A little design talk before dinner?

Foot 1

Yes, it’s all about the shiny stuff!

This Saturday six of the Furniture Masters are each going to bring a piece of furniture to Portsmouth, have a drink or two, some food, and talk about design inspiration with friends.  I’d like to invite you to join us.

There is 18th century work from the Moffatt-Ladd House, new work that we just completed, and lots of fun just making the connections between new and old, Ikea and studio furniture and just what working with your hands is all about.

The Moffatt-Ladd House
154 Market St, Portsmouth NH

Saturday July 30th from 5-7:30pm

   Click into Eventbrite to let us know you are coming, Suggested $10 donation at the door when you arrive

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Short Notice: Open House June 4th Saturday!

All of a sudden one of the Fort Point Cabinetmakers reminded me that we promised the Common Boston people we would have an Open Studios tomorrow in support of their Festival of Architecture and Design! #CB16  I will be working on one of the Compass Roses similar to the one I did for this campaign desk a month or two ago.

Campaign Desk Detail




So here goes – I know it is short notice, but we have several great pieces in the shop, and if you missed our previous open house (the one where we had rain, snow and sleet!) you should definitely come to this one.




Saturday, June 4th, 10am to 4pm
Fort Point Cabinetmakers
25 Drydock Ave 2nd floor
Boston MA 02210
Free parking right out front or take the Silver Line, which stops just outside our front door.

Hope to see you tomorrow


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Finishing the Desk Gallery

While I don’t write often, this desk gallery is something that I had to share – it is difficult, tough to design, and the execution is like completing a freeform jigsaw puzzle.  The design and first mockup only gets you so far.  Then you have to make it.  For real.  In hardwood.  With sharp tools.

So the process commences – everything starts with a rough stick of wood, furry, warped, and showing no hint of what wonderful grain might be exposed as it is milled up.

Courtesy of The Half Blind Woodworker since I have no photos of raw wood!

The surface is flattened on the joiner, the other face made parallel by the planer, and then edges made square and to size by the table saw.  Then onto the bench.Central fin

In this case, everything is then done by hand.  The front curve is freeform, and then the holly is inlaid by hand into the tip of the board.


Then the fairing so that the entire piece looks like a wing.  Four more wings, two sliding dovetails, and 14 regular dovetails (all hand-cut) later, we have the first piece of the gallery in position.  You can see the shims that hold everything tight.

First assembly

This gallery is unusual in that the center section hangs from the top of the desk, allowing a full size blotter to go under the entire gallery.

The sides have to be in place before the drawers are made.  Each drawer is different.

Gallery almost done -

So the center four drawers are in place, and the horizontal dividers for the eight outside drawers are ready.  Here you can see the first drawer being fit.  After the drawers are fit, then the drawer pulls have to be made and inlaid.  Again, each is different.  And each has two screws.  And each screw has to have a pilot hole, a hole sized for the thread, a hole sized for the shank, and a countersink so that the head of the screw sits flush. 12 drawers x 2 screws x 4 operations per screw.  Let’s see – that’s 96 separate operations…..

But the end result – immensely satisfying. Final Gallery



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Desk Galleries


The buildout of a gallery for a fall front desk is like building an entirely new piece of furniture inside the piece you are making.  It takes a lot of thought and a great deal of craftsmanship to make the design sing, and a long time to execute the final design.

Drawing for the desk galleryA desk gallery stands on its own as a design element, and yet it has to match if feeling and flavor the piece into which it is built.  This is one of the first design sketches for it.  Every piece is curved or shaped, and the overall effect I was striving for was the look of a built-in inside a sailboat.  All curves, flawless detailing, and a flowing character that propels you along.

It took several iterations to come up with the final design, and it felt right.  But not so right that I thought we should make it immediately, so I took the interim step of building a full size mockup of it out of foamcore.

Gallery mockup


Nick, who is a RISD Grad, made the mockup – and after a couple of changes we installed it into the top of the desk.  Looks like what I envisioned.

So now we have to make it in Sapele, a relative of Mahogany but with much wilder grain patterns.IMG_3134

First, start with the center fin.  Inlaid with holly, curved and shaped, this is the look I was hoping for.  But there are 78 separate pieces in the gallery, so we settle in for the long haul, and start making and shaping each piece by hand.  The only machine work we can do is the slots for the bottoms and the drawer sides and bottoms.

So it is off to the shop, sharpen all the hand tools, and get to work.


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At the end of the project…

There is always an end of the project, where the piece is finished, or as finished as it is ever going to be.  It reminds me of the polisher in the Steinway piano factory.  When the tour group came through, one person asked him – “How do you know when it is finished?”  to which he replied “It’s never finished, they just come and take it away.”

For furniture, there is always something more to do.  Another coat of wax, a small shelf where none existed, a slight bevel on an edge so the light shines on it with just a little different highlight.   But this is not unique to furniture – anyone who makes something by hand goes through the same experience.

This week it was all about the Ark.  No, not the type Noah  built, but one for a synagogue to store a Torah.  It is a project that has been going on (mostly in design) for over a year, and is scheduled for installation on Monday.  Made of American Beech and vertical grain Douglas Fir, the ark is now finished and sitting on the floor, ready to go to its new home.  I really like its inscription, shown below in its raw state, just off the laser,

Ark Inscription




and below, in its finished state, on the piece.  The meaning is “one good deed will bring another good deed”.  Or maybe more like the contemporary “What goes around, comes around”.

Ark before delivery





So I am satisfied with the ark, the design and the process.  And Monday is delivery day.  Time to take it to it’s new home, where it will live for many, many years.


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