Comment

Custom Furniture Woods

There are thousands of species of wood in the world, some more suited than others for furniture making. Here are a few of my favorites.


Walnut

Walnut is one of the most popular furniture making woods in the history of the craft, for several very good reasons - it works easily, and accepts a wide range of color and finish beautifully. It is relatively inexpensive, is grown in the US, and is not endangered. It my personal favorite. I often buy walnut just to have piles of it around, waiting to be turned into furniture

Walnut has a rich, dark brown color, with tan sap wood and a fairly fine grain structure. It has open pores, but they are not large, as is the case with oak. It can be spectacularly figured, or sedate and calm. 


White Oak

White oak has a fairly course, open grain structure, which can be manipulated to great result, such as in this chest, which has been wire brushed to bring out a soft texture. It can also be sanded fairly smooth, and given a refined finish. It is hard as an anvil, and as a result is often used in flooring. It accepts color reasonably well. It works easily, but can be a bit unstable, resulting in above average movement as humidity levels increase and decrease. I love white oak for certain types of projects, as it is very inexpensive in the rustic grade, and can be nicely figured. Furniture made from white oak is stout and heavy. 


Mahogany

Mahogany isn't what it used to be, to put it bluntly. The vast majority of mahogany sold today is African mahogany, which is not a true mahogany.

Honduran mahogany and Cuban mahogany are "the real deal" so to speak, but both are endangered, and in many places illegal to log. There is a great deal of information available for reading online if you wish to learn more.

That said, African mahogany can be quite beautiful. It is a rich red color, works easily, and accepts a variety of finishes well. However, the quality varies greatly, and ordering a pile can be a bit like rolling dice. I tend to steer clients to walnut or cherry when possible, where quality is much more consistent.

Much higher quality mahogany is available in veneer form.


Ash

Ash has a fairly coarse, open grain structure like white oak, but is a bit finer and more consistent, color wise. It is naturally a light tan color, with occasional medium brown areas, most of which can be selected out if consistency is required. It finishes naturally to a light gold tone. It is very durable - baseball bats and some tool handles are made from ash. Ash is reasonably inexpensive, domestically grown and can be beautifully figured, as in this example of book-matched ash veneer cabinetry. Ash accepts stain reasonably well. It is a great go-to wood for any project, and works well in traditional and contemporary applications.


Cherry

Cherry is another very fine and popular furniture wood. It is a rich orange / brown color, has a closed grain structure, and can be beautifully figured. Two things to think about when considering using cherry in your project are:

  • Cherry is photosensitive - it darkens with age. The more light it is exposed to, the faster it will darken. But this is a good thing. Old cherry is a thing of beauty, and much coveted (and often faked poorly).
  • Cherry does not accept color well, and consequently is fussy to finish if clients want a dark tone right out of the box. I usually recommend a natural finish, which will allow cherry to do it's thing, the result of which is better than color in any can. Some people help the aging process along by placing cherry furniture in the sun, and rotating it to accept tone evenly.

Maple

Maple is a light toned, very fine-grained wood. It is hard as an anvil, and as a result is a bit tough with which to work. It can have excellent figure. I love maple as a drawer wood, as I prefer darker toned woods for furniture, with light, contrasting drawers


Macassar Ebony

Macassar ebony is used heavily in Art Deco designs. It is profoundly expensive. TCF understands the techniques required to work with this tricky wood. It is most often seen in veneer form, as the decorative effects achieved with it in that form can be amazing if done properly. 

Comment

Comment

Starting a Product Line

I've been considering starting a new division of Turner Custom Furniture, named Turner Hand-Crafted Furniture. This off-shoot brand would feature semi-custom, hand-made items available in a limited range of woods and finishes, including unfinished furniture and parts kits. I've been encouraged in this idea by friends, family and customers. I've explored it in depth, and here's how it could happen.

Step 1: The What

What should I make? What would be the most profitable? The answer is tables - dining, console, coffee etc. They are the easiest of all pieces of furniture to make, and the easiest to produce in volume. And conveniently, they are with desks and bookcases, my most frequently commissioned item.

