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-

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