I believe buying from Hardwood Artisans is experiential. I believe we perpetuate this by informing and educating our customers with as much information about the wood, construction methods, and finishing techniques. In keeping with that effort, I have three related subjects today.
We have a table making class coming up next weekend. Everyone is pretty excited (and nervous) about the event, so much so that we were very concerned as to if we could actually build a table in 16 hours………..suppose we should have thought about that before!
Last week, I built a 42” x 60” fixed dimension table with tapered legs. We timed all the steps out, and discovered it takes (me) 8 ½ hours to make a table. I have been doing this for 30 years, so this is not a fair comparison, but it gives us a pretty good idea of how long things will take for customers.
The most time consuming element of building a table is sanding. Everyone says they hate to sand. I like it. I fall into a zone and really tune out from everything around me and into just the thing right in front of me. I use all my tools (touch, sight, smell) to monitor the progress of the sanding. Sanding like this is more of a discipline than a skill.
Here is my “almost finished” table, in maple:
We are having a series of furniture care lectures. I will be going to each of the stores on sequential Saturdays. In the month of February, I will be in Fairfax on the 8th, Rockville on the 15th, and Shirlington on the 22nd, all from 11:00 to 1:00. We will be going over general care of the furniture, special problems like dents and scratches and water rings, and answering any and all questions to alleviate some of the fear associated with fixing your furniture.
I have been running this lecture for several years, and each time I give it I believe it gets a little better. I learn how to present the issues and resolve them better. Attendance is larger and larger, which tells me there is more demand for this sort of education. Come prepared. There will be a quiz.
To see me in action if you can’t make the dates, go to our Hardwood Artisans YouTube channel and look at the various videos we have put together.
Finally, in this education blog, we have what we refer to as the Log Blog. Sometime early last year, Greg had a log shipped in from one of our lumber suppliers. We had a project in mind. We thought it would be interesting to show people where the wood comes from. The project falls right into the philosophy of educating the customer.
Late last year I cut up the log into sections with a chain saw. Well, finally “the shop” (as I like to call them when I don’t want to single out blame……Kevin!) finally decided to get these log sections done. Each store has one, and we are busy embellishing the log and counting rings and time stamping growth rings. We also can use it to show customers how wood is harvested from the tree. Here is what we have so far at Fairfax.
I decided to go to the Washington Post Digital Holiday Party, which was last night at Rogue 24 in Washington, DC. First off, you need CIA quality tracking devises to find the place (which I am told is part of the charm). Its address is 922 N Street, but not really. The building is two blocks down an alley behind 922 N Street, in what was probably the carriage house for the row house up front. It is a very old, exposed brick building, probably with a total of 1000 square feet. Add in the kitchen being placed in the center of the restaurant, concrete floors, modern decor, and you have a very cool atmosphere for sure.
Lauren Taylor runs a large part of the Digital side of the Post. She is a lovely, hardworking, smart woman who is just as comfortable working a room as she is spewing out web analytics. I really respect her abilities. Plus, she makes sure that her group, with the help of Nathan Boone (event planner for the Post), always puts on a terrific spread.
I met some very diverse and interesting people. I met a marketing manager for Next Day Blinds, as well as a marketing manager for Unisys Corporation. I met the woman who does the web and social media for Corcoran College of Art and Design. Her boyfriend, who rides his bike 16 miles one way to work, is re-building a carriage house from the ground up just around the corner from Rogue 24. Hearing stories of jacking up floors, re-creating wood doors, salvage yard hunting, etc. made me miss those messy old days. It reminds me that this sort of thing really is a young man’s game. It was a very good talk about design and creative ways to bring something really old into a modern focus.
The most interesting person I met was Ronnie Mervis, of Mervis Diamond Importers. He was pleasant, easy to talk to, and surprisingly candid. I have always respected his “high-road” marketing approach to selling diamonds and product, and who doesn’t love the accent?
Ronnie and I (I think I can call him Ronnie!) discussed the similarities of our businesses. We both are selling a luxury item to people with disposable income. He pointed out that he has something I don’t that is built in to each sale from the very beginning – emotion. He really pegged that idea. I spend a lot of time creating ads and tag lines that try to evoke interest and excitement, but mostly emotion.
I am very passionate about furniture and design. I try to get others to share my passion. I honestly believe that if we surround ourselves with only people and things we truly love and want around us, our lives will be enriched and simplified. Ronnie reminded me of how important that idea is. So, it was a great night and a lot of fun. I am glad I was prodded into putting on a jacket and driving into DC to attend.
