Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It Ain't Easy Being Green

Just a note to anyone who reads this blog site. Thanks for the support, the comments, and the teasing. As I close out 2008 in my mind, I think of the year as the one that I decided to pull myself up out of the 1950's and into the modern world. I will say that I am still debating the value of being engaged in the techno-internetty-blogger-facebooky world. But I'm trying my best to adapt, and I think that as long as you try your best, there is no shame in the mistakes that will be made.

So thanks for bearing with me through the errors and oops'. A year ago, I did not know what a blog or facebook was. Didn't really care either. Somewhere along the way, someone thought I might have something interesting to say to people. The verdict is still out on that one!

Happy Holidays, and be well.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Pop Up TV Cabinets

We just had a nice little mention on Jeri Dansky's blog site. She was discussing various pop up TV cabinets, and seems to like ours quite a bit. What is shown is a solid Mahogany Glasgow credenza with art glass doors we made in house. Greg Gloor is the designer of this cabinet, which has been quite popular.

There are various ways to hide TV's. I own a Library Entertainment Center, which Erika and I just love. The bookcases slide to the left and right over the rear bookcases to reveal the TV. Check it out on the web site - www.hardwoodartisans.com in the entertainment center area.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

So, I have been doing a lot of work from my home lately, specifically AutoCAD drawings. It's nice to be able to concentrate, and the complexity of the work dictates a lot of focus on the overall project. I work at least twice as fast at home as when I'm in the office. There is a lot to be said about working in some peace and quiet.

The other night I was working on a drawing I needed to get done, and had spent about 45 minutes to an hour working feverishly on it. I was almost finished, when my cat, Woody (what else would I name him?) jumped up on the table and laid down on the keyboard. When I tried to extricate him from my workspace, he hit the power button on the laptop. Everything lost. My boy, my boy. I love him, but just wanted to kill him at that point.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Old Hardware, New Furniture

Mark is out and about so today I am your guest blogger!

I’m Alison Heath, the Director of Marketing for Hardwood Artisans. As I mentioned in last month’s newsletter, I have a very curious obsession with furniture. Luckily, I’m in the right place because I work with a bunch of people just like me.

Most of what I buy is antique or “collectible” I suppose since it’s all less than 100 years old. However, I need a file cabinet for my home office and it’s hard to find vintage file cabinets that are in good condition and that aren’t metal (which definitely won’t work with all the walnut in my place). So last week I ordered my own piece of Hardwood Artisans furniture—a modified laptop desk deskmate. It’s not on the website yet, but you can see it in our Alexandria store.

Since the Mid-century look is relatively new for us and I needed a Mid-century detail to match the cabinet to the rest of my furniture, it was off to the internet to find an appropriate selection.

What I found was a lovely little company out in Portland, Oregon called Rejuvenation. Not only did I find the most adorable pulls for my file cabinet, they came in less than a week and the people were incredibly friendly. And they have a blog too.

All in all, a wonderful experience. I can’t wait to do business with them again.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Black Wolf Coffee

I go to a local coffee shop in Warrenton, Black Wolf Coffee, once in a while. Lately, I go there more frequently. Sherri makes the best mocha, and she recently has gotten me hooked (like a pusher) on coffee with two shots of espresso.

I heard that Starbucks had suffered a 97% drop in profits. Gees, I'll take the 3% profit in this economic climate. Stop your whining, Starbucks. You have nothing to complain about.

Danker Furniture announced the closing of three stores in the area. This does not make me happy in any way. It actually makes me sad, and a little nervous. Many jobs are lost, and all the knowledge and talent that has been acquired over the years at Danker is dissipating. Competition is good for businesses. It affords the ability to differentiate oneself from the pack. I like Sherri's coffee better. It has more love in the mix. Many people really liked Danker. They were reputable people who knew their jobs.

I worry about local businesses like Black Wolf. I go more often for several reasons. I figure I have $10 extra bucks a week to burn through, and if that makes a difference of keeping Black Wolf there in a year or not, I'm glad to do it. Also, I've been having some pretty interesting conversations with my barista (that always sounds so impressive) about stuff. Important stuff, like.......I don't know.........stuff. Really, going to Black Wolf makes me feel more centered, more focused on the day at hand. The visit is only for 5 minutes, but when I leave with a smile and a great cup of coffee, I'm good to go.

What I'm telling you is that we are all in this thing together, and some businesses are not doing so well. If they are worth having, go support them. Don't let the doom and gloom of the economic forecasters dictate when and where you spend your money. Gas prices are down, the election is over. Go get a cup of coffee and celebrate.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Washington Spaces

I met a very interesting person today by the name of Jennifer Sergent. She is a reporter for Washington Spaces Magazine, one of the magazines we advertise in.

We found some common ground in that she and I went to the same high school - Langley - though several (read many) years apart. Also, she has a blog - washingtonspaces.com/blog like I do.

I found the time with her refreshing, like talking with an old friend. It's nice to meet someone new who has shared similar experiences at some other time. It was as if I had known her for years. Have you ever had that happen to you?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Did you see us in the Examiner this week?

When I said in my last entry that I am a master craftsman, I did not expect people to take notice so quickly! If you’re looking for some quality reading material, let me suggest a pair of articles featured in the DC Examiner and the Baltimore Examiner.

