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