Blank Sheet

July 19, 2011

Some woodworkers agonize when faced with a blank sheet of paper. Others get excited just thinking about it. I fall into the second category. I cannot shut off my mind from thinking about new projects. I will get an idea and immediately want to start sketching it out. I am a visual learner and thinker. I am not an accomplished artist but over the years I have learned to at least make recognizable sketches. If you struggle with sketching or getting your ideas onto paper, may I suggest a book: Drawing on The Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. It is a classic and a great study.

How does one begin a new project? Most will tell you to consider the needs and desires of the end user or customer. Sounds good. Have you ever tried to stop a fifteen year old girl long enough to have a "serious" conversation about what would make a good blanket or hope chest for her? Ha! "Oh, I don't know Daddy, whatever." Ok, next approach, print out pictures of some examples. I did some searching on the internet and found examples of various styles and tried again. "Do you like any of these and why or why not?"  "Would you like a drawer?" "Light or dark wood, painted or not?" This helped a lot but when it got down to the actual style I only had a few clues.  Okay, on to the blank sheet of paper.

I considered several styles of chests including classic dovetailed blanket chests, chests on a base with drawers, William and Mary style chests and various frame and panel designs. I made a few rough sketches and started narrowing down a direction. I use a funnel approach with design where I start with a wide variety of ideas and then evaluate them with certain criteria. Eventually I narrow the designs down to a couple and then work more on them. Some of the criteria I used with this project included Hannah's aesthetic tastes, my stash of lumber and my desires to learn new techniques. Hannah leaned toward simple but not Shaker. She liked contrasting wood but not too dark. Drawers were good. She did not want "clunky". Here is what I came up with as a rough draft.

Earlier in the year (This would be 2009) I had purchased some flitch cut boards from the estate of our woodworkers guild past president. I am not 100% positive of what the species is but I believe it is madrone which grows in the coast range of the Pacific Northwest. It looked like interesting wood with the possibility of quilted figure in spots, and colors ranging in the golden browns and pinks with even some hints of purple. Here in Oregon we have access to western walnut which is lighter than eastern black walnut and has a pinkish hue to it. Several years back I happened upon some very old stock of western walnut from a local furniture manufacturer that was going out of business. This was a company that made upholstered sofas and chairs and used the walnut for the framework. I made up a somewhat crude sample corner with the wood of choice. I added a bead to the walnut framework with a molding plane and raised the panel using the table saw method. I then applied some oil to see how the combination looked together.I liked the general results and more importantly, received approval from my customer. That was 2009. For various reasons the project went onto the "back burner" and time flew by. It is finally time to dust off the project and finish it up!

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