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Flying Woodwork

wing piper

I don't know about you, but when I think about what airplanes are made of, I think about aluminum. That might be true for jets and airliners, but, in fact, it turns out that there are lots of airplanes that are largely made of wood and fabric, with maybe a little fiberglass and metal here and there.

After WW ll the Piper aircraft company was in tough economic shape. They had had success with the famed Piper Cub, but needed another big hit to save their financial bacon. In 6 weeks, under duress from their investors, they designed the Piper Vagabond; a two seater with cruising speeds over 100 mph. They made about 600 of them. 

At some point the company Wag-Aero started selling kits to build your own version of the Vagabond. The called it the Wag-a-Bond and it was advertised as a cross country plane that was great for camping! Now, that's old school. Build yourself an airplane and take it out on camping trips. I love it.

A friend of mine bought one of these recently from a guy in California. On his way home from picking it up, he stopped in Grants, NM to fuel up, had some sort of brake issue on landing and clipped one of his wings on something. Busted it all to hell. Bummer. Since the wings are just bolted on, you can pop them off and replace them. But they aren't cheap. That's when he called me. 

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Parquetry on a bow front Custom Sideboard

Zebrawood diamond sideboard

parquetry |ˈpärkitrē|


inlaid work of blocks of various woods arranged in a geometric pattern, esp. for flooring or furniture.


This custom sideboard was inspired by a media cabinet that I built some years ago. That cabinet also had a diamond pattern across it's doors and alternating grain in the diamonds. The zebrawood used for the parquetry on this piece has a very strong linear grain that really makes the pattern pop in interesting ways. 

The carcass of the cabinet itself was relatively straight forward; a top and a bottom dovetailed to two sides. The top and bottom panels both have a bow cut on them, and the sides are made from thick material that is also shaped to a curve. The box sits on a curved cove moulding and is attached to the bowed leg assembly. 

It was the parquetry on the four doors that was the fussy part of the project.

Read more: Parquetry on a bow front Custom Sideboard

Building a custom nightstand with drawers

ns done

I recently had an order for a pair of custom walnut nightstands from a decorator in Colorado who I've done a bunch of work for in the past. She supplied a picture and some dimensions for me to build from. Working drawings weren't necessary for this one. I've built some like this before so I was ready to crank them out. 

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Making Wood from Weeds


coffee table

We don't think about the biggest ecological disaster in US history very much these days. When we think of the Dustbowl at all we think Grapes of Wrath and displaced people searching for a place to go where it rained and food grew. We don't think about the huge, almost daily, sky blotting "dusters" that buried houses, fences and livestock in drifting dunes, filled peoples lungs with dirt and dropped tons of dust in far away places like Chicago and Washington D.C. The price of wheat was high in the early 1900's and the US government was still giving away land for homesteading. People were moving out west, plowing the short grass prairies under, growing record wheat crops and making a lot of money. What they didn't realize was that they were living in an historically wet period. When the precipitation returned to 'normal' the amazing topsoil, that had built up over thousands of years, quickly began to blow away.

With the dusters blowing up and dunes covering large parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas, the newly formed Soil Conservation Service was desperate to find plants that would grow in these new conditions and hold down the soil that remained. They found some. It pretty much worked.

As a Landscape Architecture student in college I took semesters of classes on landscape plants. Occasionally we would learn about a plant that was originally brought to the country for 'soil stabilization'. I thought they were talking about highway embankments! I didn't realize that someone imported them to try to hold down the middle of the continent. The legacy of the dustbowl continues 80 years later with these invasive species.

Read more: Making Wood from Weeds

Restoring an historic handrail

handrail finished

It doesn't look like 20 hours of work, but there's some tricky business in a little project like this piece of handrail. 

Last year I spent 9 months working on an historic preservation project in Clovis, NM. The Hotel Clovis was, in it's heyday, a prety big deal. When it was built in 1930 it was the biggest building between Dallas and Los Angeles. The Glen Miller orchestra, Louis Armstrong, and Bob Wills all played dances in the ballroom on the second floor of the hotel. It was a big stop on the railroad and is just down the street from the railroad station and the Harvey Hotel. By the late 70"s the hotel was in decline and when the train quit stopping, it was the death knell. 

After being abandoned for 25 years or so, a developer from Santa Fe took on the project of turning the hotel into low income housing. Since somone along the way had gotten it put on the Historic Register, the place had to be restored instead of simply being gutted. 

So, the last part of the restoration that I worked on was the 18" piece of missing handrail where the staircase comes down into the lobby. Since this is historic preservation we're talking about, I couldn't simply toss out the remaining handrail and start from scratch with something off the shelf. Instead I had to make a chunk of handrail to match the existing. 

