Monday, March 28, 2011

The De-Industrialization of America - Liberty Vintage Motorcycles

This is an interesting video that gives voice to the ongoing de-industrialization of America.

Handmade Portraits: Liberty Vintage Motorcycles from Etsy on Vimeo.

I agree with the basic premise of what Adam Cramer saying, namely that there are too few young people today who have either the interest or the aptitute to work "old school", and know the difference between a Phillips and a Standard screwdriver.

However, I don't agree that all young people can be written off with this one sweeping comment.

At one point in the video Cramer says: "Right now I don't see who the next me is. Where's the next me?"

I have news for you, Dude. There is no "next you". You are an original, and that's where it's going to end.

Allow me to illustrate:

This is my son Kevin. He is now 21 years old, and he's learning the equally challenged trade of fine woodworking and furniture making. He has chosen this path because he loves it and he's good at it, and certainly not because of any encouragement on my part.

I am happy to say that this point in his life Kevin is already far more experienced, skilled and talented than I ever was at the same age. On occasion people will say how wonderful it must be to have a son who is "following in my footsteps" so he can "take over" from me.

My reply is always something to the effect that this could never happen, nor would I ever want it to happen. I am me, and Kevin is Kevin. There is no way he could ever be the "next me", because Kevin is not me. Nor would I ever want him try.

Although he shares my interest in furniture making, I believe that the best thing I can do as a father is to help Kevin find out what best manifests for him. Yes, Kevin may end up using the same shop, tools and machines that I have used over the years, but ultimately what he does and what he accomplishes with them will be up to him.

In the meantime I am doing everything I can to help him adapt to an ever shifting market paradigm, in a time when everything seems to be saturated with a glut of cheap crap flooding in from offshore. Cramer is right on the mark when he says that America is de-industrializing.

At what point do people realize that an economy cannot function with everyone either unemployed, or working as civil servants and retail clerks at Wally World?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Earth Hour, Great Blue Heron, and the Kogi

Yesterday was Earth Hour.

For those who don't know what it is, Earth Hour is an event that was started by World Wildlife Fund in 2007. The idea behind it is to get everyone to turn off their electricity for one hour in the evening in an effort to raise awareness about global climate change.

Although my household did participate in yesterday's event, it turns out that not many in the Toronto area did likewise. My understanding is that the estimated drop in electricity use during that hour (in this area) was only about 5 percent.

The purpose of this post is not to discuss the relevance, or irrelevance, of Earth Hour as an event. Rather, I'd like to share an unusual experience I had yesterday, because I believe it is very telling about what is really happening in our natural world.

Yesterday my son Kevin and I were up early to do some work in the shop, and on our way there we happened to see a Great Blue Heron gliding gracefully over our heads.

Although it's not uncommon to see these majestic birds in our area, what's unusual is that we saw it yesterday.

Great Blue Herons are large wading birds whose main source of food is the fish and amphibians usually found in the shallow waters of streams, ponds and marshes. These birds are also migratory for the obvious reason that these shallow waters are frozen over in Canada during our long winter months.

Although the calendar says that Spring officially arrived early last week, the climate reality in this area tells a different story. For one thing there is still snow on the ground in many areas. For another, at the time we saw the Heron yesterday the outside temperature was -8 degrees. Thurday's low was -10, and Friday's was -8. Even with today scheduled to warm up to +2 degrees, it's pretty obvious that this Heron is going to stand a snowball's chance in blast furnace of finding any food because every shallow body of water around here is currently frozen over.

Clearly this unfortunate bird's sense of timing and/or migration has gotten totally messed up, and he'll likely die because of it.

I told you that story to tell you this one.

Many years ago I had a vivid and powerful dream that ended up being painted to canvas. That experience is explained in greater detail in an earlier post.

At the time it happened this dream inspired me to learn as much as I could about various indigenous peoples and cultures, and in the course of doing this I learned a great deal about an unusual and reclusive tribe known as the Kogi.

The Kogi are an indigenous people living in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains of northern Colombia, in South America. They are the only civilization to have survived the Spanish conquests and to have kept their individuality. They are perhaps the only indigenous people in the world who, because of the particular nature of their surroundings, have been able to keep themselves apart and sustain their culture in a manner that has been, more or less, uncorrupted by the ways of the Western world.

