Company I Keep

I changed the name from Straw Woodwork to Straw and Company Fine Woodwork earlier this year. Changing the name is a way for me to be honest to the public and to the folks that work with me. Even though my name is attached to the business, the work, the service, the design, just about everything relies on more people than just me. Neil and I have been together for over 15 years, Patrick over 5 years. We lost Timmy and Clayton, each about three year tenures. Timmy went back to Poland with his wife Alex and has begun equipping his shop. Clayton is off exploring his creative pursuits. He comes back to help us when we get snowed under. We brought on three new people in 2019, Oscar, Jay, and Aaron, now we are a total of 6 (and sometimes Gabe (7)). The relationships and the skills that we build take time and intention, this is not an easy job and we do not do easy work. The guys show up and put in their all because they are respected, supported and they find the work to be fulfilling. As a rule, I make an effort to surround myself with good people, in life and in work. You may judge me by the company I keep.

The New Shop

We moved into our new shop a March 1st2018. We hobbled along for the first few weeks, but we are now moving full steam ahead with fancy new machines, workspace, and an actual showroom to show clients our work, all fairly big changes.

 

The old shop was located behind my house for the last nine years. A typical client visit included a tour through my living room, kitchen, and sometimes the bathrooms. My house is a bit of an art gallery; we’ve made just about everything in the home – down to the wood floors. Most everyone enjoyed the experience of getting to know their craftsman’s work on a personal level. However, there were some people who were obviously looking for more of a Home Depot experience. The new shop has a formal showroom with a working kitchen model to show the standard fit and finish of our cabinetry, our Z couch and chairs, a wall covered in sample boards, and whatever miscellaneous project we are showing off. The upstairs of the shop is where we store our veneer. I call it our veneer gallery. It’s where a client can come and see what high quality and rare veneer feels and looks like in raw form.

 

At the old shop, our forklift was parked under a lean-to porch roof. We would drive it over the brick paver walkway out the front driveway, down the street, and over one block to a commercial district to pick up our materials a couple of times a week. Luckily, because I live downtown, neither the cops nor code enforcement ever hassled us.

 

The new shop’s roof is covered in solar panels which produces more electricity than we use, even when using A/C in the building. We compress our own natural gas from the utility company that then fuels our work van. We have an electric vehicle charging station in case we have a client that would like to charge their car during a visit.

 

We won an a Beautification Award from the city for using all Florida natives in our landscape. Hummingbirds and butterflies fly around the outside of our shop! The shop sits between Depot Park and a creek, which might explain why we caught a leather back turtle hiding under one of our bushes. We returned the turtle, as well as the snakes we have found, to a more hospitable ecosystem.

 

Our shop dog, Ivey, is usually sleeping, goosing clients, or running around the parking lot as if she were back on the race track. We keep her from wandering off the property with an electric gate that automatically opens once a client’s car pulls onto the property.

 

If you are anywhere in Florida and are in the market for some quality custom furniture or some Modern Kitchen or bathroom cabinets, please set up a time to stop by. If you are outside of Florida, we ship using a blanket wrap service or crated freight.

Yours,

-jason

Vulnerability and Responsibility

After over a year of planning we have officially begun building the new shop. I have assembled my team, the architect, the civil engineer, the plumber, the building fabricator, the list goes on and on. I have done my due diligence the best I can, the vetting is complete and now the hard part, to be vulnerable and trust.

During the first week I was in a deep state of self-introspection and mild panic. I allowed myself, to explore the feelings of someone who was spending a large sum of their hard earned money on services. There is an enormous amount of unspoken vulnerability happening when a client signs a contract and cuts a check, especially with working with contractors, who’s contracts are scribbled on old paper bags, if written at all.

When a client and I go under contract I always have a feeling of heightened responsibility that never seems to fully go away, even when the project is complete. I am, of course entrusted by my clients to do what is in the proposal. But what they expect of my work cannot be written in any proposal. Clients trust me to give them my best and to be treated fairly through an often convoluted process. It’s an awesome responsibility that I do not take lightly and as I am putting myself in the most vulnerable financial positions of my life I am appreciating the newly heightened empathy for those that put their trust in us.

Breaking Ground

Breaking ground.

A year and a half ago I got it into my head that our current shop, located about 50‘ from my back porch is not going to always fit us and our projects. There was also the storing completed kitchens and furniture in every room in my house (and up to the ceiling) getting old as well. So I set out to find a commercial property and luckily I found a vacant lot right near the up and coming Depot Park that would make the new commute bearable.

