A New Coffee Table Design

There is a new design to welcome to the Lloyd Brooke Furniture family. The Finn coffee table. The client wanted a custom coffee table with prerequisites being splayed legs and baby safe edges.

I started by gluing and scraping the top, followed by attaching the breadboard ends. These help keep the tabletop flat. The trick is to glue the centre but not the edges, to allow for expansion and contraction of the timber.

Next was the frame design. I wanted to create an elegant statement. These two words guided my design decisions throughout the process. Once a rough sketch was drawn, I created a prototype out of scrap. Prototypes are invaluable because a drawing lives in a different world to a true 3d object. The prototype was hideous but earned it's keep with the information it provided.

I then pieced together the frame out of Blackwood.

Once the edges were smoothed and angles refined, I believe we came out alright in the end.

Bespoke Hand Tool Process

Without huge, industrial machines, I've found hand tools, when properly set up, to be the most effective way of preparing my timber for joinery.

I use a couple of simple machines to take the wood from a rough sawn state, to a square dimension.

From there, I will either use my hand plane or cabinet scraper to remove the marks left by the machine and create a smooth surface, ready for joinery.

cabinet scraper on bespoke desk

Not only is the process enjoyable, but it is also fast, keeps me fit and reduces my carbon emissions.

Check out this quick video I put together showing some of the tools in action:

Bespoke Baby Keepsake Box

Many of my favourite pieces are birthed directly from the customer's needs. Recently, I had the pleasure of building a keepsake box for an unborn baby, due in August this year.

The baby's name is secret. All I have are the initials WRF. This, to me, adds another degree of sentiment. Something private and something sacred.

It offered a pleasant opportunity to get the carving chisels out and set to work on some letters. Letters that stand for a new human yet to come into this world.

This box was made to store all the bits that go along with a newborn. Birth certificate, hospital bracelet, a lock of hair...

Something to keep forever.

Memories box with hand cut dovetails.

Ode to a Brilliant Australian Toolmaker

I use a lot of hand tool processes when I'm building a piece. Not only is it enjoyable, but it also offers efficiency in small, home workshops. Ones that don't have the capabilities to use large scale machine sanders and need to keep noise and electricity usage to a minimum.

The planes made by Australian toolmaker, HNT Gordon, allow me to quickly take out marks left by my machines and move onto the joinery of the piece.

Hnt Smoother on a custom American Walnut round dining table.

This means I go through a minimal amount of sandpaper and it helps keep me fit.

The HNT planes and spokeshaves are beautiful but more importantly, work brilliantly despite the challenges that Australian timbers throw at them.

Hnt Smoothing plane working on custom sideboard door cleats.

I am in no way affiliated with HNT Gordon and haven't even met Terry. I just thought, given the economic climate at present, what better time than now to support quality Australian business?


Growing a meaningful, custom home

There are items round the home that you use everyday, often without too much thought. These are useful items that make your life easier: laundry basket, filing cabinet, plant holder, fruit bowl.

In our case, these were items bought many years ago without too much thought.

These days, with a young family we spend far more time at home than we used to. This being the case, we've started to prioritise our immediate surroundings.

Handmade Office Organiser

Q. Why not make our surrounding as meaningful and custom as possible?

A. Because it is expensive.

Q. Why rush?

Handcut dovetail office organiser

If we can make a positive change to one item in the house at a time and know that change will last our lifetime, the need to rush disappears.

Often rushed and trendy purchases are badly made and originate from overseas countries. Our home is evolving, and slowly, because you can't rush growth.

Furniture Design with Bob Dylan in Mind

The sky is the limit when it comes to woodworking techniques. There are makers out there, wizards of all sorts of joinery, marquetry, veneering... The list goes on and on. A question I often ask myself is where to stop? Where will I set deliberate and intentional limits on my craft?

Many of the best craftspeople have access to basic tools and use fundamental techniques.

A simple coffee table made by the great, George Nakashima.

Many of the best craftspeople have access to state of the art tools and elaborate techniques.

A virtuosic cabinet made in the 18th century.

So, where to head?

In days past, you would apprentice under a master of the craft, organically pick up techniques and modify them to suit your needs as your experience increases.

Now we live in the face of infinite technique options and infinite design inspirations. It's hard not to feel dizzy when facing up to a plethora of concepts and techniques that don't belong to a set cultural tradition.

I've found music can help guide my decisions.

When questioning how I will tackle a design, I like to think back about how I like to write songs. For me, a song should be simple, direct and strike at the heart. My artistic tastes do not lean towards the virtuosic but instead toward the spirit.

Acoustic Dylan.

Let's take one of the greatest songwriters as an example. Bob Dylan. His songs use simple chords, commonly accepted forms and simple words. The genius lies in his ability to weave these in such a profound way as to make direct contact with the heart.