The first, in the DC Examiner, is an interview I did about our furniture donation initiative with ACTS, which I discussed in a previous entry. Sorry if it sounds choppy… I only had three minutes to interview!

The second, in the Baltimore Examiner, quotes Alison--that thirty-something Marketing Director of ours--about our Murphy and wall beds. Speaking of which, last weekend’s Post ad featured the Library Wall Bed. I think they make excellent guest beds… nothing beats a real mattress for comfort, not to mention the inherent space-saving features of being able to fold a bed into a wall.

We typically sell a lot of these beds around the holidays to families expecting out-of-town visitors, and I have to imagine other furniture retailers experience a similar phenomenon. I’ve also seen some pretty innovative guest solutions out there, though in my house we just put rocks under the mattress to get guests to leave early. In your house, where do your guests go?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"I'm somebody now!"

I like to think of myself as being good at what I do. I work for a company that has been in business for 32 years, and I’ve been a part of it for the last 22. And yet every day I learn something new as a woodworker. In this field, it is very hard to be a “know-it-all,” no matter how hard I may try. So, as you can see, today when I make a piece of furniture for a customer, there are many things--collected over my 25 years as a woodworker--that I take into account. You might even consider me an expert furniture maker… even a master craftsman.

My extremely talented Marketing Director recently coerced me into writing down some of my sage knowledge in the form of an article, which we submitted to DesignLine magazine. Today the mail arrived, and with it came the magazine, with
my published article on pages 16 – 17! “The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here! I’m somebody now!”

So, what do you think? Did you learn something? Bonus points if you can guess which movie I’ve quoted.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Dining: Linnaea-Style!

Wow! We’ve received a lot of interest in a product we’ve not even debuted yet… our Linnaea dining set! We’ve already drawn up plans for a table, and we’re working on the chairs as I type. Here, you can see two of the table drawings. It’ll be at least 4 weeks until we even have a picture of this never-before-seen item!

However, we do have one Linnaea dining item you CAN see now: the Linnaea credenza. This great piece is diminutive in size and works great as a small server or even as a living room cabinet which stylistically matches other items in the Linnaea Collection.

Do you have any other ideas for items we ought to add to the Linnaea Collection? If so, please leave a comment below!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Linnaea Updates

Dance, monkey, dance. The stress test worked.

Jason and me with "the slider" cabinet. The top doors slide to the center or the far left and right to reveal a jewelry drawer in the top middle. The drawer is on metal glides for full extension and is fully lined with a complete jewelry organizer. The drawers are curved fronts, like the case and top. These pieces should be in the showroom within two weeks.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Making Your Linnaea Dresser Be All It Can Be

I'm working on the pedestals for the Linnaea cabinets. We have been making decisions on the size of it, and it has been growing progressively. Seems like each time we work with it, the pedestal grows about 1/2".

The pedestal has legs that are set at angles to the case. The legs are actually 5-sided, with a beveled interior area for the skirts to connect. They are 8" high, and step out about 3 1/2" in two directions. This is fairly involved as far as pedestals go.

The concern over structure here is pretty big. Many people are not kind to their furnishings, myself included, and I have a genuine concern of these legs getting sheared off from the piece, getting dragged, hit with large objects, dropped, etc. I'm always thinking of the worst case scenario when I design and build furniture. We originally were going to use a metal corner bracket to help support the joint. We found that the screw needed to provide the majority of the strength would need to run through the intersection of the two skirts, and would actually diminish the joint's integrity by possibly fracturing the glued joint. If you have ever run a screw into a piece of wood and had the wood split, imagine running a screw into the intersection of three pieces of wood. Hard to imagine a good outcome here.

We decided that best approach to the problem was to do what they would have done in 1960, a good old-fashioned corner block that was glued and screwed to the skirts. You can see the difference between the metal corner bracket and the corner block in the photo. The effect is that the skirts become much more rigid, and thereby don't allow any flex in the leg joint. The real test will be when I stand on top of the chest to "stress test" the pedestal. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Quarter Sawn Lumber

I was asked to write about wood, or more specifically, the way wood is cut. This opens up a whole bunch of doors, but for the purposes of this blog, we’re only talking about the way our lumber is cut for our uses.

There is a much better description of the way wood is cut in an article I was reading, so rather than bore you with my description, check it out. I will explain the basics here.

Plain sawn lumber is just as it sounds. It is cut flatly from the log, and is the most common way wood is cut. The net effect is a “cathedral” type grain pattern that is very pleasing aesthetically. Our cherry, red oak, birch, maple, walnut, and mahogany are all plain sawn.

Quarter sawn lumber is wood that has been taken from the tree very differently. The tree is first quartered, or cut into four sections. The boards are then taken from the tree in one of several different ways. The net effect is a straight grain, often times creating interesting patterns known as ray flecks.

There are two basic reasons why wood would be quartered, either for stability or looks. When you quarter lumber, it becomes more stable than plain sawn wood. It will expand and contract primarily the thickness of the board, not the width like plain sawn. The look of quartered lumber, or specifically the ray flecks, is the desired effect. It gives the lumber depth and interest in a different way.

