Canadian Woodworking

Inspiration is everywhere

Blog by Rob Brown
Beautiful Bottle

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how a fallen leaf had me thinking about pierced carvings in the woodworking world.

Ever since then I’ve been thinking about design inspiration in general, and where we all get ideas for our next project.

Often inspiration comes in the form of a problem or need. You just bought a shorter sofa and need a new end table. Maybe you recently started to enjoy whiskey and a sleek cabinet is the obvious next step. Or maybe your nosy in-laws just moved to the neighbourhood, which is just the inspiration you need to build that backyard studio escape, for when they ‘just pop by’. Necessity breeds innovation.

But let’s say you’ve decided to make a table. Now it’s time to take it a step further. What species do you use to make it? How many legs do you include? What’s the overall shape?

Let’s drill down even further. You’ve decided to include four legs in the table’s design, but what shape will they be? Square cross section, straight legs along their length, joined to straight aprons with mortise and tenon joints? That would be a simple option that would leave you with a nice, clean build. You could maybe even finish it in one weekend. On the other hand, you could also carve spiral legs and make them the focal point of the table. Possibly the focal point of the entire room, really.

Do you design this table with the speed of the build in mind, as you have a party planned in a week and want to make sure the table is complete by then? Or maybe you have lots of spare time and are really after a shop challenge. Spiral legs it is.

Where do I get inspiration?

I have been in both of these general scenarios. Sometimes I just want to check that project off the list. One side table…check. Other times I sink my teeth into the challenge and see what I can come up with that’s fun and challenging to build. And to be honest, I’ve accepted the challenge a number of times and haven’t finished some of those projects, even though I started them years ago. But that’s another story.

Checking out other woodworkers’ work is a lot of fun, and social media has helped immensely with that. Wood artists from around the world are all just a click away. I do sometimes feel guilty about taking inspiration from other woodworkers, though. Taking what they did and making it myself, even if I tweak it slightly, isn’t always satisfying.

I very often get inspiration from outside the woodworking world. The other day I found myself checking out my partner’s collection of lotions, creams and cleansers in the bathroom. I never realized it before, but the bottles and containers these products come in can be quite beautiful. Some have simply shaped corners and overly colourful caps, while others have elaborate curves and nice details. If you’re a regular reader of this column you’ll know how much I love beautiful colours. I wish clamps came in bright purples and pinks, while hand tools had a splash of bold blue or green. Wouldn’t it be wonderful?!

Yesterday, we were in a department store, and a very specific container caught my eye. It was only small, a bit larger than a tube of lipstick, but the nicely shaped cap flowed smoothly into the base. For some strange reason it seemed familiar to me. Almost like I had shaped it in the past. Then it hit me. I made a piece about 10 years ago that had a similar detail on the upper portion of the legs. I machined the legs to their final cross section, then added a shallow rabbet down the front edge, where the two outer faces met. I then continued that recess up and over the top of the leg and shaped it to flow outward towards the sides of each leg.

This container didn’t inspire me to make the leg in the first place, as I made it a decade before seeing it, but it definitely reminded me of the leg. It also brought that detail back into the forefront of my mind. Maybe I’ll continue to play around with that detail and see where it leads me. A bit of shop experimentation allows you to push the boundaries of what’s possible and maybe even come up with something that’s new and fresh. If I come up with anything interesting, I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Keep your eyes open

You never know where inspiration will strike. A random container in a department store, a shadow on the side of a building or even a patch of ice on the sidewalk. Inspiration sometimes comes from unlikely places. Keep your eyes open to the shapes and details you see in your day-to-day life and consider bringing them into your woodworking efforts.

Beautiful Bottle

This is the container I noticed in the department store the other day.

Beautiful Bottle

Shallow Rabbet

Years ago, I made a piece with legs that resembled the bottle of lotion I noticed. Here, I’m adding a shallow rabbet down the entire length of the leg.

Shallow Rabbet

Flare the Rabbet

At the top of the leg I transitioned the shallow rabbet into two wider surfaces that flared outward on the top of each leg.

Flare the Rabbet

Completed Leg

Here you can see how the shallow rabbet on each leg transitions to the flared top. There are some similarities to the bottle of lotion.

Completed Leg
Last modified: January 4, 2024

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches


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  2. BTW-the container that so inspired you once again was actually a useful daily, or weekly, (depending on age) tool for a woman who needs to remove unwanted facial hair. Flawless has a popular line of these products for women. As a woodworker, too, I can appreciate your sources of inspiration. As a woman I appreciate the line of products.
    Thanks for re-opening my eyes.

  3. Hi alfromthemidwest,

    I know I mentioned species first in my list in this column, but I don’t think it’s the most important question. Overall design, as you said, is much higher in my list. Species is important, but nowhere near #1!

  4. As far as inspiration, I found it very interesting that one your first priorities was the species of wood…and I was thinking that it should be the design of the piece rather than the material to make it, i.e. the drawing of it should come first…but after some consideration maybe sometimes you wood on hand is a prime consideration.

  5. Nice…that is beautiful detail. Never thought of doing a rabbet down the corner…and then the flow into the top is a inspired I think.

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