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A have a look at Ken Richards’ life in woodworking.

After six years as a draftsman at Boeing—his first job out of highschool—Ken Richards had sufficient cash put apart to purchase 5 acres and a barn in close by Maple Valley, Wa., and he was prepared for a profession change. “Six years of sitting at a desk, in a room full of desks, in a giant building full of rooms full of desks—was enough to convince me the insecurity of unemployment beat the security of Boeing,” he remembers.

Drawn to woodworking, Richards received a contractors license to pay the payments and spent his free time constructing furnishings in the barn, for household and mates. To maintain his overhead low, he lived in an unfinished home on the property—basically a basement with a roof on it, left behind by the earlier house owners.

Within 5 years, Richards was woodworking full-time in the barn and had his first piece in the Northwest Fine Woodworking Gallery in Seattle, a thriving retail area for stunning modern work. His padauk wine cupboard bought rapidly to a visiting couple from Florida, who had been involved in ordering different items.

A pair of months previous to that in the spring of 1991, Richards was wiping end onto his largest piece so far, a ceiling-high, 8-ft.-long walnut buffet for a consumer’s eating room.

The subsequent morning, the barn, the buffet, and all of his instruments and gear had been gone. “I missed some oil-soaked rags when cleaning up the night before and they spontaneously combusted,” he says. “Everything went up in flames.”

When the couple from Florida confirmed up, Richards was “covered with dirt, working in a ditch, and laying foundation forms for a new shop,” he says. His dedication to his woodworking profession will need to have been apparent, as a result of the couple commissioned a full eating set, plus two different items, and had been prepared to attend.

“There was never a thought about picking another path,” he remembers. “It was, ‘What do I need to do here?’ I started making ‘build’ and ‘burn’ piles, had the new building up in six months, and was back to work replacing the buffet.”

When his authentic barn workshop burned down in 1991, Richards constructed one for the future. It’s been a essential half of his success as a professional furnituremaker.

Rich Life, Modest Budget
What Richards has created in the 27 years since is astounding. His furnishings is a tour de power of superb woods, ornate element, deeply sculpted surfaces, and meticulous craftsmanship, with current items taking as much as a yr to complete. On the idyllic property he by no means left, he constructed an enormous two-story workshop and a rare house, each nearly completely on his personal, every as private and pristine as his furnishings. Every fir beam, each charming shed and fence, he crafted all of it, whereas elevating chickens, cows, and the occasional pig for meals.

Ken Richards is an instance of how proficient, decided woodworkers can reside far past their backside line. His formulation: Buy a pleasant piece of land, keep on it, purchase supplies as you possibly can afford them, construct the whole lot your self (you’ll determine it out, and mates will assist), and refuse to compromise your imaginative and prescient. “There’s a connection you get when you built something, that you don’t get when you purchase it,” he says.

Dream Shop
The hearth gave Richards the alternative to design a workshop for the future, a two-story constructing that homes lumber drying and wooden storage beneath and a spacious 1,000-sq.-ft. workshop above, with a wall of home windows bringing in a wash of pure mild and an elevated view of the pastoral panorama.

Upstairs is a 1,000-sq.-ft. workshop with a wash of pure mild, stunning views of the property, tons of storage, and lots of room for outfeed, infeed, and massive tasks.

“The old barn had very limited space for tools and wood storage,” he says. “The new one let me take my work to another level, building multiples and big dining sets. Setting up and working in a space specifically designed as a wood shop—rather than working to try to make an existing structure work—is a big difference.”

As Richards’ work transitioned from machine work handy work, the store received quieter, making room for one more of Richards’ passions. To deliver hi-fidelity music into the sunny workshop, he linked an audiophile stereo system to world-class audio system, that are suspended by chains from the ceiling and angled down towards his workbench. The tops of the excessive partitions are draped with transferring blankets to enhance the acoustics. As a end result, Richards’ CD assortment sounds shockingly like reside music.

As Richards’ work turned extra targeted on handwork, he added an au-diophile stereo system to fill the silence, with world-class audio system and wall hung blankets making his CD assortment sound like reside music.

The mud collector and duct system is housed downstairs, preserving the store quiet, with no hoses underfoot.

At the different finish of the store is the bench space, with Richards’ in depth hand-tool assortment at the prepared.

