Chris Zumkeller on being inspired by nature, having a plan and epoxy resin pours.
Q & A with Chris Zumkeller
How long have you been building Furniture?
What sort of furniture do you specialize in?
I typically build pieces that could be described as having a very “west coast” feel. Clines and local woods, sometimes with live edges or figure, as a focal point.
Tell us a couple interesting things about your personal life.
I used to be an avid golfer, but have not pursued it for many years. I think I was drawn to golf for the same reason that I am drawn to woodworking; it’s difficult to do well.
If you were not a furniture maker what would you be?
Probably something else with my hands. There is a satisfaction you get from making something with your hands that you don’t get anywhere else.
In order, what are the 3 most important items in your shop apron?
I don’t wear an apron, but my 4” engineer’s square, .5mm Staedtler mechanical pencil and my Veritas Apron plane are never more than arms length away.
Do you prefer hand tools or power tools?
In general, I am more of a realist than a romanticist when it comes to tools. I use whatever tool will get the job done the best.
Solid wood or veneer?
Figured wood or straight grain?
I love figured wood. There is nothing else like it, but I tend to use it sparingly. It can overwhelm a piece and that’s something I try and avoid.
Inherited Vintage Stanley Sweetheart or fresh out of the box Veritas?
Again, I’m not romantic about tools.
Flowing curves or geometric shapes?
This is a tough one.
Walnut. Pacific (Big Leaf) Maple is a close second.
Least favorite wood?
I have a love, hate relationship with Douglas Fir.
This piece of Pacific yew was air dried in a crawlspace for 30 years before it came to Zumkeller. A rare and lucky find. "I had a vision for the oddly shaped piece of wood that was inspired by kelp swaying in the current", says Zumkeller. "Using the flowing grain as my guide, 'Kelp' was born." It is 60" tall and is mounted on a concrete base.
Washed up in a storm, this Alder log was salvaged off the shores of Campbell River. Wanting to keep the natural feel of the log evident in the piece, Zumkeller left the live edge as untouched as possible. If you look closely you can still see grains of sand embedded in them.
Kumiko Coffee Table
"The one project of mine to date that I feel stands out is my Kumiko Coffee Table," says Zumkeller. "The lattice work is made up of 238 pieces and over 900 cuts were needed to fit the pieces together. It was very time consuming to make."
Quotes from Chris Zumkeller
The shop I work out of is owned by my father. For the past number of years it has been where we build timber frame homes. We still run our construction business out of it, but over the last several years have also been building furniture and art pieces out of it. There is about 3500 square feet of floor space. Above the shop space we have recently set up a small gallery so we can showcase our work. It’s available by appointment only at this point.
I tend to start my day early even though I’m not a morning person. My day has usually begun with planning the night before.
I love my card scrapers. They are simple tools that can save so much time in the shop. I think they often get overlooked because there is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to sharpening.
Much of my design inspiration comes from the world around me. I’m fortunate to have nature at my doorstep.
I have made pieces that at the time I thought were fantastic and I look back at them now and wonder what I was thinking.
I'm getting a bit tired of epoxy resin pours. I’m not sure how they are going to fair over the long haul. I know only a few certainties when it comes to woodworking and one of those is that wood moves. Time will tell.
The creative freedom that comes with doing speculative work allows me to try new things and grow as a woodworker and designer.
I really think that integrating technology into the shop is a great way to get young people interested in working with wood.
I think local art shows are a great way get people out of their shops and into the public eye. Woodworking can be a very solo endeavour, something which I truly enjoy, but which isn’t great for creating community.
I usually have a plan for my most of my work. Some pieces end up looking nothing like they originally started as I change things as I go. It really depends on the piece.
I really enjoy fitting wood together. That could mean anything from cutting joinery to inlaying a bowtie. Anything that involves being extremely precise. A tight fitting joint is a culmination of a good plan, accurate measurements, and skillful execution.
Woodworkers should be patient. Woodworking is difficult if you want to do it well.
I think that technology, namely the internet, has made furniture making, and woodworking in general, more accessible.
Bringing a design from nothing but a picture in your head, right through to a real and tangible object is extremely satisfying.
I think Canada is becoming a less welcoming a place to build and sell custom furniture. Keeping up with trends seems to be more important than owning something of quality for a lifetime.
Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.