Friday, January 29, 2010


I first heard this song by Tom Waits on CBC radio while working in the shop. It really grabbed my interest. It evokes so many things; memories of obsessively nosey neighbours, in this case, paranoid nosey neighbours, creepy news stories, which are probably the things that make the nosey neighbours paranoid, small mindedness, small town fear of outsiders.
What really caught my attention as I was working away were the lines “He has a router and a table saw”. Now that really changed the picture for me. A devious psycho who is pounding nails into the hardwood floor would not be using a router and a table saw to build a dungeon for his torture victims. Maybe he is just setting up his woodworking shop so he can make some grandfather clocks and birdhouses.
When I got home I looked up this video on YouTube. It’s pretty creepy and fits with my first impression of the song, but here is another layer.
When the video gets to the lines “He has a router and a table saw” the image for the router looks like a plastic “T” joint with a few wires routed through it. This I find hilarious because it reveals that whoever is making the video, in spite of the context does not think of a router used in woodworking but the only kind they know, which is some kind of electronic networking device. This person definitely did not take woodworking in high school, but I bet Tom Waits has made some sawdust in his time, or at least , has seen it done.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010



So what is the relevance of the games to the woodworking scene in Vancouver? Well a few years ago I received an email from I don’t know where suggesting I sign up for invitations to bid on Olympics related products and services. I filled out a form in which I checked off some boxes for the type of work I do. Although there were no boxes directly related to my business, I checked a few that I thought might include my work. I don’t think their system worked because I started getting “opportunities “to bid on everything from catering to toilets. I stopped accepting the emails.
I was also contacted with respect to producing a conceptual model of an Olympic venue to be presented as corporate gifts. I attended a meeting at a large design firm to “discuss” the project. This turned out to be a kind of job interview. As I was leaving the meeting room I noticed another guy sitting outside with what looked like his portfolio beside him. I never heard back from the design firm but later got an email forwarded from a woodworking group by a guy looking for someone to do some cnc work for a project related to the Olympics, a conceptual model of an Olympic venue. This gives you an idea of how small the woodworking community is here and how everybody is pretty closely connected.
I know I said this blog is not about the construction industry, but if I am going to find something about the Olympics relevant to woodworking I am going to have to go there. There has been a lot of hoopla about the fantastic engineering innovations involved in the wood structure of the Richmond Olympic Oval. Maybe I’m a moron but it just looks like a variation on the old Safeway stores we used to see all over BC.
The general sentiment around the Olympics at this time seems to be one of trepidation and dread. I don’t know anyone who has a ticket to an event or is renting their home out for a windfall, and I am including everyone I talk to, not just family and friends. Personally, I think that the Olympics are representative of a kind of social madness like the big heads on Easter Island, and I think a lot of people here instinctually feel this, even if they don’t consciously think it.
I think that the extraordinary decadence and wastefulness of the games has given people a feeling of dread and trepidation in the sense expressed by Margaret Atwood in her lecture “payback”.
As far as the weather is concerned, I am glad it is mild. I hope it gets even warmer. This is not to spite the games but simply because the shop I rent is so poorly insulated that to heat it is very expensive. The last year of recession has been tough and I need a break somewhere. Which makes me wonder, how much would it cost to upgrade all these energy sucking, green house gas producing old buildings in BC? Probably a drop in the bucket of the Olympic budget.
A very popular sport here, maybe not an Olympic sport but popular none the less is thinking of all the things that the money spent on the Olympics could have bought. Here are a few of my most recent contributions.
1. I understand that the Olympics (a 2 week party) cost 6 billion dollars. To rebuild the totally destroyed country of Haiti is estimated to cost 10 billion.
2. To bring all of the public schools in the province up to acceptable structural and health standards would cost 500 million. The cost of the security alone for the games is close to 1 billion.
3. And so on, and so on…………

