Canadian Woodworking

Tom Gorman


Studio furniture maker Tom Gorman on his Celtic roots, his favourite piece of furniture, and his tiny studio.

Maker: Tom Gorman
Age: 59
Location: Alberta
Shop: 340 sq. ft.
Education: Educated in Northern Ireland and completed my apprenticeship there, obtaining a certificate from City and Guilds of London England, then moved to Canada in 1978

Watch our video: Tom Gorman

Q & A with Tom Gorman

How long have you been building studio furniture?
35 years.

What sort of furniture do you specialize in?
Contemporary household: living room, dining room, bedroom, boxes.

Tell us something interesting about yourself:
I am a blood donor with 66 donations to my credit. I have peer audit certification in the province of Alberta for auditing companies’ safety programmes.

In order, what are the most important items in your shop apron?
Mechanical Pencil, 4″ adjustable square, 6″ rule.

Solid wood or veneer?
Solid wood.

Straight or figured grain?

Flowing Curves or Geometric Shapes?
I used to work a lot with geometric shapes, but lately it’s more flowing curves.

Favourite species:
Quilted maple.

Least favourite species:
Red Oak

Tom Gorman

Tom Gorman

Quilted Maple Sideboard
This is Gorman’s favourite piece of furniture he’s ever made. Thankfully for him, it resides in his own home.

Tom Gorman buffet

The Ring
This cherry, figured English sycamore and maple burl table was inspired by a ring in a jewellery store window. (Photo by Benjamin Laird)

Tom Gorman table

Quotes from Tom Gorman

My studio is in the basement of an 1100 sq. ft. condo. To say it’s small would be an understatement. However, I do have access to a veneer hot press and industrial sander through the generosity of a millwork shop. I have a 10" table saw, 15" bandsaw, 16" thickness planer, floor model drill press and a power mitre saw, workbench, several storage cabinets, air cleaner, and shop vac. All machines are on wheels. No room for wood storage.

I am an early riser so it’s off to work right after breakfast. I like to get as much done as I can while I’m still fresh.

I can’t stand commercial radio. It’s MP3 for me, mostly rock, blues, or classical.

Nothing beats the satisfaction of a silky smooth finish, left by a finely set hand plane. I also like the mortise and tenon process. I cut my mortises with a plunge router, squaring up the ends in the traditional manner.

I get inspiration from nature, architecture and books. I strive for originality, but find it hard, given the fact that we are all influenced by what we have seen in the past, even if its only on a subconscious level. I hope my work says that I am an honest, skillful woodworker – not pretentious.

I would say that originating from Ireland has had more influence than anything Canadian or local. I find Celtic designs creeping in from time to time.

I don’t have much use for scale models. I prefer to go straight from a sketch to a full-size layout. This helps me to see the overall scope of the project. It is also great for working out the joinery to be used, and in nailing down the small details. Only sometimes do I do a full-size mock-up.

Be true to yourself. Don’t make slavish copies of others. It’s okay to copy design styles from the past but try to personalize them.

If I see a design is going sideways I will either scrap it or try a different approach.

I am sick of seeing articles on Stickley furniture. It’s been flogged to death. It’s time to move on already. Maybe we should use the line from Monty Python: “And now for something completely different.”

I don’t like it when woodworkers use dowels in place of proper mortise and tenon joints. Not a big fan of cope and stick joints either. Speculative work is very rewarding.

We have gotten so used to mediocrity in our throw-away society, I’m sad to say.

I enjoy the work of Allan Peters, John Makepeace, Michael Fortune and John Morel. They are very creative and inspiring makers. John Makepeace’s Millennium Chair is one of my favourites.

Friend and fellow furniture maker John Morel, son of Oliver Morel who ran the Edward Barnsley Workshop during WW2, has been influential in my career.

If our generation promotes studio furniture, well there is no reason to not believe that great strides will be made in the next 50 years. The key will be education. Encouragement of potential studio furniture makers and education of the general public as to the benefits of high quality, unique furniture.

I love the creative process.

Tom Gorman was profiled in February March 2016

More Canadian maker profiles to discover

Search all profiles

Username: Password: