The Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC

I’m excited to be hosting my third Small Group Discussion (SGD) at The 34th National Arts & Crafts Conference & Shows!

I really look forward to these SGDs because they are always lively, passionate conversations about arts and crafts furniture, and it seems that dispite my best efforts, I end-up up taking in more knowledge than I give out. 

My SGD on Building Arts & Crafts Furniture is taking place on Friday, February 19th @ 1:00 PM. 

Here are a couple key links:

  • If you’ve already registered, go here to sign in. 
  • If you haven’t registered yet, go here to register.
  • You’ll need to be familiar with the ZOOM platform to participate in my SGD.

I also thought this would be a great opportunity to post a FAQ from my previous SGD. 

I’ve never built furniture; where do I start?

There are a couple ways you can go about starting. If you don’t have a shop, take a class. There are several excellent schools that usually offer classes building an Arts & Crafts piece of furniture:

If you have a shop, I would suggest picking up a good magazine article that offer step-by-steps instructions on building an Arts & Crafts piece of furniture. Some of my favorites are:

If you prefer video, Gregory  Poulini offers a series of YouTube videos on building a Morris chair. 

I’d like to set up my own shop, where do I start?

There are several things to consider when setting up a shop:

1. Think of setting up a shop as a mini-manufacturing process. First understand what you’re building and what woodworking tasks (i.e. ripping lumber, cross cutting lumber, milling lumber, resawing lumber, drilling, turning etc.) you need to accomplish, and then buy the best tools you can afford to accomplish those tasks. 

2. Consider your budget: Buy the best equipment you can afford.

3. Consider resale value: Consider the resale value of brands/models you are considering to purchase. If you decide woodworking isn’t for you, can you resell the equipment? Or if you love woodworking and want to move up, say from be able to mill 6” boards to 10” boards, equipment with a good resell value becomes a down payment on a larger planer or jointer.

4. Consider tool capacity: For example, how wide are the boards you plan to mill or resaw?

5.  Consider new versus old equipment: Buying a used 50 year-old Rockwell/Delta table saw and refurbishing it yourself will make you an expert on how to adjust and tweak the saw, and save you lots of money.

6. Never underestimate the value of a 0.0% credit card!!!

7. Test drive tools before buying: Attend a trade show. The International Woodworking Fair is the grand-daddy of shows and my favorite. Also consider The Woodworking Shows.

8. Another great way to test-drive tools is to attend a class that uses the tools your considering purchasing. 

What classes should I take to learn woodworking?

I believe the traditional curriculum is the best. First learn and master handtools (i.e. sharpening, chisels, hand planes etc.), then learn woodworking machinery (i.e. safety, tablesaws, jointers, planers etc.) There are many schools offering short classes on these topics.

If you’ve got the time, a couple schools offer excellent Intensive Furniture making classes.

How do I design my own Arts & Crafts furniture?

Step one is to understand “what” is Arts & Crafts furniture – what does it look like, and what is it composed of? Start here to see a few thoughts on these questions.

Then I highly recommend reading a couple books that discuss the design process and creativity. What sets these design books apart from others, is they were written during the American Arts & Crafts era by craftsman who built and designed arts & crafts furniture during its heyday! 

A lot people including myself, don’t believe they are creative. Yet, The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life by Twyla Tharp argues, convincingly that you can learn creativity and outlines techniques to make yourself more creative.

I've only got a few hours a week or month in the shop, how do I make the most of my time?

Utilize drawing and cutlists when building your furniture. They are great planning tools that will help maximize your time in the shop. But I encourage woodworkers to go one step further and develop a “game plan.”  A game plan is basically a series of steps you’ll follow to mill, shape, assemble, and finish the individual parts and components of your furniture. To learn more about this approach, see my article in Fine Woodworking (NOV/DEC 2006, issue #187) “Developing a Game Plan.” 

How do I learn about Arts & Crafts furniture?

Knowing Arts & Crafts furniture (i.e. it's evolution, how it was manufactured, its influences & appearance etc.) will greatly influence your designs and construction. For example, do you want to build authentic American Arts & Crafts furniture? Then you better reconsider incorporating dove tail joinery in your drawers.  A few books on how Arts & Crafts furniture was manufactured include:

Another great way to learn about Arts & Crafts furniture is to visit museums -- and I'm not talking about buying a ticket and walking in the front door. I'm talking about calling the curator (of their furniture collection) and asking for a private tour -- which I have done several times. Not only does this technique get you on the other side of the velvet ropes, but, if the museum owns the furniture, you'll likely be granted permission to use flash photopraphy!  A final bonus of this visit is you'll be able to measure and draw details to your hearts content! The icing on the cake of these private visits is access to the furniture conservator who maintain and repair this museum-quality pieces.  

 What do you look for when buying Quarter-sawn White Oak?

There are many things to consider when buying quarter-sawn white oak.

  • Old-growth vs New Growth
  • Air-dried vs. kiln dried
  • Moisture content of boards
  • Are boards free of kinks, crooks, twisting, bowing & cupping?
  • How prominent is the boards ray fleck pattern?
  • Are the boards from the same or different logs?

I've posted a great discussion of these points here

 How do you air dry lumber? 

Many furnituremaker’s prefer to work with air-dried lumber when possible. Its benefits include: more brilliant color, improved workability (both with power and hand tools), and its superior suitability for steam bending – because the wood’s lignin remains permeable. The US Department of Agriculture publishes a great how-to guide for air-dryer lumber. 

There is a post on air-drying lumber here.