One of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of my craft, is taking a clients concepts for a piece and creating it. I love to the see how the “artistic freedom” that is a part of the process plays out. I have to admit, I don’t “see” the finished work in my mind before I start. It’s an adventure for me to see how the process, reveals something special.
This project started with a phone call from the Maui Hands Gallery, Craig and Yvonne were interested in a Curly Koa bench. As we talked on the phone, I felt their ideas were right up my alley. We met at my studio to get some sketches and budget estimates on paper. After seeing my work, shop (humble and messy) and wood types available, it was a go.
The hardest part of making anything in Curly Koa is finding the wood, this bench was to be 5 feet long, so would require a large amount of matching wood. I work with several mills on Maui and the Big Island, but it is still a challenge to find the quality and quantity of dry wood (wet wood adds months to the project) at a price in the budget. On the second visit to a local Maui mill the owner remembered some old wood stashed away in the loft of the machine shop. This required crawling around a dusty loft with a flashlight, moving stacks of wood searching for this hidden treasure. Once it was found, I measured and selected each board to see if the components needed could be made. It was as if this wood was just waiting here all these years just for this project!
Raw slab wood is kind of like raw diamonds, you never really know what you have until your start cutting. As I planned the branches, the amazing quality, we call curly, revealed itself. This was some of the finest wood I had ever worked with! This really inspires me, as I lay out the design and components on each slab of wood, matching the grain and figure to the function and display of the finished bench. After this process, I came up short a couple pieces, so back to the mill/loft to look for more.
Now that I had the wood and the plan shapes drawn out, it’s time to go to the saws and cut them out. At this point the rough cut pieces are usually stacked and let dry for a week to a month. This wood was completely dry, so I was able to get right to the shaping.
Each piece must be hand cut and shaped, mortises and tendons fitted using mechanical and electric tools. Sculptured elements are carefully hand carved, ground and sanded to the desired forms. These raw forms are sealed and sanded to a near finished smoothness. Each joint is dry fitted and prepared for gluing. Every measurement, angle and connection must be right, as I use marine epoxy , very difficult to adjust or remove. Section by section the bench beings to take form. Many adjustment and refinements later it is assembled and ready to sand. Every surface and joint is sanded and sealed over and over until it is one flowing piece. Now it will sit for a week or two to cure and see if there is any movement in the joints and seams.
The final stage is the finish. On this bench we choose a clear lacquer. This is done with many fine layers, hand sanded between coats to reduce build up. When the seal is uniform and velvet to the touch, the final step of hand rubbing it with a blend of oils and waxes to leave a silky natural feel.
After another week of curing the bench was ready to ship to it’s new home in Northern California. The Shotwell’s remodeled the entryway in their home for this custom piece. It is such an honor to work with such great people, to make something special.