What sort of design ideas create emotion in you?
In the1900’s, it was the arts and crafts movement.
In the1930’s, it was art deco and art nouveau.
In the1950’s, the mid-century modern movement began.
In the 1970’s, Danish modern was all the rage.
In the 1990’s, the arts and crafts style kicked back in with a lighter, modern interpretation.
In the 2010’s (that just sounds wrong and funny) mid-century modern has really started back up again. This time around, it has taken on a more textural interpretation. Monochromatic color schemes using a variety of mediums (wood, metal, glass, and fabrics) blending hard and soft-scapes is the trend. Furniture styles give and take from the architecture and decorating trends surrounding them.
We have been working on our mid-century modern collections for a few years. The Linnaea Collection (and the Baton Rouge Collection to a lesser extent) has been developing for several years. I began the Linnaea collection by making the living room items, starting with the sofa and chair.
Lately, we have been making some very modern cases, specifically for kitchens and bathrooms. Sharp, almost hard lines, with interesting finishes, are so totally the rage. Espresso, ebonized, blue stain (stain, not paint, so more like a glazing), what I like to call a “guash” (grey wash stain), and any other color under the rainbow are being created. It is little sad for me, as a woodworker, to color over the natural wood, but the designer in me likes the total effect. These shapes and colors make the furniture flow better with the total room of grey tones and softer statement.
We will be putting pieces in the stores soon that showcase these styles and finishes. In our Fairfax store, we have already installed a modern home office/guest room. Be on the lookout for other pieces in the showrooms.
What can we modernize for you?
For years I have been asked if Hardwood Artisans offers classes in woodworking, or if we would allow customers to “apprentice” in the shop. About 3 years ago, we did a test run for making tables in the shop. It was a successful test, and the customers and craftsmen were equally enriched.
Fast forward to this year’s Lemonade Social. We had Sergio and Freddie assemble a Simply Beautiful Secretary as part of our demonstrations. I watched the responses from customers, listened to the questions they were asking, noted the excitement they had in watching the process, and concluded that it must be time to try this class idea again.
We needed to decide on something relatively simple, but large enough to have a sense of accomplishment for the time dedicated to the project, and get it finished in just 16 hours. These are three tough specifications, especially the 16 hour constraint. We decided on dining tables, but when surveyed, many people wanted drawers (either for the kitchen table, or for a table desk).
We worked out the specifics on getting drawers made as well in the same 16 hours. What that meant in real high tech terms is that Kevin Carlson and I sat down and doodling over a legal pad, working out the timing of the project. Very complicated stuff…This is how most things get done around here. We have all been doing this for so long, we know exactly how long it takes to get through any particular cycle.
People ask me how long it takes to make this piece or that case. In our shop, it takes on average 60% of the time to construct the piece, and another 40% of the time to sand and finish off the details. We tend to spend an exhaustive amount of time doing the finishing details, but that is what gives the furniture that special look and feel.
The Table Making Class will require many machining steps. All the legs are two halves that are glued together. They will be rough cut, ripped, book-matched, run through an 80 grit sander, and then glued up into a larger blank. Later, these blanks will be trimmed down into perfect squares, cut off, mortised, drilled, and finally tapered. Lastly, all the finish sanding needs to be done on the legs.
The tops need to be pulled out to a rough length, ripped, marked, and glued in two separate gluing cycles. Afterward, the tops will get planed down to a little over final thickness, and then run through a wide belt dual head sander. After, yes, more finish sanding with pneumatic sanders, starting off with a180 grit, and finishing out with a 280 grit sanded piece.
The aprons will be ripped, planed, edged, and tenoned to fit into the leg mortises. Further notching and top clip grooving takes place, and then, yes, more sanding.
In the case of table desks, there will be drawer parts, half blind dovetails, dados, and notches to be done. When making a drawer, there are five parts involved per drawer. There are also two side walls, two upper runners and two lower runners, drawer stops, etc. Each drawer adds about 13 additional parts to the project.
There are lots of parts and lots of joints. This class will rock, and we will certainly roll through the entire process at a pretty good pace. So, if you are game, come on down. We would love to share this experience with you.
If you’re interested in the class either call our Fairfax showroom, or e-mail Erin (erin@hardwoodartisans) or Mark (email@example.com). We hope to see you in Culpeper!
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.