Michael Fortune - design with reproduction in mind


Most of use seldom do any piece more than once, and often go at making a piece with the Marketing Department's "Ready - Fire- Aim" approach. "Fixing F**K Ups and making them 'Features'" seems to be the semi-norm. I personally use the Design / Build As You Go" method, having a vague notion of what the end result will be and only the length, width and depth constraints in mind. Sometimes it works surprisingly well - and sometimes - not so well.
Then there's Michael Fortunes approach.
Michael Fortune, an amazing woodworker from Canada, was trained in Industrial Arts. With that background, and no doubt the mind and the soul of a paradox - an analytical artist, he creates beautiful pieces - from what initially appears to be a simple hand mirror, to a demilune table like youve never seen before.
If youve seen any of his work, the artist part of him is obvious.
What is not obvious is HOW he creates his beautiful pieces - and why he takes the approach he does.
From what Ive learned of this guy, he starts with the idea that each piece may warrant reproducing - the Industrial side of Industrial Arts. So as the design of a piece evolves hes always thinking of how it will be made, and what jigs and fixtures can be created to facilitate duplicating the final piece, using tools and machines that are readily available and, in the world of manufacturing, inexpensive, OR can be relatively easy to make.
Heres an example - a hand mirror. You need a mirror and a handle. Simple. Jig saw, bandsaw or scroll saw a cricle with a piece sticking out for the handle or round and add a fat dowel. Glue the mirror on and youre done. Functional and quick - but probably not very pleasing to the eye or the hand. Oh - the mirror will probably fall off after a while - the wood movement thing.
But what if you could set the mirror IN the wood - say rosewood - a circle of rosewood shaped as the mirror - round? And since wood moves, dont glue the mirror, capture it in a grooved depression in the wood. That will complicate things just a little because it now needs to be made of two pieces - a left and right half, with the mirror captured between them.
But if most of the work to make this mirror design is to be done with routers and bits, the two pieces must be temporarily be glued together - with tissue paper between them, so router jigs can be used to control the routing. Sharp edges are a no-no for pieces that require handling - three sharp edges in this case - the inside lip of the mirror opening, and the front and back outside edges of the circle of wood holding the mirror. So theres a need to profile three edges - in such a way that they flow together - more jigs.
Rather than drill a hole in the edge of the wooden circle holding the mirror and glueing in a stick handle, why not another circle in a different wood - say ebony - transitioning to an oval handle, set at an angle to the back of the mirror. Better yet, angle the back of the mirror holding part and then also angle the handle. Four or five more jigs for the bandsawing operation and a few more router templates and whats left is a little wood rasping, some scraping and then off to sanding at 220 and finally 320.
There are maybe twenty jigs used to make the mirror piece, several with options for variations of the basic design. Seems like a lot of jig making - for a simple hand mirror, actually not that simple in fact but it looks simple - at first glance. If you get to handle it as well it becomes more apparent that its not a simple hand mirror.
For a One Off, the time and effort just dont make sense. But the second one can be made by a semi-skilled woodworker - in maybe 45 minutes, excluding glue and finish drying time. And because of the options built into the jigs, five or six variations can easily be made fairly quickly- by semi-skilled workers.
I watched all this on a jigs and fixtures tape Michael Fortune made probably 15 or 20 years ago. I took his half day Jigs and Fixtures class a couple of years ago and hes still approaching design with the intent to be able to do limited runs of pieces - and the pieces have gotten even more complex - laminated curves for ALL the parts of many chair designs - and all nice to look at and probably nice to sit it and run yuur hand over the everchanging surfaces, one flowing into another. For each design there are several labled boxes full of labled jigs - and photos and instructions for their use and order of use.
Imagine having the ability to develop a design this way, knowing exactly how it will be made, what jigs and fixtures will be needed AND build in options for variations of the design - BEFORE making the first cut in the wood. It would be nice to sit in on his internal dialogue as a piece is developed. The guys amazing - and a nice person.
charlie b
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Thanks Charlie, I never heard of him until now. http://www.michaelfortune.com/home.html
Be sure to read The Artists Statement
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My projects are made with reproduction in mind too - I'm always f**king something up.
That's some really impressive work.
B.
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<snip>

He came to the Sacramento show last year, and did a floor session. Your characterization of his work as art is really appropriate. What he does with simple, well-used tooling is to be well emulated.
And he seems as nice a fellow as one could hope to meet.
Patriarch
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He has an article in the recent Fine Woodworking that is very informative.
Renowood
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charlie b (in snipped-for-privacy@accesscom.com) said:
| Most of use seldom do any piece more than once, and often go | at making a piece with the Marketing Department's "Ready - | Fire- Aim" approach. "Fixing F**K Ups and making them | 'Features'" seems to be the semi-norm. I personally use | the Design / Build As You Go" method, having a vague notion | of what the end result will be and only the length, width and | depth constraints in mind. Sometimes it works surprisingly | well - and sometimes - not so well. | | Then there's Michael Fortunes approach. | <interesting article snipped> | | Imagine having the ability to develop a design this way, knowing | exactly how it will be made, what jigs and fixtures will be needed | AND build in options for variations of the design - BEFORE making | the first cut in the wood. It would be nice to sit in on his | internal dialogue as a piece is developed. The guy's amazing - and | a nice person.
What you've described is the approach required for CNC woodworking, where nothing can be done until the design is fully specified in a CAD drawing which is subsequently converted to a part program (think: _software_ template) which is subsequently used to produce parts using CNC tooling.
Once the part program has been produced, it can be used to make as many copies as needed.
When parametric programming is used, the part can be automatically modified according to the parameter values (to draw from your example, perhaps to change the diameter of the mirror or to allow for elliptical mirrors by specifying major and minor axis values) to produce an entire family of similarly-styled pieces.
It works - and it's fun!
-- Morris Dovey DeSoto Solar DeSoto, Iowa USA http://www.iedu.com/DeSoto
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Morris Dovey wrote:

