When The Trees Begin To Bear Fruit . . .

Growing as an artisan. It's a process. An amalgamation of your personal tastes, your abilities, and your experiences into tiny ingots of production. The sum of all you absorb becomes your own distillation. Over time you develop a "voice."

The sentence I wrote on the original build of this blog (seven years ago!) summed up my hopes at the time:

"I am a woodworker and writer exploring and honing both crafts through this blog. Follow along as I discover myself in words and sawdust, moving along the path towards finding the methods of work that are best for me."

I'd decided it was time in my life to get serious about two things I wanted to improve on; woodworking and writing. This blog is the vehicle for that growth. The goal of writing is to develop this elusive thing called "Your Voice" a term that encapsulates your grammar patterns, word choice, and penchant for words or alliteration.

I would say that developing your woodworking "voice" is important as an craftsman or artisan. Its up for debate, but I would say a voice, in the modern context, is more than the marks you leave behind when fabricating as I discussed HERE. I would say your voice comes in with design decisions and the finished result of a piece.

In the wash of period piece project plans, measured drawings it can be difficult to find something that feels like it comes more from inside you than outside.

If I look back, I started to find my voice with this piece.

This is the tool rack I built to celebrate moving to my current shop. The design comes from Chris and Popular Woodworking, but I played with it making the sides to match a moulding profile, carving the front bar in a 17th century style and then playing with dyes and paint to achieve a unique, kind of antiqued look.

Forward a while and I cooked up my take on the Underhill nail cabinet:

My first foray into parquetry and veneering. I was starting to light onto something that drives me and feels like my own thing.

Aesthetic wise I live with my feet planted soundly in two diverse worlds that are hard to reconcile. On one side I love, and always have loved, simple vernacular forms of furniture, sometimes called country furniture, similar to what's explored by Chris in the Anarchist Design Book. But the other side of my heart is wound up in the perversely ornate features that are the calling card of high end work. Marquetry. Boulework, Parquetry. Decorative bandings. Ornamental turnings, Carving, Rosemaling, Kolrosing. Inlay. Fretwork. Gilding. The list continues on.

I spent some time hanging out with the Studley Tool Chest and Workbench a year ago and man did that infect me with need to explore detail and precision.

This is a progress shot of my latest experiment. A boarded chest lined on the inside with papers I woodblock printed

On the outside milk painted except for an area on the front I chose to experiment with grain painting. On some period pieces the grain painting tries to closely simulate, or mimic a different, more expensive wood, (painting poplar to look like mahogany) but some of the outliers take the opportunity to really swing for the fences.

I posted this photo on social media a few days ago and had someone comment my work made them think I'd glued on some distressed leather . . . If I can make you think it's anything other than layers of pigmented shellac, lacquer, and oil paint, I guess I'm winning.

Is it a little over the top in it's free form?
Absolutely. Do you need to stretch out that far to reach for something? I think yes.

One of the best lines of advice I ever received in art class was the teacher telling me to push a piece I was working on until I ruined it. If I wasn't walking the tightrope of turning my hard work into trash I wasn't doing it justice. There's a nature to that experimentation and boundary pushing that is missing in most woodworking instruction I see and read.

You look at the pieces I've created here and you think I'm becoming all about paint and artificial color, but then you'd be missing another piece I've made that I'm very proud of:

What's next? Where does woodworking go now that Studio Furniture has become blase? We've moved through celebrating form through Shaker and Danish Modern, celebrating joinery through Arts and Crafts, and celebrating wood itself through Nakashima, Krenov, and Maloof. Where does the experiment take us collectively now?

I think I can see my personal string of breadcrumbs leading me home through the woods, I can see parts of it anyway. Where does your trail lead you?

Or will you spend your shop time hunting other people's trails, building and finishing pieces from books and magazines in just the way they tell you?

That trail is a place to start from and learn from, I will admit fully I still have many, many lessons to learn as they cross my path so use the trails cut by others to your advantage. Just don't choose them as a place to live your creative life from.

As the man says . . . "Disobey Me!"

Ratione et Passionis


  1. Enjoyed this narrative as much as all of your narratives. Our tastes are very similar but your many steps ahead on finding your voice. Plus I don't fashion myself a writer :)
    As for where my breadcrumbs seem to fall? Well, as long as I can put an artistic twist into whatever I am making then I am happy. I jump around a lot on what I am making and creating. From pen and ink drawings to shaker boxes to Follansbee type carvings to straight out Mary May carvings. A few 6 board chests and many ,many chairs and boxes.... I must like to sit down a lot hmmmmmmmm.
    Keep up the "Great" work Derek and I will wait eagerly for each new installment from you!


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