They have survived to this day by keeping their traditions and relying upon, and looking after, the mountain environment. They believe it is their duty to look after the mountain that they call "The Heart of the World". They call themselves the Elder Brother and refer to the newcomers as the Younger Brother. It is the Younger Brother of the Western world who they believe is destroying the balance of the planet.

The Kogi way of life is one of being content with the ways of old. This is a deliberate choice on the part of the Kogi, and their belief system is rooted in a profound sense of duty for carrying out the will of Mother Earth and insuring the well-being of this living planet. When the Younger Brother, with his vanity driven by greed and ambition, thinks that he is running things in this world, that is when the Kogi believe that the planet and our existence on it has become endangered.

Amongst the Kogi there are elders known as Mamas, who are traditional leaders akin to being shamans, or priests. These Mamas are seers, and as such they have the natural ability to penetrate higher planes of existence and hidden causes. They understand the vital truth of the maxim "as above, so below." It is my understanding that one of the responsibilities these Mamas have taken upon themselves is to pray for Mother Earth on a continuing daily basis.

All of our thoughts, intents and actions are a form of energy that spiral around in the invisible world that surrounds us all. These energetic patterns and intentions ultimately become manifest as the "reality" that we ultimately draw to ourselves, and come to create and experience in our day to day lives.

Through daily prayer it is believed that the Mamas are able to intercept and dissipate negative energetic thought patterns that emanate constantly from the greed and fear induced world that the rest of us unconsciously chose to live in. This tide of negative energetic thought, however, has been growing steadily and it has taken on overwhelming proportions. The Mamas are effectively burning out from this onslaught and this, in turn, has prompted the normally reclusive Kogi to speak out.

In 1990 the Kogi decided to communicate to the rest of the world for the first time. They had survived by keeping themselves isolated but they also realised that it was time to send a message to the Younger Brother. They could see that something was wrong with their mountain - with the heart of the world. The snows had stopped falling and the rivers were not so full. If their mountain was ill then the whole world was in trouble.

Their elders sent a member who spoke Spanish to contact a British filmmaker who was in Colombia at that time. They asked the BBC to make a film to tell the Younger Brother about their concern. The film was called "The Elder Brother's Warning" or "The Message from the Heart of the World". Alan Ereira, the producer, also ended up writing a book about the Kogi called "The Heart of the World". Despite the powerful message of both the film and the book, these efforts have unfortunately yielded little in the way of substantive change in the ensuing years.

In the Spring of 2001 I read in a local newspaper that two Kogi elders had decided to come forward yet again with another plea for the well-being of this planet. From what little I knew about the Kogi I was aware that they preferred to live in isolation high in the mountains, as far away as possible from the rest of mankind. Therefore, if they were coming forward to speak now, I knew there was an important message to be heard.

On May 9, 2001 I went to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, accompanied by my daughter. In a lobby outside one of the auditoriums approximately 100 people had gathered to hear the Kogi message. The buzz in the air was palpable as we all awaited the arrival of the elders.

Before long the Kogi appeared, accompanied by a small entourage that included an interpreter. But as soon as the Kogi entered the lobby they were mobbed like rock stars. Well-wishers of all kinds surged forward to give greeting, and within seconds the two terrified Kogi were all but lost in the phalanx of the teeming crowd.

Standing about 20 feet away I could tell from the distressed looks on their faces that these elders were not enjoying the experience of being touched by many strange hands in the centre of this crowd.

Leaning over I said to my daughter that we would stay where we were, and would not join in the madness of the crowd. As soon as this thought entered my mind one of the Kogi elders suddenly turned to face me, and looking through the sea of heads he locked eyes with mine, and held his gaze.

In that precise moment it seemed as if he had "heard" my innermost thought, as if telepathically, and in making eye contact he was giving his reply. Inside I could sense a powerful energetic vibration, and could literally "feel" him communicate something akin to saying "thank you for respecting my space".

Before long we all moved into the auditorium to hear what the elders had to say. Through the interpreter it was explained that for each of the last several years the Kogi have watched lichen creep progressively higher up the sides of their mountain - a sure sign that the warming trend of this planet is continuing unabated. But the incident that gave them the greatest alarm occurred the previous Autumn.

