I’ve always liked leanable shelves, especially because when the design is right they just seem rest happily in place and thereby work so well with no more ado. That said, I wanted my own design, one to stand rock solid with no semblance of throwaway disposables and without racking everywhere. I also wanted to start designing flat pack pieces as designs of quality with built to last longevity—fully jointed without relying on trashy materials like MDF or wafer board, chip (particle) board, hollow core hardboard and such like that. So I set to and came up with my design. It took me ten minutes to sketch out my initial thoughts and an hour to develop my working drawings. Then I played around a little with the internal workings by developed extra drawings of joints, kept one from my choice possibilities of three and ended up with only one joint type. From there I made a half-sized prototype and quickly finalised my design. I left myself the option of adding features if I wanted to. At the close of the day, with a prototype then free-standing in its own space, it was clearly the design I strove for and without compromising my objectives in every sphere.
Over the past few days we’ve filmed the latest film series as I made the poplar version. I just loved working the details into reality all the way through; both making and presenting. I think you’re going to love it too: ) Poplar is really a lovely wood especially to work with hand tools.
Because the grain has a very even density so knife cuts develop knife walls and chisel work creates the crispness I strive for. And then it planes to perfect smoothness too. I mean smooth like you have never felt wood. It can be a little hard to saw as the wood seems to have a resilience factor to it that many woods like oak and cherry and walnut don’t have, but it saws fine. Anyway, the colour too had beautiful subtleties to it.
One minute your mind tells you its maple and then another walnut. The greys blend into greens and a black streak shoots across the grain like a meteor shower and seems out of place and then in its rightful place. I have always like poplar but this wood seemed somehow different.
Usually it’s used as a secondary would. The inner gubbins of upholstered chairs and sofas, drawer sides or, in old pieces, it was used in times past as a false wood because it took stains and dyes so well and could readily replicate mahogany or even ebony. When it came to joinery it gave the exact amount of resistance I like at my chisel’s edge or to the plane. So all of my joints came together very nicely with slick, smooth cheeks and sides. Different than say oak with it’s coarse open grain or pine with its hard and soft growth rings.
I picked up my wood from Timbmet half an hour from my home and work. I was glad I did because I picked out my eight boards that were all 12″ wide, eight feet long, flat, straight, clear and had just the right amount of character and colour I knew I wanted. I thought it was fun to see the ‘Made in the USA’ marking penned on them. There is just something I love about picking up wood and I love my Picasso for loading stuff into. Using roof bars works for longer lengths but eight footers fit inside when I fold the seats flat. Combined with my eight foot trailer I can carry everything I need up to and past 12′. I do miss my truck but can’t really justify having one now, especially with the cost of petrol in Europe being four times the price of the USA. Of course it goes beyond just cost as we are learning because we need to be ever conscious of wastefulness all round, especially as science proves what we once only guessed at.
Cutting down trees to make pieces that last hundreds of years encapsulates what I believe. With care, replanting, we can ensure future sustainability for all generations. Reality is wood lasts for centuries and man-mades don’t for anything more than a decade or two because of attitudes. So my shelf unit came together with well planned and well made joinery and when it stood in its leaning stance it felt, well, right. I loved the colour and the size but what I also liked was its scalability. You can narrow it down, extend it and add a middle piece, make it quarter size for a counter top and you can also add design features such as arches, upstands for books and so on on.
After all is said, in the profiling of this piece, I began to see my design resonate with a different message. Spice racks and chimney shelving, a place to keep vinyls and audio gear, a flat screen even, and then sound systems and so on.