Live Edge Bench

For a number of years, “live edge” furniture has been very popular for some in the furniture-loving world. From my perspective, the term “live edge” usually refers to one of two design ideas: 1) the bark for a given piece (table, bench, etc) is completely left to be in its natural state. This style usual results in a fairly “rustic” or “cabin-like” quality. 2) The other design is a result of removing all the bark, but leaving the natural edge of the tree surface intact. This too, can be rustic in appearance, but more often, such pieces are finished beautifully as table tops.

My approach to “live edge” is somewhat different. I remove some of the bark (but not all), which exposes the internal structure of the bark. The result is what some furniture builders term “stacked coins” or “a handful of pennies.” I do not build many live edge pieces, but I am happy to say that clients seem to like this hybrid approach to the idea of “live edge.”

Below is a series of images of a bench, employing this process.

PS - One can see an earlier post of a live edge piece that I finished below, titled, “Joyce’s Counsel Table.”

Walnut plank in raw form.

Walnut plank in raw form.

Some of the bark has been removed.

Some of the bark has been removed.

Nearly ready for general sanding of the surface.

Nearly ready for general sanding of the surface.

A view from the opposite end. Here, one can more clearly observe the “stacked coins” idea.

A view from the opposite end. Here, one can more clearly observe the “stacked coins” idea.

Most “live edge” tables and benches tend to be equipped with black steel or wrought iron legs, adding to the rustic or industrial appeal. My approach to the design always includes lumber legs.

Most “live edge” tables and benches tend to be equipped with black steel or wrought iron legs, adding to the rustic or industrial appeal. My approach to the design always includes lumber legs.

Here is the bench with three coats of oil. Only seven or eight remain to be applied . . .

Here is the bench with three coats of oil. Only seven or eight remain to be applied . . .

IMG_8425.jpeg
IMG_8432.jpeg

Toasted Frame

One of my best clients recently inquired if I would be willing to design and build a frame, upon which would be mounted a metal cut that he had acquired. We talked about the “look” that he wanted (somewhat industrial - to compliment the “steeliness” of the metal cut), the size, and of course, the finish.

After some thought, I suggested that we use “toasted” maple burl, with an ebonized edge and background, finished in tung oil.

I am happy to say that he loved it!

Here, the piece is shown in “shop lighting.”

Here, the piece is shown in “shop lighting.”

Here, shown in daylight. The background (beneath the letters) and the edging are ebonized poplar; the primary material is “toasted” maple burl.

Here, shown in daylight. The background (beneath the letters) and the edging are ebonized poplar; the primary material is “toasted” maple burl.

New Shop Bench

Thirty years ago, I built a shop bench, made mostly from re-purposed material. However, the time had come to “decommission” the old reliable. What I did not expect was the sense of loss that came when I began to dismantle it – almost like when a close friend moves away.

I built hundreds of pieces upon the old bench – dollhouses, beds, tables, frames, benches, contemporary art pieces, specialty pieces for homes and churches, scores of cutting boards, and Christmas gifts (always in secret). 

The new bench is quite different. It is made of cherry (28 x 84 x 3) and finished in oil (Tried and True linseed/natural Watco mix), with ebonized cherry drawer pulls and a Lie-Nielsen chain drive vise. 
Here is to the next thirty years! 

IMG_8142.jpeg
Bench top - 28 x 84 x 3

Bench top - 28 x 84 x 3

Photo of bench without drawers and with vise extended.

Photo of bench without drawers and with vise extended.

Advent Wreath

One of the joys in life is when unexpected options present themselves.   Some would call this "good luck," but I am not sure that such a thing as good luck actually exists.  If so, I would say that good luck is really the intersection of preparation and opportunity.  Such has been the case for me during the past several years in the area of church furniture.  I find this to be highly rewarding, in that the designs for such work are based upon very personal, yet communal and theological roots.

A forthcoming project involves an Advent Wreath for a Wisconsin church.  The design is rather simple, yet very fluid, with a great amount of visual movement.  The project is set to commence during the summer, and to be completed in time for the Advent Season.

UPDATE -

I am happy to say that I finished and delivered the Advent Candelabrum in time for the Advent Season. The pastors were very happy, as was the congregation! :)

Below are some process photos.

This is the plywood block form, used for shaping the resawn 1/8” pieces into legs.

This is the plywood block form, used for shaping the resawn 1/8” pieces into legs.

All the red oak to be used for the candelabrum, cut to length and width.