The reason we carry quarter sawn white oak and plain sawn red oak is largely based on history. Quartered white oak would have been the wood of choice during the arts and crafts movement, the original one, a hundred years ago. As a result, many of our customers own antiques that they want to match or compliment in some way, and the quartered white oak just foots the bill. Red oak has traditionally been plain sawn with large, dramatic cathedrals in the grain patterns, so much like the expectations surrounding white oak, there are similar demands for plain sawn red oak instead of quartered.

You can get any log quartered if you like. I have worked with quartered cherry, maple, sycamore, red oak, white oak, and several others. Some types of wood have more drama in them when they are quartered than some others.

What is the best wood for you? I get asked this a lot. I get asked a lot of questions. What most people mean is “This is how I live, how many kids I have, how often I move, and what I want the piece for. Which wood is best here?” The answer is always the same within the varieties of the hardwoods we offer, the durability, longevity, soundness of each wood is comparable, so……………..the best wood for you is the one you like, the one that makes you happy. This sounds too easy!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Just Give It Away

The company is starting up a furniture drive that encourages customers to give unwanted furniture to a local charity instead of throwing it away. This is a worthy cause indeed.

I was drawn to the idea because the program benefits others in need, but it also gives the used furniture a new life, new chance, much like its new owners. Seems apropos if you ask me.

The dump has a “trash to treasure” location. It is very popular. Drop off something that is no longer wanted or needed, and there is someone there who scoops it up, generally before you can even get it out of your truck. Erika and I have come to refer to these individuals affectionately as “lot lizards”. They will hang out all day, picking through the trash to treasure stuff, or just sit and wait for the next resident to pull up and give up their valuables. I used to really not like this. I felt I was being assaulted. It was a bit unsettling, and the idea that these lot lizards are probably profiting from my generosity did not sit well with me.

Now, I have come to believe that these people are in need, and they just need to make some money by selling these things to someone who will happily use it. So it’s charity along with a reasonable assurance that the thing I’m discarding will find a new life with someone else. This makes me feel good about myself. Give something away today and see how you feel. Just try it.

As an aside, I came across a very interesting article on “how to recycle anything.” This is from the September and October issues of Real Simple magazine.

Tractor Update

I’m sure that several of you have wanted to know, and have probably lost sleep being so concerned about the welfare of the tractor. Here is an update for you.

After about $260 and six hours of time, old Betsy is back up and running, better than before. I got the new tires put on the rims, but before mounting them, I got in the “well, while I’m doing this, I may as well…….” So, I lubed the whole tractor – a job I hate. It seems I always sheer off a grease fitting, and end up wearing more grease than the tractor. Sure enough, I broke one grease fitting and had to repair that, and by the time I was done, I had to throw the shirt I was wearing away.

I Cleaned the engine, filters, etc. Scraped the mud off the underside before the wheels went back on – You know, while I’m at it!

Alas, Mudville is a happy little town once again!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Learning Is Painful

Learning is painful!

Have you ever felt that you’re a kid in a grown up world? If you “fake it” long enough you might actually catch up with the rest? How did you possibly end up with all this responsibility, given how poorly your projects are going? Sometimes I think I’m brilliant, and other times I feel I’m the last dog in the pack, with the view that never changes.

Yesterday was one of those days. The Linnaea collection cases we are building seem to be kicking and fighting me the whole way. I’ve managed to destroy the side of one case, a dovetailed blade in another, and cause myself physical injury in the process of taking a mis-machined divider back out of a cabinet.

Somehow, I managed to find my way back into the shop today and give it another try. Things are going a bit better, and I see the cases developing, and this is what keeps me going forward. If it weren’t for this, I might just lose interest in the whole thing and give up.

Patience is the most valuable quality I possess. It’s getting a little thin these days, and I need to find a way of slowing down a bit and letting the design create itself for a while. This is something Greg (our founder) taught me. The answers come sooner or later, so be patient, stop faking it, and toughen up!

Without pushing it, the cases seemed to evolve better today. I think I’ve been trying too hard to get a “win.” So what is your most valuable quality? You know, the one that you think makes you special, but also is a bit of a demon for you.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


It’s a sad day in Mudville.

The mighty Casey has in fact struck out. I caught a sharp rock on the side wall of my John Deere, and blew the tire. This is very disconcerting for me. It’s just a tool, I know, but it’s the not able to use part of it that drives me crazy. Also, it’s expensive and time consuming to get this resolved. I’m really looking forward to the hours and hours of work ahead of me.

Erika started out with the sort of expected, “if you had only ……” I don’t get it. It’s a tool that broke. Not abused, just used. While it is upsetting, and expensive, it’s just a tool. It doesn’t have feelings or emotions. We humans are the ones with the perceived problems.

The best I can do is to get it fixed on Wednesday. I’ve ordered two new front tires. I want to make the tractor better than before, so replacing the other tire will help with that. It’s just a tool. Even as much as I love my tractor, it is still a tool. But it’s hard to not get myself all emotional over this.

Yes, it is still a sad day in Mudville.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The One Inch Mistake

So, I was in the shop most of the day Friday. I’m trying to push the Linnaea cabinets along, so I sanded all the parts to the first piece, a small credenza. I then applied the oil finish to all these pieces. I figured that I’d assemble the unit today.