Step 2: Money

It begins, as all business ventures do, with money. There are many ways start-ups, or scion brands like this would be, get the money needed to get started. As I don't need a lot of money, relatively speaking, and I'm not a big, public company, I've decided to look at a select few sources.

First, the traditional funding sources I'd rather not use.

  • Self-Finance: Not a viable option on the scale needed to make a real go of it.
  • Loan: This would take the form of credit card debt. There is risk here I'd prefer not to take.
  • The "Friends and family buy-in":  This is extremely common in the custom furniture industry (as well as others I'm sure), but I'm uncomfortable with it.

Next,  two sources I'd be comfortable with, as they don't involve loans or risk.

  • The investor model: I came up with this idea a while ago, but never pushed it very hard. It is truly a win / win: I create 10 table designs, and put them up for investment sale, meaning the customer (1 per design), would pay the development cost of the table, then own the table. My material and development costs are covered, I get good photos, and the investor gets a table at a discounted price. This is my favorite funding solution. 
  • The Kickstarter model: Small donations with rewards at various investment tiers.
    • What sorts of rewards? Higher tiers are easy: Invest $1000 or more, get a table. Lower tiers are trickier. What would a $20 investor get beyond my thanks?

I don't see any reason I couldn't do both, and honestly I'd be a lot more comfortable with both, as I could actually pay myself as well, as opposed to simply building the tables at cost, which is itself a gamble.

Step 3: Prepping for Success

Assuming I receive investment money, at this point I'd have:

  • Designs
  • Production methods established.
  • Photos and a separate website, focused specifically on selling semi-custom from a catalog of designs.

I'd be in a good place. But I'd need to be in a position to handle the success I'd work hard to achieve. I'd need to be able to build quickly - not overnight; I'd market myself as a local craftsman, selling hand-crafted items, but within a few weeks, which I've found works for most people. So let's say I get 10 orders that first week, all to be turned around in 4 weeks, or less. I'd need man power, and as they say in the baking industry "Just in time" man power if I don't want them standing around (on the clock), waiting for orders to come in. 

How would I have a create a system ready to go at a moment's notice, without paying for it when I don't need it? I wouldn't need very highly skilled guys and girls in this scenario. That isn't to say that the furniture wouldn't be well made. It's just that I wouldn't need highly skilled "generalist" custom furniture makers who'd be comfortable building drawers and hand-fitting them to a desk, or laying-up inlaid veneer panels. I'd need people who could glue up panels, do some sturdy but essentially simple joinery, and be able to sand.

The labor problem, though not so bad as that of a general custom furniture shop, still represents the toughest nut to crack in this new business model.

For now, let's say I've gotten enough money through crowd-sourcing and investment to keep one or two employees busy for a while I await orders. There's always something to do in a custom furniture shop. 

Step 4: Marketing

Now we're cookin' with grease. If I've gotten this far, I've got designs, a few dollars in the bank, a website, product photos and sturdy men and women on hand, chomping at the bit to get started building some damn fine, American made, locally sourced, hand-crafted tables. Now all I need are some customers. Let's consider my approach to marketing. I'm great and terrible at it. I do a lot right, but possibly more wrong. I believe that I've got a good foundation to build from. 

My approach to marketing is based on how I want to be treated by other businesses - yep, you guessed it: "Leave me the hell alone! I just want a new hammer! I don't want to follow you on FB, Instagram, Twitter and Google Plus. I don't want your news letter. I don't want to subscribe to your YouTube and Vimeo channels. I want to be able to find you when I need you, but I don't want you to find me."

I believe most people want to marketed to in this manner. This approach is what I call Passive Marketing. Be available, be find-able. But don't speak until spoken to. The problem is that this type of marketing only works for very established brands in very few nich'e markets. Those businesses who could be located on top of Mount Everest and still be turning down work.

That's not my business, and it isn't most businesses. I need to change some of my attitudes towards marketing and advertising, but do it in a way that works within my established ethical boundaries.

  • No lying or overstating. No half-truths and no asterisks. No fine print.
  • No spamming.
  • No bait-and-switch.

 I'm simply not willing to budge on these all too common practices. But that leaves a lot I can do.

