Month: May 2018

This Sublime Woodwork by Anna Gregory Brought Me Back to my Childhood

Credit: Anna Gregory Design

Credit: Anna Gregory Design

One of my fondest memories from when I was a child was the day I went to work with my dad.

I would have been around eleven, and on a mid-term break from school when he asked me would I go with him the next day. I’d like to think I jumped at the chance to help him. But I probably replied something sulky like; “Yeah. I suppose. Whatever.”

My dad was an architect. Still is. We were going to survey a green field site where a new government building was to be constructed. My job for the day was to stand in various locations holding a red and white staff, while he recorded the site levels using a dumpy level. It only took a couple of hours of my skinny little legs stumbling around the rocky and wet field before we were done. It was pretty boring to be honest. It didn’t exactly inspire any notions in me to become an architect. But it was a great day. I just really enjoyed the two-hour road trip, being taken out for lunch, and spending time with my dad.

I think it’s because I love and respect my dad so much that I have some sort of underlying respect for all architects.

I didn’t even know Anna Gregory was an architect when her work grabbed me. Based in central Kentucky, she is a maker focused on furniture, interiors, and commissioned art pieces— with a masters in architecture to boot.

Credit: Anna Gregory Design

Credit: Anna Gregory Design

One day while perusing the explore tab on Instagram, one of her wall screens jumped out at me. Instantly clicking into her profile, I quickly grew to admire her small portfolio of sublime work.

I have a background in graphic design as well as woodworking. I assumed the way she used pattern and shape was speaking to my graphic design sense. Maybe it was. But I purely loved the fact that it was simple, refined and elegant.

It’s hard not to appreciate the beautiful simplicity and geometric patterns of her wall screens. She has mastered how to create these patterns in an elegant way using gorgeous hardwoods. The graphic designer in me admires them greatly.

In contrast, I’m not sure what part of me connects with the organic shapes of her tables and boards. But they are wonderful. Organic shapes are a very difficult thing to get right. I know this from experience. Anna uses a type of avocado shape for her tables that just beautifully complements the style of hairpin leg she uses.

Credit: Anna Gregory Design

Credit: Anna Gregory Design

Recently, I drove past the place where an eleven year old boy had once spent the day tripping over rocks and slipping on wet grass. It’s no longer a vacant, barren site. It is a simple, refined, and elegant building.

Architecture, like woodworking, is a subjective thing. We all have our own personal influences and tastes— and I know where mine came from. 

You don’t need to have some sort of sentimental respect for architects to appreciate the work of Anna Gregory. Her work is top class and speaks for itself. 

But if spending a day grazing my ankles on a rocky site contributed to my being able to appreciate it, then so be it.

 

To see more about Anna Gregory visit;

https://www.annagregorydesign.com

https://www.instagram.com/anna.gregory.design/ 

 

P.S. If you liked this article, you may also like to get free and practical tips on woodworking techniques, business growth, productivity, and more in your inbox each week (you’ll also get the “How to Make a Living From Woodworking” PDF guide). Simply SIGN UP HERE to get exclusive access to a wealth of knowledge.

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Have a Woodworking Career You Can Be Proud Of

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It was a beautiful sunny Wednesday in April 2001 when I decided to embark on a woodworking career and become a carpenter.

As I left the house for university that morning, I had no idea I was about to quit. I sat in my usual spot in the massive, old, lecture hall. I settled into the aisle seat, four rows from the back, ready to soak up the information that was coming my way. Fifteen minutes into that sociology lecture — I began to daydream. I stared out the window at the fine weather and wished I was spending the day on a jobsite, just as I had done for my summer jobs. In that moment, I longed to be outside working with my hands instead of being bored to tears in a cavernous lecture hall. I didn’t think too hard about what I did next, it was just a gut feeling. I didn’t even put my textbooks back in my bag. I just picked up my now empty backpack, shuffled sideways out of my seat, walked out the door, and never returned. I gave up a university education complete with sports scholarship to become a woodworker.

Seems fucking crazy to a lot of people.

I often think about the decision I made on that day. I was reminded of it recently while talking to a friend. We were discussing our respective careers. He hates his job and would love to start his own business. His business idea is really good. He’s an intelligent, hard working guy. And I think he’d be successful.

“So quit and do it.” I encouraged.

“No!” he blurted.

“Why not?” I insisted.

“I’ve got to play it safe man. I don’t want to pour everything I’ve got into this for it to fail, or not go anywhere”.

I didn’t get it. Pouring everything you’ve got into something is one of the best things you can do. The potential to be free from your boss and your job, and to create something amazing is worth it.

It is worth it. Isn’t it?

When I left university to start a carpentry apprenticeship I loved it. We framed and roofed houses. We did all the finish and trim work. We did everything from the very start to the very finish of a build. I learned so much, and was given tonnes of responsibility. The summer months were the best. Working outside in the fresh air. Enjoying the warmth, and enjoying the work. It was as far removed from a university education as you could get. But it was one hell of an education. I learned everything that the carpentry trade involved, but I also learned to deal with egotistical contractors, and angry, stressed foremen. I learned to deal with private customers and I learned how to price work, how to schedule, and how to operate efficiently. 