In the last 18 months, I was lucky enough to find Gainesville architect Joshua Shatkin who has been instrumental in working with the city’s planning and building department getting our plans approved. Josh’s guidance, professionalism and ability to communicate throughout the entire process has taken a lot of weight off my shoulders. I was able to acquire two loans, sold some of my vacant properties, I normally work 60 hour weeks (today is my first day off in a month) and as of August 26th, submitted the construction permit application. We are on track to begin clearing the property by the end of September. I have no idea when to expect completion.

As soon as the initial planning began with the shop it was apparent to Neil, Patrick and myself that we would begin breaking ground in ways of our own. Our responsibilities and job duties were all about to change. I am the general contractor for the shop responsible for it’s design, planning, and financing. I am also designing the furniture and kitchen jobs as well. I spend a considerable amount of time working with clients securing jobs, I’m also running back and forth in between the shop and office all day helping Neil. Neil, (seen in the Kung Fu classic Shop Tour) has been managing most of the cabinet and shop work. His system of organization, an algorithm of hand written spread sheets and short hand notes has the shop running like a well oiled machine. Patrick Rogan (recently married), began dedicating himself to the craft 2 1/2 years ago with no prior experience. Currently, he and I handle most of the installs together, he manages the floor refinishing jobs with a helper and fixes everything mechanical and electrical that breaks. When he is in between flooring jobs and misc. maintenance projects we are happy to have him back in the shop tuning our projects with his obsessive eye for detail.

I am trying my best to use the Instagram to keep the content on the front page current and fresh. You can look forward on seeing shop construction photos and hopefully some dance videos as well.

A Woodworker’s Suggested Reading

Books for Woodworker’s,

During the first three years of my journey to become a woodworker I read every issue of Fine Woodworking magazine and every book on woodworking I could find. The following is a list of books that have been important in my development as a craftsman. I am happy to share it with those having similar inspirations and interests in becoming a fellow craftsman.

The first and most impressionable book I read was James Krenov’s, “The Impractical Cabinetmaker”, which was reprinted later as “The Joys of Cabinetmaking”. He also wrote “ A Cabinet Makers Notebook” and “Worker in Wood”. While you are at it go ahead and get the book that is full of photos of his students work, “ With Wakened Hands”.

“Sam Maloof, Woodworker”, written by Sam Maloof. There is also a DVD that Taunton made that follows him around his home and shop that is worth having as well. I spent a day with Sam in his home and Shop in 2006. A very generous man, everyone loved Sam, when you read his book you’ll know why.

George Nakashima’s, “Soul of a Tree”. The live edge slab table aesthetic was born from this guy’s work. An architect, he learned furniture making from a Japanese internment camp that made his way to Pennsylvania and set up shop and became a world-renowned artist. His daughter has taken over his shop where they still produce work.

Wharton Esherick, “The Journey of a Creative Mind” Wharton also lived in Pennsylvania, not far from Nakashima’s shop, The two never met, Wharton seemed to be a hermit type. A sculpture, a painter and incredibly prolific. An embodiment of post world war two’s American ruggedness.

Bruce Hoadley’s “Understanding Wood Technology” is the most important book to have and understand. It is the technical part of working with the material. If you do not understand wood that honestly, you probably shouldn’t be using it. I have read this book many times.

William Young’s “ The Glue Book” is another technical book that picks up where Hadley’s book leaves off. If you are going to be using wood, you are going to be gluing it together and what glue do you use for the certain application? Well, this book is necessary to begin understanding all the different glues and their properties.

Tage Frid “ Teaches Woodworking”, there are three volumes of very simple and understandable projects. Joinery, veneering and furniture making all in their own hard cover books. Even if you have no interest in the projects you are able to see a bunch of different ways furniture is constructed. Tag Frid emigrated here from Denmark and went to teach a Rhode Island School of Design. There is also A Taunton DVD of Tage that is worth watching.

Bob Flexner’s, “Wood Finishing”. A technical manual on wood finishes with little about their application. There are not enough books about wood finishing, trust me you will need all the help you can get about finishes and this is where to start.

Ron Hock’s ”Perfect edge” I met Ron while at the College of Redwoods. He is a charming and generous man that has supplied plane irons to the school and later, to woodworker’s all over the world for many years. His book is essential if you want to learn how to sharpen and understand the edges of your steel.

SIlas Kopf, Marquetry Odyssey. Silas is an amazing craftsman and is book goes over the history and how to of marquetry as well as having excellent photographs of his work and others.

Louis Major Elle, “Master of Art Nouveau”. It’s and academic read but the photos, and the work are amazing.

Ruhlmann, “Master of Art Deco”. Another academic read and again, the photos, the work, the history, are all amazing.

David Pye, “The Nature and Art of Workmanship”. Krenov cited Pye’s writing often. Pye writes about the differences of the workmanship of risk and the workmanship of certainty.

There are of course many more books out there but I hope this will get you going in the right direction.

