Surplus Books

UPDATE: The books have been claimed, but keep an eye on the blog and the facebook page for the occasional surplus freebie or bargain sale. Thanks!

Just a quick post:

In organizing my library, I’ve discovered duplicates of the following books:

The Furniture Doctor, George Grotz, 1962 (USED, GOOD condition, old library book)


Restoration Recipes, Baine, Smith and De Bierre, 1999  (USED, GOOD condition, old library book)

Chairmaking and Design, 2nd ed. Jeff Miller (New condition, never opened, I think)

I’m giving these away, Free to a good home, first come, first served.

I’ll cover shipping if it is within the US

BostonCares about Toddler Beds…

The Carpenters and Boston Cares | Bed Project
Months ago, Boston Cares asked for help in designing a toddler bed to be made entirely by volunteers, that would be a solid, good looking piece of furniture, to be donated to families with young children transitioning from homelessness, in which any child could be proud to lay their heads. It’s a hidden, yet critical problem.

I’m thrilled to see the program flourish under the leadership of the BostonCares team, with nearly a hundred built and donated so far this year, and the tremendous contribution being put into the effort by the New England Regional Council of Carpenters. The NERCC put together a video on what they do(above) and how they are helping out, and it’s awesome to see the beds being produced.

Look for similar programs to start in your area soon! (More on that at a later date)
Follow @BostonCares on Twitter, on Facebook, and visit

Most importantly, get out there and volunteer in your community.

3-Wine Gift Box

If you happened by the Furniture Project area at the New England Home Show last weekend, you may have found me carving a set of thin figured maple panels. I transferred a tree pattern as a rough guide for carving a tree, and after a few hours of carving with terrible convention center fluorescent lighting, the tree took form.

Back in the shop, I went back to a technique I dabbled with as a diversion a while ago, and talked about in a previous post, where the surface is sealed with shellac, then coated in black…um, colorant? (Minwax express color, a waterborne product of unknown type, dye? pigment?…). Once dry, the excess was scraped off, leaving just the carving colored on a figured maple background. The finish is blonde shellac and wax.

The end product is a 3-wine gift box to be presented as a wedding gift , with a custom carved set of lids with the wedding year in the center (the original plan was for the couple’s initials). The box is dovetailed by hand and made from a pommele Sapele with a ton of chatoyance.

If you’re interested in an extra-special customized gift for a wedding or other special event, please contact us and we’ll create the perfect item to meet your needs. (Some Options: custom sized to fit for any other bottle, single bottle or multiple, hinged lid, lock and key, etc. )

Art Deco Scotch Cabinet

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, and I’ll refrain from the typical apologies…I never was enthusiastic about writing. Fortunately, I am enthusiastic about furniture. And this week, I came across the wonderful idea of importing from furniture manufacturers China some really ornate furniture for the living room. I’ll share that with you shortly.

Here’s some recent work from my shop. It was designed as a scotch cabinet, the kind that those Don Draper types (or perhaps, some highly placed European politician) might keep in their office where they keep the good stuff in a decanter for those important meetings with their VIP guests. It’s inspired by the work of Parisian Art Deco designer Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann (28 August 1879 – 15 November 1933), who was renowned for his elegant designs in rich materials (ivory, macassar ebony, ambonya burl veneer, shagreen…) Here is a famous example, the Meuble au char (1922), clicking on the image will bring you google image gallery of many other of his designs:

You may have noticed the references to Monsieur Ruhlmann have been as “designer” not maker, as he did not make his own design, but apparently was meticulous in design, redesign, modeling, and specification of each of his designs, relying on his hired makers to figure out the how. In my (somewhat less than exhaustive) investigation, many of the construction methods used in many of these case pieces is a mystery, though many have speculated. It seems that the aesthetics his works were paramount, the structure well-hidden, not on display as a mark of craftsmanship.  The veneers are often laid-up for visual effect, where we are accustomed to seeing the grain running in structurally-relevant ways, as seen in many other styles. Some have speculated that the joinery is hidden because its inadequate, but I’ve seen little evidence for that claim, and would be surprised if one so obsessive about the design would accept less of his makers.

