After twenty or so years of building furniture I still love what I do. I cannot imagine a day passing without working with my hands. I guess what truly fuels the creative fires is that I am allowed to visualize something and see it through to its finish. Very few things in life take you from its origin all the way to its completion. So finite. So simple. So basic.

All my works start with a concept that has to fit into some sort of parameter. A chair has to be strong enough to support someone, a stairway that can’t creak when you walk on it and so on. Structural constraints are easy to satisfy by themselves. Add the aesthetic to the equation and all goes out the window. Add the quest to construct it out of shapes that are provided by the landscape and it goes out the window and flies away!

After the concept has been defined and refined a few times the entire process starts with a trip to the woods. The landscapes in which we travel vary greatly depending on what we are building. Works built of juniper such as the barstools, pool tables, etc are gathered some three hours off the pavement on rocky slopes throughout the arid high deserts of Arizona. Whereas, the twiggyer works, made of oak saplings like the Dryad’s bed and oak chairs are found in the higher mountainous regions. No matter where we are going the trips are always referred to candidly as “Wood Safaris”. These trips always include Beulah, my ugly black train wreck of a dog and my “SUV” from across the sea, the Pinzgauer 710, a decommissioned Austrian built, Swiss Army vehicle. Basically Nato’s 30 year old answer to the Hummer. A vehicle that pretty much goes anywhere and a few places you may not want to go.

Always Testing the Boundries

Beulah on a Good Day

Out Looking for Pool Tables
Once we finally get to our destination the search finally begins. The material in which we search for does not make its presence easily known. It must be sought after on foot. Unfortunately, the trees we seek, dead standing alligator juniper, the material used for pool tables, bar stools and other works is also a prized commodity for firewood cutters. The irony is the same throughout the country. In the East they burn beautiful maple and walnut in their fireplaces. In the Midwest, they cut down magnificent oaks 4’or more in diameter to make pallets.
And in the West they cut down alligator junipers, trees that have been standing hundreds if not a thousand years and reduce an entire tree to a few cords of firewood, a few months of heat, and a couple buckets of ash. From the start, these great trees are doomed. Rarely do you see these trees completely alive and thriving, they seem to pick the less than optimal places to inhabit. Unlike most trees, they don’t seem to congregate where surface and ground water abound. They prefer rocky and windy high desert slopes. Perhaps they like the views!

It is the diverse elements, of drought, of high winds, of days starting with frost and ending with a heat stroke, and intense monsoon storms, which these trees endure that make them so amazing. At a glance, these trees remind you of driftwood. Instead of wood drifting through the elements, the elements themselves find the trees. If the sculpted exterior of the tree wasn’t amazing enough, what lies inside is even more dazzling.

The blanking out of a juniper barstool
“the beauty of what lies inside!!!”

A magnificent Alligator Juniper approximately 800-1200 years old

The window of opportunity in which one can harvest these trees is limited. First the ENTIRE tree must be dead, a constraint that firewood cutters seem to blatantly ignore. I couldn’t even begin to put a number on the “amputees” I encounter on any given trip. Second, the window of opportunity in which the wood itself is suitable for use is brief, maybe ten years at best. When one these great trees finally calls it quits, they are subject to a multitude of destructive elements including but not limited to decay and carpenter ants. In addition to the obvious, since they prefer rocky barren slopes, they also tend to be great candidates for lightening strikes and high winds.

If finding one of these trees in a usable and legal harvest condition isn’t sporting enough, finding one with the elements needed for a certain project is even more daunting. Unlike conventional furniture builders, I typically do not take a piece of wood and shape it into a piece of furniture. The tree literally makes the chair. Since we do not bend or alter the material in any way we must rely on the shapes that nature provides. To create a chair that has a gentle contour for ones back takes finding THAT particular tree with THAT particular contour. In short, I spend a great deal of time looking at trees in an entirely different way than most people probably do. This addiction/obsession never seems to subside. Even when I’m not on the hunt, I find myself looking in my neighbor’s yards, staring at landscaping trucks that are full of cuttings and clippings, and even pondering the discarded Christmas tree along the curbside.

Once we finally locate a suitable tree we then have to figure out how we are going get the materials home. Ideally, we like to transport the tree in the largest pieces possible. Leaving the tree whole leaves more options when we get back to the shop. Leaving the tree whole also means it weighs a lot more. Getting trees 40” in diameter and 10’ in length is nothing less than a sport. The most successful methods usually deploy long lengths of pipe used as levers and fulcrums. With an occasional block and tackle, a few lengths of pipe, and that stuff they taught you in the early years of school one can move amazing things.

A bountiful Trip

After all of this we are just barely getting started ! Once back at the shop, all the material goes into the kiln. The drying of the wood is crucial. Wet wood equals loose joints. In addition to adding structural integrity, the drying process pretty much does away with any insects that may be hanging around. Few things survive a couple weeks at a constant 250 degrees.

Finally, It is time to actually start building something!