Saturday, September 12, 2009

James Krenov 1920 - 2009

James Krenov was an early influence of mine. Before I was a Greene and Greene fanatic, I was a Krenov fanatic. His designs were supremely elegant and he had a way of writing that drew me into his world. You don’t have to look too deeply to see his influence in my work.

I never had a conversation with Krenov as I did with Sam Maloof, but many years ago, I attended a couple of his lectures and once, one of his weekend workshops. At that time I was not fully self-employed. I worked a day job making high end conference tables. At the workshop, if we so choose, we could bring a slide of our work which would then be critiqued by Krenov and the entire group of about 30 people.

Back then I was somewhat unsure of myself and shied away from public speaking (public speaking being more than 4 people!). I had brought images of a small end table I had made and was working up the courage to stand up and hand my slides to Krenov. In turn each person would stand up, introduce themselves, and tell something about their woodworking experience before discussing their slide. As I was telling myself “I can do this – I can do this” – another guy began to speak - to my utter horror he started in on a rant about the outrageous sums of money people were getting for conference tables (why he singled out conference tables I will never know), while truly deserving craftsman were working for starvation wages. The sub-text here was that people building conference tables were selling their souls to the highest bidder. There was general agreement in the room and a lot of anger vented. I can’t recall Krenov’s exact response but I think it was something along the lines of “don’t worry your-self about these things”.

I did not stand up – I wish I had. Looking back though, my design was uninspiring and I am sure it would have taken some hits – especially after admitting that I was one the afore mentioned builders of conference tables.

Krenov’s influence remains a part of my work to the present day.
Many of you who have read my book or have attended one of my workshops know of the story behind the “block and dowel” pulls I use on my furniture.
For those of you who haven’t – several years ago I designed what I thought was a great pull to accent my G&G inspired designs. I was feeling very good about myself for coming up with said design until one day I came upon a poster in my file cabinet. The poster was an announcement of the Krenov workshop I had attended. There on the poster was Krenov’s block and dowel pull which my sub-conscious had filed away and brought forward years later.

Krenov’s work has influenced me in countless ways – some ways I am probably still not consciously aware of. I read his books at a time when I was on fire to devour everything I could find on woodworking and design – and at a time when there wasn’t nearly as much material available as there is now.
Thank you James Krenov, for inspiring me and adding fuel to my passion so many years ago.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

An Open Letter to All Spammer /Scammers.

I have been getting emails like the one below (which I received a couple of days ago) for a few years now. The sender always seems to have a very English sounding name, but for some reason does not have a good command of the English language (this one is better in that regard than most).

Here is the spammer email just as I received it. I did change the name and omitted the address in case they borrowed those from a 3rd party.




COMPANY NAME: Morris&Son.Co..Ltd

My Response………………….

Hello to you Richard Morris,

This is my read to you for the quote that is ready.

I am (You-know-who) and I do make these (dining table), I am so very sorry but I am not in the slightest way accepting credit card, It is in fact my firm belief that credit card are part of Beelzebub's (the DEVIL !!!!) master plan. I do however accept gold bullion---- for these (dining table).

The price is 3 (very large) wheel barrels chocked full of gold bullion. I know what you are thinking - this is nuts because it will cost me extra money to ship the 3 wheel barrels full of gold bullion. NOT TO WORRY! I have run into this problem before and have you covered. First of all, you do not have to go to the full expense of purchasing 3 wheel barrels and shipping them to me (chocked full with said gold bullion). Just go and purchase one (very large) wheel barrel - load it chocked full (no cheating here now - it must be CHOCKED FULL) of said gold bullion - unload the gold bullion and set it aside - then do this 2 more times -this then is your 3 wheel barrel payment of (chocked full gold bullion) - you don't have to ship the wheel barrel! You can in fact take the wheel barrel back to the hardware store and demand a full refund ( just a note from my own experience - if you act very indignant it will greatly improve you chances of getting the full refund) - but my sense of fairness does not stop here - - calculate the actual cost of shipping (the gold bullion) and remove that amount of gold bullion from the pile ( again no cheating - its' not that I don't trust you - but I will be double checking your figures).

You must realize that as a business man I can not however be burdened with every little expense and as you have seen I am very fair about meeting you part way in these matters. I feel it is therefore your responsibility to provide an armed guard for the (gold bullion) while it is in transit.

