Did I say Hot? House & Home magazine agrees!

House & Home magazine selected our tap maple charcuterie board for their “2016 Made in Ontario Holiday Gift Ideas” article.  We are proud to see a major magazine recognise our hard work discovering innovative raw materials and creating unique gifts.

Supplies of tap maple are limited, so we expect this item to go fast.  I know supplies are limited because earlier this fall I bought all the tap maple I could find from a major mill.  I’m still looking for more, so drop me an email if you know any maple syrup producers who are cutting down trees.


Tap Maple in House and Home magazine

Earlier this year I predicted that these boards would be popular.  The ambrosia streaks caused by drilling the hole to insert the spile (look it up), along with the tap holes themselves, make for a unique and stunning design in the wood.  No two boards are the same. They are a lot of work to build, as the wood is usually damaged and the holes have to be filled, but the results speak for themselves.

The serving bowls in the picture are from Tammy Heyman of Ladybird Ceramics.  I liked Tammy’s work so much I sell her products alongside my own so you can have a complete gift set ready to go at your next party.

Use our tap maple charcuterie board to serve fresh Ontario cheese with locally-made jellies and be as Canadian as you can be!


52 Candles Project

Nothing motivates you like telling the world that you are going to do something.

I have started a new Instagram project called @52candlesproject where I plan on creating and publishing a new candle every week in 2016.

The original idea came from Matt Cator who created his @52tables Instagram account as a personal challenge.  Matt was interviewed on CBC Radio and The Windsor Star.

I have a few candles already underway, and I may have to pad the project with a few that have already been completed, but I hope to make it through 2016 with 52 new candles.

Wish me luck.


Our new name is what we do

Our new name – Whistler Woodcraft – reflects our focus on the craft of working with wood.

When I started this business, I wanted a name that reflected the wide range of genres in which I worked. As my wife will attest, I have a touch of ADHD, which is reflected in the many media in which I create using a combination of artistic flair and technical expertise.

I started early in life as a photographer, where I developed my eye for composition and deep technical knowledge of the technology of cameras and the chemistry of printing.

Later I started working with wood, designing and creating furniture for our house. My career has been in the dynamic business of high tech, and every time I changed jobs I channeled my stress into a new piece of furniture.

I then became interested in stained glass, and once again designed and created a wide range of pieces for our house and as gifts.

I probably would have gotten into fused glass and pottery as well if I could have afforded the kilns.

When I decided to evolve from a hobbyist to a craftsperson, I focused on what I did – which is pretty much anything that caught my interest – and Whistler Fine Arts was born. I quickly learned that both photography and stained glass are not very profitable.

Modern cameras and smart phones are so capable that pretty much anyone can take a good picture now. Very few people are willing to pay for a photograph.

Stained glass is so time-consuming that few people are willing to pay what it really costs to produce a Tiffany-style glass panel. By the time I add up my material costs and the number of hours in a piece, I barely make minimum wage at the price at which people are willing to pay.

Cheap foreign knock-offs have also flooded the craft market and driven price expectations into the ground.

But hand-made wood pieces are still appreciated by some, especially when they are built from unique wood sourced locally. So we are going to focus on wood for the next while, and I wanted our name to reflect that.

My medium is wood and my differentiating factor is my craft, so “Whistler Woodcraft” was born.

Join me in my journey as I explore unique sources of wood and build interesting, beautiful and functional items for your home.


Nothing like a deadline to focus your efforts …

It’s all too easy to putter around the shop, trying this and testing that, and generally wasting a lot of time.  Sign up for a show, however, and the approaching deadline motivates you to get things done.

On Saturday, June 13th from 11 am to 6 pm, we’re going to be at the Toronto Art Crawl in Liberty Village.  I’m pretty impressed with the organizers who are promoting the event and have scored a major sponsor with Varekai, Cirque du Soleil.

The issue is that I have sold out a few key products, and I have had a few more “cooking” in the kiln, so it’s suddenly time to get cracking!