Do I find the internet useful for establishing technique and inspiration? Yes. If my furniture could approach the simple profundity of Bob Dylan's work I'd be a very happy maker.

Though I would consider leaving out a few of those harmonica solos.

Conveyor Belt or Custom Made?

How many things you own aren't produced on a mass scale?

I was in the car this morning thinking about cars and how car choice affects personal identity.

That car has been produced on an enormous scale, with as much individuality as a can of soft drink. How is it possible that this cookie-cutter possession can be used to construct a representation of our own unreproducible, unique, self?

I love my 1991 Toyota Camry.

A fine furniture maker's number one vehicle.

Look around your home, can you find one item that has not been produced en masse? Even personal items that carry meaning every day. Your favourite trackies, your trusty mug, your snuggly bed........

Items like this hold meaning in everybody's life. We spend a lot of time at home, and we want our lives enriched, so how could this home-life hold even more meaning?

Now, for experiment's sake, take a look around and imagine what could be taken off that assembly line.

This is the treasured item that won't end up in hard rubbish no matter which turn fashion may take. These do not have to be expensive things. My dad still uses the pencil holder I made as a 4 year old (at least I hope, Dad?).

To replace everything that can be replaced is wasteful in itself, but this way of thinking could influence our next necessary purchase or determine whether we choose to make something ourselves.

Our immensely personal and unique homes won't be transformed overnight. The process, if done right will take a very long time. But it will be a long time well spent, gradually accumulating meaning instead of stuff.

How Sustainable is Handmade Furniture?

Trying to navigate the sustainability of Australian and international timbers is like trying to choose a suitable political party. Heavily weighted opinions are thrown about from all sides, and few are without some sort of agenda floating around in the background.

Where does that leave the customer, looking for beautiful, handmade furniture?

Custom sideboard built from FSC accredited American walnut.

Where does that leave the independent maker, not looking to sway public opinion in favour of profit, but instead, trying to make an informed decision?

Reclaimed timber might seem like the best option, and of course, is most immediately sustainable but the timber is of lower quality, with hidden weaknesses and voids. All of which jeopardise our wish as makers to offer a lifetime guarantee.

So we turn to sustainably sourced timbers, grown from plantation sources. The big names in the Australian timber industry all preach sustainability and have the accreditation to support it.

International timbers are approved by the Forestry Stewardship Council:

"FSC is an international, non-governmental organisation dedicated to promoting responsible management of the world's forests. FSC has developed a system of forest certification and product labelling that enables people to identify responsibly sourced wood, paper and other forest products."

- https://au.fsc.org/en-au

The Australian hardwoods are approved by PEFC:

"PEFC, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, is a leading global alliance of national forest certification systems. As an international non-profit, non-governmental organization, we are dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management through independent third-party certification."

- https://www.pefc.org/discover-pefc/what-is-pefc

I believe as makers, we can go a step further by getting to know smaller, independent suppliers which have a personal link with the forest they manage.

One of my favourite suppliers is Corsair Timbers. Denis Brown, the owner, harvests trees from his own property, replanting the trees that are felled and prefers to personally select trees that are at the end of their life.

Denis' Otways Blackwood is absolutely stunning.

I have a hunch that for big company manufacturers, Australian hardwoods will become more and more difficult to source, leading to more and more laminate construction.

I also have a hunch that this will lead to an increase in people desiring beautiful, solid timber furniture. These pieces will be made by independent makers, utilising quality and sustainable timbers from local suppliers.

Vaeda dining in Otways Blackwood

This Furniture Owes Everything to Meditation

After slow, sporadic beginnings, coupled with long and extended absences, meditating has slowly entrenched itself to become a vital aspect of my life.

Now, it exists in its own right and demands more of myself than I demand of it.

Without meditation, I make overly complicated design decisions, arrhythmic saw cuts and impatience begins to murmur. With meditation, well, things are a bit better.

I don't have any techniques to speak of, psychedelic clothing or special chants but what I do have is my trusty stool.

I've only made one and have used it every session for about three years now.

Like most, I suffer from back pain when seated in cross-legged positions but I've found this Seiza style bench to put the spine into a position that offers no pain.

It is for this reason I've decided to put it on the website as an item for purchase.

It is by no means an original design but what I have brought to the table are hand-cut dovetails and a carving of the tree of life.


Carving Brought Back from the Dead

I've taken an interest in carving. The rawness, the tool marks and the expression of meaningful ideas are what captivates me.

The process is fresh and exciting. Here's to hoping I'll be able to include carved work on future furniture pieces.

All that is needed to get started are a few carving chisels, a sharpening stone and youtube.

In the quest for furniture that is meaningful, at what point do these carvings transform from pretty designs into meaningful symbols?

Perhaps an immersion into the world of symbols and the concepts behind them would be a good place to start.

Wood carving is one of the oldest art forms known to man but you don't see it around much anymore. Maybe it's time for a revival.