Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Statement Desk

My newest commission is a large desk utilizing substantial slabs of walnut. The design is in the final phases of tweaking, but the slabs are already in hand. They came from Jim Baker in Gilroy, who specializes in large scale tree milling. They were then flattened and dressed on an impressive 5' x 22' CNC router by FrameCom, also in Gilroy.

The main desktop slab measures over 3' x 7'! This is the smaller of the two pieces. They should look great with a little sanding and some finish. Stay tuned for more as this piece develops.

Monday, December 13, 2010

New Project for Museum Show

During a lull between commissions this past few months, I took advantage of the time to build a new spec piece that will be shown during the Santa Cruz Woodworkers show at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH) this coming summer. In the run-up to the show over the next few months, I'll publish occasional posts detailing how the the piece was conceived and executed.

In this first post I'll give you a couple of detail shots as teasers of what's to come, just to whet your appetite. The piece is a chiffonier, which is a fancy word for (usually) a narrow, high chest of drawers - much like a lingerie chest. The design evolved originally from a desire to use a couple of long, narrow, live-edge, book matched pieces of walnut I've had for a while. As I tinkered with what to do with these pieces, I went from table top, to table base, to cabinet doors. Their use as tall, narrow cabinet doors was what led to the idea of the chiffonier. But once I got to the overall size and shape of the chiffonier, I ended up going in another direction where the walnut pieces didn't work, so they're still in the shop waiting for another spark of inspiration. The final design for the chiffonier features a trapezoidal mahogany case with a shaped cornice and base of wenge, book matched spalted maple doors and drawer fronts, and aluminum accents.

Stay tuned to find out how the various elements were made and how they came together.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I'm ready for my close-up Mr. DeMille

As I wrote few weeks back, the guys from Santa Cruz Community TV came by the shop to film a segment of their show Wood Works. Well, the final product is finished and has aired on SCCTV. Now, the episode can be viewed online, at http://woodworks.blip.tv/file/4034823/.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Get Ready for Open Studios!

Well, after a wonderful, but all too brief, vacation, its back to work and time to get ready for the annual OPEN STUDIOS ART TOUR in October.

I'll be participating again this year, but please note.....

I will only be open one weekend this year - October 9th and 10th. Please come by and visit!

For info on how to get your artist guide and maps: 831-475-9600 or www.ccscc.org.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Quiet on the Set!

I had some interesting guests at the shop today. John Hall and Keith Gudger of Santa Cruz Community TV were here filming an episode for their new show "Wood Works". The show profiles various master woodworkers in and around the Santa Cruz area, highlighting their backgrounds, inspirations, techniques, and of course their work. It was great having them here. Stay tuned for more info on when and where to see the episode....

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Stylish Bench from Walnut Slabs

One of the great things about making wood furniture is that sometimes you get the chance to let nature do most of the work - then all you have to do is add a little bit here and there, and you get a great looking piece. This bench is just such a case. The walnut slabs, sourced from an orchard in the San Juan Bautista area, are the real star. All I had to do was add a little styling in the form of legs, and voila. It got a great response at the Marin Art Festival, and now is available for purchase. It measures roughly 70" long x 35" high, x 28" deep.

This is a look at the back and leg structure.

As you can see, the material speaks for itself.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Designing for Movement

Even though its been dried and milled, solid wood lumber still experiences expansion and contraction with changing environmental conditions. This movement must be taken into account when building furniture because if seasonal movement is restricted, the internal forces brought to bear can cause cracking and splitting. The challenge with this piece was to come up with a joinery system that would allow the spare design, just two slabs and two leg assemblies, to be strong and rigid, while still allowing movement of the slabs. Because the grain orientation of the seat and back supports are perpendicular to the grain of the slabs, simply doweling, tenoning, or screwing the pieces together would not allow the slabs to move, and result in failure. The answer that best suited this project was to attach one edge of each slab with a mechanical fastener (aka, a screw), and the other edge with a form of sliding dovetail, known as a blind keyhole dovetail. In this type of joint a dovetail-shaped tenon fits into an elongated sloped-sided mortise - the dovetail shape keeps the slab firmly snugged to the leg structure, but allows the slab to expand and contract by sliding along the tenon.

This is a picture of one of the mortises. You can see that half the mortise is square in profile, to allow the tenon to be inserted, while the other half is dovetail-shaped.

This photo shows one of the back supports. You can see the attachment screw near the top of the support that is the fixed attachment point, and below it the hard maple dovetail tenon that will slide into the blind mortise. To the left you can see the other leg assembly already attached to the back slab.

