Summer School on Japanese Carpentry – A Bench around a Tree

In June 2022, I received a scholarship to attend a Summer School on Japanese Carpentry organised by Domaine de Boisbuchet and Michelangelo Foundation. It was a 10 day workshop that took place on location at the Domaine and I attended it along with 11 other students from all over Europe.

Domaine de Boisbuchet is a utopia close to Bordeaux in France where Design meets Art. It is an international centre for workshops, research, and education on sustainably innovative design and architecture. Created in 1986, it is located in the southwest of France on 150 hectares of protected nature and ecological agriculture.

The Michelangelo Foundation is an international non-profit organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, that celebrates and preserves master craftsmanship and strengthens its connection to the world of design.

I am sincerely honoured to have been given this opportunity, I learnt so much and met so many interesting people.

Read Part 1 here



Domaine de Boisbuchet

Japanese Designer Wataru Kumano

Part 2 – A Bench around a Tree

The second part of the course was conducted by Japanese designer Wataru Kumano. Having worked with Jasper Morrison in the past, he set up his own design office ‘kumano’ in 2011, and now works with interiors, furniture, and product design.

The aim was to apply the joinery techniques we learnt in the first couple of days, to build an outdoor bench that Wataru had previously designed. The bench had 6 joints, which meant each student would make one half of a joint, making the bench one large group project where all the pieces would come together to form one object.
We started by brainstorming which 6 joints those would be, and assigning them to groups of two students. Each student picked a joint they were comfortable with or found interesting to work on.



Choosing a site and Picking Rocks

Once we had decided on the individual joints, and who would be making them, we scouted the grounds of Boisbuchet for an ideal site where the bench would go. Wataru had envisioned the bench to be installed around a tree, and we wanted it to have a connection to the daily activities of the Domaine, while still being slightly set aside to provide the user with some privacy and tranquility.
The site we chose was a spot next to the living quarters of the Domaine, opposite the restaurant. We chose a large Robinie tree that was part of a clump of trees. It stood at the edge of a field where horses often grazed. You could watch the sun rise behind the rolling hills beyond the field, with the Japanese House to the left and the Old Mill to the right. As the sun travelled through the sky, the shade of the trees would protect the users, only letting the evening sun warm the bench again. We all loved the site!

As part of the foundation of the bench, we needed 9 flat rocks to sit underneath the posts of the bench. This is how old japanese shrines are built, and in our case prevented the legs of the bench from standing in water. We went down to the stream to pick some flat rocks from the river bed and carried them back to the site. Each post would stand on a flat rock that would sit in a shallow pit filled with pebbles.

Making the joinery

We returned to the workshop and each team of two laid out and started work on the chosen joint. Three teams were joining two beams each to make three tables, and three would become the benches. Marion and I chose to make a simple Bridle joint, which would be pegged with two dowels. I chose to make the male part, while she made the female. We used all the techniques we had learnt in the first half of the course to saw and chisel the perfect joint.

We made Oak dowels by hand in order to lock the joint. We first cut smaller sections of Oak and then shaped them into almost round sections with the kanna. To get a perfect cylinder, these pieces were then hammered through a hole in a metal plate which shaved off the last uneven bits to give us a round 8mm dowel. We then assembled our joint and locked it with the dowels. Using our kanna we smoothed the joint and the dowels until everything was flush.

The workshop was a busy space, with all teams rushing to complete and assemble their joint. Some joints were more complicated than others, and took a little longer to make. However they truly represent the intricacy and technique of traditional Japanese joinery.

Assembling the bench

While some teams were still busy finishing their joinery, some of us started preparing the elements that would connect the tables to the benches. Circular posts with a circular tenon would support the benches like legs. Rectangular posts with a tenon would sit between bench and table acting as spacers and connecting elements.
We laid out the mortises on all 3 benches and 3 tables together so they would be aligned. The mortise for the circular posts was drilled with a large forstner bit and then the material in between was chiseled out by hand. For the rectangular posts, the mortises were cut entirely by hand.

