Canadian Woodworking

Outside the Box

Author: Rob Brown
Photos: Lead photo by Ken Mayer Studios
Published: April May 2012
Outside the Box
Outside the Box

While there’s a place for simple and straightforward, these artists don’t want any part of it. To keep their work fresh and interesting, these Canadian makers turn to unique themes, processes and materials to design eye-catching pieces.


Broken Masterpiece
Figured wood plays heavily in Mike Wolos’ work, as do intricate details like inlay and curves. (Photo by Ken Mayer Studios)

Wall Cabinets
In order to complete the cabinets, Hogbin had to develop a new lamination technique to satisfy a client’s request. They show milling marks characteristic of much of his work. (Photo by Stephen Hogbin)

 Public Installations
Hogbin constructed this bench, called On The Edge, for the Tom Thompson Art Gallery & Grey Sauble Conservation Authority by using a fallen Hemlock tree. The question surrounding this installation was about wood usage: how many trees are used for a specific object? This bench provides a nice place to sit and contemplate the question, before going into the gallery. (Photo by Stephen Hogbin)

Krivoshein enjoys taking an ordinary object and transforming its function. In this case, he turned a ball and shackle into a jewellery box. A series of trays fit together into a sphere, which are then placed inside another sphere. (Photo by Benjamin Laird)

Loud Tables
Guitars are one of Daniels’ favourite forms to play with. These tables are made with figured woods, and finished with colourful dyes, to make them stand out that much more. (Photo by Phil Daniels)

A Bit of Everything
Made of zebrano, sycamore, bubinga, steel, aluminium and paint, these tables have everything Galenza enjoys working with. This was a challenging and satisfying piece for a client who was adventurous enough to request it. (Photo by John Dean Photographs Inc.)

Zig Zag
 A speculative piece of wenge and jatoba, Galenza built this to be sculptural as well as functional. (Photo by John Dean Photographs Inc.)

The Dancers
This sturdy table has no aprons. The bent-laminated legs are more than enough to keep the curly sycamore surface stable during use. (Photo by Richard Bachmann)

Trembling Table
The finely crafted bent laminations that support the top are made to allow the top to ‘tremble’ with a touch. This style was very popular in Victorian England, but Cumming has added his own touch to the piece; a black chorite top and a white alabaster base. (Photo by Sally Cumming)

A Place to Think
Lewis designed and made this stool, with a carved wooden brain below the seat. (Photo by Scotty Lewis)

In a Vacuum
 Two vacuum-formed panels were joined together with multiple strands of shaped wood. Lewis enjoys using vacuum formed parts in his work. (Photo by Scotty Lewis)

Little Black Dresser
This unique, almost sexy, cabinet in the shape of a dress hangs on the wall. Curved parts and curious surprises are a big part of Beaumont’s work. (Photo by Kyle Huinink)

Apple Cabinet
Beaumont came up with this idea one day while eating an apple. The maple upper section is held up by a fibreglass ‘core’. Beaumont's knowledge and use of materials has made it possible to do so many creative things. (Photo by Kyle Huinink)

 Mike Wolos

After doing a three-year apprenticeship with his uncle about 20 years ago, Wolos started working in a small garage. He’s now moved up to a 1000 sq. ft. space, which he usually works in by himself.

Designing and making a piece from start to finish is the high point of his time spent in the shop. In fact, design plays a large role in his work, and it’s one aspect of the job he can’t help but take home with him. “When I get an idea about a piece in my mind, I first make sketches about specific design elements. Sometimes a solution to a design problem comes to me at night just before falling asleep, then I write it down in the morning.”

Wolos knows what he likes, saying “I love coffee tables because of the endless possibilities to create unique one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture art. For materials, I like to include exotic burls in the design since they look great and are easy to touch up, compared to uniform straight-grained woods, which show off any marks or finishing mistakes.” He also knows what he doesn’t like – staining a piece. That’s why he usually opts for exotic woods that don’t need any stain.

Stephen Hogbin

Stephen Hogbin has been working wood since he was 16 years old, and he doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon. Currently he’s working on a number of pieces for a new book titled “How to Hogbin”, and says “Always too many ideas” when asked about any upcoming furniture work. Hogbin works in a large studio near Owen Sound, Ontario where he builds pieces for private and corporate clients, as well as speculative work. His work ranges from smaller, decorative items to large installations in public spaces.

Hogbin went to Rycotewood College near Oxford, England to learn furniture design and construction, and then attended the Royal College of Art to fine-tune his skills. Now 70, he says he enjoys the luxury of “working in his own space, making decisions from concept to context for the final work.” He also has the luxury of owning a woodlot that produces ash, maple, walnut, beech, elm, pear, birch, ironwood, basswood, oak and apple, all of which he uses when the time is right.

When it comes time to design a project, Hogbin has a system. “First I establish the program – what is to be made, for whom, why, what’s the budget – and then develop a succinct statement of purpose. The ideas flow in relationship to these criteria. With many ideas sketched, usually in a drawing, it’s possible to make a decision of what’s best in relationship to the statement of purpose. Then it’s a matter of making the idea with appropriate material, technical ability and formal presence.”

Having been in the industry for a while, he’s seen a lot of great makers. Gord Peteran, Heidi Earnshaw, Michael Hosaluk and Peter Pierobon are some of his favourites.

Merv Krivoshein

A steel sculptor turned woodworker, Krivoshein now works alone in a large shop on his property, complete with skylights and more than 20 windows. Though he works with exotics from time to time, he usually uses local woods like spruce, elm and birch. “I like wood that has worm/insect holes or any other natural defect that I can adapt to use as a feature in the project” says Krivoshein. “I also like to use the natural contour or edge of wood so there is a marriage between the natural and man made products.”