Richards’ constructed a clamping ledge into the center of his bench, to simply accept customary bar clamps. It’s one of his favourite options.

The floor ground of the workshop homes two big rooms for wooden storage and a 3rd lumber-drying, which have allowed Richards to take benefit of bargains and purchase world-class supplies for his work.

Behind the bench space is his workplace, which doubles as a climbing gymnasium. Rock climbing has been Richards’ foremost pasttime for 20 years, offering train, relieving stress, and constructing friendships.

A House Built like Furniture
When the hearth struck, Richards plans for a brand new home on the outdated basis had been placed on maintain, and he lived in the improvised basement home together with his spouse for one more 12 years. Then he gutted the present place all the way down to the uncooked basis, and constructed the home he had been dreaming about for years.

Richards lived in the basis of this home—basically a basement with a roof on it—for 23 years earlier than he was capable of construct a full home above it.

Richards extraordinary house sits comfortably amongst the timber, crafted from native woods, with vast eaves and a wraparound porch. Like the workshop, it’s designed to suit his life, and sided with the similar vertical cedar, completed with clear oil. Unlike the store, the home feels nearly like a museum, with beautiful fir beams above, marble and maple flooring beneath, unique wooden trim throughout, and Richards’ furnishings and artwork assortment spotlighted by cautious lighting.

The foremost ground is open, with an enormous stand-alone cupboard separating the kitchen and dwelling areas, with artwork objects displayed on one aspect and kitchen cupboards on the different. The second ground is a partial loft that homes the main bedroom, toilet, a small library. The basement homes a beautiful visitor suite.

Exposed above each flooring are timber-framed trusses Richards original from clear, outdated progress fir, salvaged from submerged logs. The porch additionally has a timber-framed roof, this one from old-growth cedar, additionally salvaged.

The wraparound porch, vast eaves, and pure siding settle properly into their Pacific Northwest environment.

By day, clerestory home windows at the roof peak mild the trusses and assist the different home windows usher in pure mild. By evening, the whole house—trusses, Richards’ furnishings and sculpture, the show cupboard, and each flooring—is illuminated with an intensive system of low-voltage lighting that he designed and put in.

The entrance door has curved panels and sand-shaded marquetry. The siding is cedar with a transparent oil end, similar to the workshop.

After years of late nights and affected person work, Richards is comfortable on his 5 acres, feeding the chickens and geese, grilling grass-fed steaks on the porch, and turning his woodworking profession in a brand new path.

Richards crafted the timber-framed trusses from clear, old-growth fir, and illuminated them with accent lighting and clerestory home windows at the peak of the roof.

A big show cupboard divides the open ground plan. The flooring are marble and maple, and the trim is a combination of afromosia, wenge, birdseye maple, quilted Western maple and imbuya.

Intentional lighting highlight Richards’ furnishings and artwork assortment, which is arrayed round the room. On the left is a bombé chest, one of his earliest challenges. On the proper is a breakfront show cupboard in ceylon satinwood, characterised by unique woods and pleasant elaborations.

Richards constructed the sheds and fences for the chickens and livestock he raises for meals. An outdated bathtub waters the cows.

Design Process
While his work has lately turned towards sculpture, Richards is one of the Pacific Northwest’s most achieved furnishings makers and he has priceless classes to share with execs and hobbyists alike.

The first shouldn’t be speeding the design stage. Richards’ brainstorming course of begins with a collection of tough sketches. “Once I think I’m on to something, I start working on proportions and detailing with scale drawings,” he says. The third step is full-size drawings, which he tapes to MDF and props in opposition to the wall to get a greater viewing perspective. A favourite trick for refining a design is “splitting a piece down the middle and trying different shapes, proportions or details—one version on one side, another on the other.”

This collectors stand, constituted of Nicaraguan cocobolo, is designed to show a set of small, treasured objects. Richards detailed the again as properly as the entrance, so the piece will work in the open, as a room divider of types. (Courtesy of Ken Richards)

Drawings are simply the starting. “I make better decisions when a piece is sitting in front of me as a three-dimensional object, rather than a 2-D drawing,” he says. “So I find ways to mock up options with pieces of scrap, clamps, duct tape, whatever.” He additionally notes that designs look completely different while you stroll away for just a few days or extra, let your unconscious go to work, and are available again with recent eyes and new options. “Procrastination can be a good thing,” he says.

