How Hard is Hard?

Exactly how hard is hard?

I get asked every week which of the woods we offer is “better”, which wood lasts longer, which wood is harder. I remind people that we are the Hardwood Artisans, not the Softwood Schlock. All of our woods are durable, and we use the same time-tested methods in the joinery regardless of wood type.

The best wood in the world is the one that you like. There really is no other answer here.

That said there are some scientific methodologies behind determining hardness. The flooring industry created something called the Janka Test. Being under foot, the flooring industry really got asked that question, to the point that they wanted to truly quantify their answers.

The Janka Test takes measures the amount of force it takes to push a 3/8” diameter ball bearing half its diameter into the face of a piece of wood. The pressure exerted is the Janka density measurement. The higher the number on the Janka Test represents the larger force that was needed to push the ball bearing into the wood; which, represents the greater density of the wood. This test is excellent in that it quantifies the density in a consistent and reliable manner that is easily understood.

Click here to visit a good site to look at Janka Testing results.

Below are the Janka Test results for some of the woods we offer.

Sweet Birch                                1470

Sugar Maple                               1450

White Oak                                  1360

Ash (white)                                 1320

Red Oak (northern)                     1290

Black Walnut                              1010

Black Cherry                               950

Honduran Mahogany                  800

Supporting Local Art

We are surrounded by artists. I have been in the Washington DC area my whole life, and am fortunate enough to have some fantastic artists all around me. My mommy is one of them, hence this blog post. Nothing like a little nepotism. But, hey, I own the place. I should be allowed to talk about my mommy when I want. The DC area is thriving with events throughout the fall season.

There are several events in the next few weeks including, The Great Falls Studio Tour (October 19-20), The Lorton Workhouse Arts Center (October 1-31), and Pottery on the Hill (November 1-3).

The Great Falls Studio Tour

This is a group of 60 independent artisans who created a collective group, sharing the advertising expenses, to promote Great Falls artists. I know several, as my mom has been among this group for years. Jorge Adeler, my father’s jeweler, Barbara Gatterdam (my mom), Betty Ganley, whose work we have showcased in our stores, Laura Nichols, a personal friend of my moms, just to mention a few. The tour is a traveling tour, with people going to the artist’s residences to see how and where they spend their days crafting.

The Lorton Workhouse Arts Center

We show several artists in our stores who operate out of the Workhouse. This is a large facility, with over 100 artists. Rick Sherbert, Director of Glass at the Workhouse, is a personal friend of mine. One of our talented potters, Hadrian Mendoza, also works out of Lorton Workhouse, where he makes the majority of his pieces.

From October 1st to October 31st, you can visit the Workhouse to see their October featured artists. This Saturday, October 12th, you can see the Art Walk from 6pm to 9pm. The Art Walk showcases more than 100 artists, giving you the chance to tour seven studio buildings, shop around for art, and meet with artists. It’s the perfect night out for anyone.

The Workhouse is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11am to 6pm and on Sundays from 12pm to 5pm.

Pottery on the Hill

Hill Pottery, located in the Old Naval Hospital at 921 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20003. Sixteen nationally recognized ceramic artists will show their wares. Two of these artists are from where I live, Warrenton, VA, Catherine White and Warren Frederick. My mom actually knows Catherine White, as she took Catherine’s classes at the Corcoran Gallery some years ago.

Chris Cooley, former professional athlete and potter to Pottery on the Hill. Chris will show and sell his work, but also give talks at 12 and 2 p.m. about the intersections of Sports and Art.

So get out and support our local artists. Attend their events, ask lots of questions about how they execute their craft, and buy something. Support the arts.

How a Design Becomes a Standard Piece

I have a gift that I didn’t know I had as a child. I always knew I looked at things a bit differently, but I didn’t know what that meant. Well, here it is. I can close my eyes and dissect a cabinet piece by piece, and vice versa. Some people can play music, or perform surgery, or engineer bridges. I can’t do any of that, but I can visualize like these people do.
Design is a tricky thing. Changing one thing can alter the aesthetics of a piece considerably. When I draw, I don’t use dimensions aside from the component sizes. I prefer to place a fixed shelf where it looks best, not where some mathematical formula tells me to put it, like the golden rule for a perfect rectangle. I might move a shelf ten different times before I’m happy with its placement. This happens because I need to work within the confines of the component sizes. I can’t have four different thicknesses of shelves.

Back when I used to hand draw with a scale ruler and graph paper, I used a lot of white out… a whole lot. Nowadays I draw rough sketches and then AutoCAD the drawing. I end up making a lot of changes as I work through the design with the customer.
I designed the Mackintosh sofa for a customer several years ago. We liked the way it turned out, and made it a standard piece. The original drawings are below, with a variety of chicken scratch notes made by the craftsman on the sheet. There is a whole write up on how to build the piece in addition to these notes, but it all starts with the design.

