Beston Barnett and a few more covers
I follow The Furniture Society on Facebook, as they often share makers’ work from across North America. The other day, Beston Barnett’s work caught my eye. Barnett is a studio furniture maker in San Diego, California, who is inspired by many different Arabic-, Asian- and African-inspired motifs. These motifs are often a complex focal point of his work.
I initially look at a piece of furniture from mostly a visual viewpoint, but within a few seconds I sometimes ask myself, “How the heck did they do that?” The first piece I saw was a cabinet with sliding doors titled “Al Tabut.” The doors of the cabinet are designed with an intricate pattern drawn from Arabic design. They’re stunning for anyone to look at, but another woodworker can’t help wondering how they were made.
Barnett has made a few very similar pieces in the past. This version has a book-matched top, three drawers with lattice-work fronts and a pair of sliding doors.
Al Tabut means “The Arc” in Arabic. This piece caught my eye right away, as the door panels are so intricate. I also like the contrasting holly centerpiece.
Lots of Parts
Although this is a photo of a different door panel, Barnett made the two door panels in “Al Tabut” with the same method. Parts were cut with a CNC router and laser cutter, then fine-tuned with a hand-cranked sander. Talk about mixing old and new techniques!
Made of walnut and zebrawood, this is Barnett’s answer to desk-top storage. With three large drawers, six small drawers and a lazy Susan bearing on its underside, this piece is part sculptural, part functional.
Cattle Skulls and Eye Contact
The table base that’s featured in this cover shot is unique, and woodworkers can’t help themselves from asking, “How was that made?” Direct eye contact also helps create a strong overall cover, and draws the viewer in.
A Few Curves and a Carving
I think the two strongest visuals in this cover are the curves that were included in this medium-sized box and the pierced carving centered on the box top. The sell lines and a few other smaller photos of different boxes help round out the cover nicely.
Wanting to know more about how Barnett made this cabinet, I sent him an email. He was gracious enough to respond with lots of details. As I suspected, the process wasn’t simple. He starts by designing the Arabic motif in Rhino, a CAD software program, which he uses to cut the parts that make up the doors. Next, he machines a shop-made plywood panel with 1/16″ or 1/8″ diameter bits, but only to a certain depth. This first step is completed from the back of the panel. He then flips the panels over and routs cavities for the lattice on their front faces. Then it’s “on to the tricky part,” as Barnett says.
To create the many intricate pieces that make up the lattice on the front of the doors, Barnett glues up straight and curved parts, then cuts them with a laser cutter. Because a laser doesn’t cut wood at a perfect 90° angle, or very cleanly, he cuts the parts slightly long and fine tunes them with a hand-cranked sanding wheel and an assortment of jigs to give him the right angle.
How does he make the center panel? “The centerpiece panels are holly,” Barnett writes. “Here, I CNC-routed the smaller curving pattern using a 1/16″ bit, almost like tracing a drawing, and then did the over-and-under carving by hand with a skew chisel.”
This process is one that only a true artist who knows their materials and their tools could come up with.
Turns out there’s a Canadian connection. Barnett was born in Toronto, and still holds a Canadian passport.
You can find more of his work on his website at BestonBarnett.wordpress.com. And while you’re on the The Furniture Society’s website, be sure to check out their “Featured Members” section. It shines a spotlight on a wide range of furniture makers.
Our art director’s favourite covers
After writing last week’s column, I had a short chat with Jonathan Cresswell-Jones, CW&HI’s Art Director. He’s the person who designs each issue, ensuring it looks good and flows nicely. Off the top of his head he quickly mentioned two of his favourite covers: Feb/Mar 2014, featuring Jaime Russel’s “Prairie Table”; and Oct/Nov 2014, a themed issue on boxes.
The thing that made the Jaime Russell cover jump out for Cresswell-Jones was two-fold. The piece of furniture, including a power-carved cattle skull, wooden animal bones and a snake, is quite an eye-catching piece of art. The other reason he likes this cover is because Russell is looking directly into the camera. It’s rare for us to have any direct eye engagement on our covers. In fact, I think this was the first time we ever took this approach, and we’ve only done it a couple of times since.
When it came to the box-themed issue, Cresswell-Jones just liked the way the image was composed, not to mention the pleasing project in the shot. I think the minor amount of action, with the maker buffing the finish with wax, helped create a visually pleasing cover.
Do you have any favourite covers?
I’d be happy to give you behind-the-scenes details of any covers you’d enjoy hearing about. Or maybe you had a question about how we select a cover image or the process we use to bring our covers to life. I always enjoy talking about our covers.