Last week, I went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA, to attend the Furniture Society Annual Conference. It was not only my first time visiting the Conference, it was my first trip to Boston. When you think furniture and MIT, you gotta think big. And one of the biggest was this grouping of overstuffed chairs. This was the venue where the conference was held, and these over-size chairs were a huge hit with the students of MIT who use the field in front of the auditorium for throwing a Frisbee, or getting some sun between classes. The installation is called Lazy Hay by John Tagiuri.
I must first say that the Boston/Cambridge area is a wonderful place to visit, and a total departure from the way of life in Des Moines, Iowa. Aside from the historical places to visit, there are just a lot of fun things to do in a very concentrated area. And with a hop on the train and a short walk you can get almost anywhere. Here is an image from a bridge over the Charles River. On the left is Cambridge; in the center is the new Bunker Hill Bridge; and on the right is part of the Boston skyline. From one end of Cambridge, I could go on a 6 mile out-and-back run and see the MIT campus, Fenway Park, Boston University, the Newbury Art District, Boston Commons (one of the greatest city parks in the U.S.), the Charles River and the parks that flank it, and a tremendous number of people out and about shopping, sightseeing, biking, walking, and running.
Now on with the show! The conference was three days of sessions where leading furniture makers presented almost 70 workshops that you could attend. These hour-long demonstrations covered a range of topics from compound-angle joinery, to exploring the design inspiration or design techniques used by some of this countries greatest artists. As a furniture maker myself, I am a pretty hands-on guy and sometimes the practical stuff like the Joinery session was just as inspiring as the design class. Discovering and sharing techniques that you may not have been exposed to can actually provide more design opportunities because you stop limiting yourself on what you can or can’t do. Two great examples of this are the Compound-Angle Joinery and Veneering classes that were put on by Steve Brown from the North Bennett Street School, and Darrell Kiel from VacuPress.
In these photos you can see a two examples of leg-to-table joints that are splayed like the tavern table shown. And this solution works on tables with three legs or 99 legs. Once you create the outer shapes of the legs, by simply creating the inside faces at 90 degrees to the outside, the tenons on the rails and the mortises in the legs are parallel to the face of the rails. The rail ends may be angles, but the tenons are not. If you cut the legs into the parallelogram that they should be, you are then not dealing with simple angle mortise and tenons, you are dealing with compound angle tenons. This is a time honored way of creating this joint. Sometimes the most obvious answer to a potentially very challenging joint is the one you don’t even think about. Thanks Steve Brown…I have all kinds of things running around in my head now!
Darrell Kiel then blew my mind with his veneer workshop. It really showed some of the “impossible” things you can do with veneer and bent laminations. In the first photo, he is bending veneer over the curved edge of a round table. And the second photo shows a free-form bending of 4 layers of 1/8″ thick cherry. Basically if you want to bend a chair back, why make a form when you can use the vacuum to hold the form and manipulate the form while it is under pressure and test it directly against your back and get a perfect fit. Here at about 1/4 pressure he is bending the stock into shape and then once he is satisfied with the shape he pulls the rest of the vacuum and it holds the bent shape by the friction between the layers of wood and the bag on the wood. And then he went on to show veneering a raised panel and a piece of crown molding. YES, I said veneered crown molding! Where else are you going to find Redwood Burl Crown? You can’t get that at the local home center. When you eliminate the phase “wood can’t do that” from your vocabulary, your options for creativity grow exponentially.
Next it was outside to a gallery of outdoor furnishings (as if the Lazy Hay was not already enough), a collection of about 20 pieces. Here are a sampling of some of the variety. First up is a very traditional bench…remember the word “traditional” is stretched at this show. It is called Siblings by Libby Schrum. This is a very simple form cut in a very systematic manner to create some dramatic shapes and surfaces that make for an extremely comfortable place to rest. This bench is made from white oak.
The next is a more contemporary piece called Dogbone by Hongtau Zhou made from Cork. I particularly like the dog chain securing the piece to the ground. While the form is contemporary, the purpose of the seat is satisfied and is great because it can be picked up and relocated, within reason, to point in the direction that you want to see.
This piece was at first a shock because normally when I think furniture I typically think WOOD (go figure) but this piece, cut on a CNC from aluminum, is a perfect reminder to think beyond the “norm”. This piece is called Pierced Chair by Laura Drake. Laura is an Assistant Professor of Industrial Design at Purdue University. Remember: The woodworking tools you have can cut other materials like aluminum, Lexan, brass, and wood. So try something different, even if you don’t have a CNC.
And finally, this piece is a totally different take on outdoor seating, but it really works. Appropriatly is is called Lean Two by Frank Burns. Frank does some amazing work, and I really like the play on words with this piece.
Well that wraps up my report from the conference. To see more pictures from the Conference and to learn more about the Furniture Society, visit www.furnituresociety.org
Today was inspiration in many different areas. It started with a run along the Charles River looking at buildings, parks, and details along the way. Continued the run through and around Boston Commons—a large very beautiful city park in Boston—then back along the river and through the MIT campus.