I was asked to write about design a few weeks ago. All I could think was “kill me now.” Talking about design easily translates into something ethereal, like talking about color, impossible to visualize. So the attached photos are the actual design documents as they evolved over the past few years. First, my original hand drawings, now marked up with side notations. Second are my handwritten cut lists done back in the day. Third are my AutoCAD drawings in modern day, along with more cut lists. Fourth is a photo of the sofa, with craftsman markings. The final picture is the final product as seen in showrooms or on our website.

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High Back Mackintosh Sofa 3

I was asked by my new marketing coordinator, Erin, to describe the details of producing a new design and getting it through the shop. Uhm, yeah. Okay. Well, it is like this: the craftsman will work the details down to some point of minutia, until I go crazy and throw my hands in the air and tell them I just as soon do it myself. So there!

It is a long, sometimes painful, process of examining every curve, every dimension, every part placement. And I actually enjoy every minute, even if it is tedious and overly scrutinizing. The process actually makes me feel like we (Hardwood Artisans) are creating something new for the consumer. I get pretty excited when we have something new to offer, especially when I had a hand in crafting it. This makes me a total geek, I know. What other person gets so excited about furniture design?

I Made This: Kenny Keller

As many years have gone by, Hardwood Artisans is beginning to see a younger generation of craftsman around the shop. A number of Hardwood Artisans employees have been born with woodworking in their blood. Kenny Keller is nothing short of that.

Kenny has been working for Hardwood Artisans since he was 18 years old and is the son of Brent Keller (who we will highlight in later months). Kenny credits his father with his foundation in woodworking and goes on to say that woodworking has brought them closer together.

kenny table2

Keller is pictured above at the Highland Table. Keller specializes in dining tables, though he is skilled at crafting a wide variety of pieces. When asked which piece is his favorite to build Kenny stated “the Middleburg table because I had a hand in creating the way it looks”. Kenny one day hopes to obtain a managerial role and become the next “Head Honcho”. Keller said in the future he would like to contribute more designs and learn how to build all of the Hardwood Artisans’ products.

When interviewing the craftsman, there is one specific question that we ask each of them. All of the craftsmen’s initial response is the same, generally a chuckle or outright laughter. But, when asked, “If you could be a tree what tree would you be?” Many of them take the time and meticulously respond. Kenny’s response along with others was oak tree. Kenny’s response to this question paralleled all of his other answers.

Kenny went on to tell a story about an oak tree that he has been watching grow in his back yard for the past 20 years. He stated that oak trees are strong, solid and much like the tree in his back yard, they are able to endure. Kenny says he truly cares about the company and takes pride in every piece that he builds.

Like the oak tree he will adapt and endure the many challenges that woodworking presents. Hopefully, one day his hard work and passion will earn him the “Head Honcho” he aspires to be.

Sustainability

We talk about sustainability, and what we as individuals do to reduce our carbon footprint. I recycle heavily, I live in a small house, drive a Smart Car, and otherwise re-use or re-purpose many things. Call it thrifty, cheap, or conscientious, but I do my small part. I’m able to do more with the company, and we do. Our sustainability position is pretty strong.

As time marches forward, I find myself coveting the past. By this I mean that the things that worked for me years ago seem to have proven themselves over the test of time, and I find that I come across as “old timey” when talking to the newer generations.

The fact is Hardwood Artisans makes solid wood furniture using old fashioned joinery. It works, even if it is an antiquated system using old time tools. I mean, really, when was the last time you saw someone break out a hand plane? Talk about old fashioned…

Think about it. A tree takes in carbon and holds it until it burns or rots in the woods. This carbon is then released back into the environment. By using the tree in the form of furniture, we trap the carbon inside. Well, at least for the life of the piece.

Architect Michael Greene elaborated on this idea when discussing the idea of wooden skyscrapers in a TED video linked below. Greene makes a tremendous case for why we should be using wood instead of concrete or steel to erect these structures. His argument coincides and supports my personal philosophy on lumber being used in a sustainable manner. He also provides compelling statistics regarding demand in the future for housing, overpopulation, homelessness, and the overall shift in living environments.

In tandem to the Greene video, I am reading Dan Brown’s book “Inferno”, a story that revolves around the overpopulation of the planet and some apocalyptic plague purposefully placed to offset this problem. I won’t elaborate because I don’t want to give anything away, but sufficed to say that it gets you thinking.

A chain of unrelated events over the past month have gotten me to look at what we do at Hardwood Artisans with a fine tooth comb. Ken, Greg, and Lois’ retirement, Syria, Michael Greene’s video, recent disputes over climate change have all got me wondering about our position, and with that consideration, I find myself digging in deeper to the roots of this organization that I know will last. Take care of the customer, build a quality product, conduct ourselves in a manner that contributes to the greater good.

