I always start with the material. My wood comes from a variety of sources, including commercially milled hardwoods available from a regional dealer, preferably from certified sustainable sources; locally milled slabs, which are usually salvaged from urban trees; and occasional items that I find, including millyard scraps and odd logs otherwise destined to be firewood.
Sometimes I have an idea of what I want to make before I have the wood, and sometimes it’s the other way round. In either case, knots, waney edges and the other so-called defects that I find in the wood – what might be called, in general, character marks – are a source of inspiration and may be featured prominently in the piece, as part of the natural randomness of the tree, in opposition to the geometric lines imposed by the design; or the very design may be based on individual peculiarities of a board. A bench I made in 2014 was designed as a way to use a beautiful spalted maple board that had warped into a dramatic S-curve.
My designs usually start with a plain modern style, but before I have finished there are more curves and angles than one might expect. I enjoy working with contrasting woods, frequently using the contrast in color and figure to bring out a curving joint line, and occasionally there is visible exposed joinery. I do not shy from using commercial hardware, if appropriate for the practical and visual effects I have in mind.
I use a mix of hand and machine processes, choosing the methods that seem most efficient for making one or a few pieces at a time in a one-person shop of 950 square feet. Frequently some elements of a design are discovered during fabrication, and I figure out how to produce them on the fly.
Everything I make is intended to be used, with structures that will perform their intended function for a long time. Virtually all my work is finished with a non-toxic penetrating finish, which has the great advantage of being easily renewed as the years pass.