A last couple of finishing touches like a drip nose to help rainwater to drip off better were added. We also finished the surfaces of table and bench with the kanna to ensure a nice smooth surface that was pleasant to touch and splinter free.

Before carrying the bench out to the site around the tree, we did a dry assembly in the workshop. We decided where we wanted the tree to be, and checked if everything fit together as planned. It was lovely to see the bench come together, and we marveled at how large it looked. The best part was that it was delightful to sit on and our entire group could fit on it at once!

Installing the bench

The site was prepared before the bench was installed. We cut the grass around the tree, and mapped out where the legs would sit exactly. We dug shallow holes and filled them with gravel to stabilize the rocks that would carry the bench. The stones were leveled so that the bench would be straight once installed.

The next morning we ceremoniously carried the individual parts of the bench out. Each member of the group helped carry it out and it was like we were proudly presenting our work to the world.
Once at the site, we placed the benches on the stones, positioned the tables across the benches and connected them using the handmade Oak dowels. This process went surprisingly quickly, and the bench was very sturdy once everything was connected.

We spent the last couple of hours at the Domaine enjoying the bench we had built in the last 4 days. We invited other residents of the Domaine to sit and use the bench as well, drinking juice and coffee and experiencing sitting under the large Robinie tree.

What I loved the most about the design of the bench was the fact that it was so versatile in its usage. I observed how different people used it in different ways depending on the situation; some straddling the bench, others sitting sideways, some using the tables to sit on, others using the tree as a backrest. The bench even allowed for a comfortable nap, or just watching the countryside with your feet up, listening to the birds and the gurgling of the river downhill.

On the last morning I sat in the warm light of the sunrise with my cup of coffee, just trying to take in every detail of the landscape around the bench. It was a wonderful view, and it gave me a lovely sense of tranquility. Indeed a beautiful end to an enriching and unique experience.

Occasionally I see a video or picture on Instagram of the bench in use by other workshop attendees at the Domaine. It fills my heart with joy to know that we could contribute to life on the Domaine in such a beautiful way. It’s always nice to see people using things you have made, and this remains the best part of my job as a furniture maker!

Picture credits – Vanessa Hörig, Pietro Migliorati and Simon Searle

Summer School on Japanese Carpentry – Traditional Japanese Joinery

In June 2022, I received a scholarship to attend a Summer School on Japanese Carpentry organised by Domaine de Boisbuchet and Michelangelo Foundation. It was a 10 day workshop that took place on location at the Domaine and I attended it along with 11 other students from all over Europe.

Domaine de Boisbuchet is a utopia close to Bordeaux in France where Design meets Art. It is an international centre for workshops, research, and education on sustainably innovative design and architecture. Created in 1986, it is located in the southwest of France on 150 hectares of protected nature and ecological agriculture.

The Michelangelo Foundation is an international non-profit organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, that celebrates and preserves master craftsmanship and strengthens its connection to the world of design.

I am sincerely honoured to have been given this opportunity, I learnt so much and met so many interesting people.

Read Part 2 here



Domaine de Boisbuchet

Part 1 – Traditional Japanese Joinery


The first part of the course was conducted by master craftsman Takami Kawai. He runs an architecture and construction firm in Kyoto where he repairs shrines, renovates traditional wooden houses, and constructs ideal living spaces using traditional Japanese carpentry techniques.

Master craftsman Takami Kawai

We learnt about all the different kinds of Japanese hand tools like Handplanes Kanna , Chisels Nomi , Hammers, Saws Nokogiri, and Marking equipment like Right angles Sashi gane.



Adjusting and Sharpening A Chisel

We started working on our own set of tools after learning a little about the different kinds. We were given a Nomi each, and had to first adjust the back of the handle. This means taking off the metal ring, compressing the wood at the back of the handle, putting the ring back, and folding the wood “over” the metal ring. This ensures that while striking the chisel with a hammer, one only hits wood.