Of all the aspects of furniture making, Krivoshein enjoys the initial design stages the most. “I enjoy taking an idea and developing it into a work of art. I like the process of making decisions and the risk of moving from the known to the unknown. Sometimes I start with a drawing, a to-scale model or work with cutting and gluing cardboard in the shape of the proposed design. I have hundreds of woodworking books, art books and magazines and use these as references for technical expertise and for ways to resolve difficult problems. If I can’t solve a problem immediately I put it aside and start working on something else until another idea comes to mind for resolving the difficulty. The danger here is that some projects are unsolved for years until the inspiration returns and I can finish the piece. I also like to try new techniques just for the fun of it and for gaining an increased mastery of woodworking.” But as the project progresses, Krivoshein admits he sometimes has trouble staying focused for the duration of the build, saying “I have a hard time finishing a piece after all of the exciting decisions and risks are over.”

Phil Daniels

Custom work has been keeping Daniels busy since 1978, making everything from armoires and kitchens to his signature bent guitar coffee tables. It always takes him longer than anticipated to finish a project. “I’m fussy and want to produce high-quality work,” he said, about his refusal to cut corners.

Once he’s confident in a general design, Daniels moves to Google SketchUp to work out most of the details in 3-D. When the drawing is complete, he can print computer generated cutlists and material lists before getting to work. Once in the shop, he gravitates towards figure; “I love highly figure woods, especially my bent guitar tables. They get the best wood.”

Daniels doesn’t mind standing out a bit, explaining “I use different colours to stimulate people’s imagination, and to show what coloured furniture can do to a room.”

Gordon Galenza

Galenza, a self-taught furniture maker, has been building furniture for about 45 years. As most of his work clearly shows, he enjoys working with hardwoods, metal, glass, stone and paint. Their ease of precision machining, colour, texture and the many possible combinations entices him to break new ground.

The design process, followed by the work to bring a piece to life, gets Galenza most excited. “For speculative pieces, I enjoy a lot of uninhibited sketching and playing around with materials and concepts until I hit upon something that I’d like to build,” he says, about his approach to design. When it comes to working with a client, the process is slightly different. “An initial meeting with the client to generally determine the function, placement, aesthetics and materials that would inform the design. This is followed by sketches, drawings and models until I pretty much resolve the shape, details, materials and finish.”

Galenza also mentioned that “potential clients who request a replication of something from the past” is what he enjoys the least about his job. This is understandable, as Galenza is only interested in looking forward, pushing the boundaries of what can be done next.

 David Cumming

Cumming got into furniture making for very practical reasons. Years ago, he and his wife couldn’t afford to buy furniture, so they scavenged for entire pieces, as well as any useful parts. He would take apart the old furniture and breath new life into it. Eventually wanting to know more about how furniture was made, he focused more and more on country antiques, learning design, joinery and many other critical aspects of the craft.

Though he currently enjoys working with softer rock, Cumming looks much further than red oak and maple for the wood component in his work. “Over the last 40 years, I have made things out of about 150 woods. If I have a few favourites, they would be Burmese Padauk (no longer available) and Narra. These woods were a favourite of the great Chinese makers of the 15th through the 17th centuries, and you can see pieces made from these woods at the Royal Ontario Museum. I have also worked with at least a dozen different rosewoods. That said, all woods are good woods.”

Cumming tackles the design aspect of furniture making differently than most makers. “I never use or make drawings. I envision the piece in my mind, and then imagine the specific processes involved, often as an exercise while I’m falling asleep. I’m mildly dyslexic, and my main difficulty has always been in transcribing and transferring measurement.” He also feels this process allows for greater flexibility, and spontaneity, than is usual in furniture making.

Always aware of other makers around him, Cumming first was inspired by James Krenov and Wendle Castle. In fact, after seeing some of Castle’s work, Cumming fell in love with all the possibilities that bent laminations offered. Cumming also mentioned that he has always enjoyed Michael Fortune’s work.

Scotty Lewis

Lewis, a regular contributor to Canadian Woodworking Magazine, is still fairly new to furniture making, but he has certainly made a name for himself. After five years of professional experience, two of those working with Michael Fortune, he has a great mind for design and can handle pretty much any tool you throw at him. As long as it’s powered. When asked about the tools he enjoys using, he doesn’t hesitate: “If it doesn’t plug in, it isn’t worth sh*t.” He does admit to using a few hand tools, but not much more than a rasp and a card scraper.

Lewis also knows how to enjoy himself. “Listening to the radio and just having a good time is important. It’s not all fun and games, but when the radio is on and I truly enjoy my time it’s a really good feeling.”

To start the design process in the shop Lewis builds full sized mock-ups or sample parts form scrap material. “I find this a really good way to end up with a piece I’m totally happy with.”

Judson Beaumont

Upon graduating art school in 1982, Judson Beaumont realized jobs in the field were hard to come by. He began doing sculptures and people started to view them as piec­es of furniture, so he continued. Beaumont designs and builds pieces that makes a furniture maker say, “How did he do that?” Beaumont’s work often takes shapes or ideas from everyday life and turns them on their head, which creates a piece of furni­ture that makes you smile.

Beaumont has come a long way since he started art school, remembering “I used to think that in order to build anything one had to get a set of instructions from a book or a magazine. I always assumed that someone else had to come up with the ideas and then you were supposed to build it that way.”

Beaumont employs about eight craftspeople, and it’s their collective knowledge of materials in general that have allowed them to construct the wild and crazy ideas he comes up with. In fact, the challenge of how something will be built is a huge part of the fun for Beaumont. The design process usually starts with pencil and paper, as lots of concepts are bounced around for a single piece. And by introducing more technology into the pro­cess he’s looking forward to seeing what’s down the road.

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

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