Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Wanderlust Writing Desk

Jersey City novelist Mary Kate Pagano recently approached us about a writing desk to fit her specific requirements.  Like a fine suit, custom furniture can be made to fit the end user in both function AND size.

"The Wanderlust" modern writing desk, crafted of domestic cherry.

The Wanderlust Desk is crafted for the modern writer.  While traditional writing desks often feature things like slanted tops, ledger strips and inkwells, such features aren't really something most people find useful in modern times.  As such, our desk features things like a level top, slide-away key board tray with soft-close drawer slides and a hide-away mouse platform/coffee cup rest covering the utility drawer.

The utility drawer with slide-away mouse platform

Utility drawer with slide-away mouse platform

Mary Kate already had a beautiful vantage point picked out for her desk.  Knowing the dimensions of that space made it easy for us to build something that would fill the selected alcove nicely, being neither too small nor too large.  And her being rather "slight of stature" meant we could lower the overall desk height from the standard 30 inches down to a more comfortable 27 3/4 inches, with the keyboard ending up at a very ergonomic 24 inches from the floor.

Slide-away keyboard tray with soft-close drawer slides hidden behind a faux drawer front

For a wood selection, we used almost entirely heartwood domestic cherry, locally harvested in Deal, NJ.  Cherry starts its life as a deep pink wood and ages into beautiful reddish tan.  The few lighter sapwood sections add a delightful contrast.  The legs have a quick taper near the feet to lend a structural feel with a top that sports a mid-century influenced bevel edge to give a clean line.  It's attached using traditional wood buttons in grooves.  These allow the top to expand and contract with seasonal wood movement. This prevents cracking over the years.  The keyboard tray hides behind a faux drawer front that keeps up a traditional look before dropping down to reveal the Wanderlust's more modern innards.

For a finish, we opted for an boiled linseed base to accentuate the color and grain, followed by two sealing coats of shellac and multiple coats of semi-gloss varnish to provide protection over years of use.

We excited to see how it looks in it's new home...and even more excited to see what gets written at "The Wanderlust."

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Round Pond Deck Chair

This past summer we had a client come to us after falling in love with a mid-century version of the classic Adirondack chair.  Unfortunately, the original builder had ceased production, so she came to us!  We took the original as inspiration, gave it a taller back, higher seat and crafted it from sapele, with dark wenge accent plugs.  A proprietary blend of spar varnish and oil was applied for a weather resistant finish that can be maintained seasonally.

Stainless steel hardware, loose tenon joinery and waterproof epoxy also help to ensure these chairs are strong enough to last years and years.

The "Round Pond" name comes from of one of our favorite spots on the Maine coast, a small lobstering town where it seems everyone has a comfy deck chair overlooking the local harbor.  We've spent many a happy evening there and this style of chair would be ideal for such a night.

These particular chairs will spend the warm months right on the water (along with a pair of matching tables) and hopefully bring their new owners many, many evenings of comfortable sunsets!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The "Egret" Table

With the wind still chilly and snow on the ground, we were inspired by a few pieces of curly maple we had up on the lumber racks and developed this 40" x 18" coffee table to showcase the beautiful grain than can be produced by the humble maple tree.

Believe it or not, there is no consensus on what actually causes the deep, wavy figuring that gives curly or "tiger" maple it's distinct appearance, but - whatever the cause - it would be a shame not to showcase the gorgeous figure in some form or another.

Our "Egret" table was a piece that was actually designed completely in a 3D computer rendering program.  Size, joints and wood species were all done "virtually" while the lumber was still rough sawn.  In this sense, our final product was also our prototype.

The Egret draws heavily on the "Mid-Century Modern" style with its angular tapering legs and floating top, but also incorporates a few more traditional joints like the wedged thru-tenons that emerge both at the ends of the base and through the top itself.  These are a beautiful source of strength for the table and nicely highlight the contrasting woods that form the base (walnut) and top (the aforementioned curly maple.)   

To highlight the depth of the maple figure while maintaining a touchable and inviting texture, the entire table was finished with 8 coats of a proprietary oil and varnish blend that brings out all the details of the wood itself while still being incredibly inviting to touch.

The Egret was not a commission piece.  At our most inspired, we strive to create pieces that deserve to exist in their own right, and trust they will eventually find their way to a home with a suitable aesthetic and appreciation for both wood and designs.  The "Egret" is one-of-a-kind and currently resides in the Shy Dog Collection.  It is available for purchas. Please contact us for pricing and delivery.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Maloof-inspired Sculpted Chair and Ottoman

OK, this is a big one.  There are many brilliant architects, sculptors and builders throughout American furniture and woodworking history: Frank Lloyd Wright, the Greene Brothers, Louis Tiffany, Gustav Stickley... America has a rich history of craftsmanship and design, but there are few craftsmen who are more distinctive and unique than the iconic Sam Maloof.