One more thing - As you can imagine I am receiving shipments of (gold bullion) on a daily basis for purchase of my (furniture). It is therefore extremely important to clearly label your shipment and reference this email. It is my company policy that any shipments of (gold bullion) that are received without adequate labeling will be held for a period of only 30-days before it is moved to my big vault and considered a part of my company's general assets. I again know what you are thinking - this is a pretty uncaring and cold manner in which to conduct business. But you really need to put you two feet in my two shoes for a moment and look at it from my point of view - (you know things are not always as they seem until you see things from the other persons perspective). I receive a number of (gold Bullion) shipments every week without proper labeling (its appalling how so many people are so sloppy in their handwriting and labeling) - if not labeled properly these shipments then take up an unacceptable amount of space on my shop floor - my shop space is a major asset for my business - If all I have is piles of gold bullion taking up space in my shop - how do you expect me to get any work done and in turn provide an adequate living for my family?

Again I am very pleased that you are so eager to do business with my company and I look forward to receiving your shipment of (gold bullion).

Yours truly,


Friday, May 29, 2009

Sam Maloof

It was a very sad day last week when I got a phone call from Kevin Lerma telling me that Sam Maloof had died the night before.

Sam well deserved his position as one of the most influential and well known woodworkers in the world. But as much as Sam was a master woodworker, he was an even greater human being.

My Meeting with Sam

In February of 2007 I was teaching a class at William Ng’s in Anaheim. One of my students (Jim) was a docent at Sam Maloof’s. Since I was not available during the day to tour Sam’s house (museum) Jim arranged for myself and two others to have a special after-hour’s tour. I was told there were no guarantees of meeting Sam. After arriving, Jim proceeded to give us the tour,but few minutes later, Sam came walking in, and upon seeing us took over as tour guide.
This was incredible - not only did we get to meet Sam but he was taking the time to personally give us the tour! I could not believe our good luck - I was blown-away!
At one point Sam pulled the velvet rope aside and said “let’s set down for a moment”!

Afterwards Sam invited us down to his house (where he actually lived). We visited for another hour or so while setting on Sam’s furniture.
Sam had no idea who we were – but made time for us nonetheless. Sam was very humble and easy to talk to - as if he were just a regular guy. He was unaffected by his fame. I have heard many stories similar to mine – Sam was always willing to give of himself. He was an extraordinary human being!
I bought Sam’s book and had him sign it. He wrote “To Darrell Peart – Blessings/Peace – Sam Maloof - February 2007”.

Blessings and Peace upon you Sam – you will greatly missed.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Precision Woodworking

