I’m moving my blog again – hopefully for the last time. Time will tell.
We recently (December 2012) installed a photo-voltaic power system that will generate enough electricity to completely power my custom furniture making shop. The 10 kw system consists of two AllSun Trackers made by AllEarth Renewables of Williston, Vermont and 40 PV solar panels made in Georgia. The trackers keep the panels pointed directly at the sun throughout the day which maximizes their productivity.
|10 kw solar power system that powers the workshop
(in the background between the two panels)
The system is grid tied. This means that any power not immediately used by the workshop is feed into the power grid and credited to the shop account. When the shop is using more power than the panels are producing (on a rainy day for example) the extra power needed is pulled from the grid.
Federal and state tax credits along with an incentive payment from Efficiency Vermont, 6 cents/kw produced bonus payments from Green Mountain Power for 10 years, tax savings from depreciation on the system and savings from not having to buy power make the payback on the system about 6 years.
Handmade Shaker Furniture made from responsibly harvested solid hardwoods and Solar Power!
Frighten and frustrated by all you’ve read about what’s going on with the climate and all the arguments going back and forth about it? I sure am. I’ve read many books on the science of what’s going on as well as books discussing possible solutions. I’ve read article after article in newspapers and magazines, watched documentaries and special news shows and attended local meetings on various associated topics. It all seems so overwhelming which I suppose is why so many people would rather just deny that there’s a problem at all. They are aided in their denial by those who are profiting by the status quo.
I’m also frustrated with businesses that come up with reasons why what they’ve been doing all along is suddenly “green” or make some very minor movement toward being “green” just to be able to make the “green” claim. Everything is marketed as “Green”, “Eco-friendly”, “Organic”, or “Natural” but has anything really change much? Probably not. I can’t control what other people do but I can control what I do and I am making big changes in how I do things.
Deforestation is a big concern for me as I’m in the business of using forest products. While there are a number of forest product certification programs that claim to make sure logging companies harvest responsibly I have concerns that they really aren’t changing how things are done and as a very small company I certainly can’t verify whether they are or not for myself. For this reason I now use as much local lumber as possible. Vermont has in place a program that gives property tax breaks to landowners who “practice long term forest management” (Learn more about this) and I buy lumber from a Vermont supplier who harvests lumber from these lands. I also am starting to use lumber from my own land in my furniture. Harvesting the lumber myself has prompted me to find uses for the lower grade lumber that is present in all trees and also to find uses for the less popular species of wood. A healthy forest requires that all species be thinned and harvested not just the highly valued ones. You can see an example of this in some tables I just completed for a local restaurant. These tables were made from some cherry harvested from my own land. The outside boards cut from all cherry logs will have a high percentage of sap wood (white wood in cherry). Often these boards are discarded or used for low value products. I plan on offering pieces made from lower grade lumber in addition to my current offerings. This lumber makes for a very unique piece of furniture that is no less functional or structurally sound than one made from higher grade lumber.
Another big change I am making is to have solar panels installed to provide power for my shop. These panels will be grid tied which means that any excess power produced will feed into the grid and be credited on my electric bill. When my shop needs more power than the panels are providing (on a cloudy day for example) it will come from the grid. The solar array is designed so that its yearly power production will be the same as my yearly power consumption.
While what I’m doing will, by itself, make just barely the slightest difference to the climate I hope that it will give others the courage to make their own big changes.
Shaker, Mission & Custom Furniture since 1982
I design this cherry pencil post night table at the request of a customer who wanted cherry night tables with legs like the posts of the cherry pencil post bed she purchased from me. The table would have been simple enough were it not for the fact that she also wanted a shelf under it. The shelf is attached to stretchers that are mortised into the octagonally tapered legs. The tapered legs required that the tenons be slightly angled. While the table shown does not have a drawer, one could easily be added.
|Pencil post night table with shelf
20″ w x 18″d x 38″h
|Tapered octagonal posts.
Pinned mortise and tenon joints
Shaker Furniture handmade to order in responsibly harvested hardwoods
These days it seems almost all online businesses are offering “Free Shipping!”. I don’t know about you but every time I’ve shipped or mailed something it hasn’t been free. Even mailing a letter costs 44 cents and that’s going up in January. Shipping handmade furniture, especially if you want it to get to its destination undamaged, definitely isn’t free. It costs real money. I’ve seen other furniture websites that offer “Free Shipping” but what that really means is shipping is already added to the price of the furniture. Since they don’t know where the furniture is going before it’s sold they must have to add enough to the price to cover shipping it anywhere nationwide. What happens if you’re only 100 miles away instead of 3000 or if you’re picking up your furniture yourself? Since “Shipping is free” so you pay the same price as if it were shipping across the country.
I price my handmade Shaker Furniture based on what it costs to build (labor + materials + a fair profit). If you need it shipped I’ll charge what it costs to ship (packaging + shipping + insurance). You pay just what it costs and no more. If you pick it up yourself at my shop you pay no shipping charges. But don’t kid yourself – even if you pick it up yourself shipping isn’t free. There’s gas + wear and tear on your vehicle + your time and if you damage it in transit it’s not insured.
Handmade Shaker, Mission & Custom Furniture
This solid cherry Shaker bookcase was built to order for a customer but just as I was getting ready to ship it I discovered that the customer had requested it be 14″ deep. This one is 12″ deep (the standard depth I usually make it) so it’s now in stock and ready to ship.
Overall dimension are 60″ wide x 60″ high x 12″ deep. The inside depth of the case is 10 1/2″. There are 4 adjustable shelves on each side.
The top of the bookcase is dovetailed to the sides of the case.
