Originally from Cape Breton Island I moved to Halifax over 30 years ago and work out my private Beaver Bank shop.
I've been building furniture and cabinets as a hobby/passion for almost 30 years now. The first 20 years or so were spent building and furnishing 3 homes, learning and applying my knowledge and always striving to perfect my skills. Not having to do this for a living has enabled me to learn and work at my own pace not being pressured by productivity targets or deadlines.
With the home building era behind me and a closet full of magazines and books to refer to for inspiration, I stumbled across a book titled "A Cabinetmakers Notebook" by James Krenov . This was no how-to book, but rather a fresh way to look at wood and the craft of cabinet making.
For the most part the furniture industry has moved away from traditional construction methods in favor of faster and less complex ones .
Most of my pieces lately are one-offs and not reproduced the same twice. I am responsible for every aspect of construction from wood selection to finish.
standing the test of time
Taking wood movement seriously: Solid wood moves (expands and contracts) seasonally, but only across the grain in any noticeable amount. Working within these limitations in the design process helps to insure the longevity of the piece. Not all traditional joinery methods can be done with power tools, but instead require properly sharpened and tuned hand tools (planes, chisels, saws, etc), which are not only a joy to use but a necessity in hi quality furniture construction.
Time honored joinery; Some things are hard to improve on, although many things have come along to save time and effort. Some good, some ok , and some questionable. I guess only time will tell they say.
The best cut for certain components: Some boards are better for certain components because of there stability and visual impact on the piece. Straight grain rift and quarter sawn boards relay a calmness and are less likely to move or distort, making them suitable for legs or door components. Flat sawn and figured woods create the natural ornamentation and one of a kind appeal.
Exploratory work : This is one of the real joys. Finding the right piece; whether its re-sawing for book matched door panels and hand cut veneers, or looking through boards at my local wood supplier. The organic, subtle and wild beauty of the wood reduces the need for decorative elements such as crown moldings or fluted columns. We have also become a custom to dark stains that blend and homogenize the rich tones of the wood which would otherwise come alive under the right finish.
How much finish is enough: Spray-on finishes used in larger shops are probably some of the hardest and most durable finishes out there hmmm? That’s good to know if I want to finish a floor or a very expensive veneered kitchen table top, but its hard to beat the natural beauty of a oil and wax on cherry or shellac and wax on walnut. If it calls for more durability, one or two coats of oil to bring out the figure in the wood, followed by a wipe-on poly and maybe finished with a buffed wax. It's all about finding the right balance between beauty and durability.
The learning never ends: If the day comes that I feel I have learned enough, I suppose that’s when a passion becomes strictly “work”, and the divide between “work” and “play” becomes obvious. until then, I will strive to do better on every piece I build, learning, adding more subtle details or removing what ever I think is needed to make it better. In the end the piece I am currently building usually becomes my favorite and in turn drives the passion to do better.