I was young, I was learning, and I was earning. A long and happy career of carpentry, and making a good living stretched out ahead of me.

But then…

I grew to hate it. Wait, what!?

As seems to happen to me periodically throughout my career I got bored. Boredom turned into lethargy and all of a sudden I wasn’t motivated to work as well as I could. Apathy towards my career turned to hatred. I dreaded going to work.

Why the hell didn’t I stay in university and choose a different career?! Maybe I should have played it safe. Who in their right mind walks out on a university education to be a carpenter?!

The other day I was printing some photos of the kids for my wife. I keep them on a hard drive with all my other personal stuff, including thousands of images of the work I’ve done over the years. I cringed as I double-clicked on the first folder. I was thinking of all the mad shit I’ve made, and all the hair-brained woodworking businesses I’ve had. But as I started to browse through the photos I realised I wasn’t cringing. I was proud of the work I had done. Some of it was shit, but some of it was really good.

The images on my hard-drive charted a career, and revived memories of people I worked with. It reminded me of the laughs we had together. I chuckled to myself remembering the times we would wind up the apprentices. I re-lived the elation I felt when my businesses were flying high and the anguish I felt when I failed and had to move on to the next thing. 

And that’s the point. There’s always a next thing. You don’t have to play it safe. You can explore various avenues for your career. You can go all in and roof houses, make kids furniture, make wooden iPhone cases, make marketing material for brands, design commercial joinery fit-outs, make cabinets, build furniture — you can do whatever the fuck you want.

Because what’s the worst that can happen? If any of my woodworking business ideas don’t work, I won’t starve. I’ll just have to accept failure and get a carpentry or joinery job somewhere. That’s really as bad as it can get for me.

So ask yourself — what’s the absolute worst that can happen? It’s probably not as bad as you think.

It’s not just about having a woodworking career you can be proud of, but of having a life you can be happy with. Going all in is the only way I know how.

P.S. If you liked this article, you may also like to get free and practical tips on woodworking techniques, business growth, productivity, and more in your inbox each week (you’ll also get the “How to Make a Living From Woodworking” PDF guide). Simply SIGN UP HERE to get exclusive access to a wealth of knowledge.

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A Worthy Festool Domino Alternative?

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The Festool Domino is a great tool. I’ve honestly never spoken to anyone who is unhappy with a Domino.

If you’re not versed in what a Festool Domino is; it’s a hand-held power tool that allows you to cut mortises in your work piece so you can join your pieces using floating tenons (or dominos as Festool likes to call them).

The only apparent problem with a Festool Domino is it’s price. It can set you back anywhere from $900 – $2,000 depending on whether you go for the DF500 or the XL DF700, and also depending on what accessories you get with it. (Check the current price on Amazon here).

So for many woodworkers, particularly hobbyists, but also pros who only need this type of tool occasionally — this price tag is hard to justify.

There are some other loose tenon systems on the market such as the Beadlock which will give you a similar end result. But these systems tend to be a jig that are made to accompany your existing tools like your drill.

If you are looking for a stand-alone, handheld power tool that allows you to cut similar joinery into wood, I have only found one low-cost alternative. That is the Triton Duo Dowel Jointer TDJ 600.  I purchased this tool and paid around $200 for it. You can check the current price here: (Amazon link).

If you are on a budget and cannot justify the expense of a Festool Domino, then the Triton Duo Dowel Jointer may be an option for you. But be warned, it may take some modification on your part before you use it. Also be warned, it is not really a comparable tool to a Domino. It does a slightly different job. It cuts dowel joinery as opposed to loose tenon joinery. But some woodworkers may find it useful. Take a look at the video review below. You may decide it’s worth your while to modify, even though the tool isn’t perfect out of the box.

I had a very similar personal experience to that of Chris from Sharp Edge Woodworking in the video. I had to modify it to get it to work accurately. I don’t have the need for a Festool Domino. I would only use it very rarely. But for a low cost, and some slight modification, I have a tool that does an extremely good job for my occasional use.

The Triton TDJ 600 appears to be a copy of the original Mafell DD40. And to be honest the Mafell looks like a far superior tool to the Triton. Its reviews are good. It looks accurate out of the box, and has some extra features such as location stops on the face plate. But it is a similar price point to a Festool Domino in the $1,200 – $1,300 range. So that would bring you back to square one!

The Triton TDJ600 isn’t perfect, and won’t be an option for everyone. But if you are looking for a low cost alternative to a Domino and don’t mind investing some time in modifying the tool to get it accurately set up — the TDJ600 suddenly becomes a viable option.

P.S. This is not an ad. I don’t generally do tool reviews or sponsorships, and I have no affiliation with Triton, Festool, or Mafell. I bought the Triton tool knowing its deficiencies, and I still find it useful. I thought I’d share my experience to allow you make your own decision. However, in full disclosure- if you use the Amazon links to buy any of the items, I will receive an affiliate commission from Amazon.

P.P.S. If you liked this article, you may also like to get free and practical tips on woodworking techniques, business growth, productivity, and more in your inbox each week (you’ll also get the “How to Make a Living From Woodworking” PDF guide). Simply SIGN UP HERE to get exclusive access to a wealth of knowledge.