The Kogi described an annual ceremony they perform in which insect larvae is wrapped inside bundles of leaves, which are then suspended from tree branches as welcoming gifts to the migrating birds who arrive every year. The balance of Nature is such that every year the larvae transform themselves into flying insects at precisely the same time the migrating birds arrive - thereby providing a veritable feast at the very moment it is required by the hungry and weary travellers.

In the Autumn of 2000, however, the Kogi noticed for the first time a serious imbalance in this dynamic. The larvae transformed and dissipated into swarms several weeks before the birds arrived, creating first an infestation of insects, followed shortly thereafter by a decimated population of exhausted and starving birds.

This has signalled to the Kogi that the imbalance of the Earth has now accelerated to become a serious wobble, and if yesterday's experience with the Great Blue Heron is any indicator - the wobble has not gotten better.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. If yesterday's Earth Hour was intended to raise awareness about climate change, then hopefully your awareness has been raised by reading this post.

Holt Renfrew Fires its Doorman after 21 Years

High end fashion retailer Holt Renfrew has fired Tom Hargitai, who was the doorman at their flagship store in downtown Toronto for the past 21 years. The only statement given was that it was "not for performance reasons".

In an interview with the Toronto Star I found it very telling that Hargitai was noting the changing retail landscape of downtown Toronto, where the high end Holt's location is now flanked by lower end stores such as Gap and Zara.

Gap is a clothing retailer that offers cheap "fashion" thanks, in part, to their success at employing child slave labour in places like India. Zara, meanwhile, is an industry leader at rapidly knocking off high end fashion with low cost facsimiles.

"It's not what it was." Hargitai is quoted as saying. "Holt's used to stand out. The classy days are gone."

While it may be true that the "classy days" are gone, hopefully the few remaining aficionados of class, and purveyors of class, are merely endangered species.

In the meantime it's sad to say that Hargitai's best job opportunity at this point may be as a greeter at Walmart.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Most Recognizable Chair in the World?

Yes, I was a fan of the original series of Star Trek.
Yes, I am aware that this attests to my age.

The original Star Trek ran for only 3 seasons (1966 to 1969) but lived on in reruns - eventually developing a strong following that included me as a teenager. The show's main cast of characters included Captain James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, "Bones" McCoy, and Scotty the chief engineer. The sinister Klingons were always lurking somewhere in the shadows of deep space. Ubiquitous lines attributed to those early episodes often include: "Beam me up, Scotty", "Phasers on stun", and "Illogical, Captain".

Captain Kirk's chair on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise was a prop that was seen in almost every episode, and there was something about it that I always found fascinating. I remember thinking that some lucky dude must have had the coolest job in the world to be designing and building that thing.

Recently I came across an online article which described this chair as the most expensive piece of "Star Trek: The Original Series" memorabilia ever sold at auction. It realized a final sales price of $304,750 (on a bid of $265,000) as Lot 175 in the historic Profiles In History Bob Justman Star Trek Auction held June 27th, 2002 in Los Angeles, CA.

The Profiles auction catalog description provided some interesting construction insights, exact dimensional information, and what were at-the-time previously unseen photos of its current condition. The significant technical portion of the essay is reproduced below:

175. COMMAND CHAIR AND PLATFORM FROM THE “U.S.S. ENTERPRISE”. The original Captain’s Chair from the bridge of the legendary starship, U.S.S. Enterprise. Constructed at the Desilu Culver Studios in November of 1964, this world-renowned chair was first used by actor Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike in the first pilot, The Cage, and remained the focal point of the bridge throughout the entire series as Captain James T. Kirk’s seat of command.

The original design for the bridge was the responsibility of Art Director Pato Guzman and Set Designer Walter “Matt” Jefferies (after the first pilot, Jefferies became the Art Director throughout the entire series). Although construction of the Enterprise sets was an orchestrated team effort, Special Effects Supervisor Jim Rugg and Matt Jefferies were the two primary people involved in its design and construction.

The outer block-frame of the chair is crafted from plywood and painted battleship grey in color. The wide-spaced armrests contain the controls and switches used by Capt. Kirk to engage various functions of the starship. Set within the frame is the original Naugahyde-covered seat with stained wooden armrests.