A late call for entries for The Furniture Project show sparked a 5-week push to design, build (and show) an interpretation of the iconic chimney cabinet form: tall, narrow, and with at least one door, with the added twist of a very short timeline to encourage makers to not overthink (something I’m prone to do).  Inspired by the art deco theme, and in particular the use of vertical grain Macassar Ebony veneer, combined with light/white accents, I created a sketch then set to making.

In the tradition of Ruhlmann, I won’t detail the construction methods, other than to say it pushed the limits of my abilities, and added several new techniques to my arsenal.

The end product combines elements of Ruhlmann aesthetics (minus the real Ivory) for a rich, elegant piece in which to store your finest libations or other special contents. Vertical Macassar Ebony veneers wrap a gentle serpentine facade and add some flame to this chimney cabinet. Some details include faux-dentil accents of dyed maple, Holly feet on faceted fusee legs, Apple pulls, reclaimed piano Ebony shelf supports, and a rich interior of mottled Sapele. It has two drawers for storage of additional glassware and sundries, and two glass shelves for display and storage. The overall dimensions: 10″d x 21w” x 67″h.

If you’re an aspiring Don Draper, or perhaps a European diplomat, and need to furnish your home or office, this piece is available for sale: $6200.

Please email or call for more information.

This piece was well-received at the Furniture Project show, and was selected as the “People’s choice” at the event.

On Cheating…

It’s Get Woodworking week, and a great time for me to resume some blogging. It seems that each time I write a blog, it begins with an apology for not writing more frequently. I offer no excuses but to say I’m a furnituremaker and father first, not a blogger. Blogging offers a bit of a creative outlet when I’m not otherwise occupied.  Fortunately, I’ve been quite busy with work, for customers and for myself, and exercising my woodworking skills daily as a result. Which brings me to the subject of this post – something I’ve been reflecting on for years, but only forming coherent thoughts on recently.

Matt Kenney, Senior Editor at Fine Woodworking, and someone I consider a friend, posted about cheating in woodworking recently. Besides being a talented and accomplished woodworker (see some of his work at left), Matt holds a doctorate in philosophy, so I hesitate to disagree (my, albeit lesser, degree in philosophy gave me enough insight into the dangers of arguing with a Ph.D. in Philosophy), but I know he won’t take it personally. His point was that there is no such thing as cheating in woodworking, it’s just about the quality of the product. I encourage you to read the entire post, but here’s an excerpt:

“What matters when you’re making furniture is the furniture. When all the tools are put away and the finish is dry, have you made a beautiful piece of furniture that you and other folks find beautiful and useful? If so, then nothing else matters. So, do whatever it takes to make the furniture you love, even if that means using a router, tablesaw, or a chisel guide to cut dovetails.”

                                              – Matt Kenney, Senior Editor, Fine Woodworking

A key part of this thesis is that HOW it’s made is irrelevant, as long as it’s beautiful and nobody can tell the difference. This undercuts the value of creativity and craftsmanship which, like any skills, are developed with time, practice, and a little effort. This does not suggest that master craftsmen and artists, who have worked at their art for years and years, practicing and creating, don’t find efficient means to accomplish the same tasks. They do. But they have developed sufficient skills to know what is efficiency, and what is corner-cutting – ways of accomplishing things without developing your skills or learning the how’s and why’s of methods of art.

So on this point, I argue that whether it’s “cheating” depends on your goals: If you want the fastest way to an endpoint, it’s impossible to cheat, as Matt suggests. If your goal is to get better and better, hone your skills, craftsmanship, and creativity, then it’s entirely possible to cheat. I’d argue it better to learn well by trying and falling short of what you know to be possible, and to do it over and over if need be, to gain the unconscious competence that comes with mastery.

Wilbur Pan (of, in the context of the importance of the “dovetail-a-day” idea, recently posted a link to the following video, created from a commentary by Ira Glass, contributor and host of This American Life, (a great, thought-provoking podcast/radio show for listening to in the workshop, incidentally) which makes this point as he discusses creative endeavors (in his case, the art of writing and storytelling):

If you just want a good-looking end-product done quickly without taking the time to learn how and why, a robot in a factory somewhere overseas can likely make one faster, cheaper, and more efficiently than you can, but that doesn’t sound much like creativity, art or craftsmanship to me.