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6 Plywood Chair Designs You Should Know About

If you’re considering buying or making plywood chairs, you definitely need to see these six great examples.

Plywood is such a versatile material. It is strong and stable, with very little wood movement due to it’s cross-grained layers.

It can be cheap to buy, although if you go for higher-end, furniture grade plywood — the costs can begin to add up. That said, furniture grade ply will give you a fantastic end result.

Here, we’ll take a look at six stunning plywood chairs. Some are by iconic designers, while others were designed by lesser known, but extremely talented people.

If you’re considering a plywood project, then one of these great designs could be exactly the thing to get your creative juices flowing.

6 Plywood Chair Designs You Should Know About

1. DCW PLYWOOD CHAIR — CHARLES & RAY EAMES

Designed by Charles & Ray Eames in 1945, the duo had spent many years experimenting with new processes for optimizing the way three-dimensionally moulded plywood fits the contours of the body. They produced designs with plywood shaped in a way that hadn’t been seen before. Comfort and functionality was at the forefront of their thoughts when they designed this chair. However it is also a beautifully designed chair. It is simple, clean, and elegant. The DCW has become a design icon.

Credit: Vitra

Credit: Vitra

2. P9L LOUNGE CHAIR — ALEJANDRO PALANDJOGLOU

The P9L Lounge Chair has subtle nods to the plywood designs of the Eames’. I consider this to be more like a modern day version of the DCW (above), and one that is accessible to all. The designer Alejandro Palandjoglou admits as much when speaking about the piece; “One of my favorite chair designs is Eames LCW molded plywood lounge chair. It’s a design classic and the fine detailed surfacing work is incredible as well as comfortable. It has been a source of inspiration for quite a lot of my furniture and in this case while using a completely different technology I was able to resemble his masterpiece.” Made using a CNC Router, the plans are available for download on instructables.com. It would be far easier to have a CNC machine cut one of these chairs for you than to try to mould something like the Eames DCW. It could even be made without a CNC if you so wished.

Credit: Alejandro Palandjoglou

Credit: Alejandro Palandjoglou

3. SHELL CHAIR CH07 — HANS J. WEGNER

It’s clear that this design was ahead of its time. When it was released in 1963 it wasn’t exactly an instant success. It took until 1998 when it was reintroduced before it gained the widespread acclaim it deserves. Whether this is a plywood design or not is up for debate. The elements are continuous laminated hardwood plys, giving it a flowing lightness. The three-legged design makes for a very stable chair with a distinctive look. It certainly has a unique style, with a warm inviting shape that makes you want to sit into it.

Credit: Carl Hansen

Credit: Carl Hansen

4. MODÈLE DÉPOSÉ — TIM DEFLEUR

Made from simple CNC machined panels, these designs are simple, modern, and elegant. Modèle Déposé is a collection of three different shapes of chair, a console, and a coffee table. This simplicity looks easy to design, but constantly stripping back to achieve these refined forms takes perseverance and patience. The way the chairs slot together so simply are a lesson to us all in how simply furniture can be made. Many woodworkers, myself included, can have a tendency to over complicate what we design and make. Tim Defleur has given us a lesson in simplicity and elegance.

Credit: Tim Defleur

Credit: Tim Defleur

5. SPLINE CHAIR — UNTO THIS LAST

This method of chair construction has gained in popularity with the new found affordability of CNC machines. It is now realistic that you could find some sort of CNC technology in any woodwork shop you walk into, regardless how small. There has been a quiet revolution in digital fabrication in recent years. Companies like the London based Unto This Last are pioneering a new sort of manufacturing business that can use technology to produce beautiful and cost-effective designs. This type of chair lends itself very well to digital fabrication. Two interestingly shaped sides provide the framework for ribbed laths which make up this charming plywood chair design.

Credit: Unto This Last

Credit: Unto This Last

6. RIBBE CHAIR — PLYWOOD PROJECT

Okay, so this chair isn’t exactly going to win any design awards for innovation, but it is notable that a company should choose to manufacture all their furniture products from plywood. Polish company Plywood Project are behind the “Ribbe Chair”. This is  a very simple everyday chair. You would often see similar style designs made in some form of softwood. However, using plywood means that components can be more easily CNC machined to produce a more cost effective chair.

Credit: Plywood Project

Credit: Plywood Project

CONCLUSION

Plywood is an incredible material to design and work with. The possibilities for creativity from a simple 8′ x 4′ sheet are endless. Cabinets and tables seem the obvious thing to make from plywood, but as we’ve seen here, a little imagination can go a long way to produce stunning chair designs. Hopefully these six great examples will spark your inventiveness if planning your very own plywood project.

 

P.S. If you liked this article, you may also like to get free and practical tips on woodworking techniques, business growth, productivity, and more in your inbox each week (you’ll also get the “How to Make a Living From Woodworking” PDF guide). Simply SIGN UP HERE to get exclusive access to a wealth of knowledge.