The chair is mounted on a wooden pedestal base that features a spring-loaded swivel which centered the chair after the Captain rose from it on either side. The rectangular base of the chair is covered in the original Ozite ® carpet which covered the entire floor of the Enterprise bridge.

The left arm control panel and switches remain as they appeared on the final episode, Turnabout Intruder. [More than once, the special effects crew changed the composition and layout of the control panels to adhere to script requirements.] On the right arm control panel, the owner reinstalled the original five white-button control unit.

Four ceramic, 25-watt light sockets, surrounded with tinfoil to protect the encircling wood from the heat, are mounted in a space beneath the control panel. The base of the chair holds a power cord wired to the sockets which, when powered, would illuminate the colored epoxy resin buttons and switches (one of the epoxy resin “lights” is missing).

The base of the chair is 42 in. wide x 35 in. deep, and stands 9 ¼ in. height. The chair itself is 39 in. wide (from arm to arm), with a 25 ¾ in. tall backrest. The seat of the chair rises 14 in. from the bottom of the base.

The late owner picked up the chair and accompanying set pieces (Lots. 176-183) in 1969 after he received a call from a friend at Paramount Pictures, who alerted him to the fact that the entire Star Trek set was being scrapped and that, if he was interested, he was welcome to get whatever items he wanted before they were thrown away.

A true icon of entertainment history, the Captain’s Chair is visible in literally every single episode of this beloved, legendary series and is, without question, one of the most important discoveries in the history of television memorabilia, and arguably the most recognizable chair in the world.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Three of a Kind?

Several weeks ago I received an urgent email from a freelance writer who claimed to be on a deadline to submit a design article to Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper. She was keenly interested in my Bow Tie pedestal table, so I quickly sent her specifications, pricing and high resolution images.

It was only after the article was published that I realized what it really was. Called "Three of a Kind", the article was one of an ongoing series of abbreviated sound bytes which take 3 similar looking pieces of furniture to compare them - primarily on the basis of price.

One previous article compared a $2560.00 Le Corbusier club chair to a $499.00 POS from Ikea. What was the main point of comparison between the two? Both were chairs covered in blue fabric.

A solid birch 3 legged table by Tom Dixon was ambushed in a similar fashion when compared to repackaged landfill offerings from Ikea and West Elm.

What I find unfair about this kind of homogenized design pseudo-journalism is that it doesn't properly compare apples to apples. For example, my Bow Tie table is a hand made one-of-a-kind piece that is crafted from FSC and NAUF certified woods, non-UF glue and low VOC finish. The top has a hand cut diamond matched inlay pattern, with additional inlays in the collar and plinth made of traditional holistic woods such as Black Walnut and Narra. It's no surprise that this table ended up being the priciest of the three shown.

The cheapest of the tables was a variation of a block stool that is imported by the containerload from some place in Africa. The table at the intermediate price point is a similar looking piece of mass production that is also imported by the containerload, only in this case from a factory run by Gus* Modern in China.

In the grand scheme of things this "Three of a Kind" concept of literary penmanship isn't all that difficult to emulate, as I'll demonstrate here with the following 3 examples of cars.

Please study these images carefully. One is of a finely engineered $2900.00 precision instrument manufactured by Tata Motors of India. At the middle price point we have a Buick Regal by General Motors, which has a base price of $27,000.00. (It's unclear from the photo whether this particular Regal has been manufactured in North America, or at one of the new GM factories recently built in China). Finally we have a Maybach 57S Coupe that has been customized by Xenatec of Germany to the tune of $1,000,000.00.

Can you tell them apart, even though all 3 of these cars share seemingly identical silvery paint finishes?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lamborghini Gallardo Destroyed With Sledgehammers

Just when I thought I'd seen it all, along comes a guy named Han Nan.

What could be more ironic than a Chinese factory owner destroying a $450,000.00 Lamborghini Gallardo because of anger over "poor quality" issues? (The price tag is the amount that Nan claims his company paid for the car).

Apparently this fellow, who runs a wholesale lighting factory in Qingdao, was so upset with the shoddiness of this car that he ordered it destroyed with sledgehammers - in a public spectacle no less.

One can only hope that the Quality Control department in Nan's facility is working to the same high standards on the stuff they're pumping out to the rest of us.

