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-

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Shows update- Martha Collins

Fine Wood Artists member Martha Collins will be showing at The American Craft Council show in Baltimore, February 24-28 at booth 130. Stop by and say hi!
Next she will be showing at the Contemporary Crafts Market in San Francisco March 13 and 14.

March 29-April 2 she is offering Women in Woodworking Class through the Port Townsend school of Woodworking, it's an introduction to tools class.

To see more of Martha's work, please see her gallery

Friday, February 5, 2010

Shop visit with John Shrader and Joel Shepard

It’s a pleasant winter afternoon in a very busy Seattle neighborhood. I am lucky to find parking across the street from a typical industrial building, one that could be offices or upscale apartments if it weren't for the familiar hum and whine of a large table saw emanating from inside. In this building, several different woodworkers rent workspace, with communal use of some of the more industrial equipment.
Joel Shepard at his work table.

Here I am welcomed with a friendly greeting from John Shrader who soon introduces me to Joel Shepard. Both are Fine Wood Artists members who rent shop space in this building. Joel is bent over his worktable, carefully taping together impossibly thin sheets of veneer for a box. His space is organized, yet full of plans, half finished projects, and inspiration. Several old chairs wait for restoration on one side, and under a blanket, a designer's desk with a unique poured resin top. The box Joel is working will incorporate a beautiful piece of spalted maple. I can tell from the plans it is going to be a real show piece once finished, but he says it's a present, not something he will sell.

Joel is an adaptable and multi disciplined woodworker. He will work with both individuals and designers to create new furniture, but he also repairs and restores antique pieces, and currently on his plate is the restoration of a Japanese lacquered chest. Like many woodworkers in the Pacific Northwest, Joel is influenced by classic Japanese furniture design. He also is very capable of creating his own unique pieces. "I enjoy working with designers and from my own designs," he says, “they both have their challenges, and working with someone else’s vision... brings in new ideas to my own work."

After greeting some of the other woodworkers who share the shop, we come to John's corner studio. Every inch of John's space is filled with wood, tools and his unique segmented bowls in various states of completion. He tells me there are over 60 bowls currently in progress. Though small, each part of his space is utilized efficiently. Unceremoniously in the center of his space is his variable speed lathe with a rough turned bowl waiting for the next stage.

Next to his cleverly improvised spray booth and drying cabinet is an organized stack of different exotic and hardwood boards that would make any woodworker envious. Unlike most turners, John doesn't often work from a solid block of wood; rather he takes flat boards, and using a method he perfected, carefully cuts them, layers them, glues then turns them. This method actually uses the wood very efficiently, and since it doesn't require starting from a large block, it allows him to use woods that aren't often used for larger turnings such as wenge and ebony. Each board is quarter and angle cut in circular strips, then stacked in such a way to create a pleasing pattern in the grain of the finished bowl. Some of the pieces he bleaches or sandblasts to accentuate this pattern, and for some he adds a band of silver or brass along the rim. Many of these bowls are finished with a high gloss lacquer almost like glass, and they are all turned perfectly thin.

On the wall above his tool cabinet are images of pieces from his sea series. These award winning, delicately pierced vessels are somewhere between science and art. He tells me the pleasure of being at a show and having someone recognize his inspiration for the series, tiny microscopic radiolarians that are found in the ocean.

Normally John doesn't have so many bowls in progress, but with a big show coming up (Best of the Northwest in Seattle, Magnuson Park, March 27 & 28), and having sold well over the Holidays he is looking to get ahead. He spends most afternoons in the shop, working on his unique and beautiful creations.

John Shrader

“My goal is to make enough to show a profit on my taxes" he says jokingly. In reality, he turns for the same reason most woodworkers do, for the joy of creating something beautiful from wood.

More work by John Shrader can be seen in his gallery-

Best of the Northwest Show information-

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

If you are interested in purchasing work by either artist, please contact them from more information.