Keith Logan - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

Canadian Quotes: ...on power tools, the challenges of professional woodworking, and his studio in the country.

Keith Logan

Keith Logan



Keith Logan – 64 years old
Keith Logan Woodworking
LoganWoodwork.com
Location and Size of Studio – Northwest of Cochrane, Alberta; 2000 sq. ft.
Education – BA in Economics – UCLA – 1970
 
How long have you been building furniture?
Started woodworking in the early ’70s, full-time woodworker since 1984.
 
What sort of furniture do you specialize in?
My furniture is made for the office, home and church.
 
Tell us a couple of interesting things about you.
We built our shop and house on our land, which has a mile of brown trout stream as the south boundary. It is here that I have taken many photographs through the years, which in turn inform my woodworking designs.
 
If you were not a furniture-maker, what would you be?
A photographer or a writer.
 
Do you prefer hand tools or power tools?
I definitely prefer power tools.
 
Solid wood or veneer?
Solid wood.
 
Figured wood or straight grain?
Figured wood.
 
What’s your favourite power tool?
4 ½ inch angle grinder.
 
Flowing curves or geometric shapes?
No doubt about it, curves.
 
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Nesting Tables – Completed about 30 years ago, Logan drew this set of walnut nesting tables out full size, to ensure they all fit together properly.

Quotes

  • My shop is L-shaped with a 12-foot ceiling. Various rooms serve for lumber storage, construction, finishing and miscellaneous storage. The shop is partially surrounded with a short limestone wall, which harbours flowers in the summer months. It is heated entirely with an air-tight wood burning stove. The floor has linoleum squares, which I use as graph paper. I rarely do drawings. I often draw projects out full-size on the floor to see what the finished size will be like.
  • I must admit my schedule is often governed by the sun. In winter months I get up later than I do in the summer months. I used to feel guilty about this until I read that if we allowed sleeping patterns to cycle naturally through the seasons, we would do that very thing. When there is a deadline, late hours in the shop are often a requirement.
  • I was giving a talk to a group of high school students when one of them asked what my favourite tool was. I thought briefly then answered: an angle grinder. Much of my work is sculptural and I find an angle grinder is the quickest way to remove material. Because I prefer to use curves in my woodworking projects I often use form lamination to bend the wood to the shapes I want.
  • It is fair to say I receive much inspiration from the natural world. I have given slide shows where I show a landscape photograph then furniture that has the same look. The movement that I like to discover in a photograph is the same movement I include in furniture if possible.
  • I would like to think my woodworking reflects my integrity. I want my furniture to be honest in whatever way possible from the initial design to the final finish. If I am not satisfied with a particular curve I will work it until it suits me. This attitude continues down the line from the joinery to the final coat of lacquer.
  • I live a fairly insular life these days, so I must say I have not paid attention to external influences for quite some time.
  • All of my work is commissioned. After spending time with a client I know what will work for them and they get a pretty good idea of how I work. Sometimes I will draw a couple of chicken scratches or sometimes verbally provide a general idea of where I will go with the project. It differs for each individual. I then sit in a chair in my shop until I have a picture in my head of the shape I want a piece to take. I go there directly without any shop drawings. I sometimes use the floor in my shop to draw full-size images of the project. I once drew the shape of a table on the shop floor for a client, whereupon he asked what the base would look like. I said I didn’t know. It was something I would decide after the top had been built. Another time I met a client with her builder at the home she was having built. The builder asked me how I was going to do such and such and I merely said I didn’t have a clue. The client turned to the builder, beamed and said, “I told you so.” I have had a great group of clients to work for through the years.
  • If I had any advice for a young woodworker who is passionate about the work (a necessity), I would suggest they do work that resonates with their spirit. Or, as Thoreau said, “Know your own bone, gnaw on it, bury it, unearth it and gnaw it still.” It is hard work, so make it count as something that is meaningful to you personally.
  • My expectations are simply to do the best I can. That is why one reason I make solid wood frame and panel backs for all my casework. Does a writer leave off the last chapter, a playwright the last act? To quit when I reach the back of a piece means I haven’t done my best. If a piece is not working for me, I rework it until I am satisfied. I am fortunate that my clients provide me with freedom.  Because I don’t do drawings and have no concrete idea of the finished piece, I rarely have expectations of the finished piece. When completed, I look at the piece truly like I have seen it for the first time. That is not to say I can’t improve upon projects in the future. I was satisfied with some of my first chairs when I made them but now, looking back, I am no longer as pleased with them. Time and experience will refine your woodworking skills and processes. 
  • Aside from some trivets and iPad frames I made a couple of years ago, everything I have done has been commissioned.
  • I normally spend a great deal of time with my clients initially. That way, I get to know them and what they want and they get to know me. This is a very important part of the process. Since the furniture is ultimately not about me, I have to understand where my client is coming from. That is my starting point and I am mindful of it during the entire woodworking process. They bring the idea and I put shape to it. It seems to work well for me as well as them. It is a rare occasion when a client sees a project under construction. The next time they see me is when I deliver the work.
  • For 20 years I had an ad in the Calgary Yellow Pages under “Furniture Dealers Retail” since I figured most people wouldn’t think about having furniture made and this way I could catch their attention. After a new company took over the Yellow Pages, my small ad found its way onto the last page and calls became less frequent. I stopped the ad a number of years ago and have had to rely upon repeat business and referrals since then.
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Lots of Curves – This sapele desk, a fairly recent commission, was built with bent lamination techniques and lots of shaping.