Molding wraps around the front and sides at the top and bottom of the case. The back of the bookcase is 1/2″ thick cherry veneer plywood. All other parts of the bookcase are solid cherry.
This bookcase can be ordered online at http://www.bissellwoodworking.com/cases/bcase.htm. (Choose the 60″ double size with 2 additional shelves.
I spend a fair amount of time searching for nice cherry lumber to use in my furniture. I also like to use local lumber whenever possible. This week I spent most of 1 day milling milling some cherry logs from a neighbors land. Two large cherry trees were blown over in a violent thunderstorm in May, 2010. I learned about these trees in early December and had the logs pulled out and transported to a local sawmill just before the first snowstorm in late December. With spring finally here it was time to have them milled. They yielded some very nice, fairly wide 4/4 (1″ thick) and 8/4 (2″ thick) cherry lumber. The shorter logs with more knots were milled into the 8/4 which will most likely be used for table legs and chairs legs and seats – all parts that are fairly short so the knots can be eliminated. The two nicest long logs were cut into 4/4 lumber which can be used for table tops and case pieces (bureaus and cabinets). The photo below shows the lumber stack for air drying at my shop.
|Vermont cherry lumber stacked for air drying|
I also purchased some extremely nice Vermont cherry lumber this week. This lumber was cut and milled locally by a man who also works as a veneer log buyer for a large hardwood plywood company. His veneer log buying job takes him all over northern New England and New York state to look at possible veneer logs. Veneer logs are large, perfect logs with no defects of any kind. Often he will find logs that are not quite good enough for veneeer but would make excellent saw logs. These he buys and mills with his own sawmill and has kiln dried. The cherry I purchased from him came from cherry trees that grew near Middlebury, Vermont. This cherry lumber is quite wide (10″ to 15″) with beautiful color and grain. In the photo below you can see the end of each board is marked with a number. This number indicates which log the board came from and makes matching color and grain in a piece of furniture very easy.
|Vermont cherry furniture – kit form. Just add skilled craftsman
and several weeks of labor.
Some of this lumber will be made into a dining table for a customer in the Boston area. I’ll also be making a custom cabinet from it for a couple from New York City who bought their first piece of furniture from me over 20 years ago. The design for the cabinet is shown below.
|Custom storage cabinet design
to be made from Vermont cherry
I was recently flipping through a book on Shaker Furniture that I’ve had for many years when I came across a letter written to me by my father. The letter was dated March 19, 1982 and marked a page in the book that showed a design for a Shaker trestle table similar to the one I make now. The letter came with the book which was a gift from my father. Given the date of the letter (approximately one month before I started my furniture making business) I assume he was giving me this book about Shaker Furniture to educate me on one of the styles of furniture that he admired. My father was an architect so I’m sure his views on good architectural design were the same as his views on furniture design. Most likely I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to this letter when I first read it (I was after all only 21 at the time) but rereading it 29 years later I find it very concisely sums up what I believe makes for good furniture design and a good furniture maker. Here’s the letter:
This is a book about how a particularly dedicated group of people made simple, utilitarian furniture the best way they knew how.
Some people copy it even today and the results are merely copies of Shaker Furniture.
Other people study it, learn what made it good for its time, use some of the techniques, and discard other techniques, substituting others which are more appropriate to the materials and methods of construction available today.
But wood is an old material and many techniques of working it are just as applicable today as they were when the Shakers made their furniture.
Really good furniture utilizes methods developed ages ago and combines them with what we have learned over the years. Some people even develop new techniques more attuned to modern-day technology. Or they may even invent new technology based on the inherent characteristics of the materials and their tools.
So, just as many of the jazz musicians first studied classical music and appreciated it for what it was worth, it is meaningful to develop a familiarity with the old stuff even if only to understand a basic approach to the task at hand.
I pass this book on, not expecting you to copy if verbatim (though some people might even do that to their advantage) but so that you can study it, learn from it, and perhaps even appreciate it.
You should look for other books as detailed as this one on really good furniture of other periods, even contemporary one. And you should try out the techniques yourself and decide for yourself which joints are right for you with the materials and tools available to you today.
To my mind, that’s what makes a really fine cabinetmaker. That, and an aesthetic sensitivity which may just be in ones bones or may be developed through exposure to some of the rare, good things we see around us.
Richard Bissell builds Shaker, Mission and Custom furniture designs in Putney, Vermont.
I’ve been working on my wife’s Christmas (2009) present lately trying to get it finished before I have to start on her 2010 present. There are bits and pieces of it lying around the shop and I work on it when I get a free moment or two. Sometime I’m working on a similar part for a paying customer so I’ll make two.
There other day I was milling some long lumber for the posts of a pencil post bed and the back end of the board knocked a small wooden taper jig off the shaper table behind me. No big deal I thought…Until I realized that a door for my wife’s present was leaning against the side of the shaper. I went over to make see if it had been damaged and sure enough there was a large dent on the front edge of the bottom of the door frame next to the panel.
As you can see from the photo above this was more than just a small ding. The wood fibers were broken on one end of the dent. Very ugly and, of course, front and center on the door. Fortunately there is an easy way to fix something like this. Even after many years of woodworking I still find this fix amazing.
I applied some tape around the dent to keep the surrounding areas protected and dabbed a little water on the dent.
Next I took the tip of a hot burn in knife and applied it to the dent. This steams the wet wood and causes it to expand.
I needed to repeat this process (wet the wood then steam it) several times until the crushed wood had expanded enough to be just about level.
A little sanding after this and the fix was complete. Unless you know where to look and what you’re looking for you can’t even see it. All that’s visible is the slight break in the wood where the fibers were broken but otherwise you’d never know. Pretty amazing!