Jason gave me a call to tell me the drawings I did were not accurate, and the case got made 1” too small. Oops. Crap. After several minutes of “what if we….”, he is re-making the case--the life of a prototype. It’s not so bad though, because we had already noticed a few things we needed to change.

Remember, I’m a professional. Don’t try this at home!

Now we’re in for two weeks of bumping around with the pedestal. I had thought we’d be further along. Honestly, I haven’t given Jason the help he needs to get the cases done in a timely fashion.
Creating something new isn’t just about design, prototypes, and re-makes. It’s time……lots of time. When someone asks me to do something custom, or different, they are paying a custom fee for time, not the wood. Custom is not all that different from creating new designs. You need to work all the bugs out before the first board is pulled, otherwise, it may end up 1” too small.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Being Sick

I’ve been sick most of the week. I caught the flu, from the Atlanta trip I think. It has really kicked me in the head. Unfortunately, I had committed to being the only owner on duty on Monday, Labor Day, so I had no choice but to show up.

It’s sort of funny how people react when I get sick. Seldom am I sick, and I try not to make a big deal of it, even though I am a guy and it’s in our nature to seek nurture. People think I’m being “noble” or needing to prove I’m “indispensable”. It is not that I think the thing can’t run without me. Rather, I made a promise to a partner that I needed to keep. In my mind I’m just doing what I need to do. Literally, there was no one else to do it, and it needed to be done. This is an owner’s perspective.

Not feeling well gave me the opportunity to go through the coral I picked up on the beach at Khao Lak in Thailand. Doing this was so nice. It was like the smells of Thanksgiving, or the memory of that special ornament on the Christmas tree. I remember the beach so clearly just by holding a shell in my hand. I started feeling better.

Always being in charge of something, and feeling that things need to be done regardless of the circumstances, has made it more difficult for me to give myself permission to reflect and just do nothing. Seems that I need to get sick more often.

Hey everyone—this is some pretty exciting news. Look to the right! If you have a feed reader, you can now subscribe to my blog and get my updates delivered automatically! Or, if you prefer, you can enter your e-mail address and my updates will appear in your inbox automatically.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Post Show

So, I survived the IWF show in Atlanta. As usual, it was a very long trip. We flew out on Thursday night, getting in around 11:00. When we got to the hotel, which we booked months and months in advance, we received “suites”. Actually, we got rooms set up for meetings with no beds in them! So, what else is a guy to do at 11:30 at night in a strange town with no bed? We went to the bar and shot some pool and drank beer for two hours. We all (six of us) ended up sleeping on cot sized roll-away beds! Nice.

Friday was the usual walking around for 8 or 9 hours, and then meeting in the lounge to discuss the day and the next plan of action. I specifically went to the third building of three, the hardware building, looking for very specific things like leveling feet and lighting and knobs and touch-up kits. Not all real exciting stuff, but hard to find, even for us.

I was so excited to find exactly what I had come for – a new lighting supplier. The guy makes solid metal casings with the new LED lamps, and will custom-make the wiring harnesses to our specifications!! These lamps were really, really nice stuff-- expensive, but nice. Best of all, it is all made in the US, in Miami, Florida no less. So, after finding this guy and spending an hour with him, I felt like I could just enjoy the show, which I did.

Another thing that I pursued was finding college contacts. At the IWF, they will often times have student furniture on display. Assorted colleges will have booths set up. This is sort of a recruiting practice. I met up with the Virginia Tech Wood program. We sponsored a student this summer from Tech, and it worked out well. He was a delight to have here. My hope is I can find the “next generation” craftsman to take over this thing in 20 years.

Friday night was a surreal adventure. I found myself at a Mai Tai restaurant with my partners and I being served smoked steak. And yes, back to the cot roll-away bed! Saturday was a follow up day, which it always has been. I took all my partners to show them the lighting find. We all agreed this was the thing……..winner, winner, chicken dinner! I was shown three specific machines that they were considering, and an AutoCAD based drawing program that we are considering implementing on the sales floors.

Out of time and out of energy, back to the airport we go. During our lunch/dinner, as a group we sorted out and designed a new dining chair to go with the new Linnaea collection. There is something bigger and almost magical about the trips my partners and I have taken over the years. Call it synergy, call it cohesiveness, I call it the cumulative brain power of 150 years of experience. This is what ultimately makes these trips worth doing for me.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Show

I’m headed to Mecca, I’m going to see the Holy Grail, going to the show….. otherwise known as the International Woodworking Fair. For tool nuts, this is the pinnacle of shows. It’s something like two million square feet of tools, hardware, finishes, lumber, and pretty much everything you can imagine (and some you can’t) that has to do with woodworking. It’s crazy big, insane busy, and I love and hate it at the same time.

This is work. While it’s interesting, I will be walking around, sort of getting tugged in different directions for about 10 hours a day in Atlanta. It’s exhausting……and exciting. We have plans to pick up several machines and hand tools at this show, but you never really know what you’ll find. For Hardwood Artisans, we are sort of the biggest of the small fish in a really big pond. It is difficult to find the correct size and priced machines that work for us.

