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History and Background
Master's Cabinet Shop (I)
The first 'incarnation' of Master's Cabinet Shop started in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1973, moved to Alma, Wisconsin in 1976, and closed in 1984. During those years my apprentices, journeymen, and I crafted a wide variety of furniture of all types and styles. Much of the shop's income came from the sale of wood accessories, such as turnings, kitchen ware, and decorative items (lamps, mirrors, etc.). These were sold at Art Fairs and through fine craft galleries. Furniture making took place during predominately during the winter and spring seasons, when there were no Art Fairs.
While I come from a family of craftsmen (my grandfather was a master of decorative metalworking), I was self taught as a furniture maker. During the late sixties and throughout the seventies, this was not at all unusual. Many of us chose to abandon corporate careers in favor of earning our livings through crafts. In this respect, we can view the Arts and Crafts Movement of the Victorian period in late nineteenth century England as our spiritual mentors. Once I'd achieved the level of a solid journeyman cabinetmaker, I began to take on young people as apprentices. These engaging, intelligent, and talented individuals made the atmosphere in the shop both enjoyable and productive. In particular, Lane Allen, Beth Thomsen, and Mark Williams between them spent many years working by my side. Eventually, by continuing to take on challenging furniture projects, I became a master cabinetmaker. To judge for yourself, you are encouraged to click the links on the Master's Cabinet Shop home page.
The most distinctive element in the furniture made in Master's Cabinet Shop was the use of exotic, highly figured lumber. This included all species of rosewood, figured native woods such as walnut and bird's-eye maple, and other tropical species. As shown in the gallery, even simple furniture made from these woods can be spectacular in appearance. In fact, when using highly figured woods, simplicity of design is a cardinal virtue.
Unfortunately, these woods, particularly the rosewoods and other tropical woods, are both toxic and allergenic. Back in the 70's, small shops did not have access to the inexpensive, but effective dust collection and protection equipment readily available today. The dust from countless hours of sanding these woods resulting in severe, and life-threatening, occupational asthma. There was no choice but to close Master's Cabinet Shop. Fortunately, it only took a couple of years for my lungs to recover.
Master's Cabinet Shop (II)
While I sold off most of the machines and lumber after closing the shop, whether out of nostalgia, or just plain stubbornness, I was able to keep most of the exotic and figured wood, as well as the heavy duty lathe. This material was carted around for twenty years into and out of basements and garages. So was the 400 lb yellow lathe. A career in the hi-tech industry left me little time to do any woodworking, but having the wood around kept hope alive.
Finally, after a successful career as a scientist and
engineer, I was offered an excellent opportunity to retire early. I
was also given almost a year's notice, which allowed time to enlarge the garage,
purchase machinery, and put together a small, but fully functional cabinet
shop. Thus Master's Cabinet Shop was reborn. This time, however, the
first pieces of equipment purchased were first rate dust collection and
protective equipment. These involved a 2 hp dust and chip collection system attached
to every machine, an air filtration system, and a personal filter air protection
system (affectionately called the 'space helmet'), which allow me to work
with toxic and allergenic woods with a reasonable amount of safety.
|Meanwhile, the value of my exotic wood collection continued to grow, as many tropical forests fell victim to society's voracious appetite for wood and to agricultural development. Species of rosewood purchased in 1976 for $3-5 per board foot now sell for $15-30 per bd. ft.. At this point, the value of this lumber is many times greater than the sum total of all the machines in the shop. Interestingly, the cost of domestic species hasn't increased nearly as much, perhaps by a factor of 2 or 3. This is likely due to concerted efforts on the part of timber companies and various state and federal agencies to develop extensive forest planting and sustained harvesting practices. To avoid being part of the foolish destruction of tropical forests, Master's Cabinet Shop seeks to purchase only imported lumber harvested sustainably. Meanwhile, we have enough beautiful boards from these species in storage to provide a couple of years worth of fine furniture output.|
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