Sam Maloof: Icon and man with super cool glasses.  (Photo Credit: Popular Woodworking)

To go into detail here would be more than redundant given the amount that has been written about him, but I wholeheartedly encourage any reader of this to spend a few minutes researching this incredible designer.  It's one thing to develop a signature and recognizable style (which he did, profoundly) but the man invented his own JOINT.  The Maloof joint is an elegant, incredibly strong way to join perpendicular pieces of wood.  And while it's not the easiest to form, it's amazing useful, variable and strong.

Four Maloof joints hold the legs of the ottoman and are reinforced with screws, the covered with shop-made walnut dowels.

For many woodworkers, building a Maloof replica is a rite of passage, like cutting your first dovetail or buying your first block plane.  (Ok, maybe a little more challenging than those...)  His iconic rocking chair is among among the great designs of the last century.  (And perhaps someday I'll have a turn at that as well.)

Currently, a rocking chair isn't something we have a need for in our home.  Instead, I chose to tackle a lowback armchair (inspired by Sam Maloof, with actual plans by Charles Brock.)  This was to be a Christmas gift for my wife, Susie.  She's been after a mid-century chair for some time and there's nothing better than building something to give to a loved one.

Maloof-inspired lowback chair as designed by Charles Brock, built by Shy Dog Designs

It was only a few days after Christmas, when the new chair had taken up residence in our family room, when Susie suggested it would be nicely complemented by an accompanying ottoman.  The small footstool borrows stylistically from the chair and utilizes the Maloof joint, but the design itself is original to me as far I can tell.

Shy Dog-designed, Maloof-inspired ottoaman, in cherry with a poly/oil/wax finish.

As with any furniture than leans so heavily on a unique design, it's hard to take credit for much beyond the execution of a piece like this.  Anyone who makes a piece in the style of Greene and Greene or Sam Maloof is standing on the shoulders of giants.  But taking the ideas and adaptingthem  to a unique piece like the ottoman pictured here is immensely satisfying.  Turning rough cherry into sculpted pieces with flowing lines is gratifying, almost a way to let the wood return to its natural shape.  We look forward to using these pieces in our own home for years to come.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Shy Dog Sub

            Some of the first serious cabinetry I ever built was incredibly utilitarian in nature, but helped pull me into deep end of the live music profession.
            As a young sound engineer, there were many days spent far away from the concert stage and huddled in the small garage that served as home base for my first employer, a local sound company based out of rural Maryland.  Those days were spent soldering microphone cables, pinning stage boxes, assembling road cases and…building cabinets.  Speaker cabinets, that is.

A speaker cabinet under construction.  Proper techniques and joinery are as home here as they are in traditional cabinetry.

            And so it is that I find myself years later finishing a project that I first conceived more than a decade ago to take advantage of some extra speakers and other spare parts I had laying around.  With our belated “wedding reception” fast approaching and me responsible for providing a sound system, this was the perfect time to finally augment my little acoustic bar PA with some subs!

A Pair of "Shy Dog Subs"  Not exactly appropriate for an arena, but hugely effective on a smaller scale.

            The single 15” ported sub is loosely based on a Yamaha design, with a few improvements, not the least of which is the material.  I eschewed the particle board favored by mass production facrories for 7-ply maple plywood that would be more at home in a world-class touring speaker.  All case joinery is done with dados, grooves and rabbets.  This not only adds a tremendous amount of strength vs. using fasteners alone, it also helps to airseal the box, which is a crucial step for speaker construction.  Sound waves are transmitted primarily via air movement.   As such, air leakage is to be avoided at all costs.  Seating plywood edges in glued grooves help provide the air seal.  For places where grooved joinery wasn’t possible, the wood was mated with a silicone adhesive to keep the air seal intact.

Air sealing the "handles" that are part of the cabinet with a silicone adhesive.

            Mini-subs like these are really meant to function on their own instead of in the large blocks of cabinets you’ll see in larger venues.  Keeping in mind that speakers like this are only going to be used in very intimate settings, I added a speaker pole mount to the top allows them to do double duty and replace the tripod stands that typically hold my hi/mid cabinet’s aloft.  Not only do the mini-subs augment the low end of my system, they lessen my footprint as well.  It’s a win all around!

A look at grooved and dado'ed construction.  It adds strength and air-tightness to this front-loaded scoop design.

            To complete the speaker, drivers are mounted with metal clamps and then covered with commercial speaker grill cloth.  The cabinets themselves are primed with an oil-based primer before being sprayed black and topcoated with a semi-gloss polycrylic, so they’ll look as good as they sound.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The "Tavernfest" Tavern Table

About a week ago, we were approached about a donation for the Monmouth County Historical Association's "Tavernfest" auction.  With my wife and I having just hosted our wedding reception at the historic Taylor-Butler House in Middletown, NJ - a venue owned and managed by the MCHA - we were happy to provide a donation for auction.

