Wendell Castle

I read today that Wendell Castle died.   Just a few days ago, I was thinking of what I had learned from him and posting a note and the photo below to a draft for the website.

Wendell spoke at the 2016 Furniture Society Conference.  His talk was clear and meaningful.  I took notes.  I was rereading these notes these few days ago, because hearing him talk, I had thought:  These things I believe, these words are sterling, and I can use them.  On one line, I wrote “clear and meaningful.”  I used it above.  It can apply to paragraphs and to furniture.

The following paragraph is mine…as much as anything is…but it is inspired, informed, and invigorated because I heard Wendell Castle speak.  Words from my notes appear in italic.

The art of furniture making, and making a living from it, is limited by form, materials, facility, and patrons.  For success, autonomy, and reward, the furniture must be in touchsensible, practical, and reasonable.   I do not design for myself, but for the experience of patrons.  Finding the art and the patron requires daring and risk.  I’ll take no path, but leave a trail.  Of this path I blaze and knowledge I gather along it, I am only caretaker for a while.

“Share everything you know.”   Wendell Castle.

Gary Weeks and Wendell Castle

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Pecan Special Editions

Twenty-four years ago, I designed the rocking chair that anchors this business.  We saw ourselves as a Texas company and made the chairs from wood of the state tree of Texas, pecan — selected for heartwood.  As the internet made our market the world, we began to build the chairs of other woods.  About the same time, our reliable source for heart pecan ceased that operation.  We couldn’t find what we needed elsewhere.  We dropped pecan rockers as a catalogued item.

Pecan is difficult to work and to match into pleasing compositions of figure and color.  The wood is difficult to dry.  The trees are mostly sapwood.  The sapwood is white and boring unless creatively used in contrast with heartwood.  The heartwood varies in color dramatically from tree to tree.


Brandon Berdoll, https://berdollsawmill.com does an impeccable job of drying pecan, and beyond that, he marks his lumber so that boards from a tree can be tracked.

As we near the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Weeks Rocker, it is fitting that we offer pecan rockers as special editions.  We bought enough lumber from Brandon for 8 or 9 rockers.

Austin began marking the lumber September 16 — marking the wood so individual chairs will have wood from the same tree.  Each chair will be predominately heartwood with some contrasting sapwood and will have coherent color and figure.  They will be ready to ship November 2.  They will cost $2750.





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The Furniture Society Conference

Leslie and I attended the Furniture Society Conference in Philadelphia, June 23-25, 2016. We joined the Furniture Society 10 or 12, or more, years ago when it was new.  We remained members for several years, although not active ones.   It seemed that we didn’t fit very well and we dropped out.  This year, we re-joined and attended the annual conference.

The theme of the conference was “Craft-Facturing.”  I had never heard the term but knew what it meant for it is what we do.  We apply the efficiencies of manufacturing to the craft of furniture making.  I asked if I could speak on what I have learned of this.  The conference committee said yes, and I spoke.

No one walked out.


The members of the Furniture Society who make furniture tend to make “one of a kind” or bespoke furniture.  Their furniture often emphasizes the art over the function.  Some members collect, sell, or curate such furniture.  Some members are teachers of woodworking and decorative arts.  Some are students.  Few “craft-facture” a product and build a business of it.

Wendell Castle spoke to the entire group.  I took notes, for he was eloquent and I search for terms and phrases to describe what we do, why it is worthy, and how it feels to do it. This is one phrase I noted: “Share everything you know.”

gw and wc

gw and pw

I tried to share some of what I know about earning a good living making furniture to those who chose to attend my talk–one of five options at that time.  I hope it was of benefit.

Our stay in Philadelphia was a pleasure.  We made some friends, we walked the streets of Ben Franklin, we stood in the buildings where the nation’s founding documents were signed, we sat in Christ Church and looked out 300-year-old glass at the tops of big trees, bells rang…  It was a trip to elevate craftsmanship and citizenship and allegiance.

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Mahogany Recovered

When the sailing ships first delivered mahogany logs to Europe, it inspired and delighted the cabinetmakers and became the premier wood of choice.  By the 1980’s, the trees were endangered and their extinction seemed possible, even likely.  By regulation, conservation, and certification, a sustainable harvest can now be imagined.  The article copied below from the Forest Stewardship Council Newsletter addresses this promising turn of state in Brazil, but it applies through much of the range.  With rare exception, we have purchased FSC certified mahogany from Central America for our furniture.  The wood delivered here is not the same old, slow growth wood from giant trees that so pleased the cabinetmakers of the past.  But the wood from younger, quicker growth trees that is delivered here retains much of the character: color, workability, strength to weight ratio, and durability outdoors.

Excerpt from “News and Views – FSC Newsletter 06/2016 – 22 March 2016”

Welcome Back, Mahogany!

Welcome Back, Mahogany! (© Agrocortex/Photo: Forest view)© Agrocortex/Photo: Forest view

Mahogany is back on the market with FSC®certification.

One of the most beautiful and famous Amazon timbers, the mahogany, will return to the market. Mahogany became a target of deforestation in the 1980s, after its beauty and strength attracted the attention of consumers. Due to intense exploitation, the extraction and trade of mahogany was prohibited from October 2001.

Now limited trade is being allowed again. Currently, extraction is only authorized by the Brazilian Government in areas of sustainable forest management, following strict criteria established by the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (known as the CITES agreement).

The return of the mahogany trade, this time with FSC certification, is an achievement for the Amazon and for all of us. Previously a symbol of deforestation and concentration of wealth with a few, today the restored trade in the mahogany shows that it is possible to responsibly manage native forests, with environmental and social benefits guaranteed.

