Flow of Figured Ash Veneer Creates a Stand-Out Winner

Saturn Design Inc. captures the highest score in the 1998 Design Portfolio Awards with a stunning five-drawer dresser.

By Tom Caestecker, Jr.

It was a rainbow-like emanation of figured ash veneer from bottom to top that catapulted a five-drawer dresser from Saturn Design Inc. to winning the Design Portfolio Awards "residential" category. The piece was also the high scorer among all category winners and was named "overall winner," drawing rave reviews from judges, with comments ranging from "a technical coup" to "a piece of art that can be used anywhere."

"My intent was to create an elegant, striking and functional piece," said Robert Huskey, Saturn Design's president. "We wanted to emphasize the intrinsic beauty of the veneer and use an appealing form which minimized the need for mouldings and trim and added visual interest. We contrasted the wood elements with an Art-Deco sensibility for opulent use of materials."

Saturn is a small, two-year-old custom furniture company located in Redmond, WA, staffed by Huskey and one employee. It bases 99 percent of its business on custom commissions from interior designers and amassed $100,000 in annual sales in 1996. The award-winning dresser was an original piece designed by Huskey.

"I would like to start an original line of furniture," Huskey said. He added that he built the dresser with Brad Clarke, a woodworking colleague and former employee.

"The veneer orientation on the case is this piece's most unusual aspect," he said. "Had I used the veneer in a more typical, straight rectangular slip or bookmatched pattern, it would have become merely a pretty background displaying the form of the case."

Huskey has been in the woodworking industry for 18 years. He has mostly been involved in the manufacture of high-end, custom, free-standing furniture, but has done other jobs in the field as well, such as finish carpentry, kitchen cabinets and other related work.

"I have a degree in statistics," he said, "but during the course of some graduate work in that subject, I decided to do something I really loved. Woodworking was always a hobby of mine going back to high school, when I first started making furniture and musical instruments."

The veneer on the dresser's top and base is bleached redwood burl. The sides are MDF on the outside, while the interior is maple ply.

The construction process on this $5,500 piece began by making a form to the drawer front's inside radius. Then, 1/8-inch bending ply (poplar) for drawer fronts was laminated on the form. It took six sheets to make a 3/4-inch-thick front.

Huskey said the figured ash veneer was cut on a table saw in long tapers and then taped to form a half circle large enough to cover both the front and sides of the dresser. The drawer front blank was trimmed to width, and the veneer semicircle was laid over D.F. core and then hand cut to 1/8-inch oversize in width. After these steps, it was glued to the core in a vacuum bag.

"The backer veneer was also semicircular and was included in the pressing of the core," Huskey added.

All drawer fronts were cut to height and edges were veneered. The case walls are hollow, with MDF built up in front to allow shaping in order to carry the front radius around to the sides. The curve was roughly done in three cuts on the table saw and then hand shaped and faired to the drawer fronts. Then, the rest of the semicircle was carefully placed and glued to the case sides, Huskey said.

"The object was to have all the case veneer originate from the center and the bottom of the bottom drawer," he added. "The veneer wraps continuously from that point all around the front and sides of the case."

The dresser's top is MDF, which was veneered in redwood burl. The veneer edges of the top were ironed on using Titebond original glue. The top was also rabbetted and fitted with an MDF piece, which was then shaped and gold-leafed.

The base is laminated bending ply made of 1/8-inch poplar. A redwood burl was ironed on, as it was on the top edges. The redwood was then bleached with Daly's two-part bleaching solutions.

For the pulls, Huskey used hand-shaped MDF, which he gold-leafed. The prominent disc is MDF, which was shaped on a disc sander. Like the pulls, the disc was gold-leafed.

"The disc has a circular ply edge to hold it out from the case," Huskey said, "so I only had to fit the ply edge rather than hollow out the disc to the curve of the drawer front."

Apple ply sides and 1/4-inch ply bottoms are featured on the drawer boxes. The case, top and base, as well as all gold-leafed parts were sealed, dye-tinted and topcoated.

All veneer was supplied by Exotic Hardwood & Veneer. Drawer slides were 1-inch overtravel models from Accuride, and finishes included Sherwin-Williams lacquer and Trans-fast aniline dye.

Huskey's 2,400-square-foot shop features a wide variety of machinery, including an SCMI 10-foot sliding table saw, Porter-Cable routers, an Enco 20-inch disc sander, DeVilbiss air compressor, Accuspray HVLP spray guns and a 24-inch Oliver joiner.

In building this piece, a process which took approximately 100 hours, Huskey said he was trying to create something that had tremendous movement, a virtual work of art with a bottom-to-top motion that flows smoothly.

"The grain of the ash emanates from the focal point of the bronzed disc while the curly figure moves in concentric waves around it," he said. "These aspects of the veneer envelop the whole case, displaying its form in a new light. The intrinsic beauty of the veneer is highlighted as it integrates the form of the case into a cohesive sum of the parts."

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