This next photo shows the similar arrangement for seat slab attachment. You can see that the front of the seat slab will be fixed, with the rear of the slab allowed to move in and out.

Here is the fully assembled bench (upside down) showing the slab-to-leg assembly attachments.

Stay tuned for more images of the final, finished piece. Thanks!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

New Bench Project

With the Marin Art Festival coming up fast, I wanted to create a new piece to show at the festival. I've had a couple of matched walnut slabs from an orchard near San Juan Bautista for a few years, and have thought from time to time that they would make a great bench. So, this seemed like the time to get off the stick and make that happen. I'm going to keep the slabs in as raw a form as possible, in other words, not hiding the worm holes and checks. To counterpoint that roughness, and give the piece a little sophistication, I'm going to use wenge for the sculpted leg structures. Although I wouldn't be so bold as to suggest that my work is at their level, I think of this as a sort of a Kagan meets Nakashima design. Hopefully, I can get it done in time!

Here's a picture of the slabs and the leg blanks. You can see the final leg form from the plywood template. The slabs will be attached to the flat seat and back surfaces. Notice the great colors in the slabs that have been preserved by letting them air dry, rather than kiln drying. The only down side to air drying is that the moisture content of these pieces is only down to about 9%, which is a little high for furniture. So, I'm going to have to design joinery that will allow for extra movement.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Evolution of a Design

I've just finished up the shoe/mail/etc. organizer cabinet introduced in the last post. It has pattern-matched door and case panels, an upholstered seat and a drop-front mail organization area.

The overall look of the piece provides a great insight into how a design evolves over time, and from client to client.

The lineage of this design started many years ago with a CD storage piece I made for my own home.

That design resonated with a couple who had visited me during Open Studios over a number of years. They eventually commission an A/V component cabinet based partly on the look of the CD cabinet, with bits added to fit their needs. I used that cabinet on a postcard the next year, and that second generation of the design caught the eye of a previous client.

That led to this most recent piece, which uses some of the same visual language as the second version, but tailored to the new set of functional needs. Its great to see a design take on a life of its own and head off into new directions.

I wonder which piece might spark the next new fork in the conceptual road?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Take off your shoes....

This week I've started a new commission for a combination shoe storage/household organization cabinet. It will be placed near the client's garage entry door, and combines a shoe storage box with an upholstered seat, and a cabinet for briefcases, mail, and the like. Its made of mahogany, maple and wenge. In the coming weeks I'll post in-progress photos to show how its made. Here's the concept drawing...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Coming to a bookstore near you ....

Coming this summer I will have a piece in a new Lark Publishing book titled "500 Cabinets". This is the latest in Lark's "500" series of books. Formerly, I have had my original designs appear in their "500 Tables" and "500 Chairs" books. My work can also be seen in Taunton Press's "Design Book Eight", which came out last year.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Place for Everything....

This past week I finally finished the closet system I designed as part of our master bath remodel. I have to credit our friend Shannon Kaye, of DIY Network fame, with the inspiration for this. We started out with a basic builder's closet that had been covered by a full width curtain (which replaced the '70s mirrored sliding doors it started with). But as part of a reconfiguration for remodeling the master bath, the closet was moved a couple of feet and reduced in width by a foot. The big dilemma was what to do with the eight foot tall closet to give complete access without having to put back another set of massive doors. When Shannon was here giving us paint color advice we were talking about it and she suggested we make more of a multi-function built-in rather than a traditional style closet. That turned out to be just the creative spark we needed. The real key to making this design work is the wardrobe pull-down hardware from Halefe - it allows hanger rods to be placed far up at the top of the space which would normally be way out of reach, and then swing down for easy access. That allowed room for lots of drawer space underneath. Other features include a pull-out ironing board (also from Hafele) and slide-out pants hanging rod which was built on site.


The completed design ...

Some of the features ..... slide out pant hanger (L), pullout ironing board (M), and wardrobe pull-down (R).

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Finished Bench

Well, after a few coats of oil/varnish mixture and some good furniture wax, the bench looks pretty good. Now it goes to the client to help them welcome guests as they enter their home. I hope they like it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The bench is progressing ...

.... quite nicely. Here's the base assembled and waiting for finishing.

Happily, after a lot more searching around than I expected to have to do, I found a great board set for the seat at Northwest Timber in Oregon. After refining the shape of the MDF seat template, it was used to shape the seat blank.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Welcoming Bench for an Entryway

Last week I was able to get started on an entry bench for a couple I met at the Marin Arts Festival last summer.

Here's the design .... it has tapered, curved mahogany legs, an organically shaped wenge stretcher, and a slightly curved figured maple seat.

