Spectacular veneer workmanship wins

The Grand Prize winner in the 2013 Veneer Tech Craftsman’s Challenge might have all sorts of hidden doors and drawers, but what wasn’t hidden was the masterful craftsmanship and design. Awards were officially announced July 25 at the AWFS Fair in Las Vegas.

Craig Thibodeau’s Art Deco Table with Trompe l’Oeil Interior took the Grand Prize in the annual competition for fine work in veneer. The piece features several doors and drawers cleverly hidden by the eye-popping and vision-bending veneer work.

“We began with Pau Ferro veneer for the exterior layed up in a waterfall pattern flowing down the table sides and bookmatched around the entire table,” says Thibodeau of the piece. “To add interest to the top of the table we added a book-matched panel of quilted maple veneer bordered with Gabon ebony inlay. The use of straight grained Pau Ferro veneer made hiding the primary secret door a bit easier as the dark grain lines hide the door seam.”

Sam Parisette-Herzog of Herzog Veneers, which supplied veneer for the Grand Prize winner, commented, “Please let the folks at Veneer Tech know that we greatly appreciate them for their sponsorship and all the hard work it takes to do a Challenge like this. They have consistently supported the creators, the suppliers and the sales people in the veneer industries for what is a love of a fine natural material. When it comes to beautiful wood and beautiful workmanship, they have continually led the way.”

Cabinetry afloat

Jarrett Bay Boatworks captured the cabinetry crown with a yacht interior all done in high gloss cherry veneer.
“Just like our boats, wood veneer's seamless rich look is timeless and helps our boats to hold their value,” says Randy Ramsey, president, Jarrett Bay Boatworks. “The added bonus of repairability, given the rough course some of our vessels can take, allow our craftsmen to ensure our boats maintain their distinguished style for the generations that may come to use them." 

One of the unique features of the Veneer Tech Craftsman’s Challenge is that it not only awards the woodworkers, but it also gives prices to the veneer suppliers, even when they are competitors with Veneer Tech.

Winning wine cellar

Darryl Hogeback of Savante Wine Cellars took home the top price in Architectural Millwork with a beautiful wine cellar project. “The goal of this project was to create a wine room that would resemble a small quant wine store/wine bar you might find strolling down the promenade of an Italian village,” Hogeback says.
He accomplished that with the columns of the white oak racking and walnut hutch in burl white oak veneer with a shellac finish to pop the color contrast and burl. The hutch includes walnut burl veneer accents on the drawer fronts and upper front raised panels.

More tricks of the eye

Top furniture honors went to another piece feature ample use of veneer trompe l’oeil effects. The round table by Michael McDunn of Greenville, S.C., features amboyna burl, ebony, satinwood and holly veneers.

“My goal in designing and building this table was to satisfy my client, who loves art deco and Biedermeier furniture, and to push my design skills to a new level, says McDunn. “This is the most complex piece of furniture that I have executed out of veneer and the opportunity to make a project like this has opened up a whole new thought process as far as making three-dimensional designs executed in veneer.”

Student honored

One of the important categories in the annual contest has always been the student division in an effort to encourage those just starting out in woodworking to consider veneer options. This year’s student winner was a table called “Widowink” done by Matthew Stoltz, a student at the College of the Redwoods in Ft. Bragg, Calif.
Done in Gabon and Macassar ebony veneer, the piece could have only been created with veneer, says Stoltz. “Solid wood would have been impossible for a desktop, especially out of ebony.”

Golden specialty winner

The glint of ornate gold leaf highlighted the winner in the Specialty Items category. Titled “Memories of Russia,” the wall-hung curio cabinet was done by Colin Smith of Long Beach, Calif. Marquetry roses add a floral touch to the piece.

A Special Honorable Mention prize was also given to Chuck Sharbaugh for his aviation themed cabinet titled “Up.” 

Judges impressed

All three of the expert judges for the contest noted how difficult it was to select winners from among the many qualified entries in each category.

Dale Broholm, who himself designs and makes custom furniture out of his Boston area studio and has taught at the Rhode Island School of Design since 1999, commented, “I was deeply impressed by the overall quality of the submissions to the 2013 Craftsman's Challenge. The variety, technical mastery of the art of veneering and demonstrated professionalism of the entrants was compelling."

Tim Fixmer, publisher of CabinetMakerFDM, a co-sponsor of the contest, noted “I have to say that this year's judging challenge was significant. The quality of the entries was superb. We observed unique, stellar achievements in design, craftsmanship, and technique. The entries represent the very best of our industry, from the students to the time tested pros. In the final analysis, the winners in each category were chosen by only fractions of a point separating them from the majority of the other entrants."

Thomas Tuck, who graduated from the award-winning wood program Cedar Ridge High School in Hillsborough, N.C., and currently works as product and distribution manager with Casadei-Busellato, discussed how the judges evaluated the work. “Judges' decisions in the Craftsman's Challenge are in large part based on the quality of execution, and the greatest optimization of material,” he says. “Technique is important, as is the originality of the workpiece. Really, we look for functional design that is unusual and bends the boundaries, expressing something that hasn't been done before.”

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William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.