Woodworking in Texas

 

I just got back from the Texas Furniture Makers’ Show in Kerrville, TX, where I was one of three judges (along with Asa Christiana of Fine Woodworking Magazine, and Omar Perez, a furniture maker in Houston); I also gave a talk on making chairs. The show has some amazing furniture, and is well worth a visit if you find yourself in the Texas Hill Country (it’s at the Kerr Arts and Cultural Center in Kerrville through November 30th). I first walked into the gallery where the show was set up on Friday evening, and I must admit I was a little taken aback; how was I ever going to be able to judge a collection of great furniture like this? Asa and Omar felt much the same way.

 “Safari” Cabinet by Timothy Anz

“Safari” Cabinet by Timothy Anz

But getting to know each of the pieces a little better over the course of the evening and then Saturday morning, I began to focus on what made a particular piece really stand out. For me, the judging process concentrated on a handful of things. This may not always be true (different judges, different opinions), but it may give you some insight into what may go on in the mind of someone judging.

I think there are a few very important things that distinguish great furniture from good furniture. First and foremost is a design that demonstrates a good deal of thought. Every detail should have a reason for being there, and nothing should look like it was just an easy choice (or no real choice at all). I suppose I’m also saying that each of these choices should be a good choice; one that fits in with the work as a whole, and one that effectively serves some purpose. But I will also say that I tried not to let a particular style influence me. The piece needed to be outstanding in the area the maker chose to work in.

 “The Brazos Beauty” Table, by Brandon Berdoll

“The Brazos Beauty” Table, by Brandon Berdoll

I looked for sensitivity to and mastery of the material. There was a range of materials, woods and styles (this wasn’t only woodworking, although most all of the pieces were in wood). Did the piece take advantage of the possibilities of the material? Did it avoid the pitfalls? I looked for short grain issues, cross-grain movement conflicts, etc. But I also looked for sensitive use of grain in creating an overall effect.

Then came careful execution. I looked to see if doors and drawers fit well, with even reveals and good action. I checked that details were crisp, joints tight, curves flowing smoothly, and all surfaces smooth and well prepared.

 Jewelry Chest by Randolph Secrest

Jewelry Chest by Randolph Secrest

And finally, I felt that the finish should show as much consideration and care as the rest of the piece; no pebbly sprayed finishes, or poorly rubbed out finishes, or pieces that look like they needed another two coats of finish. Now, I’ve done plenty of shows before, and I realize that time constrains what can be done. But if you’re looking to put forward your best impression, you really need to leave time for the finishing!

When I looked over all the pieces, it was clear that a few really stood out from the rest; even though all were all extremely good. Deciding amongst these few stand-outs was not easy, and all were really winners in their own ways.

So congratulations to all of the participants, and to the winners!

I’m happy to be home, and happy to have a break in my out-of-town teaching for the year. Now it’s time to put together next year’s schedule in my shop and around the country. Look for more here soon.

Jeff Miller