphia Naval Business Center (PNBC)
5100 South Broad Street (South)
Philadelphia, PA 19112
215-387-8591 fax

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Jim Probst - Virtual Shop Visit

Jim Probst, a furniture designer and craftsman, works out of his shop in West Virginia creating beautifully crafted heirloom quality furniture for the home and office. Here he grants us a virtual visit to his shop.

The core of my shop was originally a grocery store. It has also been a restaurant and was apartments when I bought it. We have added on to it twice and now have approximately 5500 square feet.

We are in the shop at least 5 days a week and often 6. My helpers work 4, 10 hour days and set their own hours. They like to get off early so they start at 5:00 AM every morning (go figure). I've been working 6 days a week for years, and have been trying to cut back the last few years.

My primary woods all come from Irion Lumber in Wellsboro PA. We have developed a great working relationship and they saw and keep particular items in stock just for me. We work primarily in cherry, walnut, and figured maple. We order in on a per need basis, usually about every 6 weeks. We really get extraordinary material from them, as you will see from some of the images.

We are reasonably well organized, though if I had started out with the space I have now, I probably would have done some things differently. We do have our spaces divided into receiving, rough milling, assembly, veneering, finishing, and shipping. Really pretty happy with the shop.

I most enjoy the design process and love seeing a new design come into being for the first time (especially if I am happy with it).

I haven't done any shows in several years now, and have decided to do a show in Baltimore the first of May. Usually when I come up with new designs or a new line, I need to get out and do a few shows to introduce the work. I haven't done that yet with my Meander line so I am presently working on a show display of my Meander collection.


Some of Jim's furniture can be seen in his gallery-

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mythical Woodworking - Stephen Hynson

Mahogany Cupboard by Stephen Hynson

In addition to being a professional woodworker I am also a practicing Jungian psychologist. In this later role I am always curious about the archetypal and mythic contexts for the life stories I am told. Among other things, active myths are indicators of the current cultural zeitgeist as well as an individual’s strategy for engaging life and life engaging us. The myth of the flawed hero is a long standing story in American culture. Our founding fathers are often portrayed in this light. Hollywood recapitulates the story again and again, in such films as Rocky, Star Wars, and most recently, Avatar.

In myth of all types specific behaviors are modeled, various moral dilemmas are confronted, if not resolved, and unconscious elements are brought to the foreground. One theme of Star Wars is the power of unconscious forces to lead one to the dark side. Another story line is the redemptive power of love. Viewed this way, myths can be seen as a learning tool. Myths, in sense, provide a a set of idealized behaviors if not also a psychic template for all us. There is a two way street here as myth also provides a lens, a window of sorts to contextualize and understand the world around us. A world view that looks at all tasks as Promethean is very different from the world view of the followers of Bacchus. Is life a struggle, or is life a party?

During a long stretch of sanding I got to thinking about the stories and myths I grew up with that involved woodworkers and woodworking in the plot line. Pondering this I came up with two general sorts of stories and characters. First we have the woodsman. In stories like Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and Peter and the Wolf, there is the heroic figure of the woodsman that slays wolves. On a metaphoric level, it is someone that has a familiarity with the forest and its wild things that is able to and does tame, if not, kill the wild things. From a psychic standpoint, there is a specific set of skills of the self that manages the wild urges.

As woodmen and women we have a direct relationship with the natural world in order to tame this world. We are the mediators between the wild world and the civilized world. This might also be thought of as a more general definition of the artisan and our world of craft. The tales of Paul Bunyan pick up on these themes also. An extra large character with a large blue ox for a buddy, Paul Bunyan is also often in the role of the Trickster as well as the lumberman mediating nature and civilization. Like Hermes and Ulysses, Paul Bunyan has a bit of mischief and mishap in him, and is a mediator between worlds, wild and civilized, unconscious and conscious.

The other set of stories deal with the working of wood directly. There is of course the story of Jesus and his filial responsibilities. Leaving the family and the world of carpenters, he of course goes onto something a bit different. Among other things, it is the story of the heroic.

Another story about a woodworker is the tale of Geppetto, a very poor woodcarver, and Pinocchio, an animated marionette. Like the early story of Jesus, it is about the relationship between a father and son, and family life. Created from a piece of talking pinewood, Pinocchio goes on to live the life of the Trickster. Something wild, the pinewood, has the appearance of humanness. Yet it is only through the tempering fires of his misadventures that he finally becomes truly human.

Both the story of Jesus and the story of Geppetto and Pinocchio offer ways of deepening into our human nature, the former through transcendence and the later through engaging the travails of the mundane and every day. Woodworking offers a very hands on experience for this work of the soul. It is wild stuff we work with. And that which is wild, untempered and unconscious is worked, whittled down and refined into a gift from our self to another. It is a very alchemical process of transformation. And like Paul Bunyan we also have a bit of mischief about us and a glint in our eye. Next time, ask your clients what they see.

©2010 Stephen Hynson, reprinted with permission.

To see more of Stephen's work, please visit his gallery

Monday, February 22, 2010

Am I Green Enough?- Erik Wolken

Bench by Erik Wolken

I recently completed a project for a small town near me to make a couple of outdoor benches. Nothing complicated, just big chunky sturdily built benches made from cedar I bought from a local mill and put together to last many years in the wind and rain. The whole process of doing this project got me to thinking about those trendy words flying around these days, green and sustainable, and how they apply to me as a builder.

There are lots of new materials and recycled products out on the market to work with now, many of which claim to be green and sustainable and many of which visually are quite exciting. Bamboo and all of the different ways they have been able to manufacture it, is cool stuff and I would love to use it in a piece someday, as well as recycled beams from an old factory or plywood made from wheat. But alas all of the above are expensive and I have as yet been unable to convince a client to use them in a piece of furniture. So because of this am I not a green maker. Am I part of the problem and not the solution?

My little bench project helped me to gain some perspective on that matter. Here I was building something for a local town out of locally sourced materials built to last decades and most of the money stayed within my local community. All in all I would say that should score pretty high on the green and sustainability scale, so should I now pat myself on the back and call myself green worthy? The answer is unfortunately more complicated than that. Not all of my work meets the standards set by the bench project. In fact most does not. But it has caused me to think and compelled me to come up with a useful definition of “green” that I can work with.

For me the best definition is a personal one that reads more like a laundry list than a written in stone definition. I try and use local wood whenever possible. Short of that I try to use mostly eastern hardwoods. I stay away from exotic materials unless the client demands it and then I put on an environment surcharge which gets donated to a fund for forest stewardship. I try to use less toxic water-based finishes and non-toxic milk-based paints. As I learn more, I expect will add more to my laundry list. But in the end, the bottom line for me is building work that is of the highest quality construction designed to last for lifetimes.

When I sold my very first piece of furniture, my clients proclaimed that it would be in their family for generations. That is a powerful statement of sustainability in a disposable society where things are destined for the landfill almost from inception. While not as sexy as using recycled wood or bamboo or recycled plastic bottles, building furniture to last generations is my main contribution to helping create a better environment. I am still reluctant to pat myself on the back and call myself a green maker - there is still plenty more I could do for mother nature - but I am part of the solution.

-Erik Wolken, Fine Wood Artist member.

To see more of Erik's work, please visit his gallery-