A Batch of Mesquite Rocker Back Legs

Mesquite trees do not grow straight or tall. They tend to make multiple trunks and to make branches low to the ground.  They twist. Most mesquite trunks of 12″ in diameter or more have many radial cracks, i.e. cracks from the heart of the tree to near the sapwood.   Other cracks appear randomly. Knots and other defects are numerous. The grain runs in wild directions.

Therefore, it is difficult to find and produce sound and beautiful parts from cuts of mesquite wood. I would not use the term “lumber” for cuts of mesquite wood for “lumber” implies a structural integrity to the piece. We must search for a few parts in a sea of waste.

Recently, we received some mesquite wood that had been selected for us by the sawmill from a large volume of wood. At the mill, they used our patterns to find backlegs, but they did not understand our specifications and how strictly we adhere to our specifications. Hoping against certainty, we marked and milled this wood.

Austin re-marking backlegs — on a shipping day.

Austin re-marking backlegs

We sorted the legs that we developed into three categories, with the worst face up.

  • Top: Firewood
  • Center: Let us look again and maybe…
  • Bottom: We can use these.

Legs sorted



Looking again . . . These are firewood.

Firewood too

We can use four of twenty-four.

Four we can use

This was an unusually poor yield, but it is illustrative of the amount of waste and the rarity of good, sound mesquite worthy of fine chairs. The mill went through another mountain of wood and sent some better rough blanks. The backlegs that meet specification are in the kiln.

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Taking Photos of Rocker Making

We build rocking chairs in small batches, or runs, of 8-12, usually of the same species.  We are “running” walnut rockers now and taking photographs of the process.  Some of these photos will appear on this shoplog, some on the website, some in the catalog, some may be submitted for press of some sort, and some will molder in their digital shoe box.

A run of rockers usually takes 8-10 workdays to get ready to assemble, but the photography is drastically slowing us down.  The chairs have been underway for 8 days now, and we are about halfway.  It takes a while to decide what needs taking, choose the angle (figurative and literal), get the light right, remove the clutter, and find the depth of field and exposure — and then, and yet to come, the editing of hundreds down to … fifty?

Cell phone photos of taking photos:

taking photos 1

taking photos 2

taking photos 3

taking photos 4

taking photos 5

taking photos 6

taking photos 7

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Assembling a Standup Desk

We are building a small standup desk for a patron who found the new desk section of the website: http://www.garyweeks.com/desks.htm.

Gary Weeks Standup Desk

The frame of the desk was assembled in two days.  On the first, the two sides were glued.  This post features photos taken on the second day of assembly.

Assembling the Front and Back Rails to One Side Frame

glue up a desk

assembling a standup desk 1

assembling a standup desk 2

assembling a standup desk 3

Adding the Other Side Frame

assembling a standup desk 4

assembling a standup desk 5

assembling a standup desk 6

assembling a standup desk 7

assembling a standup desk 8


assembling a standup desk 9

assembling a standup desk 10 assembling a standup desk 11

Driving the Wedges and Pins

The through tenons are wedged.  The blind tenons are cross-pinned.

assembling a standup desk 12

assembling a standup desk 13

assembling a standup desk 14

assembling a standup desk 15

assembling a standup desk 16

Washing the Glue from the Surface

We keep a bucket of water with a rag and old toothbrushes to scrub away the squeezed out glue.

assembling a standup desk 17

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A Fine Woodworker in France

In Semur-en-Auxois, Burgundy, France, I asked if there were any furnituremakers in town.  I was directed to the shop of Christian Boisseau.  He was just the man to see — competent, successful, and friendly.  I spent about an hour and a half with him in two visits.

(left) Christian with a door for a church restoration.  Note the molded and carved panel.Christian Boisseau(right) Christian with a set of patterns from a desk he built for his daughter.

Christian and his two employees build doors, cabinets, interior elements, and furniture, and restore such items. They integrate moldings, carvings, inlay, and marquetry in their work.  Everything is made to order.  By chance, they built the staircase in the house we had rented for the week.  The name of his business is le Meuble dans tous ses Etats (Furniture in all its Forms).  The website is http://www.lemeubledanstoussesetats.com/.  Have a look at the desk (patterns shown above), and its marquetry, on this home page.

In France, as in the US, fine woodworking is a demanding, and tough, business.  I told Christian that I couldn’t make it as a custom builder.  I don’t have the temperament; I tired of working all the time; and the margins are too slim.  I am glad to have a small catalog of items to build (and demand for them).  He said he could understand the appeal of that, but in his shop, they never build the same thing twice.  Knowing the demands of that and seeing the level of production in progress, I asked when he slept.  He often gets up at three or four.  Coincidentally, a friend and client dropped in to say, “He works all the time.”

The shop is about 3000 square feet and fully equipped with good machinery — very good, well-made machinery.  “Fully” equipped in two senses: they have what they need, and the building can hold no more.

The front of the shop.  They were enclosing the section to the left to place another machine.Front of shop

Shop interior

Shop interior

Shop machinery

They use a lot of recycled French oak.  French oak is fine.  French oak from 100 years ago is marvelous

The lumber storage was rudimentary and open to the damp Burgundy air, but they have an Italian made vacuum kiln.  Christian said the kiln would bring the moisture content of wood that had sat out or in the shed for months from 25% to 7% in four days.  My experience with vacuum kilns (Woodmizer) has not been good, but this machine was clearly well-designed, clearly well-made, and highly praised by its owner.  It made his work possible.  My photo of it turned out badly.

