Just in time for the Long's Park Art Festival last year, Rob & I finished up our very first spec piece collaboration. We had just finished our memorable week at chair camp with the brilliant Joe Graham and it put us in the mood to work with curves. As we don't have a setup on-the-ready to steam bend, we settled for some bent laminations.
From that base idea, we begin at our favorite starting point which is, of course, tiny scale models. This is the point at which we cut out a bunch of small bits of plywood and firewood so that we can argue about which way the legs should angle and what the shelf should look like. It's just as fun as it sounds.
When we agreed on the overall aesthetic, the actual making began with the legs. It was decided that the base would be made of white oak because white oak looks really good in a layered bent lamination. So, roughly a million slats were resawn from 8/4 white oak. The slats were then planed into wedges. The wedges were then glued together into a bend that, as a result of the wedging, formed a bent taper.
When I casually say "the wedges were glued together into a bend", what I actually mean is, "the wedges were a real pain in the butt as they slid around and required immense pressure everywhere to close over the length of the bend." Rob and I spent a good solid day making and remaking forms to bend those bastards around. At each dry clamp we learned of another addition we had to add to the form jig to make things work the way we wanted them to. In the end, we found ourselves with the jig you see in the timelapse below. With some polyurethane glue (which makes a total mess, by the way) we stuck those things together and by some miracle they turned out the way we had hoped!
The legs were really just the beginning of an ongoing invention of ideas and exercises in making those ideas into reality. The shelf was to be made of more slats to form strong shadow lines between the bent legs. That idea wasn't too hard to execute; cross pieces connecting the legs together with notches cut into them ready to accept the long shelf slats that ran between each end assembly.
Then came the top. Oh boy. We wanted some voids in the top to allow passerby to see down onto the shelf below and carry the strong lines throughout the piece. We also wanted some funky-town, crazy contrasting grain patterns on the top to make it, well, awesome. So we arrived at a design that is essentially white oak framing (joined at the corners by bridle joints) capturing two veneered panels that are four-way bookmatched. The veneer was from a buried stock that Jeff had ordered some time before I was born and it was awaiting the perfect project. It is a grafted walnut veneer so the color tones are remarkable. You can see the color change where the english walnut was grafted onto the black walnut as they grew together. This was a serious veneer score! [Picture at the top of the post] The panels are held in with floating walnut tenons with ~1 1/4" space between the frame and the panel to allow that view down onto the shelf.
This is a bold design, a bit more dramatic than our traditional pieces. But it remains in-keeping with our highlighted joinery and local hardwood materials, so it was extra fun to make up as we went along. It's a spec piece! What's the worst that could happen? It could hang out in our show room for a few years? Or, it could sell within 10 minutes of us announcing it's completion to the internet. (That's what happened. For real. Unreal.)
In the new year, we have a commission to make a second one similar to it's successor so, I'll be sure to share photos and progress on that. While we're at it, we'll also be making a third with a walnut base/frame and a yet-to-be-determined wild veneer top! Who's psyched? I will be. Come talk to me after I'm done cutting a zillion more resawn slats.