Woodworking in America: Furniture Construction & Design

Many woodworkers think that the ability to design a beautiful piece of furniture from scratch is a God-given talent. Either you have the knack or you should just make knock-offs.

I’m here to tell you that idea is crazy talk.

While there are some people for whom design comes naturally, I insist that anyone can learn to design well-proportioned, inspiring pieces that are built to last generations. Building things that endure is not just about using the right joinery , it’s also creating a form that transcends the shackles of contemporary taste so that it will never be kicked to the curb.

Like any woodworking skill, your eye for design needs to be developed so it can flow through your hands, onto the page and into the wood. And that’s why we created the Woodworking in America: Furniture Construction & Design conference.

This three-day event in St. Charles, Ill., will bring together the very best minds on furniture design and construction. And through a carefully orchestrated series of lectures, question-and-answer sessions and hands-on training, you will make serious advances in your ability to create furniture that looks good now, will look good in 100 years and is stout enough to endure everyday use.

The program, which runs from Aug. 14 to 16, is divided into three parts:

– Mastering the mechanics of the design process
– Gaining a deep understanding of the predominant American furniture styles
– Learning to create the right joinery, mouldings and details to execute your designs.

Mechanics
During the last few years, Google SketchUp has changed the world of designing furniture. This free 3D drafting program works on virtually any computer and can be mastered by anyone willing to learn the ropes.

During the three days in St. Charles, we’ll show you how Google SketchUp can be used for designing all kinds of furniture, and how you can harness its astonishing power to create designs that can be quickly modified. In addition to interactive lectures, we’ll have an open SketchUp laboratory where you can bring your laptop and get hands-on instruction and advice from SketchUp wizards who are also dyed-in-the-wool woodworkers.

And with the help of Jim Tolpin , author of the seminal “Measure Twice, Cut Once” , you’ll learn how to take those designs and execute them in a power-tool or hand-tool shop.

Furniture Styles & Details
Though there are many furniture styles, woodworkers tend to build in early American, Shaker, Arts & Crafts and Contemporary styles. So we gathered the foremost experts on the last four centuries of furniture styles to deepen your understanding of them.

Jeffrey Greene , author of “American Furniture of the 18th Century” , will show you how you need to understand regional details to create period furniture that looks right. Robert Lang , author of several books on the Arts & Crafts style , will help you explore this misunderstood era and realize it’s not all about dark oak and straight lines. Jerry Grant, curator of the Old Chatham Shaker Museum, will dispel the many myths about Shaker furniture and show you what it really looks like so you can build more authentic, better-looking pieces. And Oscar Fitzgerald, author of “Studio Furniture of the Renwick Gallery,” will take you on an inspiring tour of contemporary furniture styles that will open your eyes to the work of the last 100 years.

Construction
Good design is worthless without sound construction. So we brought together some incredible woodworkers who can tell you exactly what joints are appropriate and how to scale them.

For 18th-century furniture, Jeff Headley and Steve Hamilton from Mack S. Headley & Sons will explore authentic casework joints and mouldings, which they reproduce daily in their shop (they’ve even done work for the White House). Conservator Don Williams will explore the joinery of the 19th century and how it went from being cut entirely by hand to almost entirely by machine , and what means for your work.

For the Arts & Crafts era, we’ve brought on Jim Ipekjian, a professional woodworker from Pasadena, Calif., who has built hundreds of pieces in the Greene & Greene style. Jim has an unrivaled mastery of the incredible joinery of this era. And for the contemporary woodworker, we have enlisted Brian Boggs to help you unlock the secrets to composing your projects using wood grain , one of the defining aspects of modern design.

To top it all off, the keynote speaker will by Thomas Moser of Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers. Moser, one of the most successful designers and builders of contemporary furniture, will explain how he started as a home woodworker and became one of the premiere designers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

And if this is not enough, we also will have a Marketplace area filled with vendors selling the finest tools available now. This really is a weekend not to be missed.

The cost of the three-day conference is $375. You can read more details of the conference and register at woodworkinginamerica.com. I’ll be there this summer, most likely sitting next to you and taking it all in.

– Christopher Schwarz