Our new name is what we do

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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.

Wally.

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.

Wally.

Welcome to Whistler Woodcraft