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Presenter's Choice:  Furniture Making Education at its Best

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Mid-year conference presenters field questions during a Q & A session. From left, Al Breed, Steve Latta, and Alf Sharp

As anticipated, this year's mid-year conference represented furniture making education at its best. Rockingham Community College (RCC) hosted the soldout event, Presenters' Choice, August 8, 9, and 10 on its campus in Wentworth, NC.

On Friday, participants were invited to tour Old Salem and the Museum of Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA). The staff at MESDA not only gave SAPFM members a warm welcome, but gave unprecedented access to many of the pieces in its extensive collection as well. Conference check-in on Friday evening was followed by opening remarks by SAPFM President, Mickey Callahan, and by the Director of Rockingham's program in Fine and Creative Woodworking, Mike Quinn. More than 20 pieces, made by attendees and RCC students, were displayed in the conference facility.

Saturday was a busy day for presenters Allan Breed, Steve Latta and Alf Sharp.  Conference attendees were divided into three groups of 25 and rotated through the presentations. Each of the three sessions was 2-½ hours in length, providing ample time to delve into a variety of subjects indepth. As the name of the conference suggests, each presenter was given the freedom to demonstrate some of his preferred techniques and to discuss his favorite tricks-of-the-trade. Al Breed discussed how he lays out and carves the various parts of a complex curved molding by using the fillets as steps from which to reference adjacent coves and ogees. He then demonstrated how to carve the raised lip on a sample of a Newport tea table, and showed how to deal with tricky areas such as the intersection of a curved and straight molding. Al finished with a discussion of the process of carving a pendant shell.

Steve Latta showed several ways that drawers and secret compartments can be hidden in a piece as small as a spice box. Some of the secret compartments are accessed via hidden levers, detents, and spring latches while others are false drawer bottoms or accessed through the back of the cabinet. Steve also discussed some of the motifs he uses on his Federal pieces, demonstrating how to make a simple yet impressive patera. Steve finished up with an explanation of how to cut curvilinear designs for stringing using a series of templates and a laminate trimmer.

2008 Cartouche Award recipient Alf Sharp demonstrated how he makes a curved drawer front of laminated bending ply and then showed how he hammer veneers the resulting surface. While Alf prefers to hammer veneer curved panels, he usually does so over laminated bending ply. The trick to avoiding springback, he explained, is to clamp the laminated panel to a ‘dummy’ form after removal from the clamping form and allow it to fully dry. He discussed a variety of techniques for clamping curved work including the use of sand bags, thin packing foam and a mating caul.

After a day of engaging demonstrations, the conference group gathered at a nearby country club for dinner, a slide show of members' work, and door prizes. One grand prize winner took home a nice slab of Cuban mahogany donated by the Fine and Creative Woodworking Department at RCC.

On Sunday morning, Steve Latta gave a very enlightening talk on some of the findings of his research on Federal banding and inlay makers. He was able to track the migration of banding and inlay maker John Dewhurst from Boston to Baltimore, and later from Kentucky to New Orleans, based on advertisements in early American newspapers and his knowledge of the specific types of banding associated with Dewhurst.

Making attributions to a specific maker or region based on other inlays such as paterae is not so easy. The most common pictorial inlays were imported and sold at ports up and down the Atlantic coast. Latta’s analysis of whether paterae and other inlays were stack cut or conically cut was fascinating. He uses Photoshop, superimposing one inlay over another, to determine if there is an exact match.

The conference concluded with a final Q & A session with the three presenters. Thanks to all the presenters, Mike Quinn and the RCC staff, Conference Registrar Tom Turriff, and Conference Coordinator Steve Latta who helped to make the event so successful!
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Al Breed carves the concentric arcs that define a Boston shell.
Steve Latta aligns a veneer to a bendable substrate before template routing.
Alf Sharp applies hide glue to both sides of the veneer before hammering.