In the meantime I'd suggest to Lamborghini that they authenticate whether the car and all its components are actually authentic. For all anyone knows this thing could be a knock-off.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Old Love Letter Found in Chair

Intriguing stories involving furniture always pique my interest.

Today I learned of a 200-year-old love letter being discovered inside the arm of an antique chair that was being upholstered somewhere in England.

The note was written in French, and was tucked in the arm of a chair that had been purchased at a house clearance in France.

Graham Simpson, the owner of Theocus Furniture, said: "I just hope it reached the lady it was intended for all those years ago."

"When I started to work on the arm" said Simpson, "I could see a small note, tightly folded up about the size of a penny."

"When I opened it, to my amazement it was a note written in pencil; in old French."

The chair's owner, Georgina Mucklow-Davis, explained that it came from a house in the village of St Marcel sur Aude. She went on to say that she purchased it "from a lovely French family who've been living there for over 150 years".

She has written to the family asking if they have any idea who might have written the letter.

Intrigued to see what the note said, Simpson posted photographs of it on Facebook and a friend was able to translate it.

The style of language used indicated that it was composed about 200 years ago, at the time of - or shortly after - the French Revolution.

The letter was written from a man to a woman, and had been sent from the town of Mercurol in the Alps.

"It is wonderful to have such a unique little note find its way from the Alps to my shop in Tewkesbury" said Mr. Simpson.

The translated letter reads as follows:

My dear small love, do not be worried, do you seriously believe I would tell anything to these people, who don't understand anything about love?

If someone insists that I say something, it will be anything but the dear love acquired by you, which is the great treasure hidden in my heart.

I didn't tell you to come yesterday because I didn't have the opportunity, but do come every Tuesday around 5:30, and Fridays as well; I count/hope on you tomorrow.

At the moment I write this letter, I can hear my aunt yelling, who else annoys us all day long, today and tomorrow.

My dear, I cover you with kisses and caresses until... I need you in this moment of desire. I love you.

As Richard Bach once said: "True love stories never have endings."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Strange Fish Swarms off Coast of Acapulco

There are media reports of unusual fish swarms showing up off the coast of Acapulco, Mexico.

Many "experts" are concluding that this has been caused by last week's massive earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan.

Perhaps that's true.

But we should also consider another perspective. Namely, instead of assuming that these swarms are the result of something that's already happened, perhaps they're a foreshadowing of something yet to come.

Back in 2005 a magazine called "The Walrus" published an article that talked of strange events taking place in the weeks leading up to the devastating 2004 earthquake and tsunami in south-east Asia. Apparently there were also schools of fish acting very much out of character in the weeks leading up to that event, in addition to large trees falling over for no apparent reason days before the quake happened.

The article is called "Danger Signs" and it was written by Larry Frolick.

Perhaps our human brains should be a little more humble with respect to making assumptions that we have Mother Nature figured out.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Some Vintage Woodworking Tools in My Shop

Today's post will show some vintage woodworking tools - some of which are still being used on a regular basis in my shop.

This antique veneer tape dispenser and bristle brush are both relics from my grandfather's original shop in Holland. The tape dispenser is still a very practical tool for doing veneer layups.

This wooden level belonged to my father, and it was made by a company called T.E. Paske N.V. in Aalten, Holland.

This level was also my father's, and it was hand made by a tool artisan in the legendary village of Eskilstuna, Sweden.

My father's veneer hammer, which has seen many decades of use.

Many years ago my father purchased this moisture meter, which is the model J-88 made by Delmhorst Industries in the USA. It still has its original leather case and synthetic terminal cover. Best of all it also continues to work like a charm, which means that we still use it on a regular basis.

The first person my father ever hired was a brilliant wood finisher by the name of Art Welton, who was trained as a traditional finisher in England. This putty knife was made in England and was Art's favorite tool. He was heartbroken when he snapped off the corner one day while trying to pry the lid off a can.

Art has long since retired and passed away, and I keep this tool in my office alongside a photo of him - in honour of his memory.

I purchased this Mastercraft ratchet and socket set when I was 16 years old. In those days it was still possible for a kid to go under the hood of a car to change spark plugs or adjust the carburator. This set is still of better quality than most of the offshore import tools you see today.

