Steaming into 2011

I’ve spent the last couple of months in the studio (when I can spare some time from teaching) working out the kinks in my new steam-bending system. I decided last summer to change the material and process for the sculptural outdoor benches I’ve been making (with help from Chris, Yvonne and David) for the last few years. In keeping with my own manifesto, I decided to use only locally available, sustainably harvested material (as opposed to the Jarrah, that I love, but which I had shipped from Western Australia) and to use steam-bending rather than laminating to reduce the amount of waste byproduct and to avoid any chance of de-lamination of the benches in the rather extreme environment of the Napa Valley.

Steam-bending requires almost total control of the process of making from the milling of the lumber through to final assembly. For wood to be suitable it needs to be air-dried only to around 20% moisture content. Most commercially available lumber has been kiln dried to close to 8% moisture content and is difficult to bend. Then each board has its own strengths, weaknesses and inclinations so that total control of the final shape of each component is less reliable that when laminating. But this can be kind of interesting as the nature of the wood still comes through in the final form.

I managed to get the first fully successful steamed element formed just today on the last day of the year. I now have the process fairly well dialed in (I hope) and so I’m expecting that the steaming can become somewhat routine over the coming weeks. Like baking bread!

I’ll continue to post images as the first steam-bent bench comes together.

The 8ft steaming set-up. I can extend it to 20ft!

The redwood boards ready to steam.

The indigo color on the wood comes from the tannins in solution in the wood reacting with the iron of the machine beds as the moist boards are dimensioned. The thicknesser actually wrings water out of the boards! this will be sanded off before the boards are assembled finally.

2″x2″ boards of redwood ready to steam.

Board #1 in the bending jig. No back-strap required as it’s a pretty gentle bend.

In the image above you can see the pencil line on the jig to the right of the board. That’s where the board is expected to flex back to after it has dried completely in a few weeks.

Steam Bending. Cut to size, steam and bend! Nothing could be simpler!


Family Tree: Fine Woodworking in Northern California. Opens January 21

Cullen-neptune tabpeFamily Tree: Fine Woodworking in Northern California  

Opens January 21

Petaluma Arts Center

We eagerly await the arrival of our first exhibition of 2011, Family Tree: Fine Woodworking in Northern California. On exhibit from January 21 – March 13 in the G.K. Hardt Gallery, the collection will feature 25 artists whose work has influenced the important California contemporary fine woodworking movement since World War II. Artists include J.B. Blunk, Arthur Espenet Carpenter, Bob Stocksdale and many others. On view in the Community Gallery will also be faculty selected work by students from the Furniture Design program at California College of the Arts.

The Artists Reception is Saturday, January 22, 2 – 4pm.

Now Online! Throughout the exhibition will be weekend demonstrations, lectures and events such as a curator-led tour, lathe-turning demonstration, gilding and patination workshop and bridge-building for families. The complete listing of exhibiting artists and events is now posted on our website.


The Brothers Quay

I’ve spent some time over this winter enjoying the extraordinary animated offerings of the Quay Brothers.

Twins born in Philadelphia but currently living in London, their style owes a lot to the pioneering animator Jan Svankmajer. But they definitely have their own distinct oeuvre – creepy, enchanting and seductive.

You can see many of their animations on Dailymotion.

Here’s one to whet you appetite. This was filmed in the superb Sir Henry Wellcome Collection of medical curiosities in Euston Rd., London. Enjoy!!

The hectometer freedive of William Trubridge

William Trubridge becomes the first human being to dive completely unassisted to 100 meters (one hectometer).
With a single breath of air, and only his hands and feet for propulsion, he set this historic world record in Dean’s Blue Hole, Long Island, Bahamas, on December 13, 2010.
Directed by Matthew Brown. Music by Hans Zimmer.
The names listed during the descent were the supporters who each purchased a meter of the 100m rope.

For more information on William Trubridge, freediving and courses, visit

Watch the amazing video of The hectometer freedive on Vimeo.

American Craft

Two articles in the most recent two issues of American Craft magazine have cheered my soul.
The first was a favorable review of the New Materiality exhibition – currently on at the Fuller Museum of Craft in Boston and moving to the Milwaukee Museum in the Spring.

You can see this image full-size here. And you can see an online version of this review here.

The second was a great review of my friend, colleague and former student Florian Roeper. He’s been doing wonderful work over the last few years combining the excellent craftsmanship that he displayed at CCA and honed in his rigorous studio work since graduating with a strong conceptual underpinning which has evolved and deepened over the years as well. Florian’s work is revealed on his website.

The extraordinary William Trubridge

I want to CONGRATULATE and APPLAUD William Trubridge who undertook and succeeded in doing something extraordinary in the history of human endeavour this week. He set the world record for an unassisted free dive underwater. At Dean’s Blue Holes in the Bahamas he took a deep breath and then without flippers, weights or other assists swam and dove down to 100m depth and then swam up to the surface on one 4 minute and  10 second breath.

You may know that William’s father is David Trubridge (a welcome and regular respondent to these posts). David Trubridge is New Zealand’s most renowned and respected designer. He lectures  and teaches all around the world on sustainable design. He was the Wornick Distinguished Professor of Wood Arts at CCA here in Bayarea in. Enjoy his engaging, challenging and beautiful lighting and furniture designs through his website (see the  links section).

William Trubridge was born in the UK but as a kid his mum and dad decided to chuck it all in, take their lives at full value, restore a steel sail boat and cruise the world with their two ankle biters. They sailed the length of the Atlantic cruised South America and the Pacific until finally swallowing the anchor four years later in New Zealand. So diving into the briney blue is second nature to William. In fact the ocean is in all the whole family’s blood.

Here are two videos of his recent efforts.

Poetic and heroic, don’t you think?


Diving Arch at Dahab’s Blue Hole in July 2007. William was the first person ever to swim through it unassisted.

Setting the 100m depth record last Monday December 13th.
You can read an article about his dive here.
And go directly to William’s website here, to read a lot, more see images and, hopefully, support his effort!