Sunday, January 24, 2010


We spent much of the day today at the newly renovated UBC Museum of Anthropology opening event. I think it started yesterday and goes on for three days.
The museum is one of the first places I visited in Vancouver when I moved here in 1979. It was always great, now after the renovations, it is even better.
There is a huge abundance of fantastic woodwork, ancient and contemporary, from many different cultures. To get a better idea of the collections, visit the website Or, better still, visit the museum.
One of the things I noticed when we first entered the museum were a trio of wood chairs at the entrance to the gift / souvenir shop. The literature attached explained that the chairs were commissioned by the museum as the MOA chair and described as an “iconic chair”. The design was credited to the head architect for the renovations, Noel Best of Stantec Achitecture. There is no credit given to the actual maker, although the shop manager told me they were made in Vancouver. It was also explained that the starting point for the design came from the Pacific Coast First Nations bent box joinery techniques, followed by ergonomic, anthropometric considerations to arrive at the curved shapes to support the body.
I did not have a camera with me to document the chair, nor anything to write on, or with, so I purchased a pencil for 99 cents and made a simple profile sketch on the back of the receipt. The chair consists of a back, a seat and a front leg / panel. All of these pieces are the same thickness (approximately 7/16” ) and width(approximately 16”) and made from 3 or 4 plies of laminated edge grain fir. There is also a separator between the seat piece and the back as well as a beam structure under the seat to re-enforce the joint between the seat, the front leg /panel and the back. The three pieces that make up the seat, back connector piece and front leg / panel are joined with a “V” or mitre joint inspired by the bent box joints. The curved back panel is joined to the seat assembly by typical “IKEA” style exposed hex head bolts.
The retail price for the chair is $2400.00 cnd.
This chair is very comfortable. The quality of material is very good and the look of the chair is attractive (it comes in three colours). Given its simplicity and exposed bolts, I was surprised at the price. I know that other museums such as those designed by famous “starchitects” have created “iconic” furniture pieces, I don’t know if this one with do the same job for the MOA, given that searches for anything relating to the MOA or Noel Best turned up nothing on the Stantec web site

Sunday, January 17, 2010


I have just received news that my friend Ted Lehn passed away on January 2 2010. Ted was an architect based in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island WA. He and his wife Jennifer recently moved to Panama.
I first met Ted in the mid eighties. I was showing some of my new chair designs at a group show at the Charles Scott Gallery on Granville Island. Ted was at the opening and was very interested in the work. He later bought some pieces for his new gallery in Friday Harbor. We became friends and collaborated on projects.
As an architect, Ted was unusual in his support for crafts and his enthusiasm about craft in architecture. He would enlist craftspeople to contribute as artists and designers on his projects with no insecurities about giving full credit and acknowledgement to them.
I loved his enthusiasm and spontaneity. He loved Vancouver and would often bring his clients for weekend visits. He was always on the lookout for talented artists and craftspeople and would insist that his clients accompany him on studio visits. He was a great advocate for all things creative.
As an architect and a person, Ted was unique, a very positive force who always made us happy. He will be missed. Obituary

Saturday, January 16, 2010


The other day, I was listening to CBC radio while working in the shop. They were interviewing Vancouver artist Ken Lum about his recent public art piece “East Van Cross“ Strangely, it took a few minutes of listening to Ken speak about his work and about East Vancouver before I realized that the veneer I was in the process of stitching together was for a large custom piece for his apartment.
I have done a number of pieces of furniture and architectural woodwork for Ken Lum and made a few of his conceptual art pieces. The work is always interesting.
There seems to be a mini boom in public art in Vancouver at this time. Much of it, I assume, like the East Van Cross are related to the upcoming Olympic games.
A metal fabricator I know is currently working on what looks like a scaled up wreckage of a balsa wood glider for Rodney Graham another Vancouver artist.
A huge photo mural by Stan Douglas has been unveiled at the new Woodwards development on Hastings Street gastown. It’s great to see this work happening. Until recently many of these artists were far better known in Europe and other places than they were in Vancouver. That’s typical of Vancouver, and probably many other less known cities. Artists need to get international recognition before anyone at home will acknowledge them.
I have had the pleasure of working with a number of great artists over the years. A few years ago we built a number of giant frames for black and white photos by Vancouver artist Jeff Wall. At approximately nine by thirteen feet they were too large to assemble in the shop as there were also other projects going on at the time. The frames had to be assembled in the parking lot outside the shop. It was unusually rainy that summer so each morning we would have to set up a pair of large tents to work under, then hang the frames and move everything inside at the end of the day.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