A while back I scored a few barrels and a pile of interesting wood and had all sorts of ideas dancing around my head.  Now I need to get the tools out, fire up the old creativity, and start making stuff.

The first batch of wood has exited the kiln and is dry enough to work. A few pieces “exploded” in the kiln – heavily twisted wood is the most visually interesting, but it also has a bad habit of cracking when drying because of the tension in the wood fibres.  I managed to salvage most of it and I am busy making one-of-a-kind candles.

One of the barrels had a surprise inside (no, not wine!). The inside surface of the barrel, rather than the smooth curved surface you normally see, was heavily grooved.  I found out this was an experiment by the winemaker who wanted a barrel with an “extra heavy toast” for a robust red wine he was working on.  “Toast” is the charring  on the inside of the barrel created when the cooper “fires” the barrel and turns the inside surface from nice clear oak into oak charcoal.  This charcoal adds extra character to the wine aging inside the barrel.

The theory was that if you rout a series of grooves on the inside surface of the barrel before firing it, you get more surface area for the wine to meet.  In theory this should should magnify the effect, but I learned from the winemaker that it didn’t really work and they will no longer use that type of barrel.

Interesting lesson, but it means that I have a few dozen staves that I cannot easily work into the products that I usually make.  I don’t really mind because I have some ideas for really unique products that will be enhanced by these unusual barrel staves.

All I have to do is get back into the shop and get to work.

We will also be at the Entertainment District Art Crawls on Friday, July 10th and Friday, August 14th at David Pecaut Square.

Damn. I better get to work …


What’s cooking?

Wood; that’s what’s cooking.

Well, it’s actually drying at a low heat in my new kiln.

I came across some awesome thick-cut cherry slabs that have been drying outdoors in a stickered pile for a few years.  I have some great ideas for this wood but before I can use it I have to dry it to a lower moisture content.

When you buy finished wood from a store it has been dried from its 50% moisture level to about 8-10% moisture.  At that level the wood has shrunk about as far as it is going to so it is safe to build with.  Building with green wood can result in cracking, twisting and cupping and could easily ruin your project.

The stickered cherry wood has air dried to about 20% moisture, so I need to get that down to 10%.  At 2 inches thick, I can leave the wood in my heated basement for another year which should get it down to 12%, which is pretty safe to work with.

But I want to get it to 10% or less, and I do not want to wait a year before I can build with it.

The problem is that you cannot just buy a kiln at Home Depot.  Very few woodworkers dry their own wood, so no one makes small kilns.  I could probably find a $100,000 commercial kiln, but I do not have the money or space for one.

So I built my own kiln.

They are really quite simple.  All you need is an insulated box, a heat source and a fan.  You have to maintain the temperature at around 100 degree F and the relative humidity at 40%.

So I made a 2’x2’x4′ plywood box and insulated it with foam.  I put in two 100 W bulbs and an old computer fan to keep the air moving.  I cut some holes in each side and covered them with sliding covers so I can regulate the temperature and humidity.  I also installed a small window so that I can see the thermometer/hygrometer inside the box.  It’s a good thing that I know how to cut glass.

So my first batch of wood went in yesterday.  I hope to have it ready in two weeks, but the frigid temperatures in my unheated garage are keeping the internal temperature a bit low.

You ‘ll know that the wood is ready when you start to see new wood products appearing on the site.

Stay tuned for updates on my adventure in kiln drying wood.


My head is full of rocks

I recently spent several weeks vacationing in Newfoundland, so I now know why it is called “the rock”; there are rocks everywhere.

All four coasts are mostly magnificent cliffs, the bottom of most “ponds” are covered in rocks, and even their highest peaks are liberally strewn with small rocks. Everywhere you go, there are rocks.

I’ve always had an affinity for rocks, so I was quite engrossed with what we came across.

Even though we were flying home, we managed to pack a few choice rocks in our checked bags.

