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Everything has a first, don’t screw it up

Everything has a first, don’t screw it up





Each custom piece of furniture that I have been commissioned to build has had its own story to why it came to be, why the client wanted it built, why the piece filled a special need for the client or a special purpose for the client. I have always been proud to be apart of that piece’s story. However, there are always two sides, sometimes more to each story. This piece was one of my earliest significant commissions, and it became part of my story.  There were many firsts involved in this piece.

Through mission style woodworking tenon wedged with walnutThe client had bought a tree and wanted the table and a corresponding bench made out of it. The main directive was that both furniture pieces had to come from the same big leaf maple log. Other than that, the client gave me a lot of leeway in the design and what direction I wanted to go.  At this point in my business, I needed to build my portfolio presentation up, so I wanted it to have an eye-catching element to it. So I suggested that we do decorative through mortise and tenons, wedged with walnut to set it off.

Up to that point, most of the furniture I had built was simple shaker and craftsman style pieces. The problem with that style is it is easy to make, so everyone was doing it, which was creating a race to the bottom for pricing. I was on my way to going broke, building this type of furniture. So to keep from going broke, I needed to take a risk, I had never cut a through mortise before, and had no idea how it would turn out, or if I could even pull it off in the first place.

There was some major butt-puckering going on, especially that 1st cut. If I screwed up any aspect of the project, I would not have any extra wood from the same log to replace it. This was some high-risk stakes I had taken on. At this point in my business, I had not figured out how to price my custom work, so if I screwed this up, I’m sure I had not charged enough even to come close to buying a whole tree to try it again.

I took my time, it took forever, but all the joints turned out great. The project was delivered, and all was well until three months later, I had to pull the breadboard off and reattach it. The one thing I did not check was moisture content. The slabs from the log were not as dry as I thought, and everything shrank pretty hard. Not paying attention to the moisture content in the wood caused another first, my first callback to repair something I had made, but it failed in time. The repair turned out great thou, and thankfully callbacks have been few and far between.

If you would like to commission a unique piece, please check out my custom made furniture page.

I’m the owner of Benham Design Concepts, a mixed media art studio where I design and build custom furniture and other works of art using wood, glass, stone, and various metals.
In this blog, I talk about the art I create, my journey, and the things I learn along the way.

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