Keith Logan on power tools, the challenges of professional woodworking, and his studio in the country.
Q & A with Keith Logan
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?
Figured wood or straight grain?
What’s your favourite power tool?
4 ½ inch angle grinder.
Flowing curves or geometric shapes?
No doubt about it, curves.
Completed about 30 years ago, Logan drew this set of walnut nesting tables out full size, to ensure they all fit together properly.
Lots of Curves
This sapele desk, a fairly recent commission, was built with bent lamination techniques and lots of shaping.
Quotes from Keith Logan
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.