Once the handle is adjusted, the metal tip of the chisel is sharpened. This process begins by flattening the back Ura of the chisel on a metal plate. Once an even shiny surface is achieved, the bevel side of the chisel can be sharpened.

The bevel side Omoto of the chisel is first flattened using short strokes on a stone of 1000 Grit, once the entire stone has been used once, it has to be flattened using a diamond stone. This process is repeated until an even colour is visible on the bevel and a slight burr can be felt on the back of the chisel. Pressure should be applied on the tip of the chisel while making sure not to round the bevel and keeping it flat on the stone.
The burr is then removed with a 8000 grit stone, and then the bevel side is polished and finished until a uniform shine is visible from corner to corner. The corners should be sharp, and there should be no chips in the edge. The last stroke is done on the flat side to remove any remaining burr.

Adjusting and Sharpening A Handplane

The Handplane or Kanna also has to be adjusted and sharpened before it can be used. The wooden body, the metal blade and the chipbreaker need to be adjusted to work in perfect harmony to achieve the desired results.
The process of sharpening the Kanna blade is similar to that of a chisel, starting with the flat side and then moving onto the bevel to achieve an even shine across the entire width of the blade.
The back of the chipbreaker is also flattened so it is in even contact with the back of the blade, first on an anvil and then on a metal plate. This way it is optimally performing its function. Pressing both tips together, the corners of the chipbreaker need to be adjusted so that there is no wobbling. The distance of between the tips of chipbreaker and blade should be a hair’s width.

Finally, the mouth and the bottom of the kanna have to be adjusted. The mouth is adjusted until the blade fits in easily, if its too tight, it might split the wooden body of the kanna. Once blade is fitted, only then is the bottom of the kanna adjusted. Only 2 strips on the bottom surface touch the material while planing. About 10 mm at the very front of the plane and 10 mm just before the opening of the plane touch the material. Everything needs to be scraped or sanded away so it is just a little bit lower. With a straightedge against the light, these high- and low-points become visible. As the final step, the high areas on the hand plane bottom are flattened on a 240 grit sandpaper on a glass piece.
Time to test the hand plane and see if it is working perfectly or not. The shaving should be paper thin, almost see-through. There should not be any tear-out. If the shaving is wrinkled, it means the chip breaker is working well.

Making a Koshi Kake Aritsugi

Using the tools we had adjusted and sharpened, it was now time to try our hands at actually making a traditional Japanese joint, the Koshi Kake Aritsugi, literally translated the ‘Waist Sit Anthead joint’. This joint is used in the construction of traditional Japanese wooden houses to connect beams, either to extend the length or as a T joint. It is made using two pieces of square stock, one piece receives the male part of the joint, the other the female part, fitting into each other to form a stable joint.
The marking and making of the joint was first demonstrated by Takami san, making sure to point out the correct technique and pressure points of each step.

Using this knowledge, we then attempted to make our own joint. This helped us get used to the marking techniques and tools, but also a chance to work with the tools we had so lovingly sharpened the days before. We also took lots of notes, and documented the process to understand the theory behind the joint, but also for future reference.

The joint took about a day and a half to finish, and the last hour was spent adjusting and testing the joint to make sure the gaps closed and it fitted together perfectly. This involves a lot of observation and back and forth. It also takes some critical thinking and spatial imagination to understand exactly which part of the joint needs to be modified to achieve a certain result. It is a very important skill for a carpenter, and comes from years of experience and understanding every aspect of the joint at hand.

Once the joint sits together satisfactorily, any unevenness is planed down and smoothed with the help of the kanna. This step was very satisfying and the end result was extremely strong and, of course, great to look at. We were all very proud and happy that we managed to construct this complicated joint on our first try.

The entire experience was extremely enriching, and a wonderful insight into the practice of a traditional Japanese carpenter. So often the craft is romanticized and depicted as something it is not, and I am grateful that I now have an honest and first-hand experience of it.

