Details on the creation of Souter Studios furniture.

sketchThe first step is the design.

Designs emerge in any number of ways.
The spectrum spans from ideas that hit like lightning strikes to concepts that I work and re-work until all is right.

I know a design is right when I can't stop looking at it and can imagine touching it and enjoying its form. A design worthy of developing is one that will sustain enthusiasm through the lengthy construction and laborious finishing processes.

The wood selection, in relation to the design, is dance in which both take turns leading.  I generally know what species of wood I will use when conceiving a piece.  However, when the wood is in hand, a particular color or grain pattern does dictate the board's role in a project.

Also factored into the selection of the wood, is its origin and sustainability. The solid wood and structural plywood I purchase is reused, reclaimed, or certified by a third party, such as the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), as being from a responsibly-managed source.

The effort to use responsibly-harvested wood is part of the finished product's beauty.

I seldom stain wood. As a result, my preferred species represent
a broad color and grain palette. Here are a few:

This is an incredibly dark and dense wood native to Mexico. It is considered challenging to work with, but is well worth the effort for its natural darkness, richness, and depth.

Maple is a beautiful, bright, and clean wood that provides wonderful contrast to darker woods such as Catalox. Its density also makes it a great wood choice for table tops which require a durable surface.

spalted mapleSpalted Maple
Spalting is a decay process that can occur in any species of wood provided certain environmental conditions are met. The result resembles  a marble or other swirled stone, or an effect to which confectioners, astronomers, or computer scientists normally have exclusive viewing rights.

When I hear the term "exotic hardwood," I think of Jatoba. It is the quintessential Brazilian wood. It has a beautiful medium to dark tone, tight grain and is denser than Mahogany. It can be uniform in color or have a swirling range from corals to burgundys. Beautiful wood.

mahoganyHonduran Mahogany
Mahogany is a classic selection for fine furniture. It features a very consistent and dense grain that shapes and finishes well. It can be medium-light to medium-dark when oiled.

This wood's grain resembles everything from stylized landscapes to nebulae. Regardless, it is always turbulent. This wood does not work in supporting roles: When used, it is the star of the piece.

With the design, and the wood selected, I then shape the components of the piece using various technologies from the Renaissance to modern-day.

dovetailAfter the component pieces are formed, they are then joined.
My favorite joints are those which provide mechanical interlockings as parts of the components themselves.

In other words, dovetails, mortise and tenons, and the like. When done well, a piece doesn't need glue to stand. I strive to use adhesives only as "insurance"

Next comes the hard part: the finish.

The finish will require as much time as has already gone into forming the piece. This process is critical to creating a stunning surface.

Skimping on the finish would rob the piece of it's potential, belittle the design, and insult the materials used in its creation.

My formula: I sand and sand and sand. I then rub and rub and rub. Lesser pieces are finished with products that create the final sheen such as "satin," "semi," and "gloss." My pieces' sheen is a result of the wood surface, not the finishing product. The raw wood in my pieces have a mirror finish before they receive any oil.

The amount of work that goes into the finish is a great indicator of the quality of the piece. One will not put a lot of labor into the finish if the piece is not worth it. Hand-rubbing is the standard by which all finishes are measured. Furniture makers are always looking for the best way to get the hand-rubbed look.  The best way to achieve the coveted hand-rubbed look is by hand-rubbing the piece. Done properly, this process is tremendously labor intensive. However the results are unparalleled: Wood glows. Light rolls over a mirroring surface that is reflective without being plastic-like. Also, light seems to be soaked into the wood, then radiated out with renewed warmth. This is a good finish.

Also when judging the finish, ask if it was intended to be maintained? A "maintenance-free" finish can mean that the entire piece would have to be stripped and refinished should surface damage ever occur. This can be more work than was required to make the piece in the first place.

Objects of quality are intended to be preserved
versus discarded as they age.

I like patinas of time. This is why I use oils and waxes that can be easily refreshed with each generation.

Thank you for reading,
and I hope you enjoy the furniture as much as I do.

Copyright © 2010 by SOUTER STUDIOS