Saturday, February 21, 2009

Greene and Greene Wood Finishing

The techniques and processes I use (in furniture making) evolve over time. Sometimes a better method is found and other times change is forced upon me.
When I wrote my book, “Greene and Greene: Design Elements for the Workshop” I listed an aniline dye, English Brown Mahogany #43, for coloring the wood . Little was I to know that said aniline dye was about to be “no longer available”. This precipitated numerous emails and phone calls from my readers asking for an alternative.

What started out as misfortune turned into good fortune! I have not only found an alternative - but an improved process as well.
General Finishes dye stains come in several colors and can be infinitely mixed to achieve the desired results. I found that mixing 7 parts of their Orange dye stain with 4 parts of their Medium Brown Dye Stain produces a beautiful brown with orange overtones.
The dye stain is more user friendly than traditional (water base) aniline dyes. Whereas the traditional water base aniline dye would streak easily - the General dye stain does not streak nearly as much.
You will still need to raise the grain and scuff sanding with 320- grit. Three applications should produce the desired results although I would test first on scrap wood.

For the top-coat, as in my book, I recommend the 3-5 coats of General Finishes Arm-R-Seal satin.
Instead of the Bri-wax I used in the book, I now prefer Renaissance Wax. Use this stuff sparingly, not only because it is pricey, but because not much is needed for each application. Follow the instructions on the tin. Only do small areas at a time – if it dries and streaks before you can wipe it clean – use a little 0000-steel wool.

A related side note: An original hand written recipe for finishing the Thorsen house bedroom furniture can be viewed at the G and G Virtual archives. The original finish calls for Bichromate of Potash (potassium dichromate) which is nasty stuff.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Very Subjective Matter

Design, or for that matter, any creative enterprise, is a very subjective matter - and rightly so. I certainly do not expect everyone to agree with me or share my vision. The fact that some people do understand and/or appreciate my viewpoint is a real thrill for me.
But if the world were populated with people who thought exactly as I do – then the world would be a boring place indeed. It is those differing points of views that make life so very interesting. Everyone is “tweaked” a little(or a lot)differently - whether you were born under a different star or because of your particular set of life experiences – your perspective is unique to you alone.
I consider it one of my greatest achievements as a parent when my (now adult) kids respectively disagree with me (they may wonder while I am smiling while they proceed to tell me I am crazy!).

My designs are an expression of my personality. They will not appeal to everyone, but I do hope they are accepted as valid expressions.
There are many styles that don’t necessarily appeal to my taste – but I can appreciate many of them. Often-times, if we look beyond personality, we can learn from these “other “perspectives. Chippendale is a good example of this. At first glance Chippendale is far too busy for me. But when I look past all the “frou-frou” – I see a master of balance and proportion. There is much to be learned from Chippendale!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Furniture Design - Intuition, Inspiration, and the Rules

I have been giving some thought to furniture design as of late. It is not a simple black and white matter. The rules of design, when followed religiously, tend to produce designs that may be acceptable, but somewhat sterile and lacking in passion.
For every rule of design there exists an exception to that rule. Every new art form, at its inception, breaks the rules in one way or another, and then proceeds to set up its own set of new rules.

On the other hand, if the rules are given little or no respect, chaos will rule instead and there is likely to be neither cohesion nor balance.

That is not to say every great designer started by making a rigorous study of the rules. I am sure there are many gifted artists whose innate sense of balance and proportion is such that a study is not necessary. Their intuition is their only guide.

For the rest of us mortals I think it necessary to make a serious study of the rules, but at some point in time - when the rules are infused into our consciousness - we must let them go. If our designs are to have fire in their souls we must allow our inspiration to ignite the process and our intuition alone to be the guide.

Last year I was reading about Louis Sullivan and came upon this quote:

"……formulas are dangerous things. They are apt to prove the undoing of a genuine art, however helpful they may be in the beginning to the individual. The formula of an art remains and becomes more and more rigid with time, while the spirit of that art escapes and vanishes forever. It cannot live in text-books, in formulas or in definitions."

Some of you may be interested in a related essay I wrote and posted on my website:
Regulae Stultis Sunt
(Rules are for Fools)