Traditional Japanese carpentry is a lot about the ritual and the patience of handicraft, but also about knowledge passed down from generation to generation. It is complex, and techniques are deep rooted in soundness of structure, understanding of the material and a respect for it. The reverence and awe that is given to experienced Japanese craftspeople is extremely justified in my opinion.

Picture credits – Vanessa Hörig, Pietro Migliorati and Simon Searle

What is Bespoke Furniture?

Bespoke

/bɪˈspəʊk/
adjective
made for a particular customer or user, customised.

Bespoke or customised furniture is made-to-order furniture, that meets the exact specifications and wishes of the customer. It truly reflects their style and fits perfectly into their home layout. If you are looking for something special and unique, that was made only for you then bespoke furniture is the way to go.

Bespoke furniture is also a great way to make perfect usage of a space, especially for storage. Odd corners and angles in a room can be used perfectly with something that precisely fits the space. This is especially useful in small and older houses like in Amsterdam.



Things you should know before you order bespoke furniture

  • Which room / space is it going into?
  • What are the dimensions supposed to be? Even having a rough idea at this point is a great place to start.
  • Do you have a preference in terms of material? What colours do you prefer, is there a particular type of wood you would like to use? Even just knowing light or dark wood helps the maker narrow the choices.
  • Is there a certain aesthetic style or design language you prefer? Maybe you don’t know how to describe it, do you have a picture of something you like? Bring it along to the discussion.
  • Is there existing furniture in your space that the new one should complement? It could be the way its built, elements like handles, or the wood type. Bring pictures along.
  • What kind of details are you looking for? If its a cabinet, should it have doors, drawers, or should it be open shelves?
  • What is the purpose of the furniture? If its a cabinet, what will you be storing in it? Often a maker will be able to help you with the exact layout better if she knows what needs to fit where.
  • Have you had similar furniture in the past? What did you like or dislike about it? This is a great way to flesh out exactly what the new one should or shouldn’t include.



What does Bespoke Furniture cost?

This is a question (usually the first) that I get asked very often. Unfortunately the answer to this question isn’t as straightforward as naming a price. Customised furniture means every project is new and different and there are many aspects to consider while calculating what it will cost.

The design & making cost

Since I am going to be making the furniture piece myself, the number of hours that I spend on it determine the design & making cost. This includes the planning of the project, making the drawings, ordering the materials, and researching the hardware . Ofcourse the actual making of the furniture in the workshop makes up about 90% of these costs. Consider that some materials take longer to process or certain finishes take longer to apply.

The Material cost

The furniture piece will obviously be made out of wood, include some sort of hardware and be finished with oil or lacquer. The material cost of the bespoke furniture includes all these aspects. As a customer you also pay for the delivery of the materials, other workshop materials like sandpaper or finishing accessories, and fasteners like screws that are used in the furniture.

The delivery & INSTALLATION cost

Once the furniture is ready in the workshop, it has to be delivered to the customer. The cost of delivery depends on the size and weight of the furniture piece. I sometimes hire an additional moving company to help with large items.
The installation price of the piece can vary depending on how the furniture piece fits into the customers house. In case of a free standing sideboard it might be just an hour of unpacking, hanging the doors and installing the drawers. In case of a fitted storage solution or a staircase railing, it might even take multiple days.



My philosophy about Bespoke Furniture

I enjoy working with customers to design and find the perfect furniture solution to meet their needs. My education in furniture design, ergonomics and carpentry ensure I have the know-how to advise and help my customers make an informed decision. I try to find a balance between cost and quality. I believe that even though good quality costs more, it is worth the investment because it is sure to last longer and will create fewer problems in usage. According to me, quality materials, strong joinery and the right know-how build great furniture that stand the test of time.

