Furniture maker Ryan Davidson on elm, getting fast in the shop and how every day is different.
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Q & A with Ryan Davidson
How long have you been building furniture?
What sort of furniture do you specialize in?
Tell us a couple interesting things about your personal life.
When I’m not working I like to be outdoors…paddling, fishing, backpacking. I write music as well.
If you were not a furniture maker what would you be?
In order, what are the three most important items in your shop apron?
Hmm…I don’t wear one.
Do you prefer hand tools or power tools?
Take it as far as you can with the machines until you switch to the bench.
Solid wood or veneer?
Figured wood or straight grain?
Inherited Vintage Stanley Sweetheart or fresh-out-of-the-box Veritas?
Whatever is nearest.
Flowing curves or geometric shapes?
You gotta have a little of both.
Least favourite wood?
Made from curly buckeye, this urn was made for a client who’s partner took his own life. Details like the non-symmetrical lid and the jagged yet smooth protruding dovetails speak to the struggles of living with a mental illness. To close the urn permanently, family members pressed in two walnut pegs into holes under the lid, giving the family closure.
Davidson had clients who lived in a converted church, so he brought some Gothic and timber frame elements into this table. Aside from the top, the table was assembled without glue.
Quotes from Ryan Davidson
I have a small, comfortable studio that’s heated by wood.
No two days are the same, but I’m a super early riser. I’m generally in the shop by 6 am.
CBC Radio2 is on when I’m working.
My overhead router is my secret weapon, and I couldn’t live without my 24" Centauro bandsaw or my old Dewalt 14" radial arm saw…super underated machines.
I get most of my design inspiration from books and buildings.
In terms of design, I do some sketches, but the machines often neglect them once the process is underway. Machines can design for you if you can harness their abilities beyond what they may have been intended for.
If I could give one piece of design advice to up-and-coming makers it would be to get fast when in the shop.
All of my designs have fallen short of my .tion and I haven’t found it yet.
I hope we can curb the use of walnut a tad sometime soon before we saturate the market.
The best pieces I make are the ones that have no outside input.
I work with my customers fairly close I’d say. It’s important they know what my work is about. Not so much about exactly what they’re going to get. Christmas would be a let down if you knew exactly what was gonna be under the tree, right?
The most misunderstood part of my work is probably the use of the word custom… I’ve seen a lot of production furniture that was made far better than many “custom” pieces.
To increase the public’s knowledge of studio furniture we need real craftsmen trade exhibits and galleries, not “One of a Kind” shows, where there is anything there but one of a kind.
I like a lot of furniture I see. I love to scour antique markets. Rarely do I leave one without seeing some remarkable detail or piece as a whole.
Hank Gilpin has had the biggest influence over my work.
Over the next 50 years we’ll probably see less studio furniture. At least by the definition we’re familiar with. It’s changing, and change is good. 3D printers, CNC technology…. who knows where it will take us. Then I’ll be left in the dust with my funny joints and wacky woods.
The most frustrating part of building studio furniture is the last 10%.
Not sure whether Canada is becoming more or less welcoming to build studio furniture in. Here in southwestern Ontario we’re fortunate to have a healthy population of prosperous folks with pretty good taste. If you make good stuff, and you’re efficient, people will buy it.
December January 2020