Summer Internship #2: Squareness is Overrated

My second internship took me to New Hampshire for two weeks with studio furniture maker Jon Brooks. The type of art Jon creates was a departure for me in that the concepts of “square” and “prepared” lumber that I am used to with cabinetry don’t really exist for his type of work. It was refreshing for me to look at wood and project construction in a new light. One only has to look at the fascinating home that he has built to understand the idea that squareness is overrated.

We began by harvesting lumber. This involved hiking into the woods surrounding Jon’s shop and looking for trees he had marked during the winter as candidates because of the shapes and forms he could see when the trees were bare. After harvesting a set of legs to be used for one of his projects later in the year, we returned to his shop where I debarked the trees. While still full of water the bark on newly harvested trees will almost peel off without the use of tools at all, it’s kind of fun! After debarking, I sealed the ends with yellow glue and then put the trees in storage to dry.

While in storage I was able to pick the branches from Jon’s stock of dry inventory for the ladder I was to build. The design for my ladder project was inspired by one of Jon’s 14” bronze castings:

 

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My version was going to be in the 36” range. I then worked on the layout of my ladder and Jon demonstrated how to lay out and drill the holes for the rungs in the ladder. He also demonstrated how to make the tenons on the rungs themselves using this veritas tool. I completed some practice samples then drilled my holes and created my tenons. The initial test fitting was pretty challenging because the rungs follow the natural curves of the branches, so you’ve got to be concerned with x, y, and z coordinates and the fit also relies on how well and straight you sighted your holes when you drilled them. After a bit of wrangling here’s what my ladder looked like:

 

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Next we moved on to the discussion of color and texture. Again a departure for me in that all colors were available to me for this project. Most cabinetry can involve color to a degree but we are often limited to the natural hues of the different wood species. Jon was working on this piece while I was there and I watched him paint the form over a couple of days.

 

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It inspired me to try something different: purple and light green. I decided on the green after I put some texture into my ladder by carving out some grooves, and then thought it would be interesting to highlight the texture with the green. It was a painstaking process of painting each individual groove and it gave me a new appreciation for painting. I wanted to mount the ladder asymmetrically, so I made the base heavy enough to support the ladder in that position. I shaped it freeform with an angle grinder, rasps, and some sanding. Here’s what I came away with after spraying a few coats of lacquer.

 

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The overall experience of working with Jon opened up a new way of thinking about the furniture I produce and the many ways I can use the materials to create those pieces. Thanks to Jon for a unique and eye opening experience.

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