Toolish Romance

When I first started to learn how to make furniture I was helpless. I knew how to use power tools from working on historic homes but I was completely ignorant beyond that. I came to learn that a, “jointer” for instance, is a machine with a long steel bed usually 6” or wider. It straightens one plane of the board, why they don’t call it a straightener is beyond me. The, “planer“, which is the machine that sucks in the rough and dirty board in one end and sends chips and a cleaned up board out the other end should be called a paralleler. If you stick a warped board in it, out rolls a parallel warped board, it’s useless unless you use the straightener (the jointer) first. I was easily confused.

For a while I found the sheer amount and diversity of tools to be intriguing and probably, more than not, an obsession. Japanese chisels, American chisels, vintage chisels, the hand planes, hand tools vs. power tools, etc.. It is quickly obvious that there is more money to be made off woodworkers than woodworking. There are catalogs dedicated to woodworking gizmos, if you can come up with a woodworking tool idea, you can safely bet some guy in a garage is going to buy it, hang it on a peg board and circle it with a sharpie marker. Me, I stick my gizmos to a magnet, I’m always trying to be different.

The obsession with tools can be obnoxious. Every wife (or husband) of a woodworker exercises a Buddhist Monk amount of patience in hearing about how the Festool brand, German made and ridiculously pricey saw hooks up to a vacuum cleaner. I know deep in my heart that the only people that care about that kinda thing are the people who use it, but I don’t care. I get lost in it, I get excited, the feeling is brand new every time. I’m gushing just thinking about properly sized CFM dust collection with HEPA filtration.

Tools save us time and reduce monotony, they enable our ideas, they can be extensions of our selves. However more importantly, with out the idea, the skill, and the passion, tools are useless.

See the photo above, I’m not the only one that get’s excited about tools, Neil is riding on the box our Kuper veneer stitcher came in (Did I mention, it’s German!)

Persistance

I moved from Florida to Denver in 2007; I was following a girlfriend, a dream and an expectation of being a furniture-maker’s apprentice.  I found a guy named Ethan Hutchinson who was making fabulous chairs; he just happened to be losing his apprentice and needed a new one. Well, because I go all in and I take people on their word, I bought a small crappy house about to be foreclosed on 2 miles from the shop, packed my bags and met my girlfriend in this fairytale dreamland. Well kinda. The house, as many foreclosure houses are, was a wreck. A couple of 20 yard roll off dumpsters, a gutted bathroom, new floors, new paint and some heavy landscape work later, it was pretty nice. It took me about a month to complete. I had the time to complete the renovation because on my fourth visit to Ethan’s, his shopmate told me that the chair-maker was making Sam Maloof  knock offs, they weren’t original and that Ethan was a flake and couldn’t be counted on for anything. I thanked him for his candor and moved on.

I am not one to let something silly like that stop me, so I found a talented Art Deco furniture maker/designer, Jeff Newell who would give me a $10 an hour job doing his milling and prepping of parts. I was so excited I could have exploded. I showed up early every day and stayed late. I could not believe how different furniture making was compared to carpentry.  A 1/16″ gap is a total failure.  Fillers?  Can’t use them.   Gaps?  Can’t have them.  Nothing but an uphill battle. The learning curve was so steep for me. I learned that the complexity of a fine piece of furniture is amazing and when you are creating something contemporary, everything should be perfect. I was learning a lot and really loved many aspects of the job. However, there was an added pressure of not being able to use the profanity in which I am fluent and working on a cold concrete floor in a shop with extremely poor dust collection, no windows, and for people that didn’t make you feel appreciated.  So I made it about 6 months and then went to work for Walnut Woodwork Studio.

Walnut Woodwork was a lot of fun, everybody was great and I got to work in an historic castle of a house. The house was 13,000, yes, thousand, square feet. The head installer and I spent a great deal of time wrapping and fitting beams. Fitting, scribing and fitting some more. A great skill, but still not what I was shooting for.

So I applied to the College of the Redwoods, the school that happened to be started by Krenov, the guy who wrote the books that lit the fuse responsible for my journey. Man did I have my hopes set high and damn did it feel crushing when I got the denial letter from the school. I was put on the alternate’s list. At this point, my one year commitment in Denver was up.  The apprenticeships had been kinda disappointing, I lived through a record breaking Denver snowfall that took months to melt away, I sold the house and the girlfriend was a cheat. I drove back to Florida licking my wounds and bracing for the humid Florida Summer.

I returned home and within 3 days, got a call from the school. Two weeks before the program was to start, someone couldn’t make it and they called me. What luck! Well, sorta; I left out a minor detail. After getting my “alternate’s” letter,  I called the school and talked with a couple of the instructors and thanked them. I let them know how flattered I was to be put on the alternate’s list and how I would keep things open for them if by chance someone wasn’t able to make it. And I called them again, and probably two more times after that, so they knew I could be counted on.