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See How Easily You Can Inlay Bow-Ties

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Bowties, Butterflies, Dutchmen, Keyed Splines — call them what you will. They look amazing, don’t take too long, and are relatively easy to do.

The whole point of these small inlays is to stabilise your work piece when it has a crack in it. You can buy router templates that will allow you to do these perfectly and symmetrically. But most will probably agree that the organic, freeform shape is more interesting and satisfying.

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OKAY, LETS NOT COMPLICATE IT…

  1. Choose your stock and mark out your bowtie. It doesn’t matter what the shape is. It just needs to be long grain crossing short grain to shore up that crack. Bowties can be anything from less than half an inch to a few inches thick. Depends on the work piece you’re trying to fix.
  2. Cut your bowtie. Cut close to the line and then quickly clean it up with a chisel. To cut, use a bandsaw or hand saw, or whatever you’re comfortable with.
  3. Lay your bowtie across the crack on your piece. Sticking it down with some double sided tape helps.
  4. Mark around your bowtie with a sharp knife — not a pencil. This breaks the grain and is more accurate.
  5. You can hog out the majority of the material with a router, and then chisel back to your knife line for accuracy. Nothing wrong with doing the whole thing with a chisel, it’ll just take longer. Make your depth slightly shallower than the depth of your bowtie.
  6. Carefully test fit, but don’t push it in — you won’t get it back out. Just offer it up and see if there are any spots you need to adjust.
  7. Apply glue and gently tap it in. Leave to set.
  8. Clean up with a plane or sander. That’s it!

Take a look at a few of these videos below, if you need some more explanation.

Credit: Matt Cremona / YouTube

Credit: Samurai Carpenter / YouTube

Credit: John Malecki / YouTube

P.S. If you liked this article, you may also like to get free and practical tips on woodworking techniques, business growth, productivity, and more in your inbox each week (you’ll also get the “How to Make a Living From Woodworking” PDF guide). Simply SIGN UP HERE to get exclusive access to a wealth of knowledge.

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Is it Possible to be Original With Your Woodworking Designs?

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2 min read

SPLIT

This topic can split people into two very distinct groups. On one side you’ll have people who believe it is just plain wrong to use other people’s designs and try to pass them off as your own. On the other side some people think everything is fair game, and if they can make some money by copying a design, making it, and selling it to a client— then they’ll do it without hesitation. Most furniture doesn’t have a patent or copyright, although some do. If you’re not breaking any law, you’re not doing any thing wrong… right?

Right?
 

NO NEW IDEAS

I stand somewhere in the middle on this issue. People have been designing and making woodwork for centuries. It’s extremely difficult to be completely innovative. There are very few completely new ideas. I am a product of my environment. I am a product of all the things I have seen throughout my life. If I sit down to design a piece, I am influenced by every piece of woodwork I have ever seen. I might pull an element from one piece and a couple of elements from another to make up what I consider to be a new piece. The only way I could be completely original is if I had spent my life in a completely white room and not had any outside influence. Then if I designed some furniture it would be completely original. And probably white — so I guess there’d some influence.

INNOVATION

But my (presumably white) piece probably wouldn’t be very good. By drawing inspiration and influence from other designers and makers, you’re constantly trying to make a small improvement or innovation. You’re standing on the shoulders of giants so-to-speak. So your work will more often than not end up copying other work whether you realise it or not.

BLATANT COPYING

I’m also 50:50 on the websites that sell exact copies of an Eames Lounge Chair for example. They completely rip off the design and sell it for a fraction of the cost it would be to get one from Hermann Miller. On one level this seems unscrupulous. But on another level I wonder whether the vision Charles & Ray Eames had for their designs aligns with how it exists today. Was their intent to be a premium design where only the wealthy could afford one of their chairs? I’m not so sure. Would they have used moulded plywood for example if their intent wasn’t to design a comfortable beautiful lounge chair for everyone? I’ll never know.

STIFLING CREATIVITY

By producing exact copies of Eames Lounge Chairs, or Klassen River Tables, or Maloof Rockers, or Nakashima Conoid Chairs, we probably do ourselves a disservice. We don’t give ourselves a chance to be creative or grow and develop our craft. I know I’d much rather make something beautiful that I created and developed myself, than a direct copy of someone else’s work. I feel like this allows me to grow as a person, not just as a woodworker.
 

CONCLUSION

Like all things in design (and life in general!) there are huge grey areas. If you’re completely on one side and see this as a black and white issue maybe it’s time to chill and try to see other points of view. Maybe you copy designs and see nothing wrong with it. Maybe you’ve had your designs copied. Where do you stand? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments, or on social.

 

P.S. If you liked this article, you may also like to get free and practical tips on woodworking techniques, business growth, productivity, and more in your inbox each week (you’ll also get the “How to Make a Living From Woodworking” PDF guide). Simply SIGN UP HERE to get exclusive access to a wealth of knowledge.

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5 Inspiring Examples of Wood Lighting

I love a nice light fixture where wood has been incorporated, or made the key material. It makes it seem warm and inviting. As a woodworker it’s fun to try these projects for yourself. Here’s five great ones to inspire you if you’re considering embarking on your own wood lighting project. Enjoy 🙂

 

1. HOURGLASS TABLE LAMP — SMILOW DESIGN

Classic form. Beautiful walnut woodgrain base. Vellum and birch shade. This is a sweet lamp.

