Design Week Portland Artist Feature: Wessinger Woodworks

Bill Wessinger in his woodshop
Bill Wessinger in his woodshop

Bill Wessinger in his woodshop

Bill Wessinger is a sixth-generation native Portlander. He grew up working with his grandfather, Clay, who was always building things in his garage workshop. From the 1st grade until he graduated high school Bill was in the school shop. After college, Bill began building boats and substitute teaching for his former shop teacher. In 2014, he began working for a local nonprofit teaching a mix of boatbuilding, woodworking, and math and introduced him to the community hub of ADX. Since joining the fabrication team at ADX, Bill has worked on his own company Wessinger Woodworks, providing custom made furniture and sculpture.

1. How would you refer to yourself? Woodworker? Artisan? Craftsman?
I think of myself primarily as a woodworker. There are a lot of folks describing themselves as makers these days, but I think of myself more as part of a continuation of the studio furniture movement that has been quietly going on for decades. The newer maker movement I see as being much more focused on integrating electronics and computer modeling into how they make things.

The use of hand tools features prominently in my work, and I think the traditional sense of craftsmanship applies to my work. I’m not sure you can talk in terms of craftsmanship, at least not in the traditional sense, when your pieces are cut out of plywood by a laser cutter or cnc machine. That’s not to say that the things made that way are of a lesser quality in terms of their function or durability, but I think there is something that has been lost when things are made that way.

2. How did you get started?
My grandfather was someone who was always building things, and he would often find ways to involve me and my brothers in his projects. He passed away when I was only about 13, but I think those projects helped me learn to love working with my hands.

Growing up I also went to a K-12 school that even now continues to have a woodworking program. They had me pounding nails into a stump starting in kindergarten or first grade. In high school, shop was an elective that I took all four years. This foundation gave me the skills and the confidence needed to start building boats and to take on a variety of ambitious projects after college.

One of Bill's boats from Wessinger Woodworks website

One of Bill’s boats
from Wessinger Woodworks website

 

3. Why wood?
It is organic and it has a warmth to it. When working with wood we are trying to make things as perfect as possible out of an imperfect material. Wood’s imperfect nature is both a constraint and a challenge; the design is incredibly important and must take things like shrinking, swelling, and grain direction. There is always more to learn, new challenges to be faced, and I enjoy that.

4. What was the first thing you made from wood?
I’m not sure its the first thing I made, but I still have a wooden ladder I made in first grade. It’s only about 5′ tall and pretty narrow but for all the nails in it only just two that are bent over—one where I tried to pound through a knot. There was a good lesson there.

Ladder Bill made in 1st grade

Ladder Bill made in 1st grade

 

5. What does being creative meant to you?
I think that one of the most important ways of being creative is being able to take lessons learned in different places and being able to put them together in new ways.

6. Do you have any rituals?
Not that I can think of.

7. What is your favorite piece?
I have a short bench I made during my junior year of high school. It’s made of just three pieces of wood, cut from the same board—a display at the old OMSI from when it was next to the zoo. It’s very tight, straight grained fir, and the pieces are arranged so the grain is continuous up one leg, across the top and down the other leg. The corners are joined with what is called a twisted dovetail. Its a traditional Japanese joint that is very rarely used and for good reason. Instead of having pins and tails where one piece fits into the other, sliding at a 90-degree angle, this joint has a series of fins which are compound angles, with each one alternating which was it is angled. The two pieces have to slide together at a 45-degree angle. Its hard to describe and probably harder to make, but it turned out quite well. It sits in the corner of my bedroom.

Bench from 11th Grade with Japanese twisted dovetail joints.

Bench from 11th Grade with Japanese twisted dovetail joints.

 

8. Who inspires you?
My love of the outdoors and of the material. I think all my designs are influenced by me feeling that while wood is a renewable resource, it is also often over-harvested, and even where it isn’t necessarily over harvested it will tend to have negative consequences for the environment. That sense inspires me to create designs that will honor the material while building pieces that are light without being delicate.

9. If you weren’t doing this what would you be doing?
If I’d known about it in college I probably would have studied industrial design, and I could see moving in that direction in the future. I love thinking about the place where the design of an object and how we experience those pieces as people meet.

10. The ultimate piece you want to create?
Hans Wegner talked early in his prolific career about designing “just one good chair.” I think he came to recognize that such a chair didn’t really exist, but there is still something there about trying to design and build a chair that looks good, is comfortable, lightweight and durable. Something that instantly feels like a classic. There is something elusive and seductive there.

11. What’s your favorite thing about PDX?
People are interested in applying their creativity towards improving so many things, I like that.

12. Favorite song?
I’ve been turning up Tiderays, by Volcano Choir

13. Favorite bridge?
I enjoy biking across the lower deck of the steel bridge, and I enjoy kayaking under Tilikum Crossing.

14. Favorite neighborhood?
A couple years ago I lived walking distance from that stretch of Stark between about 76th and 82nd with the Academy theater and all the different restaurants and pubs and such. If I could own my ideal home in any neighborhood that might be where I would want to be. Preferably just high enough to see Mt Hood on a clear day.

