I’m often asked, “how did you make that?” Well, first I find the right tree—literally. After harvesting and milling, careful handling is necessary to minimize splitting, shrinking, swelling and warping. It may take two years or more to have the wood ready for the actual construction of the piece. Handmade studio wood furniture is a product of high quality, and cannot be rushed.
The other query is usually “how long did it take you to make that?” The answer: since 1997 when I started woodworking. Each piece gives me ideas and skills and could not be made without the previous ones. New ideas for my custom handmade contemporary wood furniture are amassed from my everyday experiences and I am fortunate enough to have new experiences nearly every day.
Limits imposed by commissions (residential, corporate, commercial) are not restrictive and can act as catalysts. The only boundaries are the client’s and my imagination working together. A custom designed wooden table does not mean you just get to choose the color, you get to help in the design if desired. I find it both exciting and challenging to translate a client’s interests and lifestyle (and the designer’s parameters) into a viable design that is functional and unique.
Often I get to research areas I would never have delved into otherwise. Every piece contains a bit of my soul. Every project is one of a kind.
To create an object never before seen from wood that exists this once, is a humbling and rewarding experience.
My art is about trees. I create mainly in the prairie woods—aspen, birch, oak, ash, spruce, elm, maple. Even though these species grow elsewhere, the soil and climate of the Riding Mountain Biosphere Reserve make them unique and exotic.
The tree I am standing in front of is a Manitoba bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa). Its trunk is smaller than the one I have under my right hand which is about 40 years old. The piece of board at my left hand came from an oak about 125 years old.
Like silk, leather and precious stones, hardwoods and softwoods are shaped by natural forces. These influences allow each tree to develop a one-of-a-kind grain pattern and texture over the many decades it take a tree to mature.
As I work with bark, roots, twigs and timbers, a knowledge of the raw material is essential—from living tree (when to harvest the bark) to the roots (which species have potential) to the log (what cuts will reveal its best character). Often, I don’t see the full potential of a log until the first few cuts are made. I mainly work with two sawyers who have the skill and patience to spend two hours cutting one log as directed. Often, the wood I choose would be considered as scrap by more traditional woodworkers. Many of my pieces can be considered to have been handcrafted from reclaimed wood.
We plant 100-250 trees annually although I don’t use that much wood!
Jamie’s Methods of Work
Logs come from ethical sources and many of the trees utilized are standing dead. Almost all of my lumber is air-dried slowly over 2-3 years. This saves energy while preserving the integrity of the wood. Fortunately, I have a stockpile of suitably seasoned wood to allow me to start most projects right away.
For many projects, first I have to create the width of lumber I need. Our climate does not produce trees that will yield 60 cm (24″) wide boards, nor would a board that wide be very stable in most applications.
Therefore, every piece of wood must be carefully chosen with aesthetic discrimination as it will need to harmonize with every other component.
I have sawyers who look out for unusual trees and lumber for me. This wood is very special and sometimes takes several years to match the right project to the right timber. Some of the effects of figure are the result of light reflecting from longitudinal cells in the wood as well as the varying angles at which the vessels are severed. This requires a sawyer who is willing to listen to instructions as each piece is cut from the log.
Besides a familiarity with the raw materials, my work also requires knowledge of design and the skills needed to carry on from the idea phase.
Projects can require precise milling and fitting of boards, lathing and use of hand tools including dental picks and carving chisels. Custom designed handmade wood furniture is a demanding profession with many steps. Each step is critical to the final quality and appearance of the piece.