No, there isn’t one “right” way, or, more accurately, there are many right ways, so try many, as Matt suggests, but don’t fall back on the fastest and easiest simply because some methods you know are “time-tested” seem too hard. You can be sure that the masters, who all have their own ways of doing things, have practiced ad nauseum, and mastered, many different methods before settling on the best way for them. You can also be sure the same masters had many years of disappointing results, which they pushed through, knowing they could achieve better. Cheating is not in the method, its in failing to try, to practice and to grow your skills.

This idea applies to learning to freehand sharpen, cutting without jigs, dovetailing without a router, etc., which I won’t get into here, but to point out that there are an abundance of things in woodworking (and I suppose in life as well) better to learn to do well by practice, than to just finish quickly. Developing the skills to make them unconscious habits will lead to doing it more quickly, and knowing when another method may be more appropriate.

My favorite comment from the rather lengthy comment stream in Matt’s post, from commenter “Pags”, a boatwright in Minnesota: ” I would hate to teach math to our children using only calculators instead of them learning how to do the math using their heads”. Amen. Having returned somewhat later in life to earn an engineering degree, I’m rather scared to know that 99% of my young classmates, now out in the world engineering our roads, products, robots, etc., stored the entirety of their understanding of fundamental engineering and the math skills needed in their Ti-85’s (calculators), not learning it and imprinting the knowledge in their minds.

So my parting thought is that for those who want to develop their creativity and skills, and particularly for those starting out: Don’t cheat. The results won’t be good at first. Simply try again. And again, and again. If it looks perfect for your first try (and this applies for almost anything creative), you probably cheated. Yes, the product looks great, but you probably took a shortcut to get there, and thus didn’t learn from it. You’ve cheated yourself. Rather, do a lot of work. Do it over and over (this is the basis of the dovetail daily exercises). It WILL be hard, but rewarding. You’ll soon find you’ve mastered techniques enough to know the most efficient way, but more importantly, you’ll understand why, and when to apply which techniques. This builds the creative foundation for being able to design and build your own works, and to do it well.

So go make, then make again…and again…and again. Years from now, you’ll reflect on how you’ve grown your skills, almost by accident, by constant practice.

Get Woodworking 2013


PS.  Moments after drafting this post, my thinking was bolstered to a degree, when I read this post, by Shannon Rogers, who appears to have practiced ripping solid stock by hand enough that it’s become second nature.

PPS. A couple days post-drafting (yet pre-posting), and again, this topic popped up in a blog post, this time from just down the road from me from the shop of Rob Porcaro, a hugely talented woodworker, who agrees that there is cheating in woodworking, though for a slightly different reason than I’ve given. His conclusion is, however, the same…get back to work.


Sometimes, I get distracted.

I’ve been fairly silent in the blogosphere lately, with quite a lot going on. I put my commissions on pause in order to build a kitchen for my wife (I’ve been promising since we moved in in 1999, and it’s our 10th anniversary, so the kitchen is her gift). I endeavored to build the cabinetry myself, like any good woodworker would want to. My workshop is not ideally suited for “production” cabinetry; that is, it’s in the basement, it has low ceilings, there’s not enough space to store alot of pieces concurrently, and it certainly is not tooled like a production cabinetry shop might be. No, it’s better suited to unique one or two-off pieces of furniture. So needless to say, it’s been a challenge to establish a process to try and do it reasonably efficiently…but I digress.

This post isn’t about cabinetry.

This is about the diversions we take when working on something. Keep reading, there’s are some tasks for you at the end!

Perhaps the task is tedious, monotonous, or generally uninteresting. (Like a boatload of kitchen cabinetry?). I was tired last night, but not the kind of tired where you want to sleep – the kind of tired where you need to just unwind, do something different. So I grabbed a scrap of mahogany, don’t know what kind, or even where it came from, just a random off-cut. I pulled out the carving tools wanting simply to push them through some wood – just for something different then ripping at the tablesaw, planing every machined face, and sorting and labelling face-frame parts. I carved randomly for a couple minutes, without any design intent….and a tree grew from it.

