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 you’ve never seen before.
If you’ve 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 I’ve 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 he’s 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.
Here’s 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
you’re 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,
don’t 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
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 there’s 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
what’s 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 it’s not a simple hand mirror.
For a One Off, the time and effort just don’t 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 he’s 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 guy’s amazing - and a nice person.