I Made This: Greg Smith

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Hardwood Artisans craftsman, Greg Smith, has been with Hardwood Artisans off and on again for about 15 years. The 43 year old craftsman grew up in the Alexandria, VA area, and attended T.C. Williams High School.

Greg works on various dining tables, chairs, and custom projects that require the occasional “thinking outside of the box”. Greg says that his favorite piece to make is the Shinto Stool, because he likes the “obstacles” the piece presents. Greg began working for Hardwood Artisans in 1993 because his uncle worked here and thought it would be good for Greg to learn a craft.

Greg spends his spare time doing oil paintings and playing video games. His goal is to merge oil paintings with woodworking, replacing art glass panes with oil paintings. At work, he is a little, shall we say, sloppy with the work areas, but at home he is what several friends describe as a “neat freak”. These contradictions in life are seemingly typical for Greg. Ultimately, his goals surround a more metaphysical ideology, of serenity.

Greg has mastered mortise and tenon work, as evident in the chairs pictured. The split back splat was his design. He has several unique pieces that he has designed and crafted for himself and family members. We have several photos of his work throughout the organization. We featured Greg Smith here because we consider him a unique asset to Hardwood Artisans. Feel free to interpret that any way you like. As we like to say around here, if you are looking for normal, go someplace else.

I Made This: Aurora Sylvia and Her All Girl Team

Girls Teamphoto

Furniture making is a man’s world, baby…….Unless your Aurora Sylvia and her all girls team.

Aurora Sylvia (far left, above) and her all girl team break the stereotype that only men are woodworkers. Her team consists of Hilda Berrum (second from left), Angela Cruz (third from left), and Isabel Abrego (far right). When asked to describe the women on her team, Aurora said, “They are all very nice, wonderful people.” She went on to describe each of the craftswomen individually.

Hilda is very serious but intelligent and a good worker, Isabel is very good at walking furniture – fitting drawers, and inserting parts, and Angela is good on machines.

Aurora has been working at Hardwood Artisans for eight years now and met her husband here. She is known around Hardwood Artisans for her motherly disposition, as well as her precision on machines.

In the past Aurora brought in lunches for workers, and to this day still has a passion for cooking. She says that her favorite thing to make is tamales.

Aurora is the mother of three, having raised her children for many years on her own, Aurora says that it can be difficult balancing raising children and having a full time job, especially when her kids were younger.

Many employees at Hardwood Artisans describe Aurora as a sweet, serious, and hard worker. When asked what her hobbies are, she blurted out with a smile “I don’t have time for hobbies!”.

Aurora, hopes to learn how to make more pieces and continue learning different skills. It is obvious that Aurora and her all girl team are an asset to Hardwood Artisans and will continue to break the stereotype that only men make good woodworkers.

I Made This: Sergio Zepeda

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“I wish I had the title of master craftsman,” says Sergio Zepeda, Hardwood Artisans’ craftsman. He desires that moniker. After 10 years of being a professional furniture maker, Sergio says he is still pursuing that goal. Think about that for a minute.

Sergio, like most of our cabinetmakers, is a perfectionist. He works to create the perfect piece, but in woodworking, there is always something less than perfect. Wood is organic, natural, and unpredictable. He is pictured next to our popular Simply Beautiful Secretary, a piece that requires numerous skill sets to craft.

Along the lines of his perfection, when asked what his hobbies are, Sergio says he likes to go to the gym, but then adds that his goal is to get to 10% body fat, weigh so-and-so amount, and be able to lift such-and-such amount of weight. He likes to work in specifics.

Conversely, he loves to cook, which was evident at our recent Lemonade Social where he was one of our chefs (right before he assembled a cabinet for demonstration!). He also has recently picked up fishing as a hobby. He does these things to balance the perfectionist inside.

Sergio is the father of two boys, 6 and 9, and has been married since 2005. His wife, Olga, lived in California previously. They met when Sergio went out to California to see family. After that, Olga received the first email Sergio ever sent, which he signed off as “your future husband”. Many more emails later, he convinced her to come to Virginia. They were married 8 days later. Now this is a man who knows what he wants.

More contradictions in his world: Sergio has his “famous” sleeveless shirts he wears pretty much every day, which he has made custom for himself; His house looks like a self proclaimed miniature Hardwood Artisans showroom, but he does not show it off;  He gets very intimidated when starting a custom order, but he loves the challenge, and he always works through the problems, questions, and concerns;  He says that he learns from everyone, even the “new guys”.

A great craftsman once said that ‘the measure of a craftsman was not by how many mistakes he makes, but by how well he hides them’.  If we can get past the idea that anything on earth is truly perfect, I think we can honor Sergio with the title of Master Craftsman.