Credit: Smilow Design

Credit: Smilow Design

2. CERNO — CALX

Every time I think of wood being used beautifully in lighting I think of Cerno. They’re so good at what they do. They specialise in wood lighting fixtures. Go check out their work, it’s amazing.

Credit: Cerno Group

Credit: Cerno Group

3. HEAD & HAFT – QUAKE

Named quake because when the light bounces off the hand carved, textured underside of the lamp face it appears to tremble or “quake”. This is very intelligent and creative use of material and texture.

Credit: Head & Haft

Credit: Head & Haft

4. ROSS GARDAM – OAK PENDANT

Simple and sophisticated. It’s a theme for most of these examples. It most certainly applies here. An interesting intersecting hole elevates these pendants from good to great.

Credit: Ross Gardam

Credit: Ross Gardam

5. ALEX ALLEN STUDIO — 2×4 PLUS

“An iconic geometry made from common lumber”. But there’s nothing common about this pendant. It’s original concept may have emerged from the common 2×4, but this is as far removed from a 2×4 as you could get. Class.

Credit: Alex Allen Studio

Credit: Alex Allen Studio

P.S. If you liked this article, you may also like to get free and practical tips on woodworking techniques, business growth, productivity, and more in your inbox each week (you’ll also get the “How to Make a Living From Woodworking” PDF guide). Simply SIGN UP HERE to get exclusive access to a wealth of knowledge.

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“It Was Tempting to Give Up, But I Never Did. I Think Grit and Perseverance Are Two Important Keys to Being Successful… You Can’t Give Up.”: Greg Klassen Interview

Credit: Greg Klassen

Credit: Greg Klassen

Greg Klassen is the man who originally created the River Table, and subsequently a River Collection. Based in the Pacific Northwest of North America, Greg successfully sends his creations all over the world. The demand is such that he can, at times, have a two-year order backlog for his work. But it wasn’t always this way, as you’ll find out below.

Greg originally started making furniture while he was in college. He took a year out from his education to get a job in order to help his wife finish her education. While working this job at a door-making plant, he would bring home discarded wood pieces to make furniture for their first home. A passion for woodworking was born and Greg later went on to study fine woodworking at the College of the Redwoods (now The Krenov School) in Fort Bragg, CA and at Capellagården School of Craft & Design in Vickleby, Sweden.

During my conversation with Greg, he tells how;

  • His first River Table didn’t sell quickly at first.

  • Even when he struggled financially, he still wasn’t afraid to make expensive mistakes.

  • He engineered his viral success with “creative marketing”.

  • He has challenged himself to work a little less every year while still providing a living for his family.

  • Dance pop is what gets him going in the studio!

 

Dónal Moloney: Greg, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. I normally like to start with a question about how you got started in woodworking, but I know that you’ve answered that question quite a few times over the years. So instead, I’d like to go back to the time you created the first ever River Table. I think it’s fair to say that the River Table has reached iconic status at this stage. It must have been incredibly exciting when you finished the first one. I imagine you in your studio rubbing your hands over the freshly finished piece, and contentedly admiring it. Maybe calling your wife out to the studio to see it. At least that’s what I would have done! Can you describe the feeling you had when you created the first one? What was going through your mind? And had you any idea how coveted and loved your River Tables would prove to be?

Greg Klassen: When I created the first River Table I felt a surge of excitement because I felt I was on to something fresh and original.  I was immensely proud of that first table and I began taking it to a few of the arts festivals I was doing at the time.  I started to experience something at the art shows that confirmed I had created something special – people were returning to my booth with their friends to come see my table a second time.  My work up to that point had always been appreciated, but my new work was now causing an emotional reaction with people and they would exclaim about how much they loved it or describe to me how it made them feel.  I’ve had people tell me in great detail how my work makes them smile, or brings back a childhood memory, or brings them a heartfelt tear.  Sometimes a craftsman thinks he has a great design or idea, but the true test of its appeal is when you start to hear how others feel about it.  

While my work has become a success these past few years, my tables didn’t quickly sell at first.  I took my first River Table to 3 or 4 shows before I sold it.  Then after that I made more River Tables and took them to more shows — I still had meagre sales.  After careful consideration I decided to take a big risk and launch the River Collection (tables and art pieces) at a big design show in NYC.  It was a big flop and I didn’t sell anything or take any orders.  It was a crushing blow and ate up most of our money, not to mention about 6 months of time creating new work.  However, I really believed in my work, so I persisted and after my work went viral in July 2014 my work reached the masses and suddenly brought me the success that I always imagined for my work but had never seen.  

The First Ever River Table | Credit: Greg Klassen

The First Ever River Table | Credit: Greg Klassen

DM: Creating a beautifully crafted piece like a River Table is a fantastic achievement in itself. But we all have families to support, and food to put on the table. So, a business element naturally comes into play. How long was it before enough people started to learn about your River Tables, and you were able to provide a living for your family from your River Collection? Did it all begin to happen pretty quickly after the first one? Does this business side of you conflict in any way with your artistic, creative side?

