Based in Pitt Meadows, British Columbia, Chris Wong talks about sculptural furniture, his dislike of cleaning and why he’s often in the shop until after midnight.
Q & A with Chris Wong
How long have you been building furniture?
About 15 years
What sort of furniture do you specialize in?
Sculptural furniture that highlights the natural characteristics of wood.
Tell us a couple interesting things about your personal life.
I got married a couple years back in a park under a canopy of trees. My wife and I worked together to make the arch, flower stands, Pacific Yew coasters, and I made my wedding ring from Lignum vitae.
If you were not a furniture maker what would you be?
A designer. I think of myself as a designer who communicates through wood.
In order, what are the three most important items in your shop apron? No apron, but carpenter’s pencil, 1″ chisel, Magic Square – okay – 6″ combination square.
Do you prefer hand tools or power tools?
Whichever is easier to use to get the job done. Probably power tools by a slight bit.
Solid wood or veneer?
Solid wood, as I find it easier to work.
Figured wood or straight grain?
Inherited Vintage Stanley Sweetheart or fresh-out-of- the-box Veritas?
I appreciate the precision of many tools on the market today, but I enjoy using older hand tools more. I feel that it’s valuable to understand the tools with which we work, and what better way than to start with an under-performing one and make it better?
Flowing curves or geometric shapes?
Mostly flowing curves complemented with geometric shapes.
Air-dried ash – especially if it has some interesting colouring. It has a strong grain pattern, bends well and is an all-around very versatile material. Honourable men- tion to black locust.
Least favourite wood?
Purpleheart. Blech! It’s a very alien-looking wood and unfriendly to work. I think only palm splinters more.
Quotes from Chris Wong
I do my best work, and work at the quickest pace, when inspired, whether that means developing a design, exploring a concept, or batching out something while pondering something else. Although not recommended, I have been known to get out of bed in the morning, get dressed and head straight to the shop, only to emerge after dark for dinner. I also like to work from 10 pm to 3 am, as that’s when my brain is most active.
I’m not big on cleaning up as I go – if glues cured instantly, my shop would get tidied up a lot less frequently.
I have surrounded myself with reliable tools that make my work easy and efficient. Some of my favourite tools include my Mirka CEROS sander, Pfeil carving gouges, Bridge City Tool Works CS-2 Centerscribe, Festool TS 75 track saw, Grizzly sliding table saw, drawknife, customized Veritas #4 Bench Plane, and Knew Concepts Coping Saw. My angle grinder with Arbortech carving wheel is a ton of fun to use, but it sure makes a big mess.
I enjoy the adventure of carving, and the tactile result of sharp hand tools.
Most of my inspiration starts with a question such as, “what would happen if I did this?” or “how can I incorporate this into a design?”. Then, the design process is about sorting out the favorable answer(s) from the less favorable ones.
I’m not afraid to take chances and try something that might not work. In a lot of cases, whether something does or doesn’t work cannot be determined immediately – it requires daily use and abuse.
In developing a design, I start with either materials and build something to utilize it, or I address a specific need or answer a question.
Build freely and build fearlessly. Pretend everything is a prototype.
I started making two very complicated pieces and ran into technical difficulties, which led to the abandonment of them. I’m not sure that “Insanity 1” can be built from wood, and “Insanity 2” got way too complicated, and there’s no end in sight.
I have little interest in anything that’s already been done – including my own designs. I want to see new, innovative designs.
Dovetails are definitely overused by woodworkers.
If you want to make a living at woodworking, either commissions or production runs of small, low-ticket items is the easier way. Speculative work, however, is much more enjoyable because woodworking is a creative outlet for me.
If a customer has specific requirements of the design, we discuss them before work begins. Then, I go to work and don’t usually share any progress updates until it’s complete.
I am fascinated with combining different materials, and experimenting with resins and metal has opened the doors to new design possibilities. (“Deconstructed” comes to mind.)
Instead of putting studio furniture in places where people can come see it (art galleries), it needs to get in front of people. It needs to be in public spaces where they can experience and interact with it.
My computer screensaver draws from a folder of designs that I find intriguing and inspiring. The one that captivates me most is perhaps Vivian Beer’s chair, “With Birds and Beasts”.
There seems to be a universal attraction and appreciation for wood, and everybody seems to have a story about a piece of woodwork in their life.
Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.