I started making furniture by mistake. I really wanted a motorcycle shop. I’d purchased a disreputable looking honda motorcycle which had come my way at a good price. While I was learning how to ride, I decided that I’d try my hand at tuning it up. After about a week’s sweating, I managed to destroy the engine (I stripped a head bolt. Don’t do that. It sucks). I trucked the mess down to a friend’s garage, and we put it back together, better than new. It was the most fun I’d had in ages - and a totally legitamite way to get really filthy. So, I wanted a motorcycle shop.
Somewhere in the process of building the cycle shop, a table saw snuck in. I think that my logic was that I needed a table saw to make the benches and built-ins. Besides, I knew that I wanted to build a house someday, so I’d need a portable table saw, right? A contractor’s saw, that’s gotta be portable. I learned later that it’s portable in the sense of “If you have two guys and a pickup truck” and you’re willing to take it apart. No matter. I bought the saw, and then I started looking for books. I knew I wanted to build cabinets to store my stuff, and had no clue how to start. During my searching I stumbled across Krenov’s “The impractical cabinetmaker“. I bought it instantly, just because of the title. And was introduced to one of the modern descendants of the arts and crafts philosophy:
…what I leaned about cabinetmaking from Carl Malmsten and Georg Bolinwas, in a sense, fairly traditional - time-tried skills and rechniques, a solid and and even sensitive relationship to wood and tools, and a response to fine, I’m tempted to say refined, lines and well-balanced proportions. … The things we picked up at school stayed with some of us. They went far back, to Gimson, the Barnsleys, and other quiet craftsmen. And they are timeless.
I love his work, but I also find that it has a fairly limited vocabulary. He makes many variants of the “cabinets on stilts”. Lots of gentle curves, inverted curves, and woods which are easily worked by hand. He rightly despises working with exotics that resist hand work. They tear, they split, and just generally misbehave. Some have so much silica in them that they cost more in worn tooling than in the actual wood. But lord, they’re beautiful. Anyhow, I wanted to see more of both the philosophy, and some of the inspirations for Krenov’s works. A hint dropped in an article about his school up in the College of the Redwoods (I wish I could remember where I read it) led me to a particular pamphlet about Edward Barnsley.
I won’t attempt a biography of Barnsley. His studio has survived, and there’s a wonderful book about his life and work. However, that book is awfully stingy with pictures. In fact, the only place I know of to find photos of his work, besides that book (and a very few on the shop’s site) is in the pamphlet- “Edward Barnsley, sixty years of furniture design and cabinet making”. It’s referenced in the book list from the College of the Redwoods, but it took me a year to track down a copy of my own. As of this writing, It’s not even listed on abebooks. So, to make a short story really long, I’ve reproduced it here. There’s no copyright listed, but I did contact the foundation, who haven’t written me back. So, enjoy!