In responsible forest management, the forest portion where trees are extracted is divided into several sections, called forest stands. Analyses are performed to define trees that are of adequate age and size to be harvested. This way, the forest cover is maintained and its value conserved.

FSC certification is one of the main tools to fight deforestation. It is also a powerful tool for the protection of biodiversity and maintenance of ecosystem services – such as carbon sequestration and storage, watershed services, and soil conservation. On top of that it encourages improved workers’ rights and welfare and better relationships with local communities and indigenous peoples, as well as adding value to products.



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A Natural History of Trees

My library is small.  I have culled it deeply (too deeply) several times and loaned or given many books that were worthy.  One of the books that has stayed with me for decades is A Natural History of Western Trees, by Donald Peattie.  I bought it new in the 1970’s.

Bob O’Brien, tree artist now (robrien.home.texas.net/art_catalog_A_C.html) and graphics artist for our print catalogs back when, called last summer to recommend a book, A Natural History of Western Trees.  After the call, I took the book down and reread the sections on trees whose woods I have worked or in whose shade I have walked. I remembered why I kept it.  Bob particularly praised the scratchboard art of Paul Landacre that illustrates the leaves, cones, fruit, seeds, and crowns.  Bob had made scratch board art for our early catalogs.

Three panels of our second “catalog,” circa 1995. gwblog0002

Scratch Board1

Jim Fish, webmaster, called last week to recommend a book…the same book.  He sent an audio file.  You probably wouldn’t think the text of a book appearing to be taxonomy text is worthy of an audio version, but this is far more than an aid to identification, a description of range, and a list of uses.  It is a character study.

Yesterday, I listened to the sections on the Sequoias.  I can relate.  At the time this book was written, my dad was building redwood fences (among his many endeavors), so as soon as I could help, I did too.  Redwood was abundant.  There were lumberyards that specialized in it and even the typical lumberyard had some dimensions and grades of it.  We built fences of soft, sweet, tight-grained lumber that even at age ten I knew was golden.  I listened to the reading in reverence, joy, and sadness: reverent for the majesty of the trees, joy in recalling the working of the wood, and sadness at our treatment of the forests.

I keep a few pieces of redwood in the shed and use it with great care and a bit of ceremony.

I went online.  There is a companion, A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America.  I found a good copy used.  It likewise will survive any future thinning of the bookshelves.  This new, old copy is in the showroom now, on a table by a rocker.  I have marked four chapters: those on black walnut, pecan, wild black cherry, and sugar maple.  I have told this story to my colleagues and have asked them to read the bookmarked pages.  Peattie reveals the soul in wood.  We work accordingly.

IMG_9487 - Version 2

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Refinishing a Porch Rocker

We have a mahogany rocking chair on the porch of the showroom.  Last summer, it had been outside for ten years.

For maintenance of this rocker, we had done nothing more than wiping it from time to time with a slightly soapy cloth for cleaning and an almost wet one for a rinse. We did this about three times in ten years. It went out new to the porch as the pale brown of fresh mahogany. In a year, it was a rich, red brown.  Over the years, it became grey brown. Between wipings, it would become unevenly soiled with patches of light and dark. Cleaning evened the color to a pleasing weathered grey–at least pleasing to us. In this photo, the seat has been wiped with a damp cloth, but the rest of the chair is the uneven color of benign neglect. The joints are tight.


Weathered mahogany, occasionally wiped down, would not appeal to everyone, so we decided to refinish this chair, beginning with a deep cleaning. We made a mix of water, Murphy’s Oil Soap, and a 1/4 cup of household bleach. Austin scrubbed the chair and rinsed it well.


We let it dry a few days and sanded it lightly with 220G.


Oiled it.











After the refinishing, we re-wrote the maintenance guidelines on the website,

Outdoor Furniture Maintenance Guide.

We build the seats of our mahogany rockers with openings as expansion joints and we leave the tenons through the arms proud, so that changes in humidity do not stress the seat or make an uneven surface under your hands. The contour of the chair and therefore the comfort for the sitter are the same in our rockers of any wood. Many of these mahogany rocking chairs are used indoors.

Mahogany Rocking Chair

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The Blanco River Flood of May 24, 2015

Recently, a woman came who was taking photos and collecting comments for a book on this town of Wimberley. She took some pictures and asked if we would write a few words or a paragraph on what we like about living here. I planned to write on the big cypress trees along the Blanco River. On the morning of May 25, they were almost no more.

The flood made the front page of the New York Times. One hundred or more houses were destroyed or completely washed away. Maybe fifteen hundred were damaged. More than a dozen people died. The stories of near escapes are chilling and so numerous that it is a wonder more people were not drowned. Most of the big cypress trees went down or lost their bark — thousands of them, some over five hundred years old.

John Michael who works with us was able to make two trips to the car with chosen items before he had to get away and leave his cabin to flood.

We’ve had floods before. They are a regular occurrence. Sometimes a few houses get water in them. But this one put four feet of water in houses that one would say were on the bluff — and took out the trees.

There is a lot of wood along the riverbank, some of it useable. But because there are few living trees along the river now, the downed trees are the bulwark against erosion and can be nurseries for new trees. Without woody plants along the river to hold the soil, normal floods will scour the soil from the banks and eliminate the possibility of a cool, shady river for those coming after.

We have been working on the effort to preserve and restore the riverbank. Will has skillfully managed a Facebook page: Blanco River Restoration Project. In the first 24 hours, this site had been viewed 40,000 times. There is a lot of interest in this cool, clear River.

Another good thing about this town is the people and their willingness to volunteer and help. The morning after the flood, many hands went to work cleaning up and salvaging. Gary Weeks and Company are today back to work, mostly.

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