This "antique" is a Sharp FO-200 fax machine, which used state-of-the-art thermal fax paper. It is a vintage 1986 tool, and I remember it being such a leap forward in technology at the time to help us communicate with custom furniture clients in distant places such as New York and Chicago.
Thermal paper machines such as this one were later replaced by plain paper faxes. Today, fax machines are almost totally obsolete, given the breadth of alternative digital communications tools now available.

Last but not least is the first Motorola cell phone. This thing was literally and figurative a brick, and I first got one of these beasts sometime in the early 1990s. This piece of analog technology could ONLY send and receive telephone calls. Nothing else. I can't recall whether the early versions could even take or retrieve messages. They certainly didn't have the ability for text, email, Internet, games, photos, videos, or fancy rings tones.

Although the cell phone and fax machine are not vintage woodworking tools per se, they were both effective tools that assisted with the business end of woodworking and custom furniture making.

What I find most interesting of all about the above images is that it is the oldest and most manual of tools that are still the most viable and usable today. Except for the moisture meter all of the other electronic tools are now obsolete.

This is definitely a sign of the times. Woodworking and custom furniture making both remain very much a traditional craft that uses tools and processes that are the same as they've been for generations.

On the other hand the traditional method of generating sales by means of word-of-mouth marketing is no longer sufficient in today's world. I believe that even the traditional woodworker must adapt to changing times and technologies when it comes to marketing and communications. At the moment this means embracing the new paradigm of using tools such as social media.

Hence, the existence of this blog - as well as my website, Facebook page, and Linkedin , Twitter and Youtube channels.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Poor Stanchion Design Strikes Once Again in the NHL

In an earlier post I suggested that poor stanchion design is what's causing some serious injuries in the NHL, as illustrated recently with the incident between Zdeno Chara and Max Pacioretty.

Once again a player has been injured because of this, and this time it was Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings.

You can't blame Chara for this one.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Boardroom Table for the New York Yankees

You never know what you'll find when digging through old photos.

Yes, this is me. It's photographic proof that I was once young, buff, and had hair.

I am sitting at the end of a custom boardroom table we made for the New York Yankees professional baseball team back in January 1996. The top was a modified elliptical oval measuring 26 feet long by 6 feet wide. It was made of highly figured Crotch Mahogany, which was stained and polished to a high sheen.

This boardroom table was commissioned by Brueton Industries of New York, as a modified version of the Virginian Table designed by J. Wade Beam.

(The table was shipped with a Toronto Blue Jays sticker attached to the underside. I'll never know whether George Steinbrenner saw the humour in that).

A Suggested Re-Design for Stanchions in the NHL

In my previous post I discussed the recent incident in the NHL whereby Zdeno Chara pushed/didn't push Max Pacioretty into a glass stanchion - resulting in serious injury to Pacioretty.

In my opinion the real cause of the injury is the poor design of the stanchions as currently used by the NHL.

Here's my suggestion for a redesign of these things:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The NHL Suffers From Poor Design - Again !!!

Anyone who follows NHL hockey will by now be familiar with "Chara incident" the other night, when Boston defenceman Zdeno Chara pushed/didn't push Max Pacioretty into one of the glass stanchions that surrounds the ice surface.

For those of you who haven't seen it yet, the video is here:

This incident has triggered a flurry of debate over whether the act was deliberate or accidental, and whether or not Chara should receive additional punishment or suspension.

In my opinion all this focus of attention on Chara and his "history" with Pacioretty is missing the real issue; namely, why are these rigid stanchions placed so close to the ice surface in the first place? It goes without saying that professional hockey is a very fast and aggressive sport that involves players zooming around the ice at high rates of speed. Sooner or later high speed collisions and serious injuries are bound to happen - even without the stanchions.

What astounds me is that these rigid steel poles are positioned right at the very edge of the playing surface, where collisions of this type are all but inevitable. Without question this is a case of extremely poor design on the part of the NHL. How difficult would it be to place an angled glass surface as a transition piece into that corner? Should a player ever collide with that angled surface he'd be deflected back towards the playing surface instead of being slammed to a sudden stop.

This isn't the first time that professional players have suffered because of poor design on the part of the NHL. Back in 1980 a star player by the name of Mark Howe suffered a grotesque injury when he was impaled on the steel center rib on one of these old style NHL nets.

