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Design Process

The design process of a piece of furniture can take many different paths, and since I have never made the same piece twice, it makes sense that each process is different. But, generally speaking, when I begin to work on a commission, I first spend time with the client, visit the home where the furniture will "live” and gain an understanding of preferences and expectations. I use this information as a starting point around which to make basic sketches and selection of the wood. Once I have chosen the wood, I like to stand it up around the workshop and get to know each timber. The design will emerge in response to both the characters of the wood and the client. When designing and building for myself or on speculation for sale, I am able to take full inspiration from the wood itself.

A piece of my furniture often acquires a theme as it is being built, which is reflected in the shape of the piece, the wood selection and distribution, and the joinery. I like to use curves to move the eye and the hand smoothly from one plane to another, or daring diagonals to challenge the sense of stability. Sometimes you can see inside a piece at the inner workings, such as moving drawers, visible through the side of a chest. I strive to make each piece unique.

The finished piece is almost never the same as the initial design. Sometimes the wood itself will influence changes. Sometimes a happy accident will reveal the opportunity to enhance the design. At times the reality of production necessitates a retreat from the fantastic. Now and then an idea just doesn’t work. The design process continues as the piece is being built, and beyond as the completed furniture piece nurtures ideas for future designs.


The primary materials that I use in my furniture are local hardwoods of high figure, such as Sugar Maple, Yellow Birch and Beech. Other local hardwoods include Red Maple, White Birch, Red Oak, White Ash, Elm, and Black Cherry. Most of these are kiln dried, but I have used wood air dried for at least six years.

To compliment and contrast these local woods, I use tropical hardwoods of high colour, which I brought from the South Pacific, and feature them in the design. This mixture of light and dark wood is characteristic of my work.

Table and cabinet tops, legs, frames, panels, drawer parts, and support structures are all wood solids. Only high quality materials are used in assembly and finishing. Hardware is the best available and special fasteners are custom fabricated. Mirror and glass are all high quality.


I like to make it obvious how a piece of furniture is held together. I do this by using joinery in a highly visible manner, with the scale and orientation of the joints resolving the weight of the piece and its parts. The joinery may establish a theme for the piece or reflect a feature of the design.

I have a few favourite joints that characterize my work. I use "butterfly” or "bowtie” splines to join pieces of table and cabinet tops, and I like to use contrasting woods for the splines to emphasize how the top is held together. For table supports, complex curves are achieved by laminating a series of beveled slats, joined together with splines. Even hidden or seldom seen parts are finely crafted and finished. For example, I will ornately join a cabinet back, which may not be seen, or drawer sides, which are only seen when the drawer is being opened. I like obvious points of strength, such as through-mortises and dovetails to emphasize the resolution of the forces. Mortise and tennon joints are used extensively in cabinet, bed, table and chair construction.

Strength and stability are characteristics of my furniture. My joinery regimes accommodate the natural movement of wood due to changes in humidity. I use frame and panel construction in cabinet sides and slotted fasteners to hold down cabinet tops. Conversely, I will use gravity to hold a table top on its legs, located with shallow dowels, or a stretcher slotted into leg frames to support a slab.


My furniture finishing entails many hours of hand rubbing, which produces surfaces of both visual and tactile beauty. You can feel the grain of the wood, as hand sanding and polishing produces subtle surface ripples in accordance with the direction and figure of the grain.

I like to use Danish Oil to protect the surfaces of my furniture because this allows the finish to be as close to the wood as possible. The oil also brings out dazzling grain patterns and colours and causes light to penetrate, giving a visual third dimension to the surface. All of my furniture receives a minimum of three coats of oil, and instructions are included, together with the required amount of oil to do periodic maintenance.

For surfaces that need more complete protection, such as dining table tops, I use a minimum of four coats of polyurethane, fine sanded between coats, and hand rubbed and polished.

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Box 49 Margaree Center, Nova Scotia, Canada B0E 1Z0  /   peterscoady@ns.sympatico.ca  /  902.248.2211