No, really, I’m back

Yes I’ve been gone for a long time. My day job has kept me busy for quite a while. Since this summer I’ve been working on opening several theatres, every one of them not exactly on schedule (not my fault!). Anyway the “CA” and commissioning portions of most of those projects are complete and new design projects are in progress. So for the foreseeable future I have a reasonable amount of paying work in the pipeline. That’s great news.
So my hobby / avocation / passion has suffered a bit. Throw in the usual work around the yard – there are still a lot of leaves to move yet – and it’s hard to get a lot done. Happily I’ve got three personal woodworking projects on my own personal list, and I think all of them will happen in due course. So I’ll talk about them a little bit.

The first project is a commission I’ve had for a long time but we had to organize a couple of people and come up with a design. Finally it all came together and it’s now a “real” project. I’m designing and building an “Ambry” for a catholic church. The ambry is a cabinet, usually secured, holding three sacred or blessed oils. The current ambry in the church is sort of non-descript, hidden and apparently no one has the key, so it goes unused. Do a Google image search on “Catholic ambry” and the variety is remarkable. My patron, who wants to remain anonymous, wants something better. We debated for a long time and I did some sketching, considering a wall cabinet with glass and more interest or a free-standing piece of furniture. I sketched for a while when I had time, first coming up with ideas that I thought meshed well with the church architecture; things that looked stout and secure. Those were rejected (in the nicest way possible). I heard “lighter” and “more artistic”. I showed my patron some images of James Krenov’s (or at least his disciples) work and that was the right direction. So I took some of those concepts and developed a chest on stand, with glass and a fair amount of marquetry that is up my alley. I’ll write more about the project as I finish the drawings and get started. I’m sort of excited about it even though it’s not a style or construction method I use often. Time to stretch out my imagination.


After that project, in the spring, will be a long-delayed remodel of our family’s family room fireplace and mantle. I’ve always hated what was built by the previous owner. I can only describe it as “fugly”. It’s nothing more than brick and a warped slab of wood as a mantle on built-in brick corbels. Utility at its worst. The fireplace is a wood-burning insert. My plan is to cover nearly all the brick with a frame and panel design, columns and a new mantle, with a large marquetry panel over the fireplace. I’ve done some preliminary design work and now that will be shelved to work on the ambry project.

The last project is perhaps the most exciting, and even though it’s likely a year off, it made a great leap forward in October. I’ve had my eye on a piece of furniture at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston-Salem. I don’t want to say too much yet, but when I first saw pictures of the piece I was gob-smacked and knew I had to build it. Last month I spent about 5 hours with it, photographing and measuring it, and that only piqued my interest – no my NEED – to make it. It’s going to be a fun, long and expensive project – I must find some wide cherry planks to do it right – but I can’t wait. I’ll document that piece well.

The two original projects are helped by my efforts at improving my design eye. I’m no George Hepplewhite or Thomas Sheraton, but I feel more confident. Walker & Tolpin’s books “By Hand & Eye” and their workbook “By Hound & Eye” (there’s a pun there and it’s a little silly but there’s great information in those books) from Lost Art Press have been a huge help. Those books have reinforced things I learned long ago and forgot how to use. The information is in a fresh format that’s been great. I’ve been to George Walker’s presentations – he’s frequently at my local SAPFM meetings – and there’s always something old that’s new to learn. Read their stuff and that sentence makes sense.
The last thing I’m doing differently is using pencil and paper for most of the design work. In the past I’ve used AutoCAD because I find it easy and I’ve been fairly successful due to my familiarity. But I was trying to improve my eye and proportions – the key to everything – and it’s true that dividers and some basic geometry are better tools than a computer. I’m on the fence and may do my construction details in CAD, but my original designs will be hand drawn from now on. It was fun to work with vellum and pencils again.

That’s the update. Tune in next time to see how I make the ambry. I’m going outside my experience with traditional techniques because that’s what the piece wants. We’ll see if it works. Torsion boxes anyone?

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