Bespoke furniture is a sustainable solution to furniture production since there is minimum to no material wastage. The furniture is exactly what you want, so there is no compromise on the design and you are not tempted to throw it away to replace it with something better. My know-how as a professional carpenter means I build quality furniture that will last a lifetime and can be passed down from generation to generation.

I also provide customers with wood and finish samples for them to visualise it better. If needed, I order samples from my suppliers that customers can feel and touch, and take home to consider. I also make scaled drawings and 3D visualisations during the design phase. Realistic timelines and strict deadlines is what I offer my clients.

Some of my commissioned bespoke projects are the Sideboard, CD Shelf and the Wardrobe doors

Read more about my philosophy here.

Joinery Systems

This post talks about a couple of joinery systems I use while building furniture of different types. These can be permanent glued joints or knock-down joints that can be reopened for easy transportation and moving.
Each system has it’s own pros and cons and areas of application apart from being differently priced. Careful selection of the correct joinery system ensures strong furniture that is built to last. I have mentioned some use cases and examples of how I have used them in my work.

Lamello

Lamello biscuits made of ca. 4mm thick Beech wood are elliptical in shape and come in different sizes. They can be used at intervals to connect 2 pieces of wood, using a lamello router to make the appropriate cuts in the material. They can be applied to join solid wood and wood based boards in simple butt joints or mitred joints. They add strength with additional glue area and help to align the workpieces forming an invisible, strong joint.

I have used Lamello biscuits in various projects like the Garden rack, the Tea Cabinet Blue as well as some parts of the Sideboard.

More information on Lamello.com

Domino

Domino dowels are a hybrid of round dowels and traditional wooden tenons. They are flattened pieces of beech wood in different thicknesses and lengths, to be used depending on the dimensions of the workpiece. They are used to join panels, but also for frames and wooden structures as a replacement for a tenon-and-mortise joint. It creates strong, invisible joints with the help of glue. The pockets for the domino dowels are made with a special Domino router machine.

I have used Domino dowels extensively in the base structure of the Ashwood Cabinets, as well as other projects like a staircase railing and balcony railing made out of solid wood.

More information on Festool.com

Clamex

Clamex connectors are similarly shaped to wooden Lamellos, but are made of plastic with a small lever on the male part to lock the two. The two components can be closed and opened multiple times, making the clamex a great connector for knock-down furniture. The lever is accessed through an almost invisible 6mm hole. Clamex connectors can be used on wooden boards for butt joints as well as mitre joints and are extremely useful while gluing mitre joints due to their immense strength. The groove for the Clamex connectors is made using a special Clamex router by hand or on a CNC machine.

I often use Clamex connectors when assembling large mitred cabinets like the Sideboard, or for ease of dismantling like in the CD Shelf. Clamex connectors can also be used to join 2 parts of a furniture like I did in the Tea Cabinet.

More information on Lamello.com

Joinery systems developed by industry leaders help cabinet makers speed up processes making furniture more affordable and accessible to everyone. Traditional joinery techniques take longer to produce and sometimes do not have applications like being knock down. There are many other methods and hardware that have been developed, the ones above are the systems I have experience with and trust. They make for strong, reliable joints that create furniture that will last a lifetime and can be passed down from generation to generation.

The images below show examples of how I have used this joinery.

The Effects of War on Wood Trade

Almost a third of the imports of wood and wooden furniture to the EU27, measured in value, comes from Russia, Belarus & Ukraine. In volume, its 53% when talking about lumber products like wooden logs, sawed wood and wooden boards.

With European sanctions against Russia and the discontinuation of SWIFT payments, the import of lumber products has stopped completely. In addition, many suppliers from Belarus do not comply with FSC and PEFC standards, let alone the new EUTR (European Union Timber Regulation) standards. All this leads to a shortage in availability and rising prices of timber.

The war has had a stronger effect on the availability of FSC certified wood as compared to PEFC wood. Of all FSC certified forests worldwide, 27% are in Russia while 6% are in Belarus. For PEFC forests this number lies at 10% in Russia and 3% in Belarus.

