Sometimes, it starts with a sketch. Sometimes it starts with a phone call. Sometimes, it starts with a board; you aren't sure what exactly you are going to do with it, but you know that something needs to get made out of that board, and and all will not be right in the jungle until that board becomes a piece of furniture.
Such was the case with a board I found last spring. I drove up to Smithville, Tx after answering a Craigslist ad for "EXOTIC WOOD." I spent the afternoon talking shop with the gentleman who listed the ad, poking through his diner-turned-lumber-room, playing with his one-eyed (or was it three-legged?) dog, and chitchatting with the neighbors, most of whom seemed happy enough drinking wine in beach chairs on the sidewalk. Looking back now, the entire day seemed surreal. I'm pretty sure if I ever tried to go back, I wouldn't be able to find it, and no one would know what I was talking about. The entire town will have vanished like The Island from "Lost."
Anyway, I found an epic plank of teak during my search: a curl I had never seen before, and orange and green and black streaks running through the entire board. I payed the man, thanked him (I think he was sad to see it go), drove it home, and got busy staring at it for the next four months.
Above, the initial sketch for the sideboard. Originally, the piece would have three storage spaces below, and a bank of three drawers above. I had an idea for a large cabinet based on one I had seen when I originally visited CR several years ago. (You can see a picture of Mr. Gresham's [in my opinion, superior] cabinet here.) Anyway, the middle storage space would have two (or maybe just one) frame-and-glass door. After playing around with the scale, I decided that I didn't like the large, single drawer in the middle, and that the glass door in the lower section would turn into a black, square hole on a piece this deep.
A later sketch of the sideboard. Slightly lower to the ground, with two large compartments below, instead of two small and one large. If you look closely, you can see a "break" in the legs where the lower section transitions into the upper/drawer section. This seemed like an terrific idea on paper. I had no idea what sort of dead-end rabbit hole it would eventually lead me to.
Routing the "break" in a test leg. I used a 1/2" bearing-bit to establish a flat surface on the top section of the leg. I thought that routing might make things a little easier than bandsawing the face off, then coming back with a scraper and sandpaper to clean things up.
Test-leg, out of the routing jig. I still need to chop the little spikes off that are left from the router. The double-lines running across the faces of the leg indicate where to cut the chamfer, which will (hopefully) serve as a sort of transition from the lower, heavier leg section to the lighter section above.
Behold: Kellogg Furniture Design's multi-billion-dollar state-of-the-art rapid-prototyping equipment. It consists of the following: utility knife, a large roll of single-sided corrugated cardboard, a straightedge, English-Metric measuring tape, a pencil, and a hot glue gun. We used this equipment to develop and manufacture the new kPhone. Look for it in stores this holiday season.
The first (or maybe second) full-scale mockup. Disappointing This is exactly why I build mockups instead of relying solely on drawings. On paper, the little break in the legs, which would serve as a transition between the upper and lower portions of the cabinet, seemed like a great idea, a sweet little detail. Really, it was maybe what I was most excited about when I first started thinking about this piece. I could picture it perfectly: dark wood, with a nice, soft, oil-and-wax luster. Move past the cabinet, and light catches the facet on the break. Yes! But: it was not meant to be. At least not for me, not on this piece. Staring at the mockup, the little break, which seemed like a great idea on paper, now seems arbitrary, pointless, and distracting. It is a detail which, rather than complement, detracts from the whole. Like being passed on the road by a truck with plastic testicles hanging from its rear bumper, I have to ask, "What are those for?" In any case, time for a new mockup:
An even smaller version of the sideboard starts to take shape. A baby bear to the aforementioned mama bear. It was fun to make, but ended up bordering on the dinky-side. I had the feeling that for this sort of piece, and with this rare teak, the piece should have a real presence. Also, it seemed like it should, you know, actually be able to hold stuff.
Resizing the first mockup, with further help from our state-of-the-art prototyping equipment. Pictured here: two towels which have been banished forever from the house. I bought the towel on the left at a Wal-Mart in rural Vermont over a decade ago for $2.50. It says "Christina Aguilera" in purple letters and has a huge picture of some woman (not Christina Aguilera)'s face on it. I've been told on separate occasions that it is either "creepy" or "super creepy." I have argued on separate occasions that it is either "awesome" or "super awesome."
I was kind of excited about this: a photo-stitch of the the second and third (aka Mama Bear and Baby Bear) mockups.
Finally, figuring out what goes where: laying out planks of teak (really, they were just 2x4's of teak, but still) against the veneer (which was cut six months ago to allow the color to mellow a little), which will be used for the doors and panels.