The last step in the production of most woodwork, is finishing. In the case of architectural woodwork, this step would be followed by installation.
Many if not most small shops in the Vancouver area sub-contract finishing to an outside supplier that specializes in finishing. Sometimes these may be another larger shop that has its own finishing department or it may be a shop that does finishing exclusively.
Most modern finishing today involves a spray finish of some sort. This requires a preparation area, a spray booth and a dust free drying area. It is not generally practical for smaller woodworking shops to commit the required space and capital to a finishing set up that will only be used on an occasional basis. Although many joiners are also skilled finishers, finishing and joinery are considered separate trades, and both require a high level of skill.
As any elementary joinery textbook will tell you, finishing will not make up for a poorly prepared surface. Unfortunately, sometimes defects like sanding marks and glue residue are not always evident until the first stages of finishing. Finishing then, although a separate stage of the woodworking process is an integral part of it. For this reason, the finisher needs to understand his responsibility in terms of the success of the overall project. Not just put a finish on the work and send the bill.
In the Vancouver area it seems that the ratio of finishing shops to woodworkers who use them is very much in favour of the finishers at this time. In fact, I think it could be said that there is a shortage of good finishing shops.
This is an excellent business opportunity for the right people. Setting up and running a wood finishing shop is much less demanding than setting up a woodworking shop. The capital costs are much lower. If you avoid on site work and re-finishing the work is pretty straight forward. There is no need to do any design work or drawings. There is almost no math involved. Like any trade, skill is acquired with practise and you would not want to dive into self employment without skilled help or a few years under your belt working for someone else. One measure of a good finisher is the ability to mix colours from samples both for stains and paint. The other critical abilities required to successfully run a finishing shop are the same as any other, communication and organizational skills. Once you have things established with a satisfied customer base you will do well. Provided you have a broad range of customers, even if things are slow, they will always have work for you.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


These are some of the wood related businesses that are making a larger impact on the local scene at this time.

The web site gives you a pretty good idea of the history of this business, a profile of its founder and the products they make. In many ways this is an ingenious woodworking business in that they have overcome or avoided many of the challenges and pitfalls that many woodworking businesses face. The most significant of these would be joinery. Joinery, to a large extent is what defines furniture making, thus the term “Joinery”. Generally speaking, making the parts is the easy part of woodworking, especially if you are taking advantage of CNC technology. The hard part is putting those parts together. For that you need skilled trades people and or a highly sophisticated manufacturing facility. IKEA gets around this problem by passing on the job of putting the parts together to the consumer. Brent Comber takes it a step further and eliminates the need to put parts together by designing most of the pieces to consist of only a single part. Some of the pieces such as the Alder tables do consist of numerous pieces but do not involve complex joinery; rather the parts are fused together with a gob of construction adhesive.
Although brilliant in its simplicity, this method has its limitations, as we can see the Brent Comber product line is limited to objects providing horizontal surfaces to be used as tables or something to sit on and decorative wall pieces. There are no case goods.
Another great thing about this business is the material they use, commercially worthless cast off material.
With support from organizations such as BC WOOD Brent Comber markets their products internationally, this has been critical to their success.
One of the major, ongoing challenges they face is protecting their products from plagiarism, obviously, if the designs are cheap and easy to make for them, they would be for many others.