But it was kinda…blah.  I decided I’d try to dye the whole thing, then try planing off the top surface after it dried. A while back I saw, and, without any immediate uses for it, picked up a product at Home Despot (yes, its intentionally spelled that way…) from Minwax: Express Color Water based stain and finish in ‘Onyx’. Who knows what kind of coloring and finish it contains, it’s the typical cryptic verbiage on most of their products to keep you guessing. I just squirted a bunch on the surface, then rubbed it in with a rag:

After a little while, I just planed off the surface. (not sure it was dry, but I was impatient…you know me):

For a 20 minute diversion, I kinda like it, and I’m going to use this method again in a product. So inspired, I sketched a half-dozen ideas this generated while lying in bed afterwards.

So here’s the message, and your tasks:

Get distracted, try something new, do something you always wanted to try, or something entirely unplanned.If it doesn’t work, oh well. Sometimes it’ll inspire you; Sometimes you’ll find something that works, and something you’ll want to do again…for real.

Your final task: Tell us what you do in the shop as a diversion? What have you tried? What worked? What didn’t?


(Note: if anyone knows what this Minwax product is all about, share that too, I’m curious what it really is)


MWA Podcast, Episode #9: The Furniture Project 2013

The Furniture Project

The Modern Woodworkers Association Podcast #9, recorded July 11th, 2012, also available as audio only below (Note: You can always listen to past episodes and subscribe to the audio-only podcast here). In episode #9, we talk with some of our friends and organizers of The Furniture Project (formerly WoodExpo) about the 2013 show. I went to the 2012 WoodExpo and had a great experience, if you missed that post, you can read it here.

If you like the video version, subscribe on YouTube (ModernWoodworkers Channel)

Tune in LIVE when we broadcast each show (you can do that by adding MWA’s G+ page to your circles and watch for show announcements in your stream, watch Live on the YouTube Feed, Watch for announcements and links Tweeted by @MWA_National, and participate in real time by tweeting your questions to @MWA_National or @MWALive, or commenting in the G+ stream, or in the YouTube comments. phew…so many ways to participate!



Modern Woodworkers Association Podcast, Episode 8: Our Favorite Tools

The Modern Woodworkers Association Podcast #8, recorded June 20th, 2012, also available as audio only below (Note: You can always listen to past episodes and subscribe to the audio-only podcast here). In episode #8, we talk about our favorite hand tools, power tools and measuring tools.

If you like the video version, subscribe on YouTube (ModernWoodworkers Channel)

Tune in LIVE when we broadcast each show (you can do that by adding MWA’s G+ page to your circles and watch for show announcements in your stream, watch Live on the YouTube Feed, Watch for announcements and links Tweeted by @MWA_National, and participate in real time by tweeting your questions to @MWA_National or @MWALive, or commenting in the G+ stream, or in the YouTube comments. phew…so many ways to participate!



Modern Woodworkers Assn. Podcast #7: “Woodworking FAQ” Book Review

 The Modern Woodworkers Association Podcast #7, recorded a couple of weeks ago, and featuring our first foray into LIVE podcasting is finally available as audio only. In this episode, we discuss a new book from Storey Publishing: Woodworking FAQ, by Spike Carlsen. (Note: Listen to past episodes and Subscribe to the audio-only podcast here


If you’re interested in the video version, you can subscribe on YouTube (ModernWoodworkers Channel), and even tune in when we broadcast live (you can do that by adding MWA’s G+ page to your circles and watch for announcements in your stream, watch Live on the YouTube Feed, Watch for announcements and links Tweeted by @MWA_National, and participate in real time by tweeting your questions to @MWA_National or @MWALive, or commenting in the G+ stream, or in the YouTube comments. phew…so many ways to participate!

Here’s the Video of Episode 7, if you’re interested in viewing it (and forgiving the quality of our first attempt with this technology!)

Modern Woodworkers Association podcast – Episode 6

A recent series of controversial remarks by Fine Woodworking editor ASA Christiana set off a tumultuous chain of commentary in the online woodworking world. Asa joins me and the rest of the MWA guys to talk about it, what he’s learned and the path forward.



(Note: comments are disabled here. If you’d like to comment please do so on the episode 6 post on the MWA website )