  • Targeted Facebook and Google ads.
  • Houzz.com has a new program. I'd make a product, and they would market, mark-up, sell and arrange shipping of that product. This is a good option, as I'd tell them what I want for a piece and they would set their price to include shipping, and profit, with an eye on what's selling at what price. I'd then simply receive the shippers. I can even give Houzz an additional 2% and they'd cover returns, shipping damage, buyer's remorse etc. That's great, as I don't currently do returns on products that are made as stated in the design.
  • Getting better at Social media. Figuring out how to get people enthusiastic about my brand.
  • Informative or funny marketing videos.
  • Search engine optimization. I'm pretty good at this already. In fact, it represents pretty much all of my marketing.
  • Figuring out how to get write-ups in design and culture magazines. The problem here is that I'm so traditional, and I don't live / work in a hip area. I'm not a mid-modern builder in a small shop in Grant Park.
  • Local WABE (Public Radio) ads. Expensive, but a good option down the road.

Step 5: Success

I believe this can work. I'd need to keep the machine running smoothly, and deal with all of the issues that can and do come up. But I believe I can make more money this way, and being honest, I believe there needs to be more locally made, finely crafted stuff out there. 

What do you think? Want to buy a table?

Hand-Made is Better. 

 

 

Comment

2 Comments

TCF Wood Finishes

I've created a pretty flexible finishing system I can adapt to achieve a variety of finishes. Here are a few examples. 


  • Sanding to 220
  • Color on the walnut, not on the ash
  • Shellac x 2 coats
  • 320 sanding
  • Wipe on poly
  • 320 sanding
  • Wipe on poly
  • 320 sanding
  • Steel wool and wax

  • Sanding to 220
  • Color 
  • Shellac x 2 coats
  • 320 sanding
  • Glaze (Adds depth and darkness to angles and corners)
  • Shellac
  • 320 sanding
  • Wipe on poly
  • 320 sanding
  • Wipe on poly
  • 320 sanding
  • Steel wool and wax

  • Sanding to 220
  • Gel Stain Color
  • Shellac x 2 coats
  • 320 sanding
  • Shellac (building depth)
  • 320 sanding
  • Wipe on poly
  • 320 sanding
  • Wipe on poly
  • 400, 600 sanding
  • Pumice and Rotten Stone applied with a felt block (rubbing out the finish).
  • Wax
  • Steel wool and wax

  • Sanding to 150
  • Light distressing
  • Wire brushing (brings out texture)
  • Sanding to 220
  • Color (Varathane Kona here)
  • Highlighting (sand edges here and there to remove color).
  • Shellac x 2
  • 320 sanding
  • Glaze (Adds depth and darkness to angles and corners).
  • Shellac
  • 320 sand
  • Wipe on poly
  • 320 sanding
  • Wipe on poly
  • 320 sanding
  • Steel wool and wax

  • Sanding to 150
  • Heavy distressing
  • Sanding to 220
  • Color 
  • Highlighting (sand edges here and there to remove color).
  • Shellac x 2
  • 320 sanding
  • Glaze (Adds depth and darkness to angles and corners).
  • Shellac
  • 320 sand
  • Wipe on poly
  • 320 sanding
  • Wipe on poly
  • 320 sanding
  • Steel wool and wax

Cherry is tough to finish. You can't apply color directly to the wood, or it will splotch. Cherry will darken with age, but here's how I add color to cherry if requested by my client.

  • Sanding to 220
  • Shellac x 2 (I'm sealing the wood thoroughly so that no color touches it).
  • 320 sanding
  • Shellac: Clear and Amber mixed in various ratios to achieve different tones.
  • 320 sand
  • If more color is desired, I often use universal tints in very small quantities in the shellac.  
  • Or I use wood stain on top of shellac (wipe on, wipe off). Seal with shellac if color step is used.
  • 320 sanding
  • Wipe on poly
  • 320 sanding
  • Steel wool and wax

This is a finish recipe I use on oak to achieve a very old, rugged appearance. It varies by the piece a bit. Sometimes I add glaze, or vary the amount of poly depending on the sheen.

