edited chat transcript

a Special Guest Chat with
Author, Executive Editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine

with host
Ellis Walentine

March 11, 2013
9:30 pm EDT

    Here is an edited transcript of our excellent chat in the WoodCentral Chat room with Bob Lang. We chatted for almost two hours and covered a lot of Arts & Crafts territory. CLICK HERE for some biographical information on Bob Lang.
... Ellis Walentine, Host

Bob_LangHi Ellis, and everyone
EllisBob told me he'd be here early. I hope you've all been gentle with him.
EllisLet me welcome my esteemed guest, Bob Lang. Bob was a denizen of WoodCentral even before he went on to magazine fame.
Bob_LangThat's actually how I ended up at the magazine.
EllisHis books of drawings of Arts & Crafts furniture have become the standard.
CharlesBob I like your designs
StuartHHello gents, and a good evening to you Mr. Lang!
EllisBob, what got you interested in A& C design?
Bob_LangI don't actually design much. There was a time I thought about being a designer, but I got sidetracked with reproductions.
EllisRight, but somewhere along the line, you became interested enough to compile a book of measured drawings. What was the catalyst?
Bob_LangI got interested in A & C in the late 1970s, I was a wannabee cabinetmaker, and soaking up everything I could find. Something about the lines and proportions clicked with me, and I started looking for more
EllisAh, that leads me to the next question... What is it about A&C design that is so appealing to woodworkers?
Bob_LangThe appeal to me is that it is functional and well-proportioned. It doesn't pretend to be something that it isn't. It looks pretty simple on the surface, but the details can be intriguing. And there is the challenge of exposed joinery. I get a kick out of doing something simple really well.
StuartHKeep it simple, do it well. Could be a useful mantra.
Bob_LangI got a lot our of measured drawings books early on, and kept expecting to see one on Stickley. It never came about, so eventually I figured maybe I should do it.
EllisYou also determined that existing books weren't very accurate, right?
Bob_LangA lot of what was published then, as well as what is published now tends to take the easy way out, and not recognize the significance of how the originals were made. I kept a little steamed when someone puts out a Lee Stickley piece and calls it Gus, or tries to adapt and make it easy.
EllisWe discussed this in another chat (8 years ago!), but what do you think motivated Stickley's designs. The consensus then was that the practicality preceded the philosophy of 'furniture for Everyman.' I'm thinking of the implications for today's woodworkers. What is the importance of how the originals were made?
_StephenWhat brought about A&C, what was the reaction, was it to Art Nouveau or a simplification of Art Deco? this is a bit later than my period of interest [pre-1850s]
Bob_LangArt Nouveau was actually about the same time, turn of the twentieth century. Art Nouveau and A&C were reactions to the industrialization of furnituremaking, especially the "Golden Oak" machine-carved stuff of the Victorian era.
_Stephenbut all of A&C is done with power tools, correct?
Bob_LangStickley was a successful Victorian manufacturer, stopped his business in midstream and set out to reinvent American furniture.
StuartHI believe it started as a sort of "back to basics" movement.
Bob_LangI think Stickley took on the entire Arts and Crafts philosophy. In a lot of ways it's reactionary. In that time, society was at the end of 20 or more years of dramatic changes, and a lot of those changes left us with cheap stuff that wasn't so good. What if we go back to square one and make tables and chairs that fit their purpose, use material nicely and require a degree of craftsmanship to produce?
EllisWhere the rubber meets the road for our contemporary woodworkers is the aesthetic and the do-ability of these designs. That is in keeping with what you just said, Bob.
HI just love the clean lines, and attention to detail... good solid furniture... imo
wilburI had a great time at WIA out in Pasadena this year, and that meeting really opened my eyes to the Greene and Greene version of A&C. Did the Greenes and the Stickleys have much communication with each other?
Bob_LangStickley and the Greenes were contemporaries. There were a few G&G houses featured in Stickley's magazine, and the Greenes specified Stickley furniture in places where their custom-made stuff didn't go. Did you get to see the Gamble house, Wilbur? The extra bedrooms upstairs are furnished with Stickley.
wilburI did see the Gamble house. That was great. I noted some Stickley pieces in the upstairs, but the guide didn't seem sure as to why there were Stickley pieces there instead of G&G.