Many producers are therefore forced to transition from FSC to PEFC certified wood due to availability shortages. Or simply use what is available in the market. Birch plywood imports into the EU from Russia have also been hit for a second time (the first time during the Covid pandemic), with prices shooting up and availability at almost nothing.

As a small business owner, I am largely affected by the shortages and growing prices. These naturally directly translate to what I am able to offer clients, who more often that not are unhappy about high prices and longer delivery periods.

We all obviously hope for a quick end to the war, and for peace and prosperity to return to Ukraine. As for the woodworking industry, we need to realistically take into account that war-related effects on wood import will cause disruptions atleast until the end of 2022.

The Process of Cabinet Making

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Sketches & Iteration

Most of my ideas and concepts usually begin with a simple sketch. If I am excited by it, I explore variations in proportions, size and composition. I include details and find the best way to join two or more materials. I flesh out the joinery and the sizes of cross sections of various elements like legs or aprons.

I can play with adding colour, or using multiple types of wood in one piece. I sketch out ideas for hardware that I would like to use or the placement of handles and hinges. I also analyse all the use cases and see if the piece is functional.

Hand drawn sketches help me visualise my designs
Hand drawn sketches help me visualise my designs
I use computer software to make 3D models of my designs
I use computer software to make 3D models of my designs

CAD Drawing & 3D Model

Once I am happy with how the piece is going to look and what details to add, I make a CAD drawing using a computer software. This helps me iron out the proportions, the functioning of moving parts, flesh out details and play with colours and finishes.

In addition I have a working drawing to reference while building the piece and can calculate material needs and costs. When working with a client, the 3D model and drawing make it easier to explain the project, and for the client to imagine the piece.

Hand-Picked Material

Wood is a natural material and has beautiful nuances and differences to its appearance. No two pieces of wood are the same, and the art of wood selection lies in choosing the perfect raw material to fit your furniture.

The best way is to actually go to the lumber yard and look at what is available. As far as possible, I try to choose material that comes from sustainable and responsible sources.

I hand picked the material from my local lumber yard, Amsterdamsche Fijnhout
I hand picked the material from my local lumber yard, Amsterdamsche Fijnhout
I drew a full scale drawing on a sheet of cardboard to get a better idea of scale and proportions
I drew a full scale drawing on a sheet of cardboard to get a better idea of scale and proportions

Full Scale Drawing

A full scale drawing always helps to understand proportions and allows tweaking while seeing real life thicknesses of materials and referencing textures.

Here I drew both cabinets side by side on a piece of cardboard. This helped me feel confident about the proportions I had chosen on the drawing software. I could compare how the two cabinets related to each other and whether they work as a set.

Breaking Down Larger Panels & Logs

Once the raw material that I had selected at the lumber yard was delivered, I had to break down the large sheets and solid wood planks into usable sizes. This is when the cutlist I had prepared in the design phase comes in handy.

At this phase it is crucial to pay attention to the wood grain for both veneered panel as well as solid wood. I cut my panels for the doors and carcass with extreme attention to how the final grain layout would look later. In case of waterfall edges, the cut pieces must be marked to avoid confusion. For the solid wood I used on the legs, I made sure I had the right orientation of rift vs quatersawn so that I had a more delicate grain showing on the outside. Structurally, the grain also plays a huge role while laying out joinery.

I also made solidwood 5mm edge banding that I would use to seal the edges of the plywood.

Large boards and logs need to be cut down into component parts
Large boards and logs need to be cut down into component parts
I add solid wood edgebanding to the edges of the plywood to protect and seal the edges
I add solid wood edgebanding to the edges of the plywood to protect and seal the edges

Edgebanding

After the veneered boards were cut to final size, the 5mm thick solid ash edge banding is applied to protect and seal the plywood edges. This is done with wood glue and tape, working fast and pulling the tape extremely tight to avoid unsightly gaps between board and edgeband. The aim is to have a seamless, even board as an end product.