I am specifically going to the show to find a new lighting and electrical supplier. Now, this might not sound exciting to you, but for me, this is big fun. The lighting industry has gone through a lot of changes in the past few years, and in an effort to improve our product, I need better solutions. LED lights are becoming standard, power supplies with USB ports, and even very clever florescent lamps are evolving as the preferred solutions to the consumers needs.

The vendors take the time to hire all sorts of people to gain your attention. I’ve seen hired pool sharks, jugglers, impersonators, and actors at these events. Even Norm Abrams has been hired to sit and sign autographs and do picture op’s with the guests. What a freak show, not that I’m calling Norm a freak…..he’s our idol. I’ll let you know next week what happened at the show.

Monday, July 7, 2008

It's not always green

My wife thinks that “being green” is nothing more than living life like her grandparents did. Nothing gets wasted. Things get used and reused until there’s nothing left. Recycle, reuse and reduce, right? In the past few years, our county (Fauquier) has gotten very proactive in the recycling game. They actually are trying out some cutting edge programs, like using the methane gas in the landfill to create energy, and recently buying a construction debris separater. This has made me want to try to do more in the recycling arena personally. Effort fuels interest.
I own a weed eater. Actually, I own two or three, but that’s another story. Weed eaters are something that I find to be a good idea gone badly. They have become a disposable thing. You can buy one for less than you can fix one, or so I’ve been told. I have refused to accept this disposable attitude, and have “humpty dumptied” my weed eater back together for four years in a row now. It has nothing to do with the money – it has everything to do with the fact that the motor runs perfectly, but the spool keeps breaking. I hate waste, and for about $20 and an hour of my time, I can mount a new spool on the weed eater, which lasts for about 9 months. I figure this is better than filling the land fill/scrap metal bin with four partially operational weed eaters.
I have a neighbor, Karl. He’s from Buffalo, NY, and his upbringing was absolutely nothing like mine. I grew up in Great Falls, VA in a bit of a privileged upbringing, playing tennis and football and working at the country club. Karl regales me with stories of ice hockey and his time spent working in a meat processing plant. You know, hooves and snouts and all that stuff we prefer not to think about. Somehow, however, we are very similar in that we were taught how to do and fix things by our elders and friends.
Karl is the kind of guy who will create something great out of what appears to be nothing. He made a pantry door from old 2 x 4’s and hinges he stripped off an old garage door. He is an amazing fellow, really. We share a log splitter, and the motor burned up on it. We took an old, unused lawn mower motor and retro-fit the motor to the log splitter. I think it took Karl and me two days time to fix. The question becomes “what is your time worth”. Well, it was a $1000 log splitter, and it is 500 pounds of metal that would be tossed in the scrap metal pile, verses putting a twenty pound mower frame in the pile. When I’m at work, I try to remember I’m very expensive (wink, wink). At home I try to remember I’m not. I’m not saying that I’m so crazy that I’ll straighten out and reuse old nails, like an old friend I once had (Pops). I don’t have that kind of time.
What I am saying is that I think we could solve this recycling problem if we could make things less costly to fix (expertise), or more expensive to buy (better quality), or if we could stop thinking our time is so expensive (worth of time), and just fix it ourselves. I think I will do my part to save the planet one weed eater at a time.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Smart Car

I drove a full size pick up for years. I always felt I needed to for the job. The truth is that I needed it only once in a while for the job, like once every other week.
I bought a Toyota Yaris two door hatch back a year and a half ago. We named it “the clown car”, or “clowny” for short. You know, like when it pulls up, you think 23 clowns are going to come out of this teeny weenie thing. I love this car. It has tons of space, lots of cup holders, and it rides very well. It also gets 40mpg any day of the week.
About the same time I bought clowny, I placed an order for a Smart Car. I became very interested in this vehicle, and the $99 reservation fee was fully refundable, so I thought I’ve got nothing to lose. Well, the car showed up two weeks ago, and I went to look at it. Now, it doesn’t have the room of clowny; it only has two seats and a tiny space behind them. It doesn’t have the pick up; it is a three cylinder engine that is hidden under a steel trap door behind the driver seat. It doesn’t get that much better gas mileage; about 5 mpg, or 45mpg. Top speed is about 85mph. I’ve had clowny up to 95 without even knowing it. None the less, I bought the Smart Car. I felt I needed to, like this little thing had somehow grabbed me in a way I did not understand. I think I get it now.
Today, getting from here to there is on everyone’s mind. With gas over $4.00 a gallon, the thought of alternatives is everywhere. I think the Smart Car is a stepping stone to that end. I think it’s important for me to show support for this sort of thing, instead of just talking about it. I think that I’m doing the right thing when children see me in the car and smile in a reflective way, like they are seeing their future. I think it makes me happy to see a change in attitude from the people I touch by owning this funny little car. I think this is a good thing for me to be doing. I think I’ll name it Bumble Bee……or Smarty……..or something.

Friday, May 16, 2008

How I Design

I have a gift that I didn’t know I had as a child. I always knew I looked at things a bit different, but I didn’t know what that meant. Well, here it is. I can close my eyes and dissect a cabinet stick by stick, and in reverse. Some people can play music, or perform surgery, or engineer bridges. I can’t do any of that, but I can visualize like these people do.