GK: My approach to business as an artist and a craftsman is to have a willingness to be impractical and to follow my creative impulses.  When I made the first River Table, it was really expensive to make and I didn’t know if it would work.  But I’ve decided to be okay with making expensive mistakes.  You don’t know until you try, right?  So I’ve always been willing to try and fail.  Each failure has helped to shape my artistic voice.  

I’ve been able to provide for my family since I opened my studio on June 8, 2008, nearly ten years ago.  We lived extremely modestly for the first 6 years; another perhaps more honest way to put it was that we were “dirt poor”.  I was a starving artist.  I had a small measure of success with my River Tables beginning in 2011 but things didn’t really take off until July 2014 after some creative marketing led to my sudden viral fame.  Since then I’ve stayed busy selling my work and taking commissions.  I’ve had up to a twenty-four month order backlog at times and recently have intentionally trimmed that down to six months so I can focus on creating new work for my website.  I continue to ship my work all over North America and around the world.  

AS A MAN, WHETHER YOU WANT TO OR NOT, YOU PLACE MUCH OF YOUR IDENTITY ON YOUR ABILITY TO PROVIDE FOR YOUR FAMILY. WHEN I WAS STRUGGLING TO PROVIDE, IT REALLY WORE ME DOWN.

— GREG KLASSEN

DM: I have to say that’s an incredible turnaround — and outstanding persistence on your part. So you were a six-year, overnight success!? It’s probably reasonable to say that most people would probably have given up at some point between June 2008 and July 2014. Did you ever consider packing it in and trying something else? You must have had moments when you were a starving artist that you thought “screw this, I’m going to do something else” — did you? What kept you going, and can you lend any insight into your “creative marketing strategy” that led to your sudden viral fame. What did you do that kickstarted it?

GK: During my years of struggle, I was enjoying my work but I took it pretty hard that my work wasn’t selling.  As a man, whether you want to or not, you place much of your identity on your ability to provide for your family.  When I was struggling to provide, it really wore me down. I took some side jobs delivering phone books, doing odd jobs for local folks and even applied for a job as a flower delivery guy.  I was looking for something that would just be sure money and give us some financial relief.  None of those things really helped much and it was pretty discouraging to be so poor for so long.  It was tempting to give up, but I never did.  I think grit and perseverance are two important keys to being successfully self-employed, and particularly important for people who have chosen a career as impractical as artist or furniture maker.  You can’t give up.  And you also can’t stop marketing yourself and your work.  This was something I worked really hard at.  I spent lots of my energy trying to get people to notice my work and find new opportunities to sell it.  We traveled around to arts festivals all around the country, even driving from Washington state to Washington, DC for a four-day craft show with the Smithsonian museum.  I also educated myself on how to pitch my work to magazines and writers.  It was these efforts that led to my going viral when I shared my work with the right outlet.  The thing that people need to know is that there is no prescriptive strategy for marketing.  You just have to be smart and try everything.  I became a student of marketing, I tried everything I could think of and failed at most of them, but eventually a few things worked in my favor. 

Credit: Greg Klassen

Credit: Greg Klassen

DM: One of the joys of working with wood is getting to enjoy the process of making. The act of creating something is incredibly satisfying. As woodworkers we often have to remind ourselves to enjoy the process—especially if we have a deadline to meet. What parts of your job do you most enjoy? And do you allow yourself to enjoy the process?

GK: This is an important question.  Most professional woodworkers begin as passionate hobbyists until they decide they want to do it professionally.  The transition from hobby to profession must be handled with care.  What I mean is that it’s easy to go where the money is (or where you think it is).  I’ve seen many woodworkers dream of being furniture makers only to start taking better-paying cabinet jobs.  Seems like an innocent decision and a great way to pay the bills, but then suddenly they’re buying tools that are designed for making plywood cabinets and after a while the idea of switching to making hand-crafted furniture seems especially risky, so they just don’t.  They stick with the easier option, even thought their hearts are not into it.  There’s nothing wrong with being a cabinet maker…I just mean to point out that many cabinetmakers initially aspired to make finer things and during that transition into a professional woodworker they listened to the money rather than their hearts.  I have always tried to put my passions before profits.  Do I enjoy what I’m working on?  Am I excited about this design?  If the answer is yes, then I keep at it.  If that answer is no, then I know I need to change something.  I love what I do.  I continue to experiment and grow my designs, always trying new things.  I especially enjoying the initial discovery/design phase, where the idea is born.  And of course I love all of the woodworking, being hands on with beautiful materials.      

Credit: Greg Klassen

Credit: Greg Klassen

DM: Following your work on Instagram is a fantastic little snapshot into your life and work. From the outside it seems like you work hard but are yet still able to enjoy time with your family throughout the day—even during what many people would term “normal business hours”. I see that you even have plans to build an amazing treehouse for the kids this year some time. To many woodworkers, this all seems like it would be their perfect work/life scenario. Do you find it hard to keep a balance? Surely like everyone else, you must have your daily challenges in your studio. What are these challenges and how do you manage them?