The lumber shed and stacks of wood.Lumber storage

Lumber storage

I asked Christian if he drew his designs to make proposals, and he brought out a big stack of drawings–beautiful, perspective drawings with line, shading, and color.  It was an impressive moment.  I remain impressed with the quality, clarity, and conception of these drawings.  I believe the drawings, and the perception and commitment illustrated by them, are key to his success.

Design drawing

Design drawing 2

Design drawing 3

Design drawing 4

I commented that there were no dimensions on the drawings and asked if he used full-size sticks or paper to develop dimensions and parts lists.  He does.  He had taped some paper to a bench and was working out the details of a piece, full scale.  Just as we do for our casegoods.

Paper design

Paper designChristian Boisseau and his wife.

Cabinetmaking and furnituremaking have historically been highly developed in France (with an apogee in the 16th and 17th centuries.  It was a pleasure to find that these skills still exist at a high level.  I could sense tradition and continuity.  It was a pleasure to find such a person.  I could sense character and judgement.

“Enfant, j’ai grandi dans les copeaux de bois que mon père faisait au cours de ses réalisations. Peu à peu, j’ai appris que le beau meuble vient en y mettant toutes ses convictions, toutes ses trippes. J’ai pris le temps de regarder les réalisations de mes pairs et j’ai finalement eu cette passion du beau meuble capable de traverser les âges.

J’aime écouter mes clients pour dessiner leur rêve et concrétiser une idée. Je dessine, puis je réalise les meubles à la mesure dans la tradition et dans le respect d’une qualité d’antan.”

Christian Boisseau

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Copyrights to Photos of Furniture

At our recent demonstration at the Texas State History Museum, a woodworker who had visited our shop came up and said, “They are selling birthday cards at Target with a picture of your rocking chair on them.  Did you know it?”  I didn’t.  He said he would buy one on his way home and mail it to me.  He did.  They were.

Rocking chair birthday card

Rocking chair birthday card - inside

Andrew McMeel is a publishing company of some size — big enough to publish Calvin and Hobbs.  It seems that they publish the majority of their humorous greeting cards under the Zero Gravity brand.

I was flattered and flustered.  Should I be outraged?  The photo is the one of a walnut rocker that I took and used on the prices and shipping dates page of the website.  Is this “harvesting” of photos from the internet standard practice for what seems to be an established company selling to Target?

I called Zero Gravity and was directed to the voicemail of the Art Department.  I called Andrew McMeel Publishing and was directed to the voicemail of the Rights Department.  I still wait to talk to someone.

I called a couple of copyright attorneys.  They called me back.  I am grateful.  It seems that, yes, I have an inherent copyright to my photo, but that true protection and legal action require that each photo be registered with the U.S Copyright Office . . . for $30.  And yes, Zero Gravity,  Andrew McMeel Publishing, and Target will respond to a letter from an attorney threatening action in Federal District Court.

I don’t want action in Federal District Court . . . or cascading invoices for billable hours.  It would have been nice to read “Rocker by Weeks Furnituremakers” in small print on the back of the card . . . I think I’ll just be flattered and go on.

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Plumbing in the Woodshop

Leslie Weeks’ father and grandfather were plumbers.  I inherited their tools.  They have been well used.

In June of 2008, we installed  (finally) a compressed air system.  We had a small job-site compressor to perform a few tasks, but it was completely inadequate to drive pneumatic sanders.  We had built many, many pieces of furniture, and sculpted many chairs, with electric random orbit sanders, knowing that pneumatic sanders would save time — and wrists, but we were daunted by the cash investment and the time required to put an excellent, trouble-free  (and moisture-free) “utility” in place.

This earlier post shows installing the compressor and addresses how important it has become.


At the original installation, we built a loop of 1″ iron pipe around the shop with drops to various stations and machines.  Things change.  We moved the pump sander and designed and built a pneumatic control valve for its dust ports, so we had to add a drop.  Giving thanks for pipe unions and family heirloom cutters, threaders, and wrenches, Austin cut the main loop and added the drop.  His grandfather and great-grandfather would be well pleased.

Plumbing in the woodshopPlumbing in the woodshop

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Edge Banding Plywood

We use a little plywood.  We build machine housings, dust hood, jigs, fixtures, cabinets, and shelving for the shop and office, and from time to time, we build cabinets and shelving for ourselves or the public.

We stock several sheets of the best domestic, 3/4″ maple, veneer core plywood that we can find.  My opinion of plywood imported from Asia cannot be written here.  We mill and store a supply of 1/4″ x 25/32″ x 96″ maple edge banding.  If we are building something with many parts of similar width, we rip the plywood and band the edge or edges of each ripping before crosscutting.  For other projects, we cut panels to size and band one or more edges.

We apply glue to the edge of the plywood and secure a banding with masking tape.  With the right technique, you can obtain good speed and pressure.  After the glue dries, these bands are stuck tight.  They must be sawn off to remove.  The panel can be cut or milled without the possibility of hitting a fastener.

Edge banding plywood

Best to leave a corner of tape loose, so you can peel it off easier.

Leave a loose corner for tapr removal

After removing the tape, we sand the band level with the panel on the stroke sander.

sanding level with stroke sander

The new dust hood for the edge sander (in progress in this photo) has parts made of edge banded maple plywood.

Edge sander dust hood

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