It was because of this injury that the NHL quickly redesigned their nets to the ones we see today. (I guess they figured out that a giant steel sword tip might be dangerous.)

Similar effort should be put into the redesign of the stanchions. I have posted one suggestion for a redesign here.

Changing these things is going to be a lot easier than getting the Maple Leafs to win the Stanley Cup again.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Valet Stand is Finished

In my earlier post entitled The Wedding Gift(s) I told the story of how a commission for a custom Valet Stand morphed into two additional commissions for custom made wedding gifts.

Although the wedding gifts were delivered on time, the Valet Stand has taken a little longer to complete. But now it too is done.

Standing 71" high x 22" wide x 15" deep this Valet Stand is crafted from a combination of Macassar Ebony and satin stainless steel.

The stainless steel corner details have hidden levellers embedded inside.

The coat hanger rests on a leather padded wedge, and is detachable thanks to an inlaid magnet which helps hold it in place.

The cantilevered tray is designed to hold watches, wallets and cuff links.

Inset into the back of the tray is a hanger for trousers. A customized plate featuring the client's name has also been discretely inlaid into the back edge of the tray.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Why I Number My Furniture

Every once in a while I get asked why I number each piece of furniture that gets made in my shop. It may surprise some people to find out that it's not an attempt to give my work any special cachet.

The numbering system was actually created for very practical reasons.

Back in the late 1980s we went through a busy stretch where we found our shop completely innundated with a wide variety of custom furniture work. Because of this my desk was overflowing with all sorts of drawings, finish samples and coils of thermal fax paper containing all types of pertinent information. Looking back I am amazed that we found a way to keep this chaos organized.

Although we already had an informal job numbering system in place, it was largely ineffective in a situation where there were 40 or 50 different projects on the go at any one time. (Remember, this was before computerized databases and scheduling software became widely available to small business).

Then, one day in the late 1980s I happened to be in New York to meet with a fellow named Mark Logan, who at the time was the general manager for Dakota Jackson's furniture company. I saw on Mark's desk a bin of numbered folders with each folder containing all the pertinent information for each individual job. Mark's system formed the basis for revising our own job tracking system, and from that day forward we assigned each project with a specific number that was used to identify all drawings, samples, faxes and other correspondence related to that particular job. That same number was also used to track timesheets and the hours it took to do each job.

In subsequent years this system was easily fine tuned with the introduction of computerization, meaning that we could now organize everything into one massive digital database.

Upon completion of each job all samples, drawings, photos, time sheet summaries, color matching formulas and other related information is gathered and sealed in the folder so that it can be stored sequentially in an archives room for future reference. In many cases these archives prove to be an invaluable resource in situations where we have a custom project to make that is similar to something we've already done. In other cases we get asked to make things to match something we've made over 10 years earlier. Having access to these records ends up saving us a great deal of time and effort.

Over the years our archives have grown to the point where we now have over 4 decades worth of records, cutlists, cabinet making notes and vintage drawings stored in one large room. Whenever I am in that room I am reminded of an old shop called Davies and Son, which claims to be the oldest independent tailor in and around Savile Row in London, England.

In the early 19th Century it was said that Davies and Son were the quality tailors who dressed all the crowned heads of Europe. They were also the bespoke tailor for Admiral Lord Nelson, who at the time was the most famous sailor of the age based on his service to the Royal Navy, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars.

According to legend Davies and Son have managed to keep meticulous records of all their fine tailoring work done over the past 200+ years, and it is said that Admiral Nelson's specific measurements are still on file. Having said that, if Nelson was alive today he would not only be able to custom order a finely tailored suit from the Davies and Son website via his IPad or Blackberry, but he would also be guaranteed a perfect fit.

How cool is that?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Enjoying Life's Simple Pleasures

Whenever I tell people that I'm going into my shop on a Saturday many seem shocked that I actually "work" on a weekend.

Frankly, I don't see what's so mystifying about this.

There are some people I know who absolutely hate what they do for a living, but they stick with it because the money's too good. Ironically, some of these same people tell me that they plan to retire one day so they can take up custom woodworking as a full time hobby.