Towards the end of our trip we visited the Johnson Geo Center in St. John’s, which is a fantastic museum that pretty clearly explains why Newfoundland has such interesting geology.  The island includes both a stub of the Appalachian mountains and beaches that were once connected to Morocco. The age of the rocks varies from recently-deposited sandstone to peridotite  from the earth’s mantle.  A coloured map of the types of geology in the island looks like a Jackson Pollock painting.

So now I am bouncing around ideas for making things out of rocks.  Possibilities include rock candles, rock table tops, and hybrid items made from combinations of my favourite materials like rock & glass and rock & wood.

Keep your eyes open for new items appearing in our store over the next few weeks.



Woodworking with Barrel Staves

I recently started working in a whole new wood medium – oak barrel staves from reclaimed wine barrels.

This is beautiful wood with lots of character. One side is stained a deep purple from the red wine that aged in the barrel for up to seven years. The other side has a lovely grey patina from being exposed to the weather, with white stripes from the metal rings that held the barrel together.

Depending on the source, the barrel might have held red wine, white wine, or even whiskey (retired wine barrels are often used by whiskey makers to impart a unique smokey taste to their product).

Here is a video about how a traditional wine barrel is constructed.

As you can see from the video, one of the challenges of building with barrel staves is that no two staves are the same shape. They are different thicknesses, widths and even lengths. They are also curved in all three dimensions: they are wider in the middle and tapered at the ends, the inside is concave, and the outside is convex.

They are held together in the barrel by iron rings, and when the rings are removed the wood springs back a bit. The amount of springback varies depending on the wood, the age, the temperature and the humidity. Even two adjacent staves that fit together perfectly in the barrel will not align exactly once released from the rings.

Joining any two staves together takes a good eye and lots of patience.

One of the reasons we do not have a large selection of barrel stave items yet is that the first of each is incredibly challenging to make.

For instance, every piece in our barrel stave wine rack has to be cut, shaped and fitted by hand. The shelves that hold the bottles have to be raised at a 8 degree angle from horizontal to make sure the bottle does not roll off. However, those shelves are attached to a vertical arm that is itself curved. So the bottom shelf has to attach to the vertical arm at a 3 degree angle and the top shelf connects at a 12 degree angle. The base of the shelf also has to be curved slightly because the vertical arm is also slightly concave from the circumference curve of the barrel.

You can see the curves and joints in this photograph.

Barrel Stave Wine Rack Detail

I first have to build a special jig to hold the vertical stave in place while each arm is measured, cut and shaped. The angles and joints are not perfect. Unlike traditional wood construction, where you can plane each piece of wood perfectly straight, flat and square, barrel stave joints have slight gaps, variations and imperfections.

As I dream up new items to make, I really enjoy the challenge of figuring out exactly how it will go together.

And finally, the wood gives off an amazing smell when cut and drilled – my workshop is redolent with hints of woodsmoke, wine and sometimes even whiskey.

Check out the barrel stave gifts available in our store.


Introducing Wally 2.0

There is an old saying that goes “if you are doing what you love it’s not really a job.”

After 30 years in technology, I have decided to pursue my alter ego and have launched Whistler Fine Arts to showcase my inner artisan.

Very few people know that while I was busy dealing with the chaos and uncertainty of high tech, I was also honing my skills in a variety of crafts.

My work/life balance was usually heavily weighted towards work. The exception was when my job disappeared, which was an all to common occurrence. My plan for dealing with the stress and uncertainly of unemployment was to immerse myself in a new project. My house is now littered with custom furniture and stained glass, each of them linked to a specific life event. Each project got bigger, more elaborate and more challenging.

Yes, I have a habit of changing jobs too often.

I finally decided to flip my world around and pursue my craft while working part-time in technology.

Even now, however, I cannot help but look a the opportunities to link the worlds of e-commerce and art. www.whistlerfinearts.com is an opportunity to both launch a new career and to learn a whole new technology.

Who knows, I might be able to build this into a whole new start-up…


Welcome to Whistler Woodcraft