I Made This: Greg Smith

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Hardwood Artisans craftsman, Greg Smith, has been with Hardwood Artisans off and on again for about 15 years. The 43 year old craftsman grew up in the Alexandria, VA area, and attended T.C. Williams High School.

Greg works on various dining tables, chairs, and custom projects that require the occasional “thinking outside of the box”. Greg says that his favorite piece to make is the Shinto Stool, because he likes the “obstacles” the piece presents. Greg began working for Hardwood Artisans in 1993 because his uncle worked here and thought it would be good for Greg to learn a craft.

Greg spends his spare time doing oil paintings and playing video games. His goal is to merge oil paintings with woodworking, replacing art glass panes with oil paintings. At work, he is a little, shall we say, sloppy with the work areas, but at home he is what several friends describe as a “neat freak”. These contradictions in life are seemingly typical for Greg. Ultimately, his goals surround a more metaphysical ideology, of serenity.

Greg has mastered mortise and tenon work, as evident in the chairs pictured. The split back splat was his design. He has several unique pieces that he has designed and crafted for himself and family members. We have several photos of his work throughout the organization. We featured Greg Smith here because we consider him a unique asset to Hardwood Artisans. Feel free to interpret that any way you like. As we like to say around here, if you are looking for normal, go someplace else.

Retirement

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Greg Gloor

Greg Gloor retires this month after 37 years of creating Hardwood Artisans. I am sure it is a difficult thing to let go of. On the other hand, he has probably seen enough, and is ready to move on to something different. He is already enrolled in college classes!

I consider Greg the “Steve Jobs” of Hardwood Artisans. Brilliant, visionary, creative, difficult, compassionate, unrelenting, patient, generous, motivating. I suspect anyone who can create something this great must have all these attributes, good and bad.

I can honestly say that Greg is one of the smartest individuals I have ever met. Many people would agree with me about that statement. But you don’t build a business like Hardwood Artisans by just being smart. It takes so much more.

Greg has taught each of the current owners what he can about what it takes to run this company. Each of the six partners represents a part of Greg’s skills and knowledge. Curt took the financial and technical. Ricardo took the general managing and some design. John Hilgren took the very technical. John Buss took the maintaining and improving. Kevin took the day to day grind of getting the production job done. And I took the designing and branding of the company. Essentially, it now takes six men to do what Greg did alone years ago.

It is difficult to express the gratitude the partners have toward this man. Personally, he has taught me a great deal, and more than just furniture design. We have been through some of the best and worst times. We have shared booms and busts, weddings, births, and deaths. We have loved and hated, sometimes at the same time. If you have ever had the privilege of working with Greg, you know what I mean. Perfection does not come about seamlessly. It is the hard road taken that results in the complete fulfillment of an idea, a design, a need. This is Greg’s legacy.

Lois Gloor


Lois Gloor is the wife of Greg, the founder of Hardwood Artisans. She is retiring this month, along with Greg. Some of you know her, but many of our customers are unaware of her contributions to the organization over the past 37 years. Part of this reason is because many of her functions have been behind the scenes. Bookkeeping, technical support, and for the past 15 years or so, photographer and graphics work.

Lois has been responsible for all those pictures you see in the Washington Post Magazine and photo albums in the showrooms, as well as all the price sheets we hand out. So, you see, she has been out of site because she has often been on the “other end” of the camera.

Photography has become a passion for Lois, and she plans on doing more in retirement. She is selling the company her old camera, trading up to the newest and greatest model! Being more involved with the raising of grandchildren, travel, and just doing all those things that time would not allow due to a busy work schedule will fill the days.

Lois’ contributions to the organization have been huge. We hope to continue the work she has so carefully crafted, and continue the legacy of excellence. If you have time this month, send her a note – Lois@hardwoodartisans.com.

Ken Schell, The Redneck Dali Lama

Ken (Left) Dennis (Right)

Ken (Left) Dennis (Right)

Our dear friend and Rockville manager Ken Schell retired this past week after over 22 years of service. Like many of you, I will miss my weekly doling of his “pearls of Redneck wisdom”, as I liked to call it.

A self-admitted K-mart kind of guy with an eye for style, scale, fashion, and aesthetics, Ken was quite the contradiction. I loved the way he could say what sounded like the stupidest thing, and then make you see why it made sense. I know many of our customers will miss his peculiar strategy for figuring out what their actual needs were.

It is tough to write nice things about Ken without coming across as sounding critical about him. On the contrary, I have a tremendous respect for Ken, and am grateful to have known him. Funny, light-hearted, and able to put the correct perspective on most situations, everyone at Hardwood Artisans will miss him dearly.

-Mark Gatterdam