All the red oak to be used for the candelabrum, cut to length and width.

This is a stack of 1/8” thick reaawn oak, which was used for the legs (bent lamination technique).

This is a stack of 1/8” thick reaawn oak, which was used for the legs (bent lamination technique).

Here is a series of the 1/8” pieces, glued in the bending form.

Here is a series of the 1/8” pieces, glued in the bending form.

This is the top “ring,” employed for the candle sockets and candles (built from 8/4 red oak stock.

This is the top “ring,” employed for the candle sockets and candles (built from 8/4 red oak stock.

The candelabrum in “dry fit” form, prior to final sanding and milling for the candle sockets.

The candelabrum in “dry fit” form, prior to final sanding and milling for the candle sockets.

The socket locations are marked with cedar glue blocks and a small nail to mark the center for accuracy.

The socket locations are marked with cedar glue blocks and a small nail to mark the center for accuracy.

Following staining and multiple finish coats, and prior to the brushed brass socket installation.

Following staining and multiple finish coats, and prior to the brushed brass socket installation.

Delivered!

Delivered!

Ginkgo II, cont.

I am happy to report the completion of the Gingko II leaf.  Something about this "second edition" has energized me to expand my designing efforts increasingly to include sculpture.  Several ideas are "on the bench!"  

Gingko II is 54" x 24" overall, finished in eleven coats of tung oil

Gingko II is 54" x 24" overall, finished in eleven coats of tung oil

Ginkgo II

As I have continued to explore the world of wood/furniture sculpting, I decided to design a second ginkgo leaf (in cherry), but with a bit more visual "movement."  This one is not quite as broad as the first, and and "leans" slightly to the right (note more curl on the left side of the leaf toward the right). Then too, the leaf "ripples" or "waves" are more prominent to the right side.  I chose a single plank of cherry for this piece, which has some lovely flecking contrasts.  While there are folks do not care for flecking, I think it adds great beauty and character.

Many ginkgo leaves - both in nature and in art - are quite broad.  Some, however, have a more oval or round shape, as is the case with Gingko II.

These photos show the piece shaped and sanded to #100 grit.  The sanding will continue through grits #120, #150, #180, #220, #400, #800, #1200, #1500, and #2000.  This will be followed by 9-12 coats of tung oil.  Finally, the leaf will be mounted upon a background of ebonized poplar.

More to come . . .

 

 

IMG_3248.JPG
IMG_4200.JPG
IMG_9052.JPG
IMG_2587.JPG

Breathe

Last summer, our family celebrated my wife's retirement and 40+ years of marriage on a river cruise in Europe.  While there, we saw many wonderful pieces of art.  One of them inspired this piece, a sculpture titled, "Breathe."  It was sculpted from a block of 8/4 laminated cherry.  Once the final shape was established, I sanded the piece through eleven grits (60, 80, 100, 120, 150, 220, 400, 800, 1200, 1500, 2000), and finished it with nine coats of tung oil.

Both the sculpture and the base are American cherry.  The base has been ebonized.

Both the sculpture and the base are American cherry.  The base has been ebonized.

Breathe2.jpg
Breathe3.jpg
Breathe4.jpg
Breathe5.jpg

Joyce's Counsel Table

Every artist (and indeed, all business people) will tell you that is is a great joy to have "repeat customers."  :)  In the world of artists, such folks also provide opportunities to talk about "things that matter."  

What is that about?  Most art lovers (music, visual arts, theatre, etc.) will agree that "art imitates, or symbolizes, how life 'feels.'"  So when an artist is given an opportunity to create a piece for a client, the conversation tends to include rich symbolic and "feelingful" language - language, which shapes the design of the piece.

Such was the case when I was given a second opportunity to build a piece for Joyce and John (although it was inspired by Joyce!).  Joyce and John had visited me (as they always do) at the American Craft Council Show in Saint Paul.  One of the pieces in my booth was a "live edge" bench in black walnut, which drew Joyce's interest.  She was not looking for a bench, per se, but like the manner in which I had prepared the "live edge" element.

Joyce desired to have a Counsel Table in the back entryway to their home.  The primary element was to be a walnut live edge top, with a drawer and a shelf. She wanted it to be bold, rich, elegant, inviting, conversational, and not strictly utilitarian. I shopped for an appropriate-sized piece for the top, and then let it stand in my shop for many months, before I could begin the piece in earnest.

