The opening article of the most recent issue of Woodworking Magazine is by Chris Schwarz. In it, he talks about buying furniture vs. making it and some of the thoughts going through his head regarding that forbidden subject amongst woodworkers.
Funny how life is full of little coincidences, isn’t it? I must admit, I have a brand new dining room table and four chairs being delivered to my house a week from this Saturday. I sort of feel guilty about it.
Then again, I don’t feel THAT guilty. I certainly don’t feel guilty enough to cancel the order and have them sent back!
It is a good set – Ethan Allen Furniture, Arts and Crafts style, solid cherry, SUPER comfortable chairs, and I was even able to get the seats in an awesome camel houndstooth patterned fabric. We’re getting it a darker finish which should go well with the rest of the furniture in our house.
I must admit – I’m slightly partial to Ethan Allen furniture because of the name. (You think?) After all, the very first time I heard MY name in association with anything other than me was when my mom talked about our Ethan Allen Furniture. (Most often it was something along the lines of, “Don’t you DARE lean back on those chair legs, mister!”... but I digress.)
We had several pieces in our house when I was growing up – a dining room table (round, maple) and four chairs (windsor-style) and a pine dry sink with a dark stain and white porcelain knobs. In fact, my parents still have every single one of those pieces and they are all in excellent condition. The dining set is used every day in the hobby room (isn’t it funny how every room in the house has its own name?), which is just off the kitchen. It also doubles as an informal eating area for when the main dining room table is unavailable (i.e. piled up with bookkeeping or whatever hobby is the flavor of the month at the parents’ house). So not only do they still have the pieces, but they still use them every single day.
The dry sink is currently in the basement. I’d take it, but I have no room. Plus, it has a bit of damage to its doors – the result of leaving my younger brother alone in close proximity of a hatchet for too long at the age of five. (We still talk about that to this day…)
Anyway, back to my guilt.
When I started getting into woodworking, I quickly found out I would mostly be a “small piece woodworker”. I certainly don’t think there is anything wrong with that; it is just the size of projects I most often turn to, I guess. A friend of mine, Kenny, had a fireplace mantle built for him a few years ago. He’d never had it installed because the guy who made it flat-out refuses to apply finish to his pieces. He’ll make you a built-in or a mantle or a dresser, but he won’t finish it. So, by way of paying Ken back for some flooring he put in my condo a while ago, I offered to finish it for him. I must say, I think I did a great job. But I also learned that I don’t like finishing big pieces! Maybe that’s part of it.
It also has to do a lot with my attention to detail and the preciseness in which I work. I find it harder to be as “particular” as I like to be the larger the piece I’m making. Maybe others can do it, but I can’t.
Bottom line – I don’t know if I’ll ever make a piece much larger than, say, an end table. I REALLY don’t think I’ll ever make a chair – I had a hard enough time finding chairs I thought were comfortable; I can’t imagine the anger I’d have with myself if I made an uncomfortable chair… To think that I’d make a full-sized dining room table AND a full set of chairs is quite silly.
So a purchase it is. And a brand new purchase, at that! It seems odd that we would turn to a new furniture store when the rest of our house is full of antiques. Indeed, the desk this very computer is sitting on is a very old quarter-sawn oak library desk I’ve had since I was a small child. That is about the only piece of oak furniture we have, actually. Most of our pieces tend to be walnut, and either Eastlake or Empire style… that’s probably a topic for a different blog entry, though. We found several tables that fit our needs; most of them were walnut and were extendable, even if they didn’t always have the leaves to them. But finding antique chairs that felt sturdy and were comfortable was a completely different story.
So why do I feel slightly guilty? I guess because I call myself a woodworker and one would think a woodworker makes his own table and chairs.
And why don’t I really feel THAT guilty? Because, in all honesty, the other Ethan is going to have built a MUCH better quality dining table and infinitely more comfotable chairs than this Ethan probably ever could. Well, I won’t say EVER… at least than I could build right now – don’t want to sell myself short!
I was able to use my woodworking experiences and knowledge to help select the best quality furniture we could afford (and my wife’s Christmas bonus ensured we could afford Ethan Allen – but I’m not jealous she makes more than me. No, really, I’m not… and it’s not like her bonus was good enough that we could get the table and four side chairs AND two arm chairs… we had to leave the arm chairs for a different time. Maybe next Christmas. Ok, I’m jealous.).
And if it follows a similar track record of the table and chairs my mom has, I know it is something we’ll enjoy for 30 years or more.
Oh, and my middle name is Andrew, not Allen… in case anyone was wondering. Come on… I know you were.
-- Ethan, http://thekiltedwoodworker.com