Words of Wisdom for Would-be Pros
The foremost problem for full-time woodworkers is discovering purchasers who will pay for high-end work. In the starting, Richards labored for family and friends. He was additionally fortunate to have a spouse with a good-paying job at an upscale restaurant. Many of his first items went to her clients.

After that, he had one other fortunate break. Nearby in Seattle was the nation’s oldest and largest woodworking cooperative, the Northwest Woodworker’s Gallery, the place Richards drew inspiration and linked with purchasers. It closed in 2016 however the web site (https://www.nwwoodgallery.com) nonetheless promotes former members.

Once linked to purchasers, Richards tried to convey his ardour and expertise, telling them about the supplies, course of, and potential of an concept. “You have to become comfortable being around wealthy people,” he says. “Go in with confidence—as an equal. I’m not a salesman. I walk them through my portfolio and tell stories. There’s no hard sell.”

Once they had been dedicated, he handled purchasers effectively, welcoming them to go to the store, sharing photographs of the work in progress, and all the time over-delivering in the finish. As a end result, many of his purchasers turned lifelong mates and patrons, buying a number of items by way of the years and sustaining him by way of the market meltdown of 2008.

A associated key to success, he says, is taking pictures glorious pictures of his work and creating a robust portfolio, each in print and on-line. For at present’s execs, he additionally acknowledges the significance of an lively social-media feed.

Part of treating himself as an equal was estimating his time on a challenge, pricing it accordingly, and taking fee in a collection of 25% deposits. The first will get a challenge on the schedule, the subsequent is paid when drawings are permitted, one other comes when he’s midway performed constructing, and the final 25% is payable upon supply.

Some of Richards’ items characteristic in depth marquetry. He constructed this eating set in narra for a house with a lakeside view, sculpting the chairs flawlessly, for magnificence and luxury. (Courtesy of Ken Richards)

As for what to construct and the way, there are various paths, he says, every with its tradeoffs. “I’m at one end of the spectrum—making high end, one-of-a-kind art pieces. But I know folks who live very rewarding lives doing simpler designs they can produce efficiently on a limited-production basis. Some have developed specialties—shoji screens, for instance.”

This sideboard, in quilted makore and holly, was Richards’ most technically difficult challenge so far. He carved the curved components by hand from thick lumber. (Courtesy of Ken Richards)

Regardless of their private path, he sees widespread traits in profitable execs, or “survivors,” as he calls them. “They have a strong inner drive to create, they work hard, and they operate their businesses with a high level of integrity. If you are not strongly driven to do this work—strictly for the personal rewards that come from creating things and being your own boss—then it’s probably not for you. If you do have that drive, it can be a very rewarding lifestyle.”

He provides with a wry smile: “A supportive spouse with a regular paycheck helps a lot.”

A New Direction
A pair of years in the past, Richards stopped in search of furnishings commissions and began making pure sculpture on spec. “I decide the price when I’m done and there’s no time pressure,” he says. “It’s a reward for paying my dues, and developing a toolbox of hand skills.”

The design course of can be extra free. “I start with a fuzzy idea, start playing with the wood, and see where it goes,” he says.

With sculpture Richards usually lets the wooden dictate the design. At the coronary heart of this piece, referred to as “Tranquility,” is a rare slab of maple, with spalting that stops in a definite line.

Richards made “Glory” from 40 hard-carved piece of ceylon satinwood. It features a pedestal with built-in lighting.

Richards’ work has turned recently to sculpture. This piece, referred to as “Smoke,” is constituted of an olive root burl that he pulled from a pal’s free pile.

He’s undecided if he will likely be profitable as a sculptor, however Richards is giving himself three years to develop a portfolio and discover out. Furniture tends to be seen as craft, not artwork, and the hope is that the new work will discover completely different galleries and venues, and draw costs acceptable to superb artwork. “I’m still following my heart,” Richards says. “In that way, it’s not any different than the past.”

Asa Christiana is the former editor of Fine Woodworking journal, now dwelling and dealing in Oregon. Follow him on Instagram @buildstuffwithasa.

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