The Wood Co-op Gallery was established on Granville Island in Vancouver circa 2000. In January 2008 after part of the roof collapsed in a snow storm the gallery was given two weeks to move. As an interim measure the landlord provided the gallery with a temporary space in The Netloft building also on Granville Island. This space is approximately 1/10 the size of the original. This severely limited the ability of the gallery to show the work of many of its artists. After about ten months of searching, finding and renovating a new space the gallery has re-opened at 1554 West 6th Avenue in Vancouver, a short walk south of Granville Island. The Co-op has also retained the Netloft space. The Wood Co-op gallery carries an eclectic collection of work reflecting the diversity of the artisan / artist woodworking community in British Columbia and provides an indispensible venue for artists and the public to come together.

Kozai is an importer / retailer of Japanese artisan furniture. As you can see from the website the work is fantastic. Obviously there is something good going on in Japan as far as woodworking is concerned. Ironically, if I am not mistaken, much of the choice hardwood we see used in these designs comes from North America. Kozai is located almost directly across the street from The Wood Co-op Gallery, each benefit from their close proximately to each other.

This company has been around in different forms since the early “80’s. They design and produce mostly upholstery with a few wood pieces such as side tables. A few years ago they opened a new showroom in Chinatown. This is a great Vancouver success story and Russell Baker, the founder has a good understanding of the local scene over the past several decades.

This company was founded by its owner Niels Bendtsen and has grown enormously since its humble origin at 1000 Parker in the early ‘90’s. One of their first projects was to supply seating for the huge expansion of Starbucks into Canada. Mr Bendtsen is also the owner of INFORM INTERIORS and a large inventory of commercial real estate in Vancouver.


Here is a brief description of the current, local woodworking scene from my perspective here in Port Moody. I have not conducted a proper study on this topic but these are some of my observations.
In the early 1980’s there was a deep recession that killed most of the large unionized woodworking operations. Many of these were re-born as smaller non-union shops. The general impact of this is that it lowered wages and generally loosened things up. I think it made it easier for smaller artisan / artist shops to get a start as suppliers could not discriminate to the same extent who they would sell to. Now most suppliers don’t care if you are a twenty five person shop in an industrial complex or one guy working out of his garage.
It is also much less expensive to set up a small woodworking operation in the Vancouver area now. This is the up side of Chinese imports, reasonable quality machinery is plentiful and affordable. For example, in the ‘80s most of the machinery available for small shops was either General, made in Quebec or American products such as Rockwell / Delta. Choice was limited and costs were high. Now there is a huge proliferation of cheap imports. Many companies like General, import cheaper lines, theirs is called General International. Their domestic line has hardly changed in the last half century while their import line includes many innovations of quality products suitable for the small shop.
Although gentrification has had a big impact on the availability of shop space, municipalities like Vancouver, Richmond, North Vancouver and Burnaby have retained a large amount of light industrial areas for small shops. Many of the larger shops have moved to industrial complexes in the suburbs. East Vancouver has a very vibrant artisan / artist based woodworking scene with many practitioners living and working in that area. Vancouver continues to grow, and the powers that be continue to pursue population growth as the driving force of the economy. It would seem inevitable that this strategy will lead to further gentrification and the re-development of older light industrial property.
In summary, at this time, I think that it has never been easier to set up a small woodworking business in this area and more people than ever are doing it.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


What is relevant woodworking? How is woodworking relevant to you or to anyone today?
This blog is generally focussed on woodworking as it pertains to art and manufacturing rather than the construction industry.
I am a designer and artist working principally in wood. I design and make wood furniture and other products. I am a cabinetmaker (joiner) and run a shop producing custom furniture and architectural woodwork.,

Like many industries this one has seen a lot of change over the past several decades, with huge changes over the last ten years or so. The most significant changes that come to mind are one, the global economy that has shifted most manufacturing to China and other low labour, low energy cost countries and two, changes in materials science and manufacturing technologies specifically, the use of plastic instead of wood and the use of computer aided design and manufacturing. Other significant changes that come to mind are changes to the labour market, education, trades training, changes to government and industry programs as well as environmental concerns.
My business is located in Port Moody, British Columbia, Canada. My observations and opinions are seen from this culture and location. Of course, I am influenced by everything I read and hear about from other sources all over the world, but most of my experience is here and the bulk of my business is conducted here.