 

GK: My oldest child Ruth was born the same year I started my business ten years ago.  So I’ve never known business ownership without a child in the family.  The first few years I had to work hard to establish some balance and now I have that balance pretty well established.  The secret to balance is simple: knowing your priorities.  My priorities are simple – it’s faith, family and then my work.  Because my family comes before my work, it’s easy for me to not overwork because I’m spending time with family which is much more important to me.  Another thing that helps that balance is a personal challenge that I’ve given myself: to make a good living while working a little less every year.  I want my kids to grow up knowing that their dad loved them and was always available to them.  

I’VE TURNED DOWN THE OPPORTUNITY TO GROW AND MAKE MORE MONEY TIME AND AGAIN. I’VE TURNED AWAY REALLY PROFITABLE SHORT-TURNAROUND ORDERS SO I COULD SPEND MORE TIME WITH FAMILY. I’VE TURNED DOWN OFFERS FROM PEOPLE WHO HAVE VOLUNTEERED TO WORK FOR ME FOR FREE. I’VE TURNED DOWN OPPORTUNITIES TO BE ON FURNITURE/DESIGN-RELATED REALITY TV SHOWS.

— GREG KLASSEN

DM: One of the things I find very interesting, is discovering the habits of other woodworkers. I love learning what others do on a daily basis. What are your daily routines? What does a typical day look like in your studio?

GK: I work seven to eight hours, five days a week.  I sometimes work a night here or a Saturday there, but I generally try to work Monday to Friday and preserve weekends for family time.  However, when I work I try to be very efficient.  I often check my email in the morning with a cup of coffee close by.  In the morning I make an ambitious to-do list for the day but remain flexible for surprises that come up.  I also allow myself to totally scrap my to-do list for the day if I get inspired to create something new.  It’s really important for me to chase my inspiration when it comes.  What good is a great idea, if you have it and then just stick it on a shelf?  Usually you never get around to it, or your passion is diminished when you try to revisit it later.  So I like to stop what I’m doing and see where the idea goes.  Most of the pieces I sell on my website begin as this kind of impulse.  

I end every day by coming home (about a thirty second walk) for dinner at 5pm.  I usually share all three meals each day with my family.  Being a one-man shop I deal with loneliness a lot of the time, so it’s important for me to spend time with them whenever I can.  It helps to keep me from going crazy out there alone in the shop 😉

Credit: Greg Klassen

Credit: Greg Klassen

DM: How do you define success in your life and in your career? Do you consider yourself successful?

GK: I define success as a life well-lived.  For me that’s being a faithful husband, father and friend. From a business perspective we often like to define success with how much money you can make and how big you can grow.  I’ve turned down the opportunity to grow and make more money time and again.  I’ve turned away really profitable short-turnaround orders so I could spend more time with family.  I’ve turned down offers from people who have volunteered to work for me for free.  I’ve turned down opportunities to be on furniture/design-related reality TV shows.  I have a personal mission statement that keeps me grounded and if the opportunities do not agree with it, I say “no thanks”.  To answer your question, yes, I consider myself successful.  I’m also humble enough to know that things change and that ultimately we are not in control of our lives.  I’m thankful for where I am at and am savoring this time I’m at in life where I get to do work I love and spend a lot of time with my family.  I feel very blessed. 

Credit: Greg Klassen

Credit: Greg Klassen

DM: What advice would you give a young Greg Klassen just starting out on his woodworking career?

GK: Become an expert in your craft.  Always experiment.  Be original.  Put people before profits.  Do the work you’re excited about.  

DM: Greg, thanks again for your time, I’ve really enjoyed your insights. If it’s okay with you I’d like to finish with a quick-fire round.

 

QUICK FIRE:

DM: What tool purchase turned out to be your best investment?

GK: All of my Festool tools – the sanders, dust extractors, track saws and jigsaw.  

 

DM: What do you see other woodworkers do that annoys you?

GK: Imitate my work without giving me credit for my design.

 

DM: What’s your favourite song to blast in studio?

GK: I listen to many different types of music, but my “dance pop” station on Pandora gives me a real productivity boost at about 3pm in the afternoon! 😉

 

DM: What are you not very good at?

GK: Sweeping up my shop and putting away tools.  

 

DM: What have you got on the bench at the moment?

GK: Two art pieces for my upcoming Archipelago Series, a pair of River wall-hangings, a dining table, and drawings for our family’s treehouse.

 

DM: Who’s your favourite woodworker/creator/artist, past or present?

GK: Sam Maloof – incredible furniture maker/artist and an even better person. 

 

THANKS

I’d like to thank Greg for taking the time to answer my questions. His story is hugely inspiring and positive. Any woodworker who has ever been self-employed will certainly be able to relate to Greg’s experiences. Greg held his nerve, and stayed the course of his woodworking career, displaying grit and perseverance, when it may have been easier to do something else.

While his story is amazing, his work is just as wonderful. I love the thought of him in his shop, scrapping his to-do list for the day when he gets the urge to create something new. What a great way to work! He constantly turns out beautiful pieces that are so carefully thought out and so well designed. Greg’s work and story should be an inspiration for all woodworkers.