My approach to live edge work is somewhat different than most.  A great amount of live edge work tends to be either 1) either the raw edge of the lumber after the bark has been removed, or 2) with all the bark left on the piece.  Both are useful and appealing ways to present live edge pieces.  I am not trying to be critical here.  However, my furniture portfolio does not really fall into either visual category.  So, my approach is to make live edge pieces, which can also find a home in the category of "fine furniture."  The design style here is sometimes referred to as "stacked coins" or "a hand full of pennies."  As bark, it is quite smooth, and exposes a lovely internal structure that would otherwise remain hidden.

I delivered the piece one week ago; I am happy to report that it is already loved - thank you, Joyce!

The "live edge" top, showing the "stacked coins" profile.

The "live edge" top, showing the "stacked coins" profile.

Part of the magic of many "live edge" pieces is that by definition, they tend to be asymmetrical.

Part of the magic of many "live edge" pieces is that by definition, they tend to be asymmetrical.

IMG_3902.JPG

The President's Frame

It is always a special honor to be asked to design and build a piece for a public or semi-public space.  In this case, I was asked to design and build a frame, which would house a very special photograph, taken in the Swedish archipelago from the shore of Jussi Björling's summer cottage. The photograph (taken by Anders Björling, Jussi's son) now hangs in the entryway to the President's House on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, Minnesota.  Gustavus was founded by Swedish Lutheran immigrants in 1862 - a four-year liberal arts college known for broad academic excellence, including an outstanding Department of Music.  Jussi Björling was clearly one of the finest operatic tenors to have ever lived; Gustavus uses his name (by permission from the family) for several music-related associations:  Jussi Björling Recital Hall, The Björling Music Festival, and the Jussi Björling Music Scholarship.

The photo shows the beauty of the Swedish archipelago in summer's full bloom - birch trees, water, shoreline, boats, and homes painted in Swedish red are prominent. My assignment was to create a frame, which would compliment "all things Swedish."

Anders Björling, President Rebecca Bergman, and I, worked closely together on this piece over a period of months.  I made two video presentations, offering a number of options in design and color for the frame, as well as a number of frame samples, showing size, profile, and color.

After a number of meetings and subsequent design adjustments, we decided upon the following concept:  The frame would be built of birch - the most prominent tree in the foreground of the photograph.  The main part of the frame would be ebonized (dyed black) to compliment the black color on the birch bark, while the accent profile lumber would be dyed red, to compliment the building color.  The black and red combination is broadly known in the visual arts as the "colors of drama," a point, which offers dual meaning in this case. 

After applying the dye to the lumber, I glued the red accent pieces to the main frame, and applied three coats of satin urethane, sanding lightly between each coat.  The final finish was burnished with #0000 steel wool, and polished with a soft cloth.  The frame measures 29" x 67".

 

Summer in the Swedish Archipelago 

Summer in the Swedish Archipelago 

Anders' Photo2.JPG
Details of the ebonized frame and finish.

Details of the ebonized frame and finish.

President Rebecca Bergman and photographer, Anders Björling

President Rebecca Bergman and photographer, Anders Björling

Douglas Nimmo and Anders Björling

Douglas Nimmo and Anders Björling

Small (important) Projects

As a furniture designer and builder, sometimes it is tempting to become "captured" by designs that are unique, new, or adventuresome, and to not pursue more standard smaller/important projects, which are (and should always be) equally important. Recently, it was my honor and privilege to build two such "smaller and important" projects for former students.

The first was a frame, given as a wedding gift from the bride to her parents, to honor her love for them. Upon hearing the "why" of the gift, I was captured by the privilege offered to me to make this gift!  The bride and I spoke about the many options available to her in terms of size, wood type and color, and of course, design.

In the end, she chose one of my favorite combinations - cherry and hard maple.  The collaborative attitudes of these two domestic lumbers toward each other is both gentle and cogent - I love it!  Thank you, Caroline!

Caroline's Frame.jpg

Another smaller/important project involved a gift, to be presented by a former student to her sister, on the occasion of the sister's wedding.  It was to be a box for special items, the top of which needed to "house" a needle work piece, which the client had made for her sister.  The client had seen examples of my work on FB, so based upon that, she asked if the box could be built from maple burl and padauk.  I sent her photos of the process throughout, which allowed her to offer feedback. (I like that kind of "collaboration.")  Thank you, Michelle!  

Michelle's gift.jpg
Michelle's gift2.jpg