The Weight of Wisdom

I first thought of selling my bark processing machine years ago.  I even priced it and told a few folks that I thought might be interested. No one seemed willing to pay the cost of building the machine, much less the cost of developing this process.  I let it gather dust for 8-9 years before realizing that it needed to go back to work. What I got paid for it didn’t really matter. It had already paid for itself many times over in bark splint production. Now was the time to let someone else supply chairmakers with the perfect splints.  So, I set a price that made it easy for Eric Cannizzaro to take over.

When Eric drove away with the machine strapped to the bed of his trailer, I felt the weight lift.  I had been hanging on to something of great value to others that, for me, had simply become a curiosity to visitors and a burden to those who had to clean around it. All the folks making my chair designs and others that need bark did not have a great supply of ready-to-use material. Eric could now change that. It felt good to see the machine in the hands of someone capable of taking care of it and keeping it running well.

But beyond the machine itself, it felt good to realize that I had fully let go of post and rung chairmaking and everything that went with it.

The shadow of Apollo, the 26,000 pound 30-foot-long CNC machine that Sten Gundersen brought into our shop, made the moment of letting go particularly poignant.  The bark machine gave us the capacity to get a huge harvest of bark every spring and perfect control of the consistency of the dimensions.  While this produced a huge jump in the chairmaking process, it did not allow something new to be made that I couldn’t make without it.

The CNC machine does just that.  When I began making chairs, I was in love with all that hand tools represented and the simplicity of that way of making things quietly, without dust, and on a budget that meant little pressure to manufacture volumes of product.   The CNC machine represents the opposite; extreme complexity, lots of dust, and a huge addition to the overhead burden.  But watching it work, shaping parts and machining joints at an amazing level of precision, I began to realize the freedom with which I can now design. The ability to make precise cuts in any orientation means I can design furniture that flows more like living things do.

I had always felt like I was pretty fluid in my design thinking and creative in how I solved problems. Because of Apollo’s new CNC technology, I can see all sorts of openings for our new friend to allow the conception of designs I had not permitted myself to imagine.  This feels like a sudden increase in the color of paint I get to use or the vocabulary I can think with.

After 39 years of making furniture, I am more excited than ever about what’s ahead and happy to carry with me the wisdom rather than the weight of my past.

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