Victoria, British Columbia furniture maker and teacher Sandra Carr on live edge, breaking out lumber and the benefits of teaching.
Watch our video: Sandra Carr
Q & A with Sandra Carr
How long have you been building furniture?
For 26 years, many of them as a self-employed craftsperson.
Tell us a couple of interesting things about your personal life.
I’m happiest when I’m in nature hiking and backpacking. I’m having a lot of fun right now learning various textile arts, and thinking of ways to incorporate what I’m learning into my furniture practice.
If you weren’t a furniture maker what would you be?
Museum conservator, wilderness guide, textile artist.
In order, what are the three most important items in your shop apron?
0.5 mechanical pencil, 4″ engineer’s square, Veritas sliding square.
Do you prefer hand tools or power tools?
I consider both to be essential. To choose one over the other is limiting.
Solid wood or veneer?
I work mostly in solid, but veneer opens up a lot of creative opportunities.
Figured wood or straight grain?
Inherited Vintage Stanley Sweetheart or fresh-out-of-the-box Veritas?
I couldn’t imagine choosing just one, but lately I’m drawn to the local woods that come from our local guild’s wood recovery program, such as Garry oak and arbutus. I appreciate the sustainable nature of this wood, which has been recovered rather than harvested.
Least favourite wood?
Anything from pallets.
Sawing Lumber on Campus
When a Garry oak tree on Camosun College’s Lansdowne Campus came down in a windstorm, Carr (right) was contacted by the school’s administration about salvaging the tree. Theo Riecken, one of the college’s carpentry instructors, has an Alaska mill and ran a milling session where Carr and her students (including Sinead Strickjack, left) participated in the process of milling the tree into slabs. (Photo by Theo Riecken)
Made of Garry oak, arbutus burl veneer and macassar ebony, this cabinet’s design was inspired by Japanese tori gates. Carr’s client had the oak and arbutus burl growing on his property and liked the idea of incorporating both into the design. Through joinery can be a bit too obvious sometimes, but Carr was pleased with the detail it brought to this piece.
Elm Hall Table with Pot
Elm, rusted sheet metal, wenge, clay pot, wrought-iron nails. Carr’s friend and artist Cathi Jefferson had a square pot with rectangular cut-outs in it hanging around her studio. Carr asked if she could do something with it and this table is the result.
Quotes from Sandra Carr
I love my Lie Neilson 102 low angle block plane and my laminate trimmer with a 1/4" up cut spiral bit. Transfer punches are also indispensable.
While I love all aspects of making a piece, one of the most satisfying is planning and breaking out from rough lumber. It’s an overlooked but crucial part of the process where choices greatly affect the final piece in terms of grain matching, flow, colour and potential wood movement.
To start the design process I identify a feeling or quality I want to convey. This can be something like a quality of physical and visual lightness. Usually I know the materials and wood I want to work with, and sometimes the material’s qualities may inform the design, but not always. Then I sketch and generate as many iterations of the idea as I can before narrowing it down to a final design. A lot of the time, I will start building before having it completely resolved, and make decisions as I go. I find leaving some aspects of the design open creates flexibility and makes me responsive to what is actually taking shape as I build.
I’m a bit tired of live edge, and while I love mid-century modern, that style is starting to feel a bit overdone, although I’ll never tire of Danish cord on anything. I think it’s beautiful and like the sustainability of it.
I’ve always valued working directly with clients to make custom pieces that are personal and meaningful to them. Many of the people I’ve built for over the years have become friends. That said, speculative work is very freeing creatively, and I enjoy that aspect as well.
In the past five years, the majority of my practice has shifted to teaching full time. While my hands aren’t producing many pieces at the moment, I get immense satisfaction from sharing my knowledge with newcomers to the craft. I see the work they do, and know that I have had a hand in it. Investing my energy in people is a lot different than producing my own work, and feels important. One thing I didn’t anticipate about teaching is just how much I would learn. It’s easy to follow what interests me and do what I’m already good at in my own practice, but teaching pushes me in directions I might not go on my own.
Kate Duncan (KateDuncan.ca) is a rock star of Canadian furniture design. Her collections are really cohesive and I find the business success she has created for herself inspiring. Internationally, I love Laura Mays’ woodworking on so many levels (LauraMays.com).
Young people just need to be exposed to woodworking and know that it’s an option. It’s innately human to want to create and be creative.
Refinement, beauty, functionality are a large part of good design.
Making work of my own design is deeply personal. I don’t see how you could be a craftsperson and not have it be central to your sense of identity.
I’m excited by the possibilities that digital communication has created for contemporary makers. The market is wide open for those who can promote themselves effectively.
I think digital fabrication techniques are going to be the biggest influence on studio furniture in the future. There are a lot of creative possibilities and exciting work being made. It can potentially have a very positive impact on the financial side of things. With digital fabrication, the maker can invest in the development of a design with the aim of having the making aspect partially completed with a CNC, laser or other tool. In this way, the focus shifts to the creative potential and the design itself.