I recently wrote a post titled Function Over Form. The post was basically about my shortcomings as a designer as it pertains to my woodworking. As a result of the post, I’ve been trying to “interview” woodworkers who’s designs I have been impressed with. I’ve been fortunate to hear from quite a few woodworkers that were more than eager to provide their input. Ultimately I was blown away by the overwhelming responses. This post was a result of my interview with Rob Bois of The Bois Shop.
Rob is a blogger and a podcaster. I’ve been following him on Twitter for a couple of years now but only started closely following his blog about 6 months ago. The pieces that Rob designed and built really impressed me and he was the first woodworker that I decided to “interview”. If you haven’t watched Rob’s podcast, believe me you owe it to yourself to check out his videos.
Rob’s crescent front writing desk in walnut.
1. What are some of your favorite design resources? Do you have any reference books or maybe websites that you go back to over and over in the course of a design?
Aside from the woodworking mags, I got a lot of value out of a few key books. I’ll list them in the order I read them, as they follow a general progression of skills:
Woodworkers Visual Handbook by Jon Arno - really a woodworking 101 book, but I still refer back to it even now on occasion
Setting up Shop – Sandor Nagyszalanczy - my shop rebuild would be half as functional had I not read this book first
The Handplane Book by Garret Hack - a must own if you use hand planes at all
Furniture & Cabinet Construction by Andy Rae - a how-to guide for every joint and common type of furniture
Pleasant Hill Shaker Furniture - even if you don’t build shaker style, this will give you an appreciation for construction
American Furniture of the 18th Century - like the Shaker book, even if you don’t have any interest in building period furniture, this will help with design and construction of any type
The New Wood Finishing Book – Michael Dresdner - I reached a period where I realized I needed to improve my entire approach to finishing, and this is the book that got me there
Artistry in Wood by Thomas Moser - a great inspiration to finding your own “voice” in design
Furniture Design – Jim Postell - almost a text book, but great to help you think beyond period design and think more like an industrial designer when it comes to furniture
Chairmaking & Design by Jeff Miller - this is where I’m headed next
2. Do you feel like you have a specific style as far as your designs go? Could you maybe site a favorite designer or maybe style and/or period of furniture that you tend to gravitate towards in your designs?
As the book list probably indicates, I’ve gotten influence from Shaker to Queen Anne to Art Deco. I think the Moser book inspired me the most, in that he described how he uses a lot of Shaker bones to his pieces, but has incorporated design elements from Asian influences and others. I think of my design style as a combination of lots of things. If I see a curve or a detail I really like, I put it in my sketch book for later retrieval. Often times, I’ll draw and redraw a leg shape or curve a dozen times before I get something I like. I can’t say I took the shape from somewhere, but I’m sure all my experience with different styles influenced my eye in settling on the final shape and design.
In general, I do use Shaker joinery for my casework and drawers. I also subscribe to the “more is less” theory in that I’ll use stringing or other light detail to accent a shape or a curve or a shadow line, but I don’t overdo it. I like to let the wood stand on its own whenever possible. I’ve been known to use a single 6′ long, 8″ wide board to source a single pair of drawer fronts, aligning the grain and figure to get the best result. When I buy my stock, I pick individual sticks of lumber to source specific components of my furniture, I don’t treat the wood like a commodity or just pull “x” board feet to match a cut list. I believe my choice of stock and grain is inseparable from my design, which is why I mention it.
3. I would love to know how you got your start in woodworking. What type of things did you start out building. Also, how did your progression of tools go? Did you start out buying the usual DIY sort of tools (circular saw, drill, hammer, etc.) or did you go straight towards the sort of tools used to build finer furniture? Also, how many of your tools did you have to “upgrade” because you bought cheaper and/or low end tools first?
Ah the good old days. My first shop space was a corner in my basement surrounded by the gas-fired boiler and hot water heater (sawdust is flammable?). I had a bench top Craftsman table saw, a Delta Shopmaster miter saw, and a Craftsman router. I built small Shaker-style end tables and some boxes. Soon I upgraded the table saw to a Jet contractor-style saw that cut like a dream, but lacked cast iron extension wings. I also upgraded the miter saw to a Makita SCMS. I also bought a bench top Craftsman router table and a Ryobi bench top drill press. But I still had no proper bench or any dimensioning tools.
At this point I built my first bookcase and hall table, and was reading like crazy. I realized my shop and tooling was just not sufficient to build what I wanted to. So I then upgraded the table saw to a Steel city with big extension wings and a standard miter slot (the Incra miter gauge followed shortly). I also added a Rikon 14″ band saw and 6″ Rikon jointer, as well as a Delta 22-580 planer. I completely enclosed a much larger section of the basement, adding dedicated circuits for a JDC Dustforce DC, the big power tools, and all the handheld tools. I also built out a closet for the DC and a wine cellar (while I was at it).
Next I build my 21st Century Workbench now that I had the jointer and planer in the shop. Once that was done, I also started adding both reconditioned vintage hand tools as well as those from Lee Valley and Lie-Nielsen. I also built a proper router table (Jessem) and added a Triton plunge router as well as a few trim routers to the arsenal.
This setup worked well for the next two years or so, but I still had some limitations. I was finding that most of my stock was between 6″ and 8″ wide, and the 6″ jointer just wasn’t sufficient. I also had no assembly area or wood storage. So, with permission from the wife, I rented out a 10×10 storage unit near by, and moved everything else out of my basement and doubled the shop space. I considered renting shop space, but at closer to $900/month it was cost prohibitive relative to the $200/month storage unit.
This new space become the dimensioning and finishing room. It allowed me to upgrade to the Powermatic 8″ spiral-head jointer, add lumber storage above it, and also add an assembly/finish cabinet as well as my full clamp rack. I also added a Jet 16/32 drum sander to the equation. I then moved the band saw and planer into the new room and also extended the dust collection and compressed air to this space. Since it is separate, I can now be doing assembly & finish work in that room while I’m working on the joinery for the next project in the next, and not have to worry about dust contamination. I also added an HVLP spray gun at this point.
More recently I’ve added a lot more Festool, usually as commissions dictate. I have the TS55, two sanders, the Domino XL, and CT Mini. I also bought some new hand saws recently as I’ve gotten into some more complex joinery situations that made power tools a more challenging option. Next I plan to buy some steam bending equipment, and someday I’d also like to add an 18″ band saw to the mix so I can have that dedicated to resawing while the 14″ can be used for curve cutting. But beyond that, I’m largely done adding any major new tooling to the space. I have little interest in turning, so I have no plans to add a lathe.
A few lessons learned:
-Never buy Craftsman. Ever.
-A 6″ jointer won’t cut it for serious furniture making
-A good band saw is more important than a table saw
-Don’t invest in an expensive drill press.
-Buy new hand planes if you can possibly afford it. Life is too short to spend hours flattening a plane sole when you could be working with wood.
-Don’t get too sucked into the online forums or woodworking mags. They tend to breathe their own exhaust, start ridiculous fads (Moxon vise or Roubo bench anyone) and stifle creativity and imagination.
-Don’t follow woodworking plans unless you have no interest in expanding your design or woodworking skills.
-Tools and woodworking skills are a commodity. Design is your brand and your distinctive competence.
Thanks for reading!