But it has no soul. There's no Hands On. And he does use wood files and scrapers and sands to blend shapes and curves so they flow - one into another. And his larger laminated pieces - chairs for example, just don't lend themselves to CNC because CNC is subtractive - cut away antyhint that doesn't look like an elephant.
I have two chinese "silver chests", one done probably in the early 20s and another done in the late 70s. Both have carved cedar panels in the doors and sides. The older piece is very three dimensional and obviously carved by hand - with very fine 3 dimensional work - faces, hands, trees etc. that are clearly done by hand and done by someone who was well versed in carving. The newer one looks similar - initially. But a closer look shows the limitations of the power tools used to create them - though eased a bit, what should be rounded isn't - corners where there shouldn't be corners, acute intersections just don't lend themselves to machines. You see the new one when you walk in the door. The older one is around the corner - where it's less apt to be dinged. That one I enjoy for its craftsmanship. The other one just keeps dust and stuff of the silverware housed in it. One has soul, the other doesn't.
Now I have no problem with using machines to do the grunt work. I do have a problem with stopping there. And if the wood itself isn't a major issue in the design of a piece then, to me, something crucial is missing.
There's a place for "affordable to the masses" stuff - everyone should have access to a copy of a painting by a master and better a fairly nice veneer over mdf table than a plastic one. But there should also be pieces that can be appreciated for generations - something I doubt Ikea pieces will do.
charlie b
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charlie b (in snipped-for-privacy@accesscom.com) said:
| Morris Dovey wrote: || || What you've described is the approach required for CNC woodworking, || where nothing can be done until the design is fully specified in a || CAD drawing which is subsequently converted to a part program || (think: _software_ template) which is subsequently used to produce || parts using CNC tooling. || || Once the part program has been produced, it can be used to make as || many copies as needed. || || When parametric programming is used, the part can be automatically || modified according to the parameter values (to draw from your || example, perhaps to change the diameter of the mirror or to allow || for elliptical mirrors by specifying major and minor axis values) || to produce an entire family of similarly-styled pieces. || || It works - and it's fun! | | But it has no soul. There's no Hands On. And he does use wood | files and scrapers and sands to blend shapes and curves so they | flow - one into another. And his larger laminated pieces - | chairs for example, just don't lend themselves to CNC because CNC | is subtractive - cut away antyhint that doesn't look like an | elephant.
I don't buy that "soul" comes from the tool. I'd argue that the "soul" of any work comes from the mind of the creator and the ability (craftmanship) to create a real-world object that faithfully reflects the creative vision.
If the vision is flawed or poorly rendered, then the "soul" of the work will be diminished.
| I have two chinese "silver chests", one done probably in the early | 20s and another done in the late 70s. Both have carved cedar | panels in the doors and sides. The older piece is very three | dimensional and obviously carved by hand - with very fine 3 | dimensional work - faces, hands, trees etc. that are clearly done | by hand and done by someone who was well versed in carving. The | newer one looks similar - initially. But a closer look shows the | limitations | of the power tools used to create them - though eased a bit, what | should be rounded isn't - corners where there shouldn't be | corners, acute intersections just don't lend themselves to | machines.
It sounds like a rendering skill/quality issue. FYI there are machines /can/ do both rounding _and_ acute intersections quite well. If the craftsman uses the wrong tool - or uses the right tool incorrectly - does it really seem sensible to attribute the result to the /tool/?
| You see the new one when you walk in the door. The older one | is around the corner - where it's less apt to be dinged. That one | I enjoy for its craftsmanship. The other one just keeps dust | and stuff of the silverware housed in it. One has soul, the other | doesn't. | | Now I have no problem with using machines to do the grunt | work. I do have a problem with stopping there. And if the | wood itself isn't a major issue in the design of a piece then, | to me, something crucial is missing.
Interesting comments. So where is the boundary for "grunt work" then? Is it when the log has been reduced to a blank which does not yet contain any resemblance to the piece? Or is it when the piece has been shaped to within 0.0002" of its final form?
Or are you saying that the design isn't done until the piece is done? If so, then you're arguing in favor of trading off discipline in favor of "accidental" excellence.
| There's a place for "affordable to the masses" stuff - everyone | should have access to a copy of a painting by a master and | better a fairly nice veneer over mdf table than a plastic one. | But there should also be pieces that can be appreciated for | generations - something I doubt Ikea pieces will do.
I think you're painting with too broad a brush. I have a delightful (to me) bronze by an artist whose work I've long admired; and to my mind it's the best of all his works. Are you claiming that its artistic quality is diminished because it was cast rather than hand carved? Or are you saying that its beauty was diminished when the same mold was used to produce the _next_ casting?
Methinks you have too closely associated the ability to produce objects repeatably with cheap materials, weak artistic vision, and poor craftsmanship - and I'll suggest that close association is, while all too common, not a given.
-- Morris Dovey DeSoto Solar DeSoto, Iowa USA http://www.iedu.com/DeSoto
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