After the run it was off to the Conference. The first session: Advanced Vacuum Techniques, by Darryl Keil. Darryl is a very creative guy and demonstrated forming veneer around a cylinder, on compound curves, wrapping all the way around a board, and veneering crown molding. How else do you get Carpathian Elm Burl crown molding? For a great presentation on this subject, download Darryl’s video.
I also attended a slide presentation showing design students’ works; these students are from design schools all over the country. Some very neat designs from artists that are pushing the design standards we think of as “good”. It is great to see these artist developing ideas that are not limited by what you and I think are the limits of design, materials, or practicality. Sometimes these designs really work, and sometimes they don’t. But then again, who defines what works and what does not? To another set of eyes the results are totally different, but every once in a while a set of slides would come up from an artist and the crowd reacted in a very positive way, and sometimes not.
Well, until tomorrow…
Preface: My laptop does not have a card reader…so no pictures until Monday, but I promise they will be good. Ok, on with the show.
Sitting in a coffee shop eating gelato…yum. Thinking about the first day of the conference and what I learned and observed. There were 21 workshops today and going to pick the 3 that I was going to attend was tough. So I decided that one on joinery, one on finishing, and one on design would be a good balance for the day.
The show opened with the normal blah blah blah welcome to the show kinda stuff and then Ray Magliozzi of NPR’s Car Talk (not sure if he is Click or Clack…)gave the opening address, a good story teller and a funny guy! After the intro it was off to the seminars.
The first session was Compound Angle Joinery by Steve Brown, an Instructor at the North Bennett Street School. He took a very complex process and broke it down to basics. Did he make it easier? Yes he did. Did he make it easy? Well I am not sure if “easy” is the word, but definitely less frightening. I hope to share more when I can load the photos, but the key seems to be: Ignore the angles, make a set-up block, and get busy cutting, using the set up block as a guide. It is kind of like hand-cutting dovetails, it is really not that hard, but you gotta try it to do it, so next week…I am trying it!
Next up was Greg Johnson on “High Polish Finishes”. Greg has a class coming up at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking later this summer, Aug 3-Sep 4. ( I have a class at Marc Adams School as well, August 16th-20 and 21-22.) I was expecting some practical tips, and it was “practical” in the sense that we often abuse good woodworking with junk finishes just to get them done. But to take time and create something special takes real work. He talked about the easy steps to get there, but there were 17 coats of finish! Now you would think with 17 coats the finish would be 1/2″ thick, but it was not! It was very thin, it looked like it was as thin as paper, but the depth of the shine was truly exceptional. It was Steinway-Piano smooth! You will see in the photo you can see a reflection of the buffer in the finish while he was doing a final polish. Is this the finish I would put on a toy box in my son’s bedroom? NOPE! But it was a finish that would be perfect for a decoratively veneered table. He has a lot of information to teach. If you want to step up your finishing, give him a visit at Marc’s school.
The final session was by Mark Del Guidice, a very creative furniture maker/designer. Mark reminded me of the basic tools I have not been using enough as a furniture maker and designer. THANKS, MARK! My favorite tool: Ask “What If?” “What if” there were three legs instead of four? “What if” there was a curve instead of a straight line? “What if” there were different species of wood? “What if” there was… you get the point. Throw out conventional thought, and do it different.
Well that melted my brain for the day. Look for more stuff tomorrow and pictures next week. And remember, just like that gellato was a sensory overload of flavor, let the furniture you make be a sensory overload of your brain and challenge yourself to do more.
Thanks, and be safe in the shop!
It is a busy day at the design desk at WOOD, I am finishing up the construction of one project and working on some designs trying to clear my plate for a few days out of the office. It is not often that the designers get sent out of town on business so when we do we have to take advantage of the opportunity to let you know what is going on.
Over the next few days I will be atending the Furniture Society’s Annual Conference being held at MIT in Cambridge, MA. Over these next few days I will be sending updates from the conference and showing some very inspirational pieces of furniture. There will be traditional, contemporary, and ultra artistic pieces on display along with presentations from some of the best craftspeople in the game!
The name of the Conference is “FUSIONS: Minds + Hands shaping our future” What better place to celebrate just that spirit than at MIT. In 2004 Architect Frank Gehry designed the Stata Center on the MIT Campus. In the spirit of architects like Frank Lloyd Wright or Antoni Gaudi, Gehry’s designs challenge the status quo in design and construction technology. It is by challenging the mind and the hand that we grow.
In honor of WOOD Magazine’s 25th Anniversary, we’re posting 25 Interesting Facts about each of the folks who put out your favorite woodworking magazine. Here’s my list:
1. I was a Project Manager for a general contractor before I came to WOOD magazine.
2. I am a engineer before I am an artist…I fight to be the other way around. The engineer in me wants to see a schedule before it will allow me to switch, but the artist in me does not know how to make a schedule…thus an ongoing conflict! Read more