Design is a tricky thing. Changing one thing can alter the aesthetics of a piece considerably. When I draw, I don’t use dimensions aside from the component sizes. I prefer to place a fixed shelf where it looks best, not where some mathematical formula tells me to put it, like the golden rule for a perfect rectangle. I might move a shelf ten different times before I’m happy with its placement. This happens because I need to work within the confines of the component sizes. I can’t have four different thicknesses of shelves.

Back when I used to hand draw with a scale ruler and graph paper, I used a lot of white out, a whole lot. Now-a-days I draw rough sketches and then AutoCAD the drawing. I end up making a lot of changes as I work through the design with the customer.

I designed a couch for a customer several years ago. We liked the way it turned out, and made it a standard piece. The original drawings are below, with a variety of chicken scratch notes made on the sheet. There is a whole write up on how to build the piece in addition to these notes, but it all starts with the design.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Church of John Deere

We have this lovely young woman from Kenya working for us. She is very interesting, very serious, and very religious. She goes to church every week. She believes. I think it’s wonderful. She asked me once if I would be going to church on Sunday. I replied that I would be in fact attending church, the church of John Deere. English being a second language for her, as well as her youth working against her, she did not understand me.
I have a 790 John Deere tractor with a model 70 loader on the front. Now, this should not be confused with a lawn or garden tractor. We call our riding lawn mower that cuts the grass the mow-mow, taken from our neighbors two year old. My “tractor” weighs about 2500 pounds, is diesel fueled, and has a 30 hp engine. Watch me roar, argh, argh, argh…………….
I find a tremendous amount of mental relief while running my tractor. After a bad day, I have been known to spend 6-8 hours running the tractor, digging holes, moving rocks, grading the driveway, hauling firewood, moving old stumps, and the like. It’s where I do my thinking, escaping, dreaming, and praying. Sometimes I just drive up the driveway and back to sort of get away for a few minutes. I will get myself re-centered, and remind myself of how fortunate I am in this life, and how grateful I should be for what I have. We all have a place like this that we go to from time to time. Where is your place?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Plant Germination Stand

Well, here is the finished plant germination stand. This photo shows the cleats and pocket screws used to construct the stand. This view is the inside area where the "tray" goes. so all the screw holes are concealed by the plastic liner in the tray.

Here I am in my home shop soing the final assembly (Erika took the picture). Notice the wood stove on the left. Keeps us nice and toasty during those long winter days working out there.

I put 10 four lamp bulbs in the shop. It's very bright in there, as the picture shows.

Here's a photo of the finished unit. I did some nice wire management down the back leg, so it's very clean. The lamps are set up on a timer. See my babies.....tomatoes and peppers. As of today, the tomatoes are 10" tall.
If you would like some information on this project, leave me a comment. Thanks. Mark

Chicken Divan

My lovely wife is the “exclusive” caterer for Hardwood Artisans. This all began several events ago when we had what I considered poor quality catering by another group. She interjected that she could do much better, more personalized, more quantity, for less. This became a perfect match for the company. We required her services for the Chantilly open house we had this past Saturday.
So, in my personal life I need to aid and support my catering wife. I do this by cooking and cleaning up for her during these events. It is, after all, the least I can do (the very least, guys). Normally, the house is all tore up and she’s in a baking frenzy. Last night, I came home to find out that all the baking was done. Most of the dishes were cleaned. Wow. All I had to do was cook. Erika left to go see the neighbors’ white calf that isn’t feeding properly, but that’s another story.
I made chicken divan for dinner. I have made this dish since we were newlyweds, back in a one bedroom apartment in Fairfax. I make three things: spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, and chicken divan. And of course I’m the grill master, but Erika doesn’t consider that cooking. The mac and cheese is marginal cooking as well.
When she came home she said she could have bet me money that I’d be making chicken divan. Well sure, since I only cook one thing with chicken, duh. For me, the chicken divan is a comfort food. I love these kinds of simple foods. Erika gets so mad at me. She’ll spend hours making some fancy dinner that is quite good, but throw together some curry in twenty minutes and I think it’s great. The time consuming stuff seldom gets the “great” comment. I think this drives her crazy, but she resists accepting that the simple things in life are often times the best.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Plant Germination Stand And The Brain

About 15 years ago, I made a seed starter station from some plans out of one of those how-to magazines. You know the kind I mean, with florescent lights and liners for the trays to hold the soil medium and seeds to start their germination. This worked out fine for our initial garden measuring 8’ x 8’. Well, since then, we have outgrown its capacity and need to make an additional one for the 80 tomato and 80 hot pepper plants, and the dozens of annuals regularly grown from seed now. The new planting station has become an easy and fun project that my wife and I have enjoyed working on together. Perhaps you need one.

Some simple tools and supplies would be needed to complete this project. A miter saw, a cordless drill with drivers and countersinks, and a pocket screw jig (like a Kreg Jig), glue, screws, some 3/8” luan, wood, and of course lights.

The entire project is just glued and screwed together. We have been working on this now for several weeks, doing bits here and there. I’ve taken some photos of the progression. I should have a finished piece, complete with lighting, done by next week.

