December 17th, 2011 by Peggy Farabaugh
The other day I noted that a customer asked us for a definition of "fine furniture" and since we could find no real consensus out there I decided to put out– well– yet another opinion, actually. My first post was about the type of wood used for fine furniture. I think the next aspect ought to be about craftsmanship.
I found this video by Brent and Derek Karner and their craftspeople at Clear Lake Furniture in Ludlow, VT. It's really a great illustration of both the human and machine-driven craftsmanship that defines fine furniture. In the video Brent shows the process of how fine wood furniture starts as trees, sustainably harvested from well managed forests. Then he brings you into his workshop where to see his craftsmanship up close: wood is rough sawn, planed, shaped, prepared for joinery and assembled. He explains different types of joinery, like dovetails, mortise and tenon, splines and how they are created.
I like Brent's discussion of craftsmanship in terms of man versus machine. He concludes that, done properly, both methods can have excellent results although he shows that in many cases it's a blend of man and machine that's optimal.
In Vermont we have several woodworking purists who focus almost exclusively on the use of traditional hand tools, and their craftsmanship is exquisite. One of my favorite companies working to preserve traditional handwork traditions is Shackleton-Thomas. But the majority of Vermont's fine furniture makers do employ high precision modern machinery which not only brings the price of furniture down, but sometimes produces a more exacting result.
The next aspect of fine furniture craftsmanship I want to mention is finish. But let's do that another day.
In the meantime, if you're in Vermont (which after all IS the Fine Furniture Capital of America) and you're looking to get a better understanding of fine craftsmanship, there are hundreds of small furniture makers who would be happy to introduce you to their craft. Check out this great Vermont Forest Heritage brochure which lists furniture makers all around the state and provides a map showing where each one is and what their hours of operation are. Clearlake furniture is on the map and is on your way to Okemo Mountain. It's open almost every day but call ahead for an appointment if you want to get a tour of their workshop and see their fine craftsmanship in motion.