When I started out in woodworking every project was laid out in full scale on MDF on the floor on my hands and knees. I had a giant (shop-made) t-square, a good set of knee pads and a box of colored pencils (different color for each layer). These layouts were critical to my process. Having taken three years of drafting in school I was fairly proficient with drawing instruments and prided myself in being accurate. Every minute detail was worked in these layouts - from complex joinery to use of hardware and even some of the aesthetic decisions. Every project meant a new piece of MDF to be placed in my storage bin - after a while my storage bin would begin to bulge so from time to time I would have to perform a selective purging. This system served me well and I was quite content with it. But change was on the way. And as change often is, it came in small incremental pieces.
The first step in that change came while I was working at a large high-end commercial shop. At this shop there were nearly 100 employees on the floor – most of whom loved to buy tools – which we often did in bulk to get a good price. One time we purchased vernier calipers – not because we had a need for them but because it sounded like a really neat idea. So we had nearly one hundred woodworkers with calipers: and nothing to measure. After some discussion it was decided that all work coming out of the mill department (where I worked) would be subject to a standard of .005. Soon 1/32” seemed like a large number! This was great stuff and we all became a bit drunk with it – it was not long before someone bought a dial indicator (on magnetic base) to set the slip (suicide) knives on the shaper and not long after that we were setting the knives on the jointer with a dial indicator as well.
Working with calipers and dial indicators soon became a part of how I did things - it greatly increased my accuracy - especially with things such as intricate joinery. But change does not come easy for some. A few of the older guys did not buy calipers - in fact they took every opportunity to chastise us for using the new technology and speaking in thousandths. At one point I made a rather embarrassing mistake on a project. It was a ripe opportunity for one of these old guys to level his most damning insult at me - and I could see it coming as he walked over to me and said “I bet you own a calculator – don’t you! “.
A few years later I found myself back at HLD (Harry Lundstead Design) – a shop I had worked at years earlier building custom conference tables. I described my new position as “fireman”. Since I had left the company, they took my old job and divided it up amongst several people - no-one knew the entire process anymore. So I was hired back on swing shift – and my job, since I knew the entire process was to step in at any point and “put out the fire”.
Since I had left a CNC router had become a part of the process - so I learned how to operate it. This was not the CNC machines of today – this thing operated in DOS, which often meant entering coordinates and programming it myself.
This was another step in changing the way I approached woodworking. The opportunities the CNC opened up were immediately apparent. For instance - no more giant router trammels that stretched all the way across the shop and took several people to manage. It was now possible to run a 360” radius followed by a 360.0625” radius with extreme precision in a matter of 5 minutes verses several hours the old way!
The technology bug had now bitten me in a very big way. I was actively seeking new technologies and not waiting for them to bite me first.
Learning CAD was high on my list. But I had spent many years with the t-square and was quite efficient with it. So it was considerable time before I was faster with CAD and could fully retire my drawing instruments. CAD opened up a whole new world and was probably the biggest move forward of them all. Complex joinery and compound angles became much easier. I could draw a curved part from a chair and rotate that part so that it would fit into the smallest rectangle possible thus making the most efficient use of material. Within that rectangle the joinery could be placed within .001 “. With my Incra precision marking tools I could layout the joinery on a piece of wood to within 0.015625” (1/64”) - which would serve as the “rough layout”. With my Multi-router (an incredibly accurate machine) I could make a rough test cut. With my calipers I could then measure the cut and adjust the multi-router to within a couple of thousandths with my dial indicator.
A fundamental premise of woodworking had changed. Instead of fitting each part to the next I could, for the most part, make individual parts with a high degree of certainty that things would either fit on the first try with little or no fussing.
The combination of CAD and CNC has also dramatically changed the way I approach jig and template making. Jigs are easily made to hold odd and curved shapes while complex joinery is performed. A would-be tricky operation such as a pierced tsuba is now a simple matter.

But these new technologies have their limitations. If everything were done by machine with absolute precision – then everything would be rather lifeless and sterile. There must be some sign of the human hand in our work - there must be a little imperfection. What gives a person’s face character is the fact that one side is slightly different than the other. I let technology do what it does best – precision measuring and machining, but the pillowed ends of finger joints and ebony plugs are all shaped by hand – they are all just slightly different than the next piece. The same is true with my “straps” - final shaping is by hand and all are slightly irregular. The final sanding of a rounded edge is always done by hand.
Precision woodworking does not make new things possible it just makes things done the old way dramatically easier, thus greatly reducing the labor required and ultimately making things more affordable.
So embrace new technologies and let them do what they do best but let a little imperfection and character show in your work as well.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Design DNA

When contemplating a new design, I try to visualize the piece as having DNA. In other words it is a part of the organic world and the design elements are a product of its' DNA.
When filtering a design through this lens there are a few questions to be asked:
How do the individual elements interact with one another? Do they look like they came from the same master plan?
What is the perceived structural role of the various elements and are those elements performing their duty?
These are not questions for the intellect – we must call on our emotional nature for the answer – we must close our eyes and let our imagination and intuition play out the scenario.

To illustrate the point, let’s take the leg indent detail from the Greene & Greene Blacker House living room furniture.
In my vision the indent detail has a perceived structural role to play in the design - it is a device used to visually anchor the design to the ground (just as many other classic bottom- of -leg details). The "indent" pushes down and transfers the visual weight of the piece to the very bottom of the leg. That bottom portion of the leg (below the indent) is thus receiving the entire weight of the piece. There must also be a sufficient amount of mass below the indent to visually support the given weight. The slight round-over/ taper below the supporting mass serves to visually contain the weight and not let it dissipate.
In nature everything is there for a purpose. When a design possesses DNA there is an economy in its details - nothing is superfluous.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Week at William Ng’s School of Fine Woodworking

My visits to Anaheim to teach at William Ng’s school are always rewarding. It’s a time to make new friendships and renew old ones around a common theme of woodworking and Greene and Greene. The week started with the first commercial run of my new Details II class. I was more than a little delighted to see among the 18 students, several who I already knew from my Details I class. After the trial run at Port Townsend I had a good idea of how the material would flow – but I was a little nervous nonetheless –all went well though and if nothing else the students were polite enough to say they really
enjoyed the class.