  • Sanding to 150
  • Light distressing
  • Wire brushing (brings out texture)
  • I apply a solution of steel wool soaked in white vinegar over night, strained, then diluted in water to achieve various tones. Much experimentation and adding / subtracting of water is required to achieve a specif tone. The vinegar solution reacts to the tannins in the oak. The effect is almost instantaneous.
  • Allow piece to dry
  • Highlighting (sand edges here and there to remove color)
  • Wipe on poly
  • 320 sanding
  • Wipe on poly
  • 320 sanding
  • Steel wool and wax

  • Sanding to 150
  • Light distressing
  • Wire brushing (brings out texture)
  • Sanding to 220
  • Wipe on poly
  • 320 sanding
  • Wipe on poly
  • 320 sanding
  • Steel wool and wax

2 Comments

Comment

Working with TCF

In order to give clients a price for a piece of furniture, I need to work from a finished design. As most of my clients don't have a finished design, I generally offer an estimated price or price range as a first step, just to see if my price is within my client's budget for the project. If so, I ask for a design deposit, which is typically $300 for residential furniture. This isn't an additional cost; it's incremental billing, and pays me for my design time. The design deposit is non-refundable. As soon a I receive the design deposit, I begin work on the design, and email drawings to my clients for approval. I generally get pretty close in my preliminary drawings, based on conversations via email, text or phone. This process continues until my client is happy with the completed design.  At this point, I'll provide a final price for the project, which will not come as a shock. I keep the budget in mind as I work, and will let clients know if an option will increase or decrease the price of the piece - adding a drawer for example, or curving the front of a dresser. If the final price is acceptable, I'll invoice my client for the job through Quickbooks. I ask for a 50% deposit (less the design deposit paid), then 50% on completion. As the piece is built, I keep clients up to date through a client Portal Page, which has all of the details of the job in one place. When I've completed the job, I will send a set of high resolution photos for approval before delivery is arranged. Clients are of course welcome to come to my shop at any time. Please schedule an appointment.

Example Client Portal Page

I password protect client portal pages. The above sample does not have a password. It will open in a new window, so you won't lose your place here.


DESIGN DRAWINGS


THE FINISHED PIECE


Comment

Comment

Tree to Table

I'm making a table from a tree. 

A few months ago, we needed to have a red oak tree removed from our yard, as it had died suddenly. Rather than let all of that wood go to waste, I decided it was the perfect time to invest in an Alaskan Mill - a small, portable saw mill using a chain-saw. The mill is shown in the banner image. I've started a photo journal to track my progress. It's going to take a few years, as the wood will need to air dry one year for every inch of thickness. I'll probably give it three years. 

I'm using a 24" Echo chainsaw with a 24" Granberg Model G776 mill. All in, the mill and the saw together cost me about $700. Just a quick piece of advice for those interested in giving this a shot - if you can't afford a really powerful chain saw, don't get a low-power, inexpensive saw and expect it to work for this application. If you are interested in learning about how to do this, don't hesitate to contact me.

Comment

Comment

I Got My Picture Taken

About a month ago, I was contacted by Manueal Montanez, a photographer here in Atlanta. She asked me if I'd like to be a part of her current project - photos of people doing unusual jobs. Like furniture making. I think she did a great job, considering the subject matter...

Have a look at her website, here:
http://www.manuelamontanez.com/

Comment

Comment

Dining Table Design Guide

Part 1, Top Size & Shape

Dining tables come in many shapes and sizes. Use this guide to help determine the size and shape that works best for your needs. In part two of this guide, I'll explore the strengths and weaknesses of various table bases. Turner Custom Furniture can make any size or shape dining table. Please contact me here with any questions. View a gallery of a few dining tables I've built here.


Common Dining Table Shapes


What Size Table is Right for You?