15. What’s your favorite tool?
Probably the chisel. It requires a lot of attention to the grain of the wood, how the tool feels and how it sounds as you are using it, and they must be kept sharp, but when those things line up the results can be so precise and so rewarding.

Bill holds the prototype for the chair he is making for Design Week Portland.

Bill holds the prototype for the chair he is making for Design Week Portland.

Bill Wessinger from Wessinger Woodworks at read:grain, works with reclaimed wood on Friday, April 28th from 4-7pm during Design Week Portland. For more information, go here.

Design Week Portland Artist Feature: Tiny Shed

Jordan Saia of Tiny Shed
Jordan Saia of Tiny Shed

Jordan Saia of Tiny Shed

Jordan graduated from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn with a degree in fine art with a special affinity for woodworking and welding. He spent some time in Atlanta, creating works out of reclaimed plywood and then bounced back to a NY community of craftsman, further honing his woodworking skills. In 2013 he made the move to Portland, discovering his Tiny Shed workspace at Green Anchors right next to Cathedral Park in North Portland. There, with his workmate Dane of Two Ravens Forge, they practice their crafts to the sounds of the Misfits.

1. How would you refer to yourself? Woodworker? Artisan? Craftsman?
Woodworker, sculptor

2. How did you get started?
Building reclaimed structures with my step-dad

3. Why wood?
It smells good and I love trees

4. What was the first thing you made from wood?
Tiny planter seed box that worked like a jack-in-the-box

5. What does being creative meant to you?
Happiness and freedom

6. Do you have any rituals?
Firing up the wood stove, coffee

7. What is your favorite piece?
Strange burled drops I keep on my desk

Burled wood drops

Burled wood drops


8. Who inspires you?
Isamu Noguchi and Richard Neutra

9. What do you hope to communicate through your work?
Modern functional design with an emphasis on sustainable ethics

10. If you weren’t doing this what would you be doing?
Astronomy

11. The ultimate piece you want to create?
A tree temple

12. What’s your favorite thing about PDX?
The summer

Axe throwing

Axe throwing

13. Favorite song?
Misfits, Hybrid Moments

14. Favorite bridge?
St John’s

15. Favorite neighborhood?
St John’s

16. What’s your favorite tool?
Circular saw

Game table for Design Week Portland

Game table for Design Week Portland

 

Jordan Saia from Tiny Shed at read:grain, works with reclaimed wood on Friday, April 28th from 4-7pm during Design Week Portland. For more information, go here.

Two Blocks North

It’s Sunday. My thighs and calves are hurting today. Seriously sore. As a general condition, the muscles I typically exercise are two fingers on each hand for keyboarding, my butt, for sitting too much, and the little one between my ears. Yesterday I joined a dozen co-workers and family (yes, my 15 year old was there running a nailer) to install a floor we donated to the Two Blocks North project. This is definitely not work I do each day, in spite of owning a flooring company. The ups and downs, the kneeling, the bending over. I’m not in great shape, clearly.

two blocks northTwo Blocks North an ad hoc project put together by a few folks to help out a guy who was hit by a car while riding his bike to work. The driver was an 84 year old man who ran a light. He stayed to help at the scene.

The rider is a father and husband, and outdoorsy and well-liked in all the ways Portlanders are. He’s now confined to a wheel chair. The two story four square in North Portland couldn’t work for them anymore. The website tells it better, but the short of it is they were able to buy a one story nearby, and needed to upgrade and make it accessible.

Corey Omey, a friend of his and a principle at EMA Architecture & Urban Planning rallied people and the makeover got going fast. Corey called me about needing some beams. Sure, and how’s the flooring there? Well, the living room and hall are Pergo (retch) but there’s no money in the budget to replace. Okay, we can come up with something, and I might know some folks who would install it.

TwoBlockNorth_ASo sure enough, we found a batch of 500 square feet of our Tradewinds, and barely a word was needed for co-workers to jump in to help. In fact, ever try to install a floor with almost too many people? There was a fair share of jumping over each other, team choreography, and tangled hoses. But one seriously focused install happened nonetheless, from 8 in the morning to about 4:30, with barely a stop for donuts brought by sweet Ashley. At about 3 I started to get dizzy and realized I was way too dry in the throat. We all were. Kate looks up and says, “Hey I’m from California and I always have water in my trunk.” I don’t really know what she meant, but it was delicious water, and now I’m going to carry water too.

TwoBlockNorth_BTradewinds seemed like the perfect floor. We make it from crating and shipping material that comes into U.S. ports, inbound from China, typically. It’s a totally haphazard mix of Indonesian woods. I see meranti, teak, and a bunch that I’ll never know. It’s really not one of our best sellers, I think because its lively mottling and mixing is a powerful look. I love it, though, and Jennifer, our GM, even put it throughout her own home. It would be a good choice here due to its toughness and its visual interest, perhaps.

TwoBlockNorth_CNear the end of the day the new owners happened by. We were experiencing a rare rain-less day, so they had come over to check out progress, and continue to get a feel for their new home, and yard. I was describing the source of the wood to Hanne and Brian, and I mentioned its not for everyone, I suppose feeling a bit self conscious. “But it is for us,” said Hanne.

