The overwhelming majority of our man-hours here at Cannon Hill are spent – perhaps predictably – building furniture. It’s the thing that everyone here originally fell in love with, and it’s why we do what we do. Designing furniture and consulting with clients make the whole thing possible, but it’s when the wood shavings and sawdust start flying that everything comes together. Our build phase has a number of discrete stages, each with its own set of stringent quality-control checks.
The first part of any project’s build actually involves no building at all. All of our projects are completely custom, which means that we design each one from the ground up. We carry no inventory, and we have no catalogue. We build to the precise specifications of each client and their needs. That all means that when it’s time to start building a table, we can’t just tell the builder a model name and a set of dimensions; often, they need to understand not just what the table is supposed to look like, but also why it needs to look that way, and what it needs not to look like. If there are deviations from our rules of thumb or our standard procedures – as there often are – we need to make sure that everyone involved understands where they come in, and why.
Next, we move into material allocation and selection. For single-slab tables, this means getting final confirmation of layout and careful consideration of the location of all cuts. We make these decisions with our clients either in person or via photographs sent over email; we’re equally comfortable working either way, and our robust system of checks ensures there are never any surprises. If we’re building the table from boards, we’ll pull material from our racks. If a given table is going to take seven boards, we’ll pull eleven or twelve, because an important part of the process is a visual check. All wood – all natural materials, really – have a spectrum of colors within each piece and across various boards, which is what we love about it. Just the same, we’ll make sure that all the boards look good together; we’re not looking for a monochromatic table, which wouldn’t be possible anyhow, but rather for a collection of tones that look natural, like they belong, together.
To ensure that the execution will go smoothly, we start with a meeting where we plot out the construction of the project. From the sort of material we’ll be pulling, to the techniques we’ll use in building, to the finish and any color manipulation we’ll do, we discuss the project and how to do it right. We take note of any moments in the build that will require special attention, so that we can talk them through ahead of time, and make sure that we’ll remain aware of them as they approach. We’ll look over any hardware or specialty components that the project calls for, and we’ll make sure we’ve got everything we need in-house. If there are any items or decisions that remain TBD, we flag them so that we can keep an eye on them and make sure nothing gets overlooked.
With our material selected, we start milling the lumber down to reach its final size and shape. We get the wood in rough-sawn form, which means it’s very rough to the touch, not flat, and doesn’t have truly straight edges. Jointer passes create straight planes on the faces and edges, while trips through the planer bring the two broad faces into parallel and do initial smoothing. Once all the boards have been milled appropriately, we glue them up, and the beginnings of a table take shape.
We consider gluing up a tabletop and leg stock to be the end of the “milling” phase, so we then enter the proper “build” phase. We assemble the components, cut them roughly to size, and begin the process of turning individual pieces of wood into a table. Invariably, there will be multiple test fits, careful marking and cutting, and sanding throughout the process. Often, we’ll create a full-scale drawing of the base so that we can transfer cut lines directly onto the different pieces. Once everything’s been tested and retested, checked and re-checked, we’ll glue up the joints and clamp the whole piece together.
With the whole table built we’ll stand it up to test for stability; even when we’ve built several similar tables we don’t take anything for granted. With that checkpoint passed, next comes final sanding, when all the surfaces get completely flattened and smoothed, in preparation for the application of the finish or color manipulation, if the project calls for it. You can read more about the finishes we use, one wipe-on oil and one spray urethane, to get a sense for what we use and why. In the case of the oil, we first apply a coat on all surfaces by hand, then wait a day and apply a coat of maintenance oil – which improves performance and appearance – again by hand. A urethane finish means the mixing of components, and the firing up of our professional spray room for a process that lasts about a day.
Throughout the process, there have been quality-control checks: when boards are selected; before they’re glued up; once cuts are planned; once they’re made; when we stand the table up; when we finish sanding; between coats of finish; after final finish. Now, with the whole table built, we give it the final, overall quality control check. The reason we check continuously is that finding an issue now, when hours and hours of work have gone into a piece, would mean extensive backtracking and considerable frustration. It’s tremendously rare that we encounter any problems in our final QC, but if we were to, it’s simply time to do whatever it takes to make things right. We would always rather invest the time to turn out furniture we can be proud of than try to sneak things through that aren’t as well-executed as they should be. Our work is our reputation, certainly, so we can’t afford to put lesser furniture into the world; just as much, though, we simply refuse to sell things that we aren’t proud of. If we’re going to put time into something, it needs to reflect what matters to us most of all: quality.