Erika does all my cutting, the product of having built a house together, so she started out cutting the vertical parts, and then the cross members at the ends. A funny thing happened about half way through the project. She got confused about the orientation of a board. I explained to her how I wanted the placement, and she stared sort of blankly at me and asked “How do you think this stuff through like this?” I just laughed, because I have always known that my brain processes thoughts and images far differently than hers. She, for example, can visualize colors. I cannot, but I can build and de-construct a coffee table stick by stick in my head. Odd thing, that there brain.

If you would like some specifics on the actual construction, post a comment with your email address and I'd be happy to send you some mildly confusing parts lists and instructions.....some assembly required.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Spring in the Air

The daffodils are poking their little green shoots up through the leaves all around me at the house. This is a very special time for me. My wife, Erika, gets so happy when the first signs of spring arrive. So, for me, the first sign of spring means seeing the joy in my wife’s eyes. This all sounds a little overdramatized, but you need to keep in mind that we have planted several hundred bulbs each year for the last six years. There are probably over a thousand little green shoots poking up. In just a few weeks, the property will be overflowing with flowers……..

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Best And The Worst Day

The best and worst day of a man’s life. No, regardless of popular belief, it’s not when you buy and sell a boat. It's not the day you're married and the day you're divorced. It’s when your television set blows up. Every man hopes this day will come, this one in particular. The only thing that makes this day bad is the fight for the money you will need to pry out of your wife’s (well manicured) hands. But you will prevail. Darwin made sure of that.

I had the blessing/misfortune of having the picture go crazy on my 52” high definition projection TV. Yes, while it’s only 6 years old, for some reason, it decide to go out on me (thanks to that ice pick – I'm kidding honey, love you).

The immediate response – buy new, and bigger. Fix this one? No way. This is a disposable society, right? I’m helping the economy. It’s good for America for me to chuck this one into the landfill and get the newest and greatest and biggest. Actually, I don’t subscribe to any of this, except the newest, greatest, and biggest idea. I am, after all, still just a man. It’s a genetic thing. You ladies wouldn't understand.

In all seriousness, when we decided to buy this TV, I knew it wasn’t the one for us. We settled on it due to price. The plasma and LCD TV’s were still double the price. The decision was to settle. And I’ve been unhappy ever since. She wanted a cabinet around the TV, but at 27”deep, the case would be prohibitively ugly. Sure, I’ve done it before, but never really loved the end result. The slim line TV’s can lend themselves much better to case designs that don’t look like refrigerator boxes. So, we have been living with a giant TV in the room, and the stereo and assorted components stacked up on an old nightstand. Sound familiar?

I’m so excited, and not over the new TV that will be coming next week (but that doesn't hurt), but to finally get order in my electronics life. You know, the rat’s nest of wires you try to hide behind the big black thingy over there (that you’re not sure does what). The idea of having a cabinet that will hold all this stuff, and the idea of me not only being willing, but happy to sort out the bundle of wires, is thrilling.

The point I’m trying to make I guess is that life is too short to settle for less than what you want. Sometimes, we need to be a little wasteful. Throw out that old cabinet, or donate it, even though there really is nothing wrong with it. If it fails to enrich your life, why have it? It becomes worth less than worthless because it occupies space in your life and mind that should be otherwise occupied with thoughts of ice cream and sugar plums. Okay, maybe not quite like that, but you get the idea.

I do subscribe to not being wasteful, and finding ways to re-use, recycle, and replenish all things. I will come to some clever conclusion of what to do with this beast of a TV.......later. For now, I see its demise as a mechanism for me to get my life enhanced and simplified. New TV. New cabinet. Professionally done wire management. Thank you, Lord. The end of one thing really is the beginning of another. I’ve already begun designing the case. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


I’ve always thought the service we offer at Hardwood Artisans to be unsurpassed. But I’ve recently learned that even we can improve. I didn’t experience the ultimate in service anywhere locally; I found it half way around the world in Southeast Asia and throughout the entire journey there.

My wife and I have been amassing airline miles for years, in hopes that one day we could take a dream vacation. But life gets in the way of living and we never got around to planning our trip until faced with the possibility of the miles expiring. She and I, being the products of frugal ancestors from the Old Country, could not let that happen. So we finally decided upon our itinerary that was partially based on figuring how far we could travel in first and business class. The results: Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, and Cambodia.

Being a working stiff, I’ve only flown economy class and never realized the level of service in premium classes was so different. We were especially impressed with the Asia-based airlines. We were greeted by name, offered drinks before we even had a chance to sit down, and served food on stylish china. I think if we’d asked to be tucked in for the night, we would have been happily obliged. The flight attendants were always smiling and acted as if pleasing us was their goal in life. For months I was dreading the longest leg of the trip, the fourteen and half hour flight between Vancouver and Hong Kong. But after being wined and dined, pampered and coddled, I felt like I never wanted to leave the plane.

Little did I know that the level of service I experienced on the flights would pale in comparison to Thailand itself, where they seem to have taken customer service to an art form. We were checked in to the hotel by smiling faces and greeted every morning by more. A special coffee request? No problem. Leaving for the airport early, before breakfast? A box of goodies was packed up to take with us. By the second day, the ladies in the dining area already knew the kind of beer or soda we wanted to drink.