  • Perhaps the most misunderstood part of custom furniture is that the quality and craftsmanship differ markedly from commercial products. Custom work, because of its one-off nature and labour-intensive handwork, is often more expensive than similar commercial work. Clients must appreciate this fact if they wish to purchase hand-made furniture. Ultimately, the client is purchasing something from you specifically, not just a piece of furniture.
  • Woodworking guild exhibitions and media articles have helped raise public awareness of studio furniture.
  • Sadly, I have not followed trends in studio furniture making. Nevertheless I appreciate nearly all of the work from individual designer/craftsmen or women that I have seen through the years. Because my aim is always to capture the spirit of the project I am working on, the people that have made an impression upon me are not necessarily woodworkers. Bob Dylan comes to mind. Clearly, Sam Maloof has made a large impression upon me. Antoni Gaudi and James Hubbell are both architects I admire a great deal.
  • I think studio furniture making will always be a marginal profession. One person can only do so much work, and there are so few that do this work full-time that the vocation will never become part of mainstream culture. Thankfully, there appear to be enough people who appreciate the work to sustain this way of life for a few individuals.
  • I think the most positive changes regarding woodworking in the last 50 years is that design borders have been removed. There are many talented individuals who surprise and delight with the imagination, courage and skill they bring to the craft. 
  • The most satisfying part of my work is giving birth to an idea that my client has. Usually the idea is general in nature to which I provide three-dimensional shape. I am the midwife for their ideas. In return I often receive friendships that last through many years.
  • The most annoying parts of the work are things that cause down time. I would rather be making things than doing maintenance. Tools require repair, wood tears out at unexpected times and the shop needs cleaning up, things that are to be expected but not necessarily enjoyed.
  • I have been pleased with many of the more difficult challenges I have met through the years. Figuring out how to build a curved corner couch, a vertically angled corner unit or a curved door with curved jambs and curved mouldings have all been challenging. Also, figuring how to build a piece of furniture that would hide something of considerable value has been required on occasion. 
  • My goals for the next 10 years are to keep on keeping on. Hopefully I will continue to have clients who challenge me and bless me with their trust and support.
  • I have no idea whether Canada is a more or less welcoming place to build and sell custom furniture. I think, in general, we are more conservative than Americans but I have no way to compare the situations. Virtually all my furniture clients live in Canada. 
  • I don’t believe there is such a thing as a “quintessential piece of Canadian furniture”. Maybe a dogsled or canoe may have qualified once as a quintessential piece of Canadian woodworking but that is no longer the case.
  • My wife, Sandy, plays a critical part in all that I do. She once was asked by a guest what she did. She responded that Keith does the woodworking and photography and she does everything else. That is quite true. We have hosted thousands of guests through the years and Sandy extends hospitality to each and every one. She designed and helped build our house in the country, she plants the flowers, makes the meals, provides design suggestions when appropriate, picks up supplies in town, cares for the animals and much, much more. When friends talk about us it is rarely Keith but rather “Keith and Sandy”. Most women could not meet the challenges that come with being married to a craftsman; nevertheless, Sandy continues to handle this lifestyle with grace.
  • It is important to discover your own operating procedure. For me it is starting with a picture in my head then working on the fly. This obviously doesn’t work for everyone, so it is important to know there is no singular way to do anything. Do what works best for you.  
  • Like photography, I have no formal training in woodworking. I took the mandatory junior high school wood shop. Nevertheless, without that I would not be a woodworker today. I didn’t learn much in those classes but I became aware of wood and tools and the possibility of making projects with these. My interest in woodworking appeared at that early age. After completing the assigned project for class in grade nine, I designed and built two others while the rest of the students were completing the required project. When I started woodworking in my early twenties, I looked back at this time as affirmation that, indeed, I had a special attraction and talent for making things with wood. 
  • When I rediscovered woodworking in my early twenties I had no equipment to speak of. I once block-planed 40 feet of end grain to make it perfectly straight and square. A couple of minutes on the table-saw would do that now. However, it taught me how to use hand tools as well as my ingenuity. Today I couldn’t live without my grinders (or all the other stuff I have, for that matter). I am not a tool junkie. I would rather be in a fabric store than a tool store. I have only purchased woodworking equipment as needed.
  • After making a number of projects in my parents’ basement, I went to work for various cabinet shops in the seventies. The last shop I worked for let me design and build all the custom work that came their way. I still had to work inside the parameters of the shop equipment and materials and since I felt my woodworking should have soul to it, I left the commercial workplace. I took a job as a letter carrier and developed my woodworking and photography skills during that time. I was terrified to go out on my own but knew I needed to do it or my gift and interest in woodworking would eventually die.  It was that simple. I was right to be terrified. This is not an easy way to make a living and I could not have done it without the support and help of many individuals, the most notable one of course being my wife, Sandy.
  • I worked out of my basement in Okotoks when I started working full time. I cut a hole in the concrete wall for an explosion-proof fan in a finishing room and wired all the walls with 220 volt outlets. I built a two-story garage to store lumber but in the end needed to have more space. In the fall of 1984, Sandy and I came down with a serious case of “land fever” so on January 1, 1985 we started looking for a cure. Even took out an ad in the Calgary Herald from which we ultimately found the land we acquired.
  • Thirty years ago I was asked to make a window for a retreat centre. I did a number of designs on paper and the final one incorporated a stylized tree. That design I chose for the window. Since then, clients have requested stylized trees be built into the woodwork they commission. That’s why you see that theme pop up so much in the photos of the woodwork.

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View a slideshow on Keith Logan’s work