Bob_LangThose were called for in the original plans. Guess Mr. Gamble had to draw the line somewhere.
wilburStephen beat me to my question. Given that A&C was a reaction to the industrialization of furniture making, was most A&C furniture made in a factory/mass production setting, or by single craftsmen?
Bob_LangWilbur, Stickley's stuff was indeed factory-made. There were some other producers that had small shops. At his peak, Stickley had around 300 employees. There is a good recent book (can't remember the title or author right now -- not me) that examines the factory records. The original idea was to organize it as more of a cooperative guild. Gus was a socialist, in the early 20th-Century meaning of the term.
2B6CNC is really coming on w/ the machines becoming cheaper & the programs more user-friendly. Do you see woodworking returning back to basics shall I say w/ this modernization coming on?
Ellis2B6, your question is significant, and begs the bigger question of whether there is any future for handmade woodwork.
Bob_LangI was in the custom cabinet business when CNC was first coming into use. Cool machines, but they are a beast to feed. Great for cranking out melamine boxes, but some stuff it just makes more sense to do by hand or basic machines. Who wants to make payments on a $250,000 router. Problem I see is that guys now in the trade aren't learning how to do things without CNC.
wilburCNC can't read grain direction. At least as far as I know. I've seen the amount of detail that a CNC can put in a workpiece. The tiny spinning router has a ways to go to catch up to a nice sharp carving gouge.
EllisMy cherished notion is that Stickley was trying to launch a DIY movement.
Bob_LangStickley was also big in the DIY area. His magazine (The Craftsman) had lots of furniture projects. They weren't the same as the factory production, but similar. Lots of other types of things, DIY metalwork, etc. The Craftsman is available online, and its a worthwhile read.
EllisYep, I have a digital copy of The Craftsman. He really wanted his message to filter down to home handymen.'
Lowellmk...but did The Craftsman, with their plans, impact the sale of Stickley products?
Bob_LangFurniture making is a strange business, and the public in general really doesn't have an appreciation for what's good and what isn't. Very few people recognize the difference and very few of them are willing to pay for it.
EllisTo me it's a question of people taking charge of their own surroundings. Woodworking is one path to that end.
Bob_LangI think the future is likely more in the hands of hobbyists than anywhere else.
EllisTo me it's partly a question of people taking charge of their own surroundings. Woodworking is one path to that end.
Bob_LangGus Stickley was the big name, at least in America. The A&C movement started in England with Morris and Ruskin. The English had a grimmer history with industrialization than we had here in the US. After introducing his line in 1901, there were about 150 factories knocking him off.
Bob_LangStickley's own brothers were among the imitators. Beyond there there are a ton of interesting little shops that made neat stuff. Most of us know about Greene & Greene. I've been exploring the Byrdcliffe colony, which made very few pieces, but had great designs.
DaveBob, I have purchased most of your A&C books. What are the copyright rules pertaining to the plans in you books?
LowellmkI have Bob's books, too!
Bob_LangDave-the designs themselves are in the public domain, having been abandoned in the 1920s. There aren't any restrictions on building the pieces from the books, but if you put copies on Ted's Woodworking I get upset.
DaveThanks Bob, I use the plans in your books both as inspiration and as model for furniture for clients. I want to make sure it leaglly accepted. Thanks for your work in producing them, it makes it much easier to plan and build
CharlesBob you A&C books have furniture plans in them?
William_of_the_CohanseyThat's what they are, Charles, collections of plans. I have two, and the SketchUp DVD too.
Bob_LangThanks to you guys who have bought the books. It is appreciated.
LowellmkThank you Bob! It's a great thrill to be here with you tonight!
2B6glad you came out w/ the books!!!
EllisBob, tell how you came up with all the dimensions for all that stuff.
Bob_LangMy books are measured drawings of original pieces. I got tired of seeing other books and magazine articles that were "almost" authentic, too much tossing corbels and skinny spindles everywhere and missing the proportions and real details. I was a cabinetmaker before I became an author, just wrote the kind of thing I wanted to read.
Bob_LangA lot of my career in industry was doing production drawings, for the books I saw and measured as many pieces as I could, once I had a handle on how things were done, I could reverse-engineer from photos.
