While admiring the details of Michael Singer’s signature furniture pieces, one would certainly never guess that he began his career years ago as a marine biologist. So how does one take such a leap between careers that outwardly seem to be polar opposites? Well, slowly at first, Singer will tell you. “It was not easy, but then again, it was not that difficult either,” he says.

Similarities between the two fields is what made the transition smoother for Singer. For instance, both fields require an eye for intricate detail and an understanding of how things are engineered. Most importantly, both fields celebrate the beauty in nature.

Out of the Sea and in to the Tree

Singer was not a novice to furniture making before he left his 25-year career in marine biology research. Woodworking was always his avocation. He recalls taking and liking woodshop in high school. “I always loved working with my hands,” he adds.

As an adult, Singer began taking one-day seminars in tool use and furniture making techniques. His first furniture projects were for his own home, a place for which he still enjoys making pieces. In 1996, Singer began creating furniture pieces commissioned from his friends and acquaintances.

When his marine research facility was faced with yet more funding cuts in 2001, Singer decided it was time to leave. He says he would rather “beat the bushes for money working for myself instead of beating the bushes looking for grant money to continue doing research.” Leaving his job saved him three hours commuting time each day, and allowed him to open the custom furniture shop he had wanted in his garage, a place where he still works today.

The 600-square-foot facility houses a General 10-inch table saw, a Delta chop saw and bandsaw, and a Delta 13-inch planer and a 6-inch joiner. Singer says he plans to purchase a Hitachi sliding miter saw later this year to add to his manufacturing abilities. In addition to all the power equipment, Singer has amassed an impressive collection of furniture clamps and sets of Japanese chisels and hand saws for crafting his furniture pieces.

This 9-ft tall by 14-ft long by 30-in. wide wall unit features maple, sapele, glass, aluminum and steel. It incorporates organic and geometric shapes.
Paradise for the kitchen. Singer built this furniture-quality kitchen island for his own home. It features maple, mahogany, fir, redwood burl, glass, aluminum and steel. It speaks of Singer’s signature design style, incorporating sweeping curves with defining rigid lines.

“I like working with Japanese chisels because they have a wonderful ability to hold an edge. The Japanese hand saws I use sport more control for fine cutting,” Singer notes.

When Form and Function Meet Arts and Crafts

During the early years as a furnituremaker, Singer says he crafted mostly tables and cases for things like entertainment centers and armoires. Today, though, he creates anything a client can imagine. He designs many types of studio furniture pieces, including chairs, jewelry cabinets and kitchen islands, like the artistic piece he created for his own kitchen.

“I tend to steer away from the traditional,” he says. “I like making islands because they are more of a furniture piece. They are a kitchen’s focal point and you can put a lot of personality into them.”

Singer will tell you that he has “an eye for art, but I don’t know the theory behind it.” However, the popularity of his furniture pieces prove that he knows what makes good design. “I build my pieces so they are functional and a conversation piece. Everyone likes the arts-and-crafts style because the lines are nice, simple and straight. And this style is my aesthetic for the most part. However, as my technical knowledge increases, I add more and more curvilinear lines to my designs, and people love the combination.”

To keep abreast of furniture style trends, Singer also studies furniture style and art books, in addition to other woodworking publications for fabricating techniques. “I apply this knowledge to my designs to create what my clients desire in a piece of furniture,” he says.

Once clients agree on a design, Singer puts his hand drawings into Rhino (www.rhino3d.com), a Windows-based 3-D design program that can produce organic and geometric shapes. “I fell into this software after inquiring if such a program existed when I was at the AWFS fair in Anaheim, CA, in 2003. I like the software because the learning curve is not very steep, it produces scale drawings and templates, and it has a photo-quality rendering package that clients love,” Singer says.

Crafting an Heirloom

Singer says he likes being the only artisan in his furniture studio, and he likes being involved every step of the way — from idea through completion. “I am always trying to evolve my furniture-making processes, and as I gain more experience and get more technical skill, my designs will hopefully become more sophisticated, both technically and artistically,” he says.

Bubinga and quilted maple with stainless steel accents create an interesting look on these matching- patterned nightstands.

When he begins the furniture-making process, Singer uses a bent lamination technique and a bag system to lay up veneers. Knobs and pulls are made from wood on a small lathe because, he says, “I like the individuality they offer to a piece. For metal handles and knobs, I use Häfele’s products.” For other utilitarian needs, Singer uses Blum, Häfele and Lewis & Co. slides. Knife hinges are purchased from Brusso and European concealed hinges from Blum.

Singer also does his own finishing. For this process, “I prefer not to stain wood. I like the color of natural wood, so when a client is looking for a particular color, I will direct them toward a species that I think they

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