People and businesses alike outside the hotel were equally accommodating. A tailor willing to make a custom suit and shirts in forty-eight hours? No problem. He even took the extra time to re-stitch two seams that I approved but he wasn’t happy with. Boxed everything beautifully for shipment back to the States and delivered the package to the restaurant where we were dining. That is service. Will I return to that tailor if I’m back in Bangkok? Absolutely. Nor will I hesitate to recommend his services to anyone I know.

This is what I strive to do with all my customers: impress them enough that they want to return and refer their friends. I try to remember names and preferences and accommodate each request, within the parameters of the furniture item they’re interested in. It’s not always possible, but I do try to do it with a smile. I genuinely want happy customers, not so much because it’s good for business (though that doesn’t hurt), but I think it’s because it’s my job, and I want to do well at it. This is what makes me happy. Perhaps there’s a little of that Thai attitude in me after all.

Monday, February 18, 2008


February. When I was a child, I always dreaded the approach of February. While I know it’s not, for me February is the coldest, darkest, most damp, month of the year. Just raw. And depressing.

Now, I can’t wait for February. Don’t get me wrong. I still think February is a miserable month in terms of the weather, but I look forward to it for one reason. Time to plant the seeds!

You see, in the past twenty years or so, I’ve become a bit of a gardening freak. When my wife and I bought our first house, one of the first things we did was put in a small 8’ x 8’ garden. The following year we doubled it, and the next year we doubled it again. In the home we currently live, the garden occupies about 50 x 50, with an additional couple of hundred feet square for fruit trees and berry bushes . We spent the better part of the summer physically in the garden.

My wife and I have gone a bit ……..insane with the volume of plantings we are doing from seed. We start almost everything from seed, more for the opportunity to see us through February. Today, she is preparing the trays that we use to plant our “babies” in. We will start planting soon. We argue about the date to begin the plantings. Last year, I set my hot pepper seeds in the second week of the month, and the tomatoes in the fourth week. They didn’t get in the ground for 11 and 9 weeks, respectively, so they were a bit leggy at the end, but the act of raising them saw me through the rough patches of winter.

None of this has anything to do with furniture, of course, but there are a lot of similarities I draw between furniture building and building a garden. Both take shape slowly, behind the scenes, starting as bits and pieces of stuff, and eventually coming together as a cohesive whole, and when the piece is finished or the first tomato is plucked, the tangible results are equally satisfying to me.

It may be dank and cold now, but pretty soon when you come to visit me on a Saturday in Rockville, I’ll have a basket or two of my fresh picked veggies for you to sample, all because I took this time now in nasty old February.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Introduction to me and my blog

So, I hired this twenty-something, very bright, enthusiastic, and persuasive woman as the marketing director for Hardwood Artisans, and this is pretty much the net result. She convinced me that my writing a “blog” would be a good thing, that people would find it, and thereby hopefully me and the company, interesting. Hell, I don’t even think of myself as being interesting. Over the past few months, however, I have come to find that some people, for whatever reason, think that some of the things I do or say are different, and thereby interesting. We’ll see about that, now won’t we?

I guess I should have prefaced this all with a bit of an introduction, before I cursed and all that stuff. My name is Mark Gatterdam. I am one of six partners that are the current owners of Hardwood Artisans, a local Washington D.C.- based furniture manufacturer and retailer. We have been around as Hardwood Artisans, or The Loft Bed Store, since 1976. The founders, Greg Gloor and Larry Spinks, transfered ownership of the company to the six of us a few years ago. The six of us helped create the organization. All of us came up through the ranks the same way I did. We employ about 70 people throughout the organization, with about 45 – 50 actual craftsmen building the furniture. Sounds like a lot, but we still consider ourselves small, and I am proud to say I know each and every one of their names. It is still a family-based business.

I have been in the furniture industry my entire adult life. I put myself through college working at furniture retail stores in the area. The hours were flexible, and I thought the product was interesting. I decided to get out of the front end of the business, and take a shot at creation. I was making good money, managing a store, but somehow I still felt unsatisfied – the American way, right?

I have worked at Hardwood Artisans for about 21 years. I took a huge cut in pay to come here. I started by building beds. In the blink of an eye, I became a blue collar “ham and egger”. I was very straight laced, newly married, and still working on my college education. I really didn’t fit in to the hippy sort of artist scene that was in front of me. Everyone had long hair, there were amplifiers the size of humans wired from the ceiling blaring out Led Zepplin, and you were always filthy dirty. Always. But I loved it. And over time, I let the hippy in me come out a little bit, and over time, my work associates cut their long hair and started listening to country music. Go figure.

Currently, I am the Qualifications Director for the company. I handle all the service problems, warranty work, finishing and staining, as well as working in the showrooms on the weekends. I do a fair amount of in-home consults, and as a result, custom design work. I pretty much see myself as a problem solver. That is the best way to describe my day-to-day activities. I feel that my current goal is to find a way to get back into the shop with some regularity doing what I want to do – making furniture.

I feel needed on my current position. There seems to be a large amount of trepidation and downright fear on the part of the consumers I meet. Worries about sizes, fit, finish, damage, cost, value, children, all have led to a lot of correction on my part. So while I want to go off and create, I know I am needed here to help correct.

Bye for now.