Several students from the weekend stayed on for my 6-day Arched Aurora End Table class for a total of eight . Two guys from the Seattle area - Tom and Jim made it to Anaheim for both classes. Their tables will be shipped home in knock–down and will be assembled later in my shop in Seattle.

We were especially thrilled to have Marc Spagnuolo (better known as the Wood Whisperer) in attendance. Marc along with his good friend Brad Ferguson were my star students - always done first and eager for what’s next. Both Marc and Brad are very fine woodworkers and were with us mainly to add some Greene & Greene details to their bag of woodworking tricks. I would like to thank Marc for his blogging of the class on his website – my hits doubled and my book sales soared! And I would like to thank Brad for helping me with some of the slower students in the class. A video of Marc interviewing me will be available for download from – stay tuned to Marc’s website for details.

When I found out that Marc and Brad were interested in building John Hall’s walnut mirror frame (1909), I called Gary Hall - Gary graciously brought the frame by for hands on look. This was an incredible treat and a rare close-up look at work by one of the Hall Brothers. You would have thought a rock star was in the room with all the cameras clicking.

All in all it was a very good eight days at William Ng’s. I am home now and still feeling a bit exhausted - but the exhaustion is from doing things I love to do - a good exhaustion indeed!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Weekend at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking

This last weekend we (myself and the Port Townsend School of Woodworking) invited a few of our friends to attend a trail run of my new workshop – Greene and Greene Details II.
(With a Thanks to Tim Celeski - you can view 360-degree images of the class - here and another image again here ) In attendance were:George Knutson( who assists me), Gary Hall (grandson of Peter Hall) , Clay Curtiss, Bob Hadley, Bob Anderson, Tim Celeski (who took the 360-degree images), John Markworth (co-owner of the school), Tom Moore (alias Tom SoCal),Tom Casper (editor of American Woodworker and Woodwork magazines), Josh Green, Michael Hamilton and David Radkha. Jim Tolpin (author and co owner of the school) popped in and out and also joined several of us for dinner at the Sirens on Saturday night.

After setting up for the class on Friday, Gary Hall, Bob Hadley and I went on an Architectural history adventure – in the pursuit of a carved panel in the Jefferson County Courthouse (located in uptown Port Townsend). The carving in question may have been carved by John Hall (Gary’s great uncle) as mentioned in Randell Makinson’s book Greene and Greene: Furniture and Related Designs. I had tried several times in the past to locate any carving whatsoever, but to no avail. Apparently I was not the only person looking though – there is a carving now pictured in the courthouses’ pamphlet. It is located in one of the courtrooms directly behind and slightly above where the judge sits. Too bad we can’t have a look at the backside to see if it was signed!
Gary Hall continued his Architectural/ Family History adventure Saturday with a visit to a house that has a magnificent spiral stairway built at the time his grandfather, Peter Hall (known as a master stair builder), was in PT. Neither the carving nor the spiral stairway can be confirmed as being made by John or Peter Hall but it is entirely possible given the timeframe and that these were their specialties.

Getting back to the class: We all gathered Saturday morning with what was probably a bit slower start since there was a bit of catching up among friends. We finished up pretty much where I thought we would be at the end of Saturday. Sunday we took a break at noon for brunch at the Commons, which is only a very short distance from the school. We finished up the day around 3 o’clock and said goodbye to our old friends and some newly acquired friends as well.
Port Townsend is a wonderful and rare place. It is sort of an artist community that has not lost its identity. Franchises are not permitted in the downtown business district. The school itself is located in Fort Warden State Park on beautiful grounds near the water among many historic buildings. I enjoy teaching there not just because of the setting, but also because it’s an excuse to visit my Uncle Aubrey and Aunt Margot who live there.

I will be leaving Friday to teach the Details II workshop at William Ng's School of Fine woodworking in Anaheim. The workshop is sold out but I believe there is still room in the 6-day arched aurora nightstand class.
I will return to PT in April and then again in July to teach both Details I and Details II. Both of these dates are sold out but we may add a couple of dates in the fall – stay tuned!

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)