EllisRight, Bob, but you needed to actually measure most of those pieces, no?
Bob_LangIf you have the overall dimensions and know the sizes of typical parts you don't really need to. It isn't perfect, but it's close. Some pieces closer than others and a lot depends on the quality of the photos. I take a lot of shots at auctions and other places that couldn't be published, but work well for what I do.
William_of_the_CohanseyAnd also the MESDA book, which I temporarily forgot, since it isn't A&C.
Bob_LangThat was a fun project too, MESDA is a great place.
EllisWhere did the Roycrofters fit in?
Bob_LangRoycrofter's was a minor player in the furniture market at the time, the brain child of Elbert Hubbard. The book by Bruce Johnson on the Grove Park Inn tells the story best
EllisYeah, I just picked up that book at the WIA show in October.
2B6So you're a big fan of A&C, Ellis?
EllisIt is a very infomative style, 2B6. When I was in the custom woodworking business, many of my architectural and furniture designs were based on G&G stuff.
_StephenWas there an oriental influence in A&C?
wilburSeems to me that G&G incorporated more Asian elements than Stickley.
William_of_the_CohanseyOriental influence goes back to Chippendale, at least. There's no way to deny it's influence (for the better) on all our designs, unless you are blind.
EllisWilliam, yes, whether expressed or derived.
LowellmkI belive that Frank Lloyd Wright spent time in Japan for inspiration and incorporated what he saw in some of his designs
wilburYou're welcome, William. :)
William_of_the_CohanseyI like the railings and outside benches at Monticello. And I especially appreciate G&G's adaptation of the Oriental.
Bob_LangAt the time, Japanese art & design was a big deal. Japan had been a mystery until after the 1860s. Big influence on everyone in the period, but especially the Greenes. One of the Greene's clients sent Charles to the Japanese pavillion at a world's fair
EllisAnd the rest is history
William_of_the_CohanseyThe hotel FLW built in Tokyo was a classic, and the only major building to survive a major earthquake in that city.
Bob_LangI'd like to actually measure more, but it's difficult to gain access to a lot of things. Last summer however, I spent the day with a very cool Byrdcliffe desk I hope to build soon
EllisLet's delve a little further into the A&C aesthetic.
wilburGoing back to Stickley encouraging people to make their own A&C furniture: it's pretty clear from the designs that A&C pieces would be easier to make with machines than with hand tools (lots of square edges, exposed joinery, choosing oak for the wood species), and I'm fairly sure that machines were financially out of reach for most people back then. What was the realistic possibility that one could do this work at home back then?
Bob_LangMany museums and antique dealers have thought that guys like us are a threat to the market.
LowellmkOne of the things I love about A&C is that it is mixed media...wood, stained glass, copper, mica (lamps). Do you know of a way to get a crash course in copper work?
Bob_in_NJHere's a recent messageboard discussion on copper work.
LowellmkThanks Bob
wilburI like hand tools a lot, but I'd think twice before taking on chopping the number of M/T joints needed in oak for an A&C piece.
Bob_in_NJYeah but they're tiny compared to the stuff you chopped for your bench, wilbur.
EllisNot to mention lock mitering all those legs.
Lowellmkgood point, Ellis
Bob_LangThere were local millwork shops where you could go and buy parts. In the Popular Mechanic's book "Mission Furniture: How to Make It" almost every project starts with "Get the following parts milled . . ."
Bob_LangIt's pretty approachable after you have the basic stock milled, but I would recommend a hollow chisel mortiser. For the through joinery, there is a lot of hand work to get the fit "just so"
wilburI think Ellis' example of the lock miter joint is a good one. That joint would be a pain to cut by hand. With a machine setup, it becomes really easy.
EllisSo, it is a myth that the average homeowner in 1905 had an adequate tool kit and skillset to make this stuff?
Bob_LangGuys in 1910 didn't have tablesaws at home, but I think there was a much broader knowledge about making things. How to articles from the period assume a lot of basics that we have to explain today
William_of_the_CohanseyAh, but when you're done with that, Wilbur, you have the opportunity, with a rasp, to make them flow, and even easier to handle. No reason to stop with square edges, as long as you don't violate the proportions, the joinery and the trees themselves.