In order to determine how many people you will be able to comfortably seat, use the following formulas:

  • Allow 24" of space per person for a tight fit, 30" for a comfortable fit. Kids take up less space, bodybuilders take up more.  
  • For rectangular tables divide two times the length of the table by 30, then add two places for the ends. Round up or down, for a tighter or more comfortable feel. 
    • Example: A 72" x 40" table. 72 x 2 = 144 / 30 = 4.8, round to 5, + 2 for the ends = 7. So perhaps 3 per side a bit tight, and 2 per end. Or 6 people total, very comfortable.
  • For round tables, you'll need to determine the circumference, then divide that by 30.
    • Example: A 72" round table. 72 x 3.14 (pi) = 226.08 / 30 = 7.536, or 8 people pretty comfortably.
  • For square tables, divide the length of each side by 30, then multiply by 4. Most square tables seat 4, as you end up with a lot of waste in a 60" square table, which seats 8. A comfortable square table is 40" square.

Here are some examples of comfortable dining tables, in various sizes, shown with place settings. More complex place settings will require more space.

Comment

Comment

How to Cut Curved Moulding

Curved parts can be tricky to cut precisely. The basic principle here can be applied to any size moulding, and can also be done on the table saw with a sled and larger discs. The curved pieces are turned on the lathe in full circles. You'll get two pieces of corner moulding per full circle. Allow for several extra pieces, as you'll need them for set up and errors.

Comment

Comment

How to Make a Profiled Scraper

As a custom furniture maker, I often encounter situations which necessitate the creation of specialized tools, like this profiled scraper. This tool is useful when you need to make a small amount of really unique, and can't find a router bit or shaper cutter to do the job. Feel free to contact me with questions here.

Comment

Comment

An Office Full of Traditional Desks

A few years ago, I created this traditional walnut stand-up desk for Atlanta attorney Page Pate. Recently he asked me design and build two more desks to compliment this one - a standard desk and a computer desk. I look forward to getting started on the new desks in January 2016.

Comment

3 Comments

Why I Care

It is easy for a business to say that they care about their clients, and whatever it is that they do, but you almost never hear exactly why they care. One can assume profit will be the primary motivator in most businesses, and there's nothing wrong with that. But sadly, I've often gotten the impression that for some businesses, profit is the only reason they care.  In this post, I'm going to discuss the reasons I care about the furniture I design and build.

  1. Custom furniture is often expensive. There are many other things in the world on which my clients may choose to spend their money. In some cases, it could be a nice new car, or a dream vacation. I understand that, and feel the weight of it as I design and build. Essentially, I feel like I've got to build something that my clients will find more valuable than anything else on which they could have chosen to spend their money. 
  2. Consider this scenario: You are headed out to a new restaurant. You've eaten light that day, so that you'll have plenty of room to indulge. But when you get your food, it isn't very good -there's no solid reason to send it back, but it's definitely a disappointment. I hate that feeling, and when I present a piece of furniture to a client who is seeing the finished piece for the first time, I don't want to give them any reason to feel that way.
  3. Wood is a valuable resource, and shouldn't be wasted. I've seen more than my share of beautiful boards wasted on shoddy work, and I honestly feel bad for the wasted board. It isn't a case of "There will always be more." Every board is unique, with its own story to tell.
  4. Much of my self-esteem is wrapped up in the furniture I produce. I feel great when I've produced something beautiful. I feel low when I'm struggling to make a project work. That's how it should be. To me, furniture is an art and craft. It isn't a product to be banged out as quickly as possible, with little regard for quality. I'm concerned with quality on a deep level, and if I don't achieve it, I feel rotten until I have achieved it.
  5. I need to receive good reviews and earn new business from existing clients. And the only way to do this is to meet and hopefully exceed their expectations.
  6. Eternal glory. Can that be achieved through the fabrication of custom furniture? I don't know, but I'm trying to find out. I want to stand out out from the crowd; to produce work that will get noticed and talked about. I want to produce extraordinary designs. I can't chase glory on every piece - for example, a simple kitchen table. But on those pieces I can, I go all in. 
  7. This is a business, and there's no reason to stay in business if I don't make money.  I can't do that if I produce low-end work. 

I'm in this business because I love what I do, but the phrase "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life." definitely does not apply. The craft of furniture making is hard work. There are ups and downs. But at the end of the day, I choose to fight for what I want to do with my life. I want to create a lasting legacy of quality. And that's why I care.

3 Comments