The glue is left to dry for atleast 24 hours before the edgebanding can be trimmed to the thickness of the board. There are multiple ways and methods of doing this, I use a table router with a flush trim bit, and do the last 0,5mm by hand with a card scraper. This gives me more control and I have a perfect finish.

Cutting Mitres & Testing Waterfall Woodgrain

After trimming the edgebanding, it’s time to cut the 45 degree mitred corners of both the cabinets. I had to take care to cut precisely and carefullly to achieve a nice clean edge after gluing up.

Mitred edges are perfect to show off grain, and I made sure to have a continuous ‘Waterfall’ grain around around every corner.

I also marked out and routed the joinery for the central divider at this point, since the machine would not be able to fit into the interior of the cabinet once it was glued together.

Mitred corners on cabinets showing a continuous waterfall woodgrain
Mitred corners on cabinets showing a continuous waterfall woodgrain

Hinges

I wanted to use simple black butt hinges for the cabinets since they were easy to install and had a very simple look. I liked how the black bar broke the pale yellow of the Ash. I first did a test fit on some spare offcuts to see how they worked and how deep I had to cut into the sides to fit them perfectly.

In order to rout the pockets that would house the hinges, I made myself a plywood jig that I could clamp onto the side and use a router with a copy ring set to the correct depth to rout the pocket.

Testing Different Stains

I wanted to experiment with contrasting the pale yellow of the Ash on the outside with a strong black stain on the inside. In order to find the perfect product, I tried out many different samples until I was happy with the result.

In the process of bespoke furniture, I test different stains to achieve the desired result
In the process of bespoke furniture, I test different stains to achieve the desired result
I made two slatted solid wood trays to sit between the legs of the cabinets
I made two slatted solid wood trays to sit between the legs of the cabinets

Solid Wood Base

The cabinets stand on a base made from square sections of solid Ash wood. They also have a small slatted tray at the bottom to keep various items like magazines or books, or simply just cushions.

I cut the pieces to length and marked the places where I would cut the joinery. I cut all the joinery making sure to check for correct grain orientation. For the tray I prefinished the slats before gluing it up. As for the legs, I first glued up the entire frame and then applied the oil. This has mainly to do with accessibility of smaller parts and making sure the joinery and finishing are neat and clean.

As part of the design principle of contrast and asymmetry one of the slats is wider, and would also be stained black to emphasize this irregularity.

Dry Fitting

At this stage I temporarily put the entire piece together (called a dry fit, due to lack of glue used) to make sure everything fit, and also to get a better picture of what the final cabinet would look like.

There is always a possibility to change a detail at this stage, or correct a mistake. Trying to do so after finishing is extremely difficulty, not to mention the lost time of having finished something that doesn’t fit together, or that you are not happy with.

I also wanted to test fit the cabinet to make sure that I liked the idea of having a black interior and light exterior. After this I could dismantle everything and move on to the first round of finishing.

The cabinets are dry fit together to make sure everything is right, and to get a first impression
The cabinets are dry fit together to make sure everything is right, and to get a first impression
The insides of the cabinets are stained and oiled before gluing them
The insides of the cabinets are stained and oiled before gluing them

Staining & Finishing the Insides

I could then finally sand and prepare all the necessary material for the first round of staining and finishing. This included the inside of the cabinets and the slatted tray at the bottom of the leg frame. The rest would be sanded and finished in a later stage.

In order to avoid getting black stain on the outside of the cabinet, I had to protect it by sticking paper on it with tape. This is again a time consuming process, but definitely extremely important to be able to finish the insides in a timely manner. Edges that will later receive glue have to be covered with tape as well, as seen here the mitre edges.

The surfaces were stained twice and oiled once, or oiled twice if they were to stay the natural Ash colour.