I booked a plane ticket and off I went to the beautiful town of Fort Bragg, California. The rest is another post.

Logical Progression

In 2009 I came back to Gainesville from California. I just spent three years paying my craftsman’s dues; A year of apprenticeships and two years at the College of the Redwoods Fine Furniture School. I returned to a wrecked economy and a bunch of under employed friends, with excellent framing and construction skills. It was a perfect time to build.

As the framing went up we knew we were building a shared resource. None of us had a shop and we all needed one, or needed to know someone with one. Well the shop has been churning out projects and filling up with tools over the last 6 years and things have changed in ways that I didn’t expect and should have seen coming. We have out grown the shop. It’s a bit sad really, kinda like saying good bye to a blankie, a comfortable safe and secure bit of awesomeness. I have to move on.

I have to build Dream Shop 2.0, I have to ramp up and pull ahead. I’ve got to go into some serious debt and put it all on the line, again. As my friends and I have gotten older we are maturing, we are stepping into leadership positions within our community. Some are taking over businesses, some are creating businesses, some are involved in politics, schools, city boards, raising kids, we are growing up and taking over. We are the next generation of leaders, who is to do it if we don’t?  It’s a wonderful and scary process.

I was able to buy 3/8 of an acre almost directly across the street from the Depot Ave. Park off 4th st.. My neighbors are GRU and the fire department administration. I will be on a corner lot in a light industrial zoned area, 1.2 miles from my house, not a bad spot. I have designed the shop to have a showroom/office/living room/dining room/kitchen and bathroom. Everything in the showroom will be built, designed and used by us. Currently clients come to my home and get a tour of my house and the shop. They get to know me and my work on a personal basis. The new shop will still allow that with the added benefit of being a lot more professional. The Dream Shop 2.0 will be a metal building of contemporary stylings and plenty of space. My existing shop is 1150 sq. ft. with an added 250 sq. ft. of exterior covered space. The new shop will be 4085 sq. ft. with an added 1600 sq. ft. storage loft. We will also have over 1000 sq. ft. of covered exterior space and a restroom with a urinal. We will finally have a forklift, so no more driving to a parking lot and hand unloading freight deliveries like Colombian cocaine smugglers. It is going to be wonderful.

So Here it Begins

Here starts my adventures in blogging and since the web sight is mostly about me and our work I will begin the blog off with an intro to some of the most important people in my life, the people I work with.

Let me begin with Neil Lorenzini. Neil and I have worked with each other for about 11 years now. He is my best friend, my brother and my mother all wrapped up in one. I’m often burning the wick on both ends late into the night writing proposals, working on estimates and planning our next work day.  Neil has gotten into the habit of arriving at my house 15 minutes before our day begins to rouse me. He will often wake me up by clinking the skillet on the cast iron grates of the stove and preparing my breakfast and boiling water for our daily dose of caffeine. He is instrumental in keeping the jobs organized, and has developed a keen eye for quality, detail and composition.  He has the ability to learn everything I show him and is given the freedom to make improvements he finds necessary. Neil and I make up the StrawZini brothers, a ridiculous duo.  We’ve made youtube videos of his Kung Fu fighting (Shop Tour) with my politically incorrect Kung Fu Santa and danced half naked on scaffolding together (Safety Video).

The newest addition to the crew is Patrick Rogan. Patrick spent eight years of his life as a ballerino (ballet dancer), went to a prestigious music conservatory school for trumpet and got a bachelors degree in geology. Patrick was also Mr. November for the Ark School of Fitness 2014 calendar. With those qualifications I hired him instantly. He learns fast, appreciates details, the work , the art, and like Neil and I, is constantly learning and improving. The three of us make up the StRoZini Brothers an even more ridiculous trio. As soon as we have time we’ll be making a youtube video full of Kung Fu fighting and ballet dancing.

-j

Custom Vinyl Record Cabinets

Vinyl collectors and audiophile enthusiasts appreciate sound like wine aficionados appreciate wine. Refinement is a slippery road, like the chasing of a high, audiophiles listen intently for the clarity of the mids or the visceral feeling of the bass.

At my friend Ryan’s house, a professional audiologist and life long audiophile I got my first taste of vinyl played through a vintage analog tube amp. It was, to say the least, a recognizable quality that I had never experienced before.

Now I am traveling down that slippery road once again, a vinyl collector for years but now amplified by the vintage analog tube amp of the 60’s.

So I’ve decided to do my part for the audiophiles, the collectors of quality, the aficionados of sound, and the chasers of refinement.  I present the beginning of a long line of custom record cabinets of recognizable quality and refinement.

-j