CWB July 2004
After taking classes from several noteworthy woodworkers, a bicycle salesman turned craftsman has developed his own furniture style.>
By Ann Gurly Rogers
In 1994, Rick Stein decided that it was time to end 20-plus years of running a small retail business, so he sold his bicycle shop in Lawrence, KS. At the same time, he traded a treadmill for a table saw. Then, as the saying goes, one thing lead to another.
He started taking classes at the Center For Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockland, ME. In 1995 he took a basic woodworking class taught by the executive director, Peter Korn, who has exhibited nationally in galleries and museums and has written two books on woodworking. Subsequently, he has taken classes from James Krenov, John Reed Fox and Michael Puryear. These notable woodworkers along with local custom furniture maker, Will Orvedall, (see CWB February 2004) have had a strong influence on Stein's design preferences and the way he approaches custom woodworking.
Stein observed that the process of building a piece of furniture requires his full attention from the design process to the final finishing process. "Each stage requires me to work at my fullest potential. I work quietly and methodically. Furniture making demands my best effort, my most skilled and practiced work, and all of my concentration. I can't rush or work casually," he says. "It is a completely different mind set from running a busy retail bicycle store with 11 employees."
Over the past 10 years, Stein has developed an interest in incorporating Asian elements into his furniture, elements that clearly show the influence of John Fox's work, one of his teachers who also uses Asian elements in his pieces. Stein often creates shoji-style doors that are a combination of wood and handmade paper that is glued to a lattice or grid. The paper, which has been carefully cut for a good fit, is glued into place and then misted with lukewarm water, so that it will shrink just a bit to ensure a tight fit. "There is a crafts store in Lawrence that has a large supply of handmade paper. I like to use the paper, and I feel good about supporting other artisans," Stein says.
Stein likes to reference historical furniture styles, particularly the Arts and Crafts movement. He has had the opportunity to make several Morris Chairs for customers, which has become a collaborative effort with a local upholsterer. Additionally, Stein takes pleasure in designing pieces that showcase interesting, highly-figured or spalted woods; and he likes to include subtle details that reveal themselves over time through close examination.
Having enjoyed canoeing and being outdoors all of his life and being a child of the 1960s, Rick Stein feels that it is important to be a thoughtful user of the world's resources. Consequently, he has made a commitment to use wood that comes from a sustainable source. He buys most of his wood from Irion Lumber and Groff & Groff, both located in Pennsylvania. His favorites are American black cherry and walnut. The other domestic woods that he uses are ash, oak and maple. If he uses rare or exotic tropical hardwoods, they are certified to be from sustainable, well-managed forests.
He also has found eBay to be a remarkable source for wood. "I have purchased some beautiful redwood on eBay that is coming from the stumps of trees that were felled in the 1880s and early 1900s. These trees were originally cut off between 6 to 8 feet from the ground at the point where the growth was straight," he says.
"I bought one piece that is 6 feet long, 41 inches wide, and 2-1/2 inches thick. I am planning to make a dining room table with this piece," Stein adds.
In addition to using Asian elements in his work, Stein has learned to appreciate the advantages of Japanese hand saws. "I have two different dozuki saws. They vary in length but are essentially the same. They are used to cut dovetails or other precise joinery," he explains. "I use these handsaws because I feel I both can cut more precisely to a line and because the kerf which a Japanese saw leaves is cleaner and much smaller than one left by a Western saw." Additionally, he reports that there is a bit of a learning curve when getting started with a Japanese saw, because with a Japanese saw the cut is made on the pull while with a Western saw, the cut is made on the push.
The biggest change in the near future for Stein is an anticipated move to the country about 15 miles outside of Lawrence. There he anticipates building both his home and workshop.
The workshop will be between 1,000 and 1,200 square feet, a bit larger than his current workshop of 700 square feet, which is attached to his home in Lawrence. The extra space will be used for finishing and assembly areas.
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