Thursday, September 24, 2009


So, as I mentioned in the last post, I'm working on something again.

I needed something to do, and I sat at my bench for a while, trying to figure out just what kind of work I really wanted to be doing. If the shop is going to be a side enterprise, I need a regular product to sell. I thought about it some more, and realized that the two projects I was most excited about getting into, on a production level, were chair projects.

One project is a design by Brian Boggs. He told us in class that he didn't mind if we re-produced the work we did in class and sold it, but he didn't want us knocking off the designs he makes in his own shop. So, once I make a few of them, for myself or for friends, I'll start playing with the design, and work out something new that I'll enjoy making, and see if it sells.

For now, I'm working on a chair that's roughly based on chairs that were made by Sam Maloof. I've seen other people selling rockers and other chairs that were clearly related to Maloof's body of work being sold at craft fairs. But it's not really surprising, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. He made his methods absolutely transparent for everyone to see, and use. He wrote articles, books, and even did consented to have video taken of him, at work in his shop, doing some of the things he's known for doing. His leg joints in particular were a hallmark of his work, and they're something he covered thoroughly in the video. His logic, as he explained it, was that he wanted the information out there, so that others could learn from his mistakes, and not have to waste as much time as he did learning what he knows.

I plan on approaching this in the same spirit as I described with regard to the Boggs chairs. I don't plan on being a knock-off artist. But I do need a point of departure, and Sam Maloof's chairs were stunningly beautiful. If I can do justice to the spirit of his designs, I think that's a pretty good point to jump from.

The chair I'm currently building is made out of Poplar, because it's a prototype, and I'm learning all of this the hard way. Cut, patch, cut, re-cut, and so forth. It's not going to be the straightest route. But, and this is something new, I've been taking the time for the past few nights, to sit down, have a drink, and write down everything I'd done that day, the mistakes I made, and the things I'd thought of along the way. It's the way I should have been doing things, starting way back.

At the moment, I've gotten the leg joints as close to finished as they're going to get. I made a few mistakes while figuring them out, but I managed to get them right, I think. And I understand enough about how they work that the next time will go a lot more smoothly. I also have the seat glued up, and ready to be ripped apart again. The rough shape is there, but the seat as a whole is entirely too wide, I think. I still have joinery to cut for the arms, and shaping to do. And I need to mount a back to the legs, which will be interesting, given that I went ahead and shaped the back legs without giving thought to mating surfaces. So, I'll have to work around that.

In short, this project kinda reminds me of the stool I got half-built a while back. I still need to revisit that project, but one thing at a time... For now, I'm moving forward, making mistakes, learning from them, and writing everything down, so I can put the lessons to use next time around. I think that's a pretty good analogy for everything that's going on right now, whether it's me trying to balance work and shop time, or trying to learn how to build chairs, or learning to prototype and set up a production line.

One parting thought. I talked a lot to Brian Boggs when I took a class from him 2 years and more ago. It was a whirlwind class, but I managed to catch him for a moment during lunch, to explain that I was about to set up a brand new shop of my very own. He said that chairs were a great way to get going. The reason, he said, was that if you can make $10,000 on chairs, that's a lot of chairs... and a lot of your work that's out in the world, making your reputation. On the other hand, $10,000 worth of case pieces is maybe 2 or 3 pieces. And they don't get used as much as chairs would.

One more reason that chairs are so good, and this is something that was implied by the nature of the class that Brian was teaching, they lend themselves to being made in batches. And once you've made one, the patterns and the process have already been made to help make more. The design process doesn't have to be repeated.

So, I'm pretty happy for now. I still have a lot to figure out, but I'm getting there.

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