If that's true, when the day comes that I chose to retire from my "work" what would be an appropriate hobby for me? Custom woodwork?

As Confucius once said: "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life."

Having said that, I am at "work" this morning making drawings for a couple of cool new furniture commissions that have come my way recently.

In front of me is my coffee, which is my favorite way to start the day.
("I love the smell of coffee in the morning. It smells like....caffeine.")

Some tunes are also playing, including "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin.

I'm working on today being another good day.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Blackbird Comes to a Decision

Most discussions of the Maya Calendar revolve around what is known as the Long Count, which is a calendar that is over 5,000 years in length and due to complete its current cycle sometime around December 21, 2012.

The Maya also have two other calendars - both shorter in duration. The 260 day count of days is commonly known as the Tzolk'in. The Tzolk'in was combined with a 365-day vague solar year known as the Haab' to form a synchronized cycle lasting for 52 Haab's. This is called the Calendar Round.

Because they are intertwined the Tzolk'in and Haab' cycle together much like a pair of gears, with each day's turn resulting in a different pairing of days. This means that it takes a total of 18,890 unique days (equivalent to roughly 51-3/4 years on our Gregorian calendar) to completely cycle through every possible combination of days in the Calendar Round.

I read somewhere recently that according to this ancient system of time that a person attains the status of elder upon reaching this age of 51-3/4 years. Apparently the process of experiencing each of the 18,890 unique days at least once bestows some kind of experiential wisdom upon a person. Whether this is true or not, I don't know. But I find this idea rather fascinating because in my case this age milestone is due to arrive sometime this evening.

To commemorate the event I am reposting a short parable found recently on Paulo Coelho's blog. It's called "The Blackbird Comes to a Decision".

An old blackbird found a piece of bread and flew off with it. When they saw this, the younger birds pursued him in order to attack.

Confronted by imminent battle, the blackbird dropped the piece of bread into the mouth of a snake, thinking to himself:

‘When you’re old, you see things differently. I lost a meal, it’s true, but I can always find another piece of bread tomorrow.

“However, if I had hung on to it, I would have started a war in the skies; the winner would become the object of envy, the others would gang up on him, hatred would fill the hearts of birds and it could all go on for years.

“That is the wisdom of old age: knowing how to exchange immediate victories for lasting conquests."

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Does my Business need QR Codes?

One of the keys to great Search Engine Optimization is making sure you keep your website updated. Whether this is done with a blog, or changing one's homepage with new offers, coupons or products, it serves to show Google and others that your site is “alive.” For many small businesses, including my own, this can be a real challenge.

But let's say you already have great, fresh content on your site — what’s next?

Something new I learned about today is something called QR codes.

Have you heard of QR codes yet? Here's a quick introduction:

QR codes come to us from Japan where they are very common. QR is short for Quick Response (they can be read quickly by a cell phone). They are used to take a piece of information from a transitory media and put it in to your cell phone. You may soon see QR Codes in a magazine advert, on a billboard, a web page or even on someone’s t-shirt. Once it is in your cell phone, it may give you details about that business (allowing users to search for nearby locations), or details about the person wearing the t-shirt, show you a URL which you can click to see a trailer for a movie, or it may give you a coupon which you can use in a local outlet.

The reason why they are more useful than a standard barcode is that they can store (and digitally present) much more data, including url links, geo coordinates, and text. The other key feature of QR Codes is that instead of requiring a chunky hand-held scanner to scan them, many modern cell phones can scan them. The full Wikipedia description is here.

How does a cell phone read the code?

A cell phone needs a QR code reader, like this one from Kaywa. It takes literally 1 minute for someone with an iPhone or Android phone to find and install the reader.

How do you generate a code?

You can easily generate a QR code using a site like or you can use the Open Source code to generate codes for you if you have a smart developer on hand.

From what I can see we are only just scratching the surface of how QR codes can be used. I can easily imagine these things being used on business cards, to direct dial the contact or directly link to a website. Placement of a QR code beside a product image could also allow the viewer to digitally access a complete product tear sheet and specifications, just with the click of a button. I find this idea to be especially appealing.

Without question, the possibilties are endless!

Although I'm new to the technology of QR codes, I have managed to create the following for my website, blog and email.

If someone has a phone app to read these things, please let me if they work.