Gluing Up

Once the oil has dried and hardened on the various components, they can be glued up in their final assemblies. In some cases, it takes place in multiple steps like with the base of the cabinet. Here I first glued up the tray at the bottom and the cross ties that support the cabinet. As a second step I connected these two parts by gluing the 4 legs to them.

Care has to be taken to glue up in the correct order and orientation and cauls are used to protect the furniture from pressure marks from the clamps. Cauls also evenly distribute the pressure from the clamps. Corners are checked to see if the structure is at 90 degrees, and any excess glue squeeze out is cleaned up.

Gluing up the base of one of the cabinets with clamps. Wooden cauls are used to protect the wood for the metal clamps
Gluing up the base of one of the cabinets with clamps. Wooden cauls are used to protect the wood for the metal clamps
Fitting the doors, making sure that the reveals on all sides are equal and the doors swing smoothly
Fitting the doors, making sure that the reveals on all sides are equal and the doors swing smoothly

Fitting Doors & Shelves

Once the carcass of the cabinets was ready, the glue having dried for atleast 24 hours, I could start fitting the doors.

The hinge pockets on the doors had been routed along with the pockets on the sides of the cabinet. I could now fit hinges to both cabinet and door and then work on removing material on the doors until they fit perfectly.

Fitting the doors essentially entails making sure the doors have an even reveal (gap) on all sides, towards the carcass as well as towards each other. And ensuring that they open and closed well. In my case, this was a 3mm gap, which I checked with a 3mm spacer.

This is quite a time consuming task, and requires a lot of back and forth until the desired result is achieved.

Once the doors were running smoothly, I cut the shelves that go into the cabinet to size and fitted them as well.

Handcut Dovetail Drawers

The last feature of the Ash cabinets was one handcut dovetailed drawer for each cabinet. For this I measured the exact dimensions of the available space and prepared my 12mm solid Ash stock.

The dovetails are scribed onto the sides of the drawers, first sawn by hand, and then the material is removed with a sharp chisel. These dovetails are then referenced onto the corresponding front and back of the drawer and then cut out as well.

The entire box is then carefully fitted together, removing material wherever needed. Dovetails are a very strong method of making a corner joint, and no hardware is needed. A slot or rebate is made at the bottom to fit a base into the drawer.

Once the individual pieces are sanded and oiled, the drawers can be glued together with the help of clamps. Again, care must be taken that all corners are perfectly square.

I used handtools like chisels and saws to make drawers with dovetailed corners
I used handtools like chisels and saws to make drawers with dovetailed corners

Leather Handles

For this project, I wanted to make handles for the drawer and doors myself. I wanted to experiment using a new material and decided to use black leather.

To keep the minimalist harmony of the black hinges, I made the door handle in the same look and size by wrapping the leather around a 6mm wooden dowel. An extra length was then attached to the side of the door. I only made one handle per cabinet.

For the drawers I just made a simple long tug of leather that is attached to the interior of the drawer.

Final Finishing & Assembly

The last step was to disassemble all the doors, handles and shelves, and do one last round of sanding.

I then finished all surfaces with two coats of Osmo Hardwax Oil, making sure to really rub the oil into the surface to get a nice smooth finish.

I then reassembled the cabinets, doors and handles. And finally I could attach the cabinet to the base.

Final stage of assembly of cabinets, doors and handles
Final stage of assembly of cabinets, doors and handles
I use a camera and tripod to photograph my products in natural lighting
I use a camera and tripod to photograph my products in natural lighting

Product photoshoot

I enjoy staging and taking pictures of my products quite a lot. I use a simple set up of a white paper or HPL sheet as a back drop and natural lighting from a window.

I use accessories like books, bowls, cups, glasses or alcohol bottles to add life and colour into the images. These objects also help to illustrate the functionality and size of the piece.

In order to showcase the Ash cabinets, I took lots of pictures of the various details and features, but also of the two cabinets side by side.

You can see final images of the Ashwood Cabinets, view the Portfolio Page
The Ashwood Cabinets are available for sale, for more Info visit my Webshop

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