Putting the "log" back in Blog

What Motivates the Furnituremaker, Material or Design?

Posted on August 8th, by Andy Brownell in Gorilla Glue, marketing & promotion, Wood. 2 comments

Ten Degree Bench

I guess it all depends. But it seems like there are two basic schools of thought.


Design motivates me when it comes to taking on new challenges or fabrication techniques. Bent lamination, organic curves and using veneer in my designs are relatively new areas for me. I’ve been a pretty boxy guy when it comes to furniture design. I think it’s partly due to my limited free time to actually spend in the shop. My wife would probably tell you it’s my type-A personality that always seeks order. Being a parent with a full time job outside of my basement and limited time, I’m always looking to get to making sawdust as quickly as possible. Design has always been a non-productive activity for me. The fabrication and making is the fun part.

I’d rather build and design at the same time. That’s probably why I liked the miniature prototyping exercise I went through a few months ago for my latest piece, the 10 Degree Bench. Pinterest makes it easy for me to ruminate over design ideas without making a huge commitment. Here’s my inspiration board for future projects. While other times, a commission will require I step outside of my comfort zone in order to deliver what they are looking for. After all, money (and the kids that spend it) is always a good motivator.


Material on the other hand presents a very different set of factors that motivate. The sheer variety of wood and grain patterns present a nearly endless set of options for exposing the beauty of wood. After reading the book With the Grain by Christian Becksvoort, it’s made my understanding of wood and the trees it comes from much better off. Knowing not only what a particular wood specie is, but also what makes it look the way it does makes for interesting conversation in the office. A recent visit to a media agency partner in New York made it abundantly clear how much of a wood dork I am when I said how impressed I was with the quality of spalted maple veneer that covered a lounge area. For media agencies in New York City, money is also a good motivator. Take a look at what I’m talking about here.

With the upcoming wood sale at Midwest Woodworking, I’m taking the opportunity to let the material motivate me, not to mention the prices. This includes some exceptional quality Teak for an upcoming outdoor bench project using some 8/4 and 10/4 thick pieces. This will be my first experience working with teak so I expect to thoroughly dull my machine blades and use plenty of Gorilla’s polyurethane glue during assembly. Oily tropical woods like Teak and Gorilla Glue are like peanut butter and chocolate – they were made for each other. My plan is to have this fairly far along in time for Woodworking in America. Sticking with the bench theme, some of the wide ribbon stripe Sapele that’s available at Midwest WW made it’s way into a recent outdoor bench project of mine (photo shown above). The grain direction and chatoyance is worthy of interior high end marine architecture. I love this material, for the pine/nutmeg smell, the workability and grain patterns, which is why I’ve got a bunch more coming. See more of it here.


Kawazinga (waterfall) Bubinga veneer sheet from Midwest Woodworking

And finally, Buginga. It’s hard, it splinters and the grain does pretty much anything it wants. It’s red and deep brown contrasting colors produce some amazing patterns. I’ve built a few smaller case pieces that use Bubinga in the last 15 years (here and here) and now I’m taking a pretty big plunge on a fairly large personal project that uses both straight-grained solid material as well as having some custom made veneer panels made from Waterfall (Kawazinga) Bubinga. My plan is to make a series of Tansu-style case pieces that can be used independently throughout our home as well as connected together for a single large piece. Can someone say Tetris?

2 thoughts on “What Motivates the Furnituremaker, Material or Design?

  1. Hello Andy,

    Very interesting what you have to say.. For myself, Design & Material go hand in hand. As I design a piece, the material is chosen at the same time. They are intertwined and inseparable.
    For whatever reason, Design is 80% percent of my time, the build 20%. During design, my imagination is voraciously soaking up every piece of information like a juggernaut devouring everything in its path. Heck the build is like focused relaxation..
    Funny you mentioned veneer- for myself, I detest it in every possible way and function. Its near the level of particle board- a cheap replacement for the real thing. Case in point, my dining room table- made of that beautiful waterfall Bubinga w/ wenge breadboard ends, 8/4 solid (original board was 15feet long, spanning about 40″ across). Go big, go solid, or get out of the kitchen (imho, and to each his own, I don’t judge).

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