Sutton, Quebec furniture maker John Glendinning on dovetails, design and his love of tools.
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Q & A with John Glendinning
How long have you been building furniture?
First official job in a shop was 34 years ago.
What sort of furniture do you specialize in?
Contemporary, one of a kind/custom and small batch production.
Tell us a couple interesting things about your personal life.
I spend a lot of time snowboarding and mountain biking, and I enjoy hunting for edible wild mushrooms.
If you weren’t a furniture maker what would you be?
Farmer, tool and die maker, snowboard bum?
In order, what are the three most important items in your shop apron?
I don’t wear an apron, but if I did, 6″ rule, “H” pencil, digital calipers.
Do you prefer hand tools or power tools?
I use both when appropriate.
Solid wood or veneer?
Both are needed in order to build the kind of stuff I like to build to the level of precision I aim for.
Figured wood or straight grain?
Straight and figured in very small doses.
Inherited Vintage Stanley Sweetheart or fresh-out-of-the-box Veritas?
Flowing curves or geometric shapes?
Lean more towards geometric, but subtle curves, too.
Maple because of all it has to offer and its challenges.
Least favourite wood?
Glendinning was intrigued by the fact that craftspeople have historically taken advantage of new technology to produce better work, though there’s caution regarding what new technology should be used in a studio setting today. This piece consists of 64 small boxes that nest together to make the larger cube. The arrangement of the small boxes is based on the coordinate system that’s used in computer-aided design and manufacturing. Each box shares one-half of a symmetrically split segment with its neighbour.
Glendinning stumbled upon a unique approach to coopering and turned it into this cabinet. Instead of joining the coopered segments with a straight joint, he used a curved joint.
Quotes from John Glendinning
I built my studio on a four-acre lot in the Appalachian Mountains. I’m lucky to have found a very peaceful spot with lots of trees that I can cut and use for most of my work.
My work schedule varies, and depends on the weather or season. I’m up early but can take too long to get started in the day on client projects; anxiety about screwing something up, I guess. But if it’s a speculative project, or I’m doing a little production run, I usually jump right in after breakfast. If it’s a powder day in the winter, work is on hold and I’m at the mountain early. I’m a bit of a neat freak, too, so I probably spend way too much time organizing and cleaning up before I can get down to business. Also, depending what I’m working on, I’ve been known to stay up all night steam bending parts to get them out of the way. I tend not to work late anymore because the shop is attached to the living portion of the house and I still haven’t found time to make a door to separate the two after 10 years! Drives my girlfriend nuts. I had to buy her some expensive noise cancelling headphones.
I love tools. Sometimes I think I’m more of a tool collector than woodworker. I like precision and repeatability, so it seems I enjoy processes that require a lot of tedious jig making and machine setups, but with aging eyesight I’m enjoying this less.
I just got a Shaper Origin. It’s proving to be indispensable to make jig parts and templates that I have painstakingly laboured over in the past. It has also been working well to machine things that are otherwise not worth the time or too problematic to bother to set up and create conventionally.
My best ideas have come to me when I least expected them. I have a harder time coming up with ideas I really like when it’s expected of me.
When my designs fall short it usually involves a client who wants too much input and I make compromises because they’re the one who’s paying and they should be happy.
I really am tired of anything trendy on the internet or social media. All the slabs and resurgence in Danish Modern especially. But I think I hold a special disdain in my heart for all the “Nakaoff” tables and chairs smothered in buckets of epoxy resin. I see epoxy only as a necessary evil. I started making laminated fibreglass-backed archery bows awhile back as a sideline and I feel gross after gluing one up. In the end though I don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade. I think it’s great that people are excited to be in shops and be creative, so I encourage it.
I think walnut, dovetails, making curved parts out of solid wood (instead of laminating or steam bending), and laminated strips of contrasting species are all overused today.
Stephen Hogbin was supportive of my work and very generous with his time and encouragement when I was starting out. Peter Fleming hired me to help him for a while after I finished school and that was a great experience to be working on high end commission and spec furniture. I was always really fond of Scott Eckert’s work and Rob Diemert is an incredible woodworker. I remember the first time I saw his work in person. I couldn’t find a flaw; it was as if the hand of God made it. I picked up a book by Robert Ingham a number of years back called “Cutting-edge Cabinetmaking” and really enjoyed it. I always admired the work of Jere Osgood and Michael Hurwitz.
I’m proud of a whiskey cabinet I made when I was messing around with some ideas for coopered panels. I was machining asymmetric curved seams in the panels and discovered it resulted in some interesting relationships between the mating parts, shadows and elevation changes that I wasn’t expecting, because I’m bad at math.
It would be nice to see more young people pursue it on a level that really pushes some boundaries in wood. I think computers and social media have made it difficult for younger people to really explore or make the effort to discover what is (was) out there. It seems too easy to get distracted by too many “influencers” and wannabes that get in the way, and really don’t have much to offer.