Some Trim Carpentry for Fun

Trim carpentry is fun. Sometimes. As a furniture maker, I enjoy being able to work on projects in the comfort of my own shop, with a nice bench, and my whole array of tools and work holding apparatuses that I have gathered together over the years. As a homeowner, fixing up the place is an ongoing series of tasks that is never done. And fixing up things that are in, on, or attached to the house is often in uncomfortable places, with a limited set of tools (always not enough, requiring multiple trips to my wood shop or the handyman bench on the basement), and terrible or non-existent work holding.



Once the tools and work holding situation problem is figured out for the task at hand, I run into another problem: I want to treat things like a woodworker, not a carpenter (sorry carpenters). I get fussy about little details that won't show, or won't matter. I'm not saying that carpenters are more sloppy than furniture makers; it's just that when you change the scale of your work, the requirements change. For you woodworkers, think about how different timber framing is from making little gift boxes. Watching a skilled carpenter do their thing is a great education for a furniture maker, and vice versa. Both trades do things differently, and appropriate to the task at hand. I know I would never be efficient enough as a carpenter.

But recently, I had an opportunity to try my hand on applying some of my woodworking skills on a long overdue house repair project. Our house has suffered from a terrible set of front porch stairs since the day we bought it, and it was long overdue to be repaired. I knew enough to hire a carpenter (and good friend) to do the pro stuff. I did the demo, and then proceeded to assist (or get in the way?) during the (re)build. Not finding any pre-made hand rails that would work for the design, I had a chance to mill my own in the shop, using some hollow & round planes for the profile. I also made the post caps. We were then forced to consider a design change, as we had to remove some of the siding that was applied to the (incorrect) profile of the old stairs, creating an opportunity to add some finished wainscoting around the stairs. I had fun finishing and fitting the finished parts, and after the painter (another pro and friend) was finished, the result was great. It also makes the front door, screen door, windows and ceiling work I did last year look so much better.

Thank you Dustin Christian of Focal Point Carpentry (Milwaukee, WI) and Jacob Levee of Jacob's Ladder for their great work. And thanks to my neighbors, for putting up with 18 years of looking at my garbage steps.

Keep Your Eyes Open

I'm not an architect, but as I've grown as a furniture maker, the connections between furniture and architecture is strong and undeniable. Gustav Stickley, a furniture maker, designed homes, and published other's plans for craftsman homes, in his The Craftsman magazine. Frank Lloyd Wright not only designed homes, but often the furniture that went in them (the control freak that he was). So its not surprising to find inspiration in period buildings. 

Recently, I went on a walking tour / architecture tour of some turn-of-the-last-century homes and buildings in my neighborhood. As a period furniture maker, a fan of craftsman / arts & crafts furniture, and the history of my city & neighborhood, this was a slam dunk for me. The tour was a mixed bag of highs and lows. There were some places that had been "modernized" by clueless people who had more money than taste, not "getting it", and ruining once classic interiors with horrid sterile choices (me, "they painted the oak wainscoting and built-in hutch GREY!?!?!"). Those places ranged from sad to unbearable (me "what did they do with the the original cabinets, the one's they replaced with those plastic things?"). But thankfully there were several places that, oh boy, they GOT IT. Really got it. Either well preserved, or in one case, lovingly restored - a gut rehab (for damage and structural issues) that looked like it had been that way for 100 years.

The star of the show (for me anyway, most people were oohing and awwwwing over a 1920s garage that had been converted into what must have been an aging rock star's modern man cave. Once color - concrete. sigh) was "the Rose Building", at 2934 W Logan Blvd, Chicago. It was so nicknamed by it's heavy Art Nouveau and Craftsman styled woodwork, art glass, and masonry using repeating rose motifs. (I wasn't allowed to take interior photos, but here are a few expired real estate listings that show interior shots, here and here.). Not only is the interior immaculate, with fantastic built-ins, trim, and woodwork throughout, that a look at this detail. A few decades ago, when this neighborhood was rougher, the original sidelights of the dramatic front door were vandalized, and replaced with simple plate glass...

... but over the last few years, they did research on the original glass, found old photographs, and rebuilt it to look like this...

Simply fantastic. The event was great, and I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do. My own maxim was reinforced - don't fight your home's style, embrace it, or get a different house. Anytime someone tries to think they're clever and quirky trying to make a Victorian home in Swedish modern, or an art deco house into a Georgian, you're going to fail, and it's going to look terrible. 

So, keep our eyes open out there, there's a lot to learn, and lot to inspire your woodworking.