At first, our inclination was to give one of our completed pieces from inventory.  But, with a few open days in the schedule before the event, we thought it might be fun to craft something that would pair thematically with the event.  After a little brainstorming, we developed the idea of a tavern-style coffee table that would look to be right at home in the 18th century building where the auction is going to be be held.

For this project, we really wanted the piece to be sturdy and heavy.  Something a tavern owner would have felt comfortable using on a daily basis during the colonial period.  Something that would endure use (and occasional abuse!) with ease.  As such, ash was a natural choice.  It's incredibly dense and strong (some early car manufacturers built frames from it!) and has a grain pattern very similar to oak.  Provided they could get their hands on it, I'm sure my 18th century carpentry predecessors would have found it quite acceptable for use in this capacity.

Fitting the joints comes first, before final shaping

Construction-wise, it's a relatively uncomplicated piece.  While I was quite happy to use modern tools like a power jointer and table saw, none of the joinery used would perplex a furniture maker from 1750.  Legs are fitted into the feet and upper support with mortise and tenon joints while the trestle is joined with a simple (though very precise) half lap.  The hefty 1.5" table top itself is a glued up slab of ash fitted with what are known as "breadboard" ends.  The grain of these end caps run perpendicular to the main section and help keep the table flat through seasonal and humidity changes.

Fitting the breadboard ends.  They're left long and then trimmed flush to the sides later.

One of the things that separates heirloom furniture from a good deal of mass produced work is the use of solid wood throughout.  But using solid wood introduces the potential for movement, something that doesn't typically occur in engineered products like particleboard and plywood.  When attaching the breadboards ends, we accommodate wood movement by joining the wood with floating splines and tenons that are only glued on one side, leaving the other side free to "float" as the wood naturally expands and contracts.  Wood screws hold the pieces together by being sunk into oversize holes that allow for seasonal movements.  Precautions like this are why you may feel small ridges between joints based on the time of the year, but also why you should never experience cracking as a result of atmospheric changes.  Screws are eventually covered up with shop-made, faceted wenge plugs that give the table just a hint of ornamentation.  (In fairness, this is one of the few incongruous pieces of the table.  Most 18th century joiners would probably NOT have had access to sub-Saharan African woods like modern woodworkers do.)

Traditional splines (and modern floating tenons.)  Ok, so maybe 18th century joiners didn't have access to a Festool Domino...but I'll bet they would have loved it!

A structural screw that will end up hidden behind a decorative plug.
Shaping the wenge accent plugs

Plug ready for fitting

To give our table an aged look, the legs and base were dyed, sanded back to leave high contrast in the deeper pores of the grain, and then treated with a wiping stain to turn the very light ash into a deeper brown finished piece.  Once dry, the entire piece was coated with shop-mixed shellac, a finish that would have been right at home on an 18th century joiner's bench.  (Though in deference to our time constraints, we opted to spray it vs. traditional hand rubbing.)  The final step was a simple furniture paste wax to afford the piece some renewable protection.

(Photos by Susie Sefcik Photography)

Overall, this piece has a different aesthetic than the pieces that normally come out of the Shy Dog shop, but we're quite pleased with it.  It's built to last a lifetime and will hopefully find a good home while raising some money for a great organization! 

Monday, September 14, 2015

The "Casino Weekender" Outdoor Table and Hanging Bar

Here at the Jersey Shore, summer is what we do best!  When the weather warms up and the days stretch longer, the Shy Dogs and myself like to maximize our time outdoors... and our clients do, too!  With that in mind we've begun expanding the "Casino Weekender" series.

"Casino Weekender" Table

"Casino Weekender" Outdoor Bar

All of our "Casino Weekender" pieces are constructed of Sapele (an African Mahogany) and finished with multiples layers of a hand-rubbed, spar varnish/oil blend that is renewable for easy maintenance.  (A light re-application every 12-18 months is all it takes!)

The first piece designed for our series, the "Casino Weekender" Table measures 30" by 30" and comfortably seats four with plenty of legroom.  Our prototype spent the entire summer outside on the beach in Deal, NJ and still looks great.  The constant sun exposure yielded a beautiful deep reddish brown that nicely complemented the Purpleheart inlay that wraps around the entire edge.

Despite being well-used all season, the table still looks almost as good as the day it was built.

Just a piece of casual beach furniture...with a bit of Purpleheart Inlay

The "Casino Weekender" Hanging Bar is already one of our most-loved pieces.  Crafted from the same wood and finish as the companion table, the bar is the perfect addition to almost any outdoor space.  It has ample room for bottles, glasses and stemware and adjustable shelves, but the bar's best feature by far is its drop-down serving table.  With this outside your back door, you're only seconds away from summer evening relaxation with friend and family!  The simple magnetic latch makes clean up a snap!

Hang this by your back door for relaxation at a moment's notice!

Sapele only looks better with more time in the sun.

Put away your party in record time!

Both pieces are currently available for order.  Purchase a set to receive a "Series Discount!"