LowellmkAgreed! Shop classes have been converted into computer labs, unfortunately
Bob_LangAnd material was available milled to the same thicknesses we have to day (but a bit heavier). You don't need a lot of tools
2B6There was still a lot of hands-on work even w/ the machines.
Bob_LangWhen I build, I spend about 10% of my time machining parts, and the rest is joinery, shaping and refining. That's the fun stuff for me.
LowellmkBob...what about fuming you bother with it?
William_of_the_CohanseyThey didn't have Dominos either, but, if you will pardon my irreverence, I think they don't violate the concept of truthful joinery. If you can afford one, and don't mind not showing your tenons, you can build good furniture in a bit less time, and afford to spend more time with the rasp, scraper, and finishing.
EllisI just wonder about the rectilinearity of A&C (Stickley) stuff. And the visual weight. Where is the A&C legacy taking us today?
William_of_the_CohanseyYou can still use G&G ebony plugs and splines.
EllisBob, do you think the A&C philosophy survives today?
Bob_LangEllis: I hope so. I think a large part of the appeal is that it makes a difference to the quality of your life (and your kid's lives) if you're surrounded by solid, honest, well made furniture. The world would be a better place if more people built there own furniture. My son has a different mindset than a lot of his friends, in part because he grew up in a house where his dad made most of the furniture.
William_of_the_Cohansey…if that's your preference.
EllisAgreed, William. Design trumps ceremony.
EllisWe cherish these notions, Bob, because we're woodworkers.
wilburFWIW, I don't think there's a huge stylistic leap between Stickley and the mid-50's modern designs.
EllisAnd we embrace the aesthetic because it's pretty easy to build.
LowellmkNon-woodworkers cherish the notion....I went to a Stickly showroom and the furniture is moving...even in this economy!
2B6Can't much brag or be proud of a Dad that's a couch tater
_Stephenthe same appeal as Shaker furniture
Bob_LangI've been exploring some other designers of the time. Harvey Ellis of course, and Byrdcliffe as I mentioned. I'm making a reproduction of a Voysey mantle clock for Pop Wood that I'm really enjoying. There's a lot of opportunity to add artistic touches to the basic designs.
EllisRight, Lowell. A lot of our cultural preferences are influenced by what we've grown up with.
William_of_the_Cohanseytabla rasa for Esherick, Maloof, Nakashima and those who came after.
Bob_LangAs long as the designs are practical and solid. That's the problem I have with most "artiture". It may look cool, but it's not built on a solid foundation
William_of_the_CohanseyThere was no room for them in the Victorian gingerbread and dowel joinery.
EllisRight, Stephen. The workman's aesthetic, garnished with whatever philosophy and tool collection you have at hand.
Bob_LangI don't buy the argument that A & C is easy to build. Lots of previous furniture can be made quick and dirty, then you cover things up with moldings and such
EllisI'm just thinking about the relative ease of square edges and rectangular shapes.
LowellmkIf you think A&C furniture is easy to build, try the Bow Arm Morris Chair!
Bob_LangThe challenge with Arts& Crafts furniture is the crisp edges and rectangular shapes. Making those well without turning them to mud. I think curves are in many ways easier,
EllisMy point about ease is that, in the spirit of A&C, it shouldn't be overly complicated or difficult.
LowellmkI built one...and it was challenging for me! I steam bent the arms!
Bob_LangWith curves you can often disguise the areas that don't come out quite right.
LowellmkBob - if I'm not mistaken, you had drawings for a Harvey Ellis double bed in one of your books. Any thought on making plans for a king-size bed? I love this bed and would like to make it for my home.
EllisInteresting thoughts on curves vs straight lines.
Bob_in_NJI agree, Bob, the crisp straight lines are harder to pull off than it looks at first, good term, 'turning them into mud'. But I think those lines look simple to make to the uninitiated and that may explain some of the popularity to us wannabe furniture makers.
Lowellmkone thing that helps with the joinery is the shadow lines...
Bob_LangIt's also fun to do something overly complicated and difficult and have it come out simple looking. I made a music cabinet with mitered mullions on the door, and the challenge was exceptional. It looks simple though, all the joints