Yup, my legs are sore. Magnificently, screamingly, wonderfully sore.

Jonathan

Harmony on Hudson

harmony-on-hudson-imageWhen Greg & Dee approached us about their family’s timber frame retreat home we knew it was going to be fun. They had great plans and land with amazing views – but more, their goal was to create a home as environmentally friendly as possible. Eliminating VOCs and incorporating reclaimed and organic materials (plus a solar array) were “must have” elements. We recently had a chance to chat with Greg about life on the mountain:

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Expansive views of Catamount and Butternut Mountains enjoyed from the home.

 

“Well firstly, we loved the rich color and character we saw in the reclaimed timbers in the showroom,” explains Greg. “Now that they’re part of our home, we are so pleased that we went this direction.”

pmw-timbers-barn-siding-walnut-ent-ctr-and-floor_web_shGreg has a special affinity for a particular Douglas fir post near the kitchen. It isn’t uncommon to see him hugging the post on his way into the common areas. “Every time I come into the house after I haven’t been there for a while, there is a post that I wrap myself around and give a giant hug too. I’ve been known to give it a little smooch as well. I really do love this house.” We can relate. In fact, hugging, handling, smelling, and staring dreamily at wood is typical day-to-day around our mill and office.

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Our teams do love reclaimed wood!

“We wanted to use as much reclaimed wood as possible because it’s environmentally friendly and a healthier option for our family, but also just as important, we love the sustainability aspects of re-purposed wood,” Greg continued.

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img_4902wanut-floor_olsenWe learned that it would be common for Greg & Dee to have large gatherings and lots of cooks in the kitchen. Foot traffic would be heavy, but they live in a relaxed atmosphere, so shoes would be off. This type of living would be a good fit for Walnut as it is a softer hardwood. The rich coffee, purple, caramel, and tan toned wood flows throughout the main level of the home. “The Reclaimed Walnut floors are one of the best decisions that we made. We used a no VOC finish so they do require more care, but they are so beautiful that it’s totally worth it.” To balance out the darker floors, the custom NEWwoodworks cabinetry stays light.

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Reclaimed Walnut flooring meets American Prairie Taphouse siding and is joined by Reclaimed Maple/Beech furniture (crafted by NEWwoodworks).

The interior trim is Douglas fir which joins with American Prairie Taphouse reclaimed softwoods on the bedroom, entry, and stair walls. “We were initially concerned that with having too much wood, that decorative wood paneling on the interior walls could be overkill. Turns out the team at Pioneer Millworks suggested just the right amount and it ended up being the perfect complement to the interior of our home.”

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nww_stairs_web The custom stairs and railing were crafted by NEWwoodworks.

The stairs lead from the main level to a rec room, kid’s bedrooms, and an exercise room via Douglas fir and Walnut raisers and treads with a cable railing system.

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The lower level rec room includes an entertainment center crafted with Reclaimed Settlers' Plank Hardwoods and topped with Reclaimed Beech.

The lower level rec room includes an entertainment center crafted with Reclaimed Settlers’ Plank Hardwoods and topped with Reclaimed American Gothic hardwoods (crafted by NEWwoodworks).

The lower level features Reclaimed Teak, an incredibly durable species with rich, warm tones. “Choosing the reclaimed teak was an excellent decision for downstairs. We love the look and really appreciate how well it has stood up to heavy traffic from the kids, friends, and our gym.”

gamerm-teak-floor-rec-barn-siding-ceiling_web_sh“The rec room’s ‘as-found’ industrial salvaged timbers add a lot of fun and character to the space. Using them throughout the house would not meet our aesthetic desires, but in this room the timbers along with the reclaimed barn-wood on the ceiling definitely add to our house.”

olsen-reclaimed-softwoods-siding-pioneer-millworksWhen approaching the home it appears to have grown out of the land, to be part of the surrounding forest thanks in part to the exterior siding’s hard-earned natural tones. “Our favorite Pioneer Millworks element is the cladding on the exterior of the house. Perhaps more than any other feature, this multi-color, multi-textured wood sets the tone for the uniqueness of our home.”

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Homeowners Greg & Dee.

 

“One of our favorite things to do is wake up in the morning on a cold winter day and lean back and our chairs in front of the picture window and drink in the view with a nice warm blanket and a hot cup of coffee. If a mountain was able to give birth to a house, this would be the house.”

Thanks Greg, Dee, and family for letting us be part of your dream home!

*****
New Energy Works Timberframers (our sister company) designed Greg and Dee’s retreat home creating a layout with ample party space with unobstructed southern views of the Catamount and Butternut Mountains. They included screened and covered porches which blur the line between interior and exterior spaces. Their team enclosed the home with the high efficiency Matrix Wall System and SIP roof panels. This same group was also responsible for installing the American Prairie Reclaimed Siding. We work elbow to elbow with New Energy Works and are always thankful for how smoothly our combined projects go. Plus, they’re as wood obsessed as we are!

(If you’re interested in the whole story, Timber Home Living Magazine has followed this project from design to completion.)