“Shaker Inspiration,” Christian’s Becksvoort’s new book, is a bit different than most Lost Art Press titles; it’s part inspiration (both for the reader, and a look at the Shaker furniture tradition that has inspired much of Becksvoort’s furniture), part woodworking and design how-to (including some of the high-end touches he incorporates into his work), and part business advice, from a woodworker who has made a living at the bench for many decades (though one of the keys to his success is the time he spends away from the bench, at his drawing board and talking with clients). Also included are measured drawings for 20 projects: 13 are signature Becksvoort pieces (including the 15-drawer chest pictured above); the other seven are reproductions (and near-reproductions) of Shaker pieces he’s made time and again.
Below is a taste of what you’ll find inside.
Opinionated? You bet. Nobody goes through life without forming strong likes, dislikes and opinions.
Informative? Positive. Again, working at a craft for five decades or more, one acquires, skills, knowledge and techniques that want to be shared.
Interesting and inspirational? I hope so. Let me state right here and now, however, that this is not intended to be the definitive last word. Nor is it intended to be a path to woodworking nirvana, nor a silver bullet for your business – and I’m not trying to foist my inspirations off on you. I am not a marketing specialist, lawyer, financial advisor or PR guru. What follows is just an overview of what has worked for me – a sharing of my experiences, failures and successes. Feel free to follow your own path. If any of my suggestions motivate or spark your own creativity, all the better.
Rigid? Not. I try to find a balance in my shop, and to suggest other options. I am not an “unplugged” or “silent” woodworker. I can’t make a living without machines. Nor am I a power-tool fanatic. I think that items spit out by CNC machines are useful for mass production, but have nothing to do with craftsmanship. I use hand tools where it shows, and machines where it doesn’t. You make your own choices.
Remember what’s important to you, your family, your friends, your standards, your idea of “craftsmanship.” Remember to volunteer, to give back and to help others.
Craftsmanship is a tough concept to get your head around. Even the dictionary gives it short shrift. “Skill in a particular craft.” Pretty lame. This is a bit better: “The quality of design and work shown in something made by hand; artistry.” Much closer. I guess it’s one of those abstract impressions that’s hard to define, but you know when you see it. It has to do with skill, accuracy, artistry, expertise, technique, workmanship and sometimes even design. That’s thanks to a hunt through the thesaurus. What all those words have in common is a connection to the human hand and heart. That, I think, reiterates the notion of practice stated in Chapter 2: Do anything long enough and you become good at it. You develop and become proficient at craftsmanship.
I think that brings up the very important notion of standards. What are your standards when building a desk, cutting dovetails or finishing? Chances are that your standards are not mine. We all strive for a different benchmark.
A Few Leftovers
Lastly, here are few miscellaneous techniques and jigs that don’t warrant a whole section of their own, so they’re just lumped together here. First, you’ve probably been told that there is no such thing as a board stretcher. Well I beg to differ. Suppose you have only a 1′ x 3′ (30.5cm x 91cm) piece of pine left. What you really need is a piece 4′ (1.22m) long, and maybe 7″ (18cm) wide. Here’s the deal: Cut the board diagonally, plane the cut edge, and slide the two halves past each other until your reach the desired length, then glue up. Not too shabby, is it?
Now suppose you have that same, single board, but you want it 16″ (40.6cm) wide, but only 22″ (56cm) long. Same deal. Again, cut the board diagonally, plane, slide the two halves in the other direction, and glue them together. True, in both cases you do lose some footage (meterage?). Hey, nothing in life is free, it’s all a matter of making the best of a less-than-desirable situation.
In the office corner of my shop I keep all my paper records. The computer lives in the house. It doesn’t do well with dust. Dust is not an issue with a tablet or phone. Ever try to write an article or a book on a touch-screen tablet? No chance. All my important papers are in a file cabinet in the “office.” The bottom drawer has various leftover goodies, the next drawer has woodworking and supply catalogs, the third drawer has files for safety sheets, tool service manuals, shop drawings, ideas, non-customer correspondence and a variety of miscellaneous files. The top drawer has my customer files. The phone sits on top of the file cabinet.
For each customer, I have manila file with their last name on the tab in alphabetical order. Inside is their address and phone number, email address, correspondence copies of any drawings or sketches I have sent, and a list of what they’ve ordered in the past. When a customer calls with a question, issue or a request, I can pull their file and make a note, or check a drawing if there is a problem. Because I work alone, if there is an issue, I know exactly what the issue is. Most commonly, it’s usually a new customer with a new piece, and the first time they cleaned the cabinet top and moved the lamp, they discovered a light spot under the lamp. Or it’s maybe someone who wants a replica of a piece I built a few years ago, for child number two. All the information I have is immediately at hand. I can’t stress organization enough, in all aspects of the business.
Shown here are a few pieces that typify classic Shaker design. Many consider Shaker furniture to be “simple.” That’s far from the reality. It’s unadorned, for sure, but often more complex than the pieces appear. The designs, aesthetics, joinery and meticulous craftsmanship are truly created as an “act of worship.” True, not all Shaker pieces were perfect. The range of workmanship is evident in nailed-together drawers made for shop use, while those for offices and dwelling houses were fastidiously dovetailed. Likewise, not all Shaker woodworkers had the same degree of talent or experience. But as a general rule of thumb, antiques are old because they were built well. …
The pieces shown here are a mix of early, mostly classic and some Victorian. Many have been shown in other publications, and are fairly representative of the Shaker style. A few are making a first time appearance here.
My association with the Shakers at Sabbathday Lake started in the mid ’70s. My interest, area of expertise and my vocation is furniture – specifically, Shaker furniture. Yet, by concentrating on this one small facet of the Shakers’ contribution to society, I am in some respects, short-changing them. When Mother Ann Lee and her followers landed in New York in 1774, furniture was the farthest thing from their minds.
The Shakers, whose official name is the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, are first and foremost a Christian, celibate and communal religious sect. Their arts, crafts and inventions are purely secondary to their theology, the life of Christ, which also stresses pacifism, equality of the sexes and races. In the larger context, that is a more important legacy than their material creations. However, it is my hope that through their furniture, it may ignite in some readers a further interest in this small but highly influential social and religious group of progressives.
These 16 pieces represent just a fraction of the furniture that the Shakers produced. Should you get the chance, take a look at the genuine article. Visit the Shaker museums at Harvard or Hancock, Mass., Watervliet and Mt. Lebanon, N.Y., Canterbury and Enfield, N.H., Pleasant Hill and South Union, Ky., Shaker Heights, Ohio, or Alfred and New Gloucester, Maine. Seeing the objects, the history, the colors and the workmanship up close and personal is an amazing experience. It has sustained me for decades, and hopefully will leave a lasting impression on you as well.
“Shaker Inspiration: Five Decades of Fine Craftsmanship,” by Christian Becksvoort, is now available for pre-publication ordering. The book is $43 and will ship in November 2018. All customers who order the book before it ships will receive a free pdf download of the book at checkout.