While it’s important to be inspired by Greg and by other great woodworkers — we shouldn’t take it literally. We all have our own unique situations, so doing what worked for Greg won’t necessarily work for you or I. The lesson is to try things and see what works for you. Similarly, I see little point in copying his work (giving credit or not).

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the River Table is one of the most copied pieces you’re likely to see at the moment. If you want to build a River Table, that’s fine, but you’re probably doing yourself a disservice. Think how much more fulfilling it would be to create something new and unique — a design of your own. Nothing is ever completely unique, we take inspiration and elements from the work of past masters, but what I mean is to explore your own creativity rather than directly copy something. You never know where it might lead you. It could be to success and fulfilment just like Greg Klassen.

To find out more about Greg’s work visit:

www.gregklassen.com

https://www.instagram.com/gregklassenfurniture/

 

P.S. If you liked this article, you may also like to get free and practical tips on woodworking techniques, business growth, productivity, and more in your inbox each week (you’ll also get the “How to Make a Living From Woodworking” PDF guide). Simply SIGN UP HERE to get exclusive access to a wealth of knowledge.

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Michael Green: Why We Should Build Wooden Skyscrapers

Credit: Michael Green Architecture

Credit: Michael Green Architecture

Building a skyscraper? Forget about steel and concrete, says architect Michael Green, and build it out of … wood.

Michael Green is a Vancouver native and founder of Michael Green Architecture. He is an advocate of using wood to build skyscrapers. And for good reason. His building, the Wood Innovation and Design Centre (WIDC) has won multiple awards, including the RAIC Award of Excellence for Innovation in Architecture in 2015.

The eight-storey building (6 storey with mezzanine plus penthouse), stands 29.5m tall — at the time of completion it was the world’s tallest modern all-timber structure, serving as a benchmark to be broken by other mass timber buildings in the works.*

Credit: Michael Green Architecture

Credit: Michael Green Architecture

TED TALK

In 2013, Michael gave a Ted Talk where he outlined some of the reasons why he believes skyscrapers should be built from wood. He made a very convincing argument.

Some of my personal key takeaways from the talk were:

  • Michael believes if you cut down a tree to make something, that you should honour that tree’s life and make something as beautiful as possible.
  • Trees grow to forty storeys tall, but yet we only construct buildings that are four stories tall.
  • 47% of the World’s CO2 emissions are related to the building industry, which far exceeds the much maligned transport industry’s 33%, so we need to address this.
  • 1 metre ³ of wood will store 1 tonne of CO2 whereas concrete and steel actually produce CO2 when being made.
  • Michael proposes to build these structures using mass timber panels plus engineered timber beams.
  • In Michael’s opinion wood is the most technologically advanced material he can build with. It just so happens that Mother Nature holds the patent. But Mother Nature’s fingerprint should be a part of our built environment.

It’s a video that’s well worth a watch. Check it out below.

To find out more;

http://mg-architecture.ca

https://twitter.com/mgarchitecture

https://www.facebook.com/MGArch

 

*Source: http://mg-architecture.ca/work/wood-innovation-design-centre/

 

P.S. If you liked this article, you may also like to get free and practical tips on woodworking techniques, business growth, productivity, and more in your inbox each week (you’ll also get the “How to Make a Living From Woodworking” PDF guide). Simply SIGN UP HERE to get exclusive access to a wealth of knowledge.

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5 Quick Finish Carpentry Tips

Credit: Carpentry By Mar

Credit: Carpentry By Mar

The best woodworking tips are often the simplest. If you don’t do finish carpentry work every day, you might not be aware of these simple but really effective tips.

All these tips are from seasoned pros who know exactly what they’re talking about. Like a lot of methods in woodworking, there’s more than one way to do something correctly, but taking a look at the daily methods that help other woodworkers can be of benefit to you too.

1. MARKING

Sometimes the best way of getting the most accurate cut doesn’t involve using a tape measure at all. This old school trick is really effective, especially with an uneven floor.

Credit: Carpentry By Mar

 

2. MEASURING

The basis of getting your cuts right is to measure correctly in the first place. Watch this video the whole way through for some nuggets of information.

Credit: Finish Carpentry TV

 

3. COPING

In most cases, cutting a mitre joint for internal corners of baseboard/ skirting board is not the most effective way of joining. You are at the mercy of perfect 90 degree walls if this is your method. So you’ll need to cope your joints instead. Watch how a pro does it in less than a minute.

Credit: Jason Mollak

4. MEASURING (AGAIN)

This is a great little tip for when you’re working on your own. How the hell do you accurately mark inside measurements? Use the tools at your disposal…

Credit: Pete Wetmore

 

5. LOCK NAILING MITRES

Again, another very simple tip that uses the tools at your disposal to achieve expert results.

Credit: Finish Carpentry TV

 

P.S. If you liked this article, you may also like to get free and practical tips on woodworking techniques, business growth, productivity, and more in your inbox each week (you’ll also get the “How to Make a Living From Woodworking” PDF guide). Simply SIGN UP HERE to get exclusive access to a wealth of knowledge.

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