Andrew Wainwright, a studio woodworker from Kitchener, ON, talks about his design process, his respect for wood and being paid very well.
Q & A with Andrew J. Wainwright
How long have you been building furniture?
I’ve worked with wood most of my life, but about 15 years as a pro.
What sort of furniture do you specialize in?
Tell us a couple of interesting things about your personal life.
I spent a lot of time, from a young age, working in the bush on a family property in Southern Bruce County. This experience has made me feel very connected to wood. It has made me appreciate the value of wood a lot more too.
If you were not a furniture maker, what would you be?
Something that paid very well.
In order, what are the three most important items in your shop apron?
A 12″ machinist’s ruler, pencil and 6″ square.
Do you prefer hand tools or power tools?
There is a place for each of them in my work.
Solid wood or veneer?
Mostly solid; lately I’ve been using some “shopsawn” veneer.
Figured wood or straight-grain?
Although figured wood is spectacular, I find it can clash with the lines of a piece, so I mostly use straight-grained wood.
Inherited Vintage Stanley Sweetheart or Fresh-out-of-the-box Veritas?
Flowing curves or geometric shapes?
Curves all the way.
Andrew J. Wainwright
Wainwright has been fascinated by tables that, in some vague manner, remind him of "critters". When clients asked him to build a coffee table he able to play with this design idea. This table is made of cherry and ebonized maple.
Curly Ash Dresser
Using curly ash harvested from a friends bush, Wainwright built this dress with great care, as one day ash will become very scarce due to the Emerald ash borer. He was very careful with the proportions of the drawers, and also took a lot of time refining the sabre feet.
A mirror set of bedside tables were designed and built to go beside a bed Wainwright previously made. It was tricky to hand-cut the dovetails, as they had to be 3 degrees off square to coincide with the angle of the drawer fronts.
Night Table Detail
Quotes from Andrew J. Wainwright
My design process might best be described as organic. Often a piece begins by my engaging with a particular design element, say a leg, and the rest of the piece follows. I will typically use this element on subsequent pieces, altering and refining the proportions.
Sometimes I fantasize that more people will be drawn to handmade work as it becomes less and less common. However, I suspect that for economic reasons, there will never be many people doing such work full-time. I believe it offers a unique contribution to our culture and hope it isn’t lost.
I view the easy exchange of information that is possible via the internet as very helpful in allowing people to share ideas and knowledge over vast distances.
I’d say the most fulfilling part of my job is when a piece starts to come together and I stand back and look at it and say to myself, “Yes, I’ve realized my vision, this is what I wanted to express.” I don’t tend to start work early, and I like to get routine business out of the way first. I prefer to arrange a few days each week where I can stay as late as I want. I find minimal time constraints and an uncluttered mind are best for creative and exacting work.
My favourite tools include my low angle block plane, various routers, and my ancient 36" wide belt sander. This I find deeply satisfying. I trust my eye to determine the subtle nuances, which create a pleasing shape or curve, and I think this has been deeply influenced by my time in nature.
Sometimes the juxtaposition of our native woods with exotic species can create interesting tensions in the design.
I usually start a design with sketches, but have learnt to quickly apply some sense of scale to them to make sure I’m drawing within reality. At the same time, I’ll start mocking up prototypes of three-dimensional parts such as legs, as I’m not good at visualizing these from drawings. I’ll then make a more formal drawing to detail joinery and dimensions. For curved work, I generally make full-size drawings on MDF for pattern making and to aid in laying out joinery. I’m not rule-bound by drawings and feel quite free to alter things as the piece unfolds, and I seek clients that give me that latitude. And no, I don’t draw in CAD.
I would counsel a young woodworker to make sure that they love what they are doing, and that they are doing it for themselves as much as anybody else, as it is a challenging path to take.
I’m not fond of formal work where the wood has been so stained, shaded and dyed it doesn’t look real. I’m also not big on some of the current live edge work, or reclaimed lumber pieces, which seem too heavy and unrefined for my eye.
I mostly do commissioned work. With the right clients, the interaction can be very satisfying. In the future, I would like to have the freedom to do some speculative work, to not be constrained by any practicalities.
There is a divide in the arts community between “craft” and “fine art”, so there are few venues where such work is ever shown. I wish publicly funded art galleries would start showing our work. A reintroduction of industrial arts classes to our school system would be wise too. Without young blood much of my skill set will become lost knowledge.
Some of my favourite furniture makers include James Krenov, Michael Fortune, and Garret Hack. Krenov for his philosophy, Fortune for his curves and Hack for his attention to detail.
Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.