The shape of the legs is achieved by a technique called coopering. In coopering, the edges of the billets (i.e., sticks) that make up the leg are beveled an both sides before they are edge glued, which results in a curved surface. In this case, to get the fan effect, the billets are both beveled and tapered. To make milling easier I made a dedicated table saw jig that cuts both the taper and the bevel at the same time.

The coopering involved two steps - after the billets were beveled and tapered, a dadoe was plowed along the length of each edge so that when edge-joined a space for splines was created. The splines help maintain alignment and add glue surface for strength.

The curved stretcher was laminated from 1/8" thick solid wenge over a plywood bending form.

Here are the three parts of the base before fairing and final shaping.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Santa Cruz Woodworkers Exhibition

Just in time for tonight's First Friday Art Tour, today the Santa Cruz Woodworkers freshened up our display of handmade custom fine furniture and woodwork in downtown Santa Cruz, CA. The exhibit is in the windows of a newly built, but not yet occupied, commercial building at the corner of Pacific Avenue and Church Street in the heart of Santa Cruz's downtown shopping district. The exhibit has been up since early December and will continue through January, and possibly beyond. If you're in the Santa Cruz area, please take some time to stop by and check it out - you won't be disappointed.

The Santa Cruz Woodworkers is a collaboration of professionals dedicated to fostering appreciation for locally-produced, one-of-a-kind, handmade woodwork. We thank the Rittenhouse family, the building's owners, for supporting the local arts community by allowing us use of the space.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Burl and Wenge Desk

This is the latest commission to come out of the shop. It's made of Mappa Burl veneer with wenge edge and perimeter banding, and under-carriage. Mappa burl is from the European black poplar tree. Wenge is a dark brown and black African hardwood.

The shape of the desk came about after several conversations and design iterations with the client to make sure the ergonomics and aesthetics were both just right. Here's the concept drawing and rendering that I gave the client (you'll notice that the middle leg moved in the final piece) ....

The construction process turned out to be a lot more involved than I had anticipated, taking more than 150 hours, but I think it was time well spent.

Here's some of what went into it....

The desktop is made as a torsion box. Half inch thick birch plywood skins were glued over a corrugated cardboard core by means of a vacuum press.

Th photo also shows the electric blanket that I cover the press with to keep everything warm enough for the glue to set correctly. The top and underside were each covered in single large sheet of burl, pressed separately.

The two curved skirts were laminated, on dedicated bending forms, from 1/8" layers of solid wenge.

The legs are elliptical in cross-section at the top, and taper to a circular cross-section at the bottom. They started as square billets which were then tapered and roughed out on the bandsaw.

Then final shaping was done by hand with planes, scrapers and sanders.

The legs are grooved to fit over the skirtboards. They are then through-bolted to the skirts for extra strength. They were made to be removable to facilitate easier delivery.

Clamping the edge and perimeter banding took some creativity, given the complex shape of the top.

The desktop shaping and perimeter banding required several templates.

The desk also includes a round pivoting drawer.

In the end, I think it came out really well. My thanks to Paul Scraub for the studio photos.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Recent News

A couple of happy developments occurred this past Fall. First, my Corner Jewelry Cabinet won Third Place in Fine Woodworking Magazine's online contest titled "Cure for the Common Cabinet".

Then not long after that, my E/S Kitchen Island won First Place in Fine Homebuilding Magazine's "Creative Kitchen Islands" online contest.

Many thanks to everyone who voted for my work in the two contests.

Finally, the end of December saw the delivery of my latest commission, a desk, which turned out really well. I'll be posting some in-progress pictures, as well as the final product soon, so stay tuned.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Here we go .....

Welcome to the new Michael Singer Fine Woodworking blog. Many who know me may be surprised to see this, as I've been known to say some rather disparaging things about social media. But hey, its a new year, a new decade, and maybe time for a new attitude.

For some time now, I've tried to keep clients informed of the progress of commissioned pieces as they make their way from the page to real life. Until now, that communication has been mostly via email, sending photos from the shop to let them know how things are progressing with their piece. My aim with this blog is to provide clients with a way to track the progress with their piece at any time online. It also provides a golden opportunity to inform and educate the public about what goes into the making of a piece of fine furniture. Shedding light on the process is a great way to give both the client and anyone else who's interested an ongoing demonstration of how a piece is made, hopefully resulting in a better appreciation for the difference between hand-made furniture and the mass-produced stuff available at most retail stores.

So, to that end, a blog. I'll be posting information and photos about current and recent projects as they make their way through the shop. I'll also post updates about upcoming shows and other events. Feel free to browse and post comments or questions - I'll do my best to respond as I'm able. Please feel free to check out my website to see examples of my work.