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Building the Shark Tank marquetry cabinet

                   shark tank photo

Marquetry is a technique where you cut various wood veneers on a scroll saw and piece them together to make pictures. The technique has been around for a long time. The pharaohs had marquetry on their furniture. It was big in the Renaissance, where it was often used in trompe l'oeil and it really hit it's stride during the Art Nouveau period. Since then.......not so much. 

As a craft, marquetry requires precision, time, skill and the eye of an artist. Not to mention a range of wood veneers in various colors, tones, shades and grain patterns. When I designed this custom cabinet for my client I knew that it would be a challenge to make wood look like water. 

Read more: Building the Shark Tank marquetry cabinet

Making the tambour door credenza

                             blog torpedo pic


This custom maple credenza was built for a client of mine in Santa Fe. It has tambour doors (like a roll top desk, but they slide horizontally) that are made from curly maple. You can read about how the design process worked on this blog post about designing this custom credenza.

The construction process started with a full scale plan drawing of the inside of the cabinet which showed the track that the tambour doors ran in, the location of the interior dividers and the location of the false sides and false backs that hide the doors from view when they are open. The drawing also showed the shape and location of the routing template that I needed to route the tambour door dado. 

Read more: Making the tambour door credenza

My article in Fine Wood Working Magazine

fww cover

A year ago I was approached by Fine Wood Working magazine to write an article about tambour doors. It's now on the streets in the latest issue. I built the cabinet below for the article and the editor came out to the shop for the photo shoot back in the early summer. 

tambour cabinet

tambour cabinet open

fww article

You can see another recent publication that featured my work here.

Designing a custom media cabinet

Don Gaspar-00309 Flat

I designed and built this custom media cabinet for the client of an interior decorator in Santa Fe. The way the design process went is a perfect example of how I like to design pieces of custom furniture. When I first met with the decorator to talk about what the piece should look like, she grabbed a pencil, did this sketch and said that this was what she wanted it to look like.

Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 2.21.35 PM

Read more: Designing a custom media cabinet

Bespoke: Furniture from 101 International Artists

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I was recently featured in E. Ashley Rooney's book "Bespoke: Furniture from 101 International Artists". There's some pretty nice stuff in it from furniture artists around the world. You can get a copy at Amazon.

"A reaction to the disposable, mass-produced furniture born of the Industrial Revolution, custom designed studio and bespoke furniture has been around for many decades. Those who appreciate handcrafted excellence find this furniture adds richness and texture to interior design. This is substantial furniture that provides a satisfying visual and tactile impact. The experienced artisans who produce these useful works of art add handcrafted beauty to every piece. One hundred one artisans' works are presented here from throughout the United States and around the world. Over 640 brilliant color photos reveal the unique and useful art objects each artisan creates to the readers. The engrossing text introduces readers to each of the artisans and their intentions. Readers will also find contact information for the artisans, their studios, and galleries. Three experts, Gary Inman, Thomas Throop, and Lewis Wexler, also contributed to the text."

Designing the Shark Tank marquetry cabinet

                   shark tank photo

Some of my clients have a pretty good idea of what they want their piece of custom furniture to look like, but not many. Usually they have a hint of an idea. And an approximate size. The client I built this cabinet for has always just told me that they wanted something in a particular space and then waited to see what I proposed. As I got to know them over the years I came to realize that they had pretty ecclectic taste and some pretty interesting artwork in their home. In this case they had a 9' long hammerhead shark that had been completely covered in beads by the artist Kathy Honea and they wanted a piece of furniture to go under it. Okee dokie. I'll see what I can come up with.........

Read more: Designing the Shark Tank marquetry cabinet

Tambour door credenza

          Blog- torpedo cabinet

My client needed a credenza for their living room and they had a picture that they had pulled out of a magazine for inspiration. "I don't know why we're showing this to you, because we don't really like it. The color is too dark, the shape is too boxy.... I guess we sort of like these shelves that stick out from the sides". I wish I still had that picture; it shows a perfect example of learning a lot about what a client wants by what they don't want. In this case I knew that they didn't want dark and they didn't want it to be too square. They also told me that they wanted storage. Something that could be used for display as well as for tucking things away. I suggested that tambour doors might be a good way to go since they could be left partly open to display what they wanted to show while hiding the other stuff and since the tambour doors slide to the side and hide in the cabinet itself, they don't stick out into the room when left open. I suggested maple heartwood for the case because it is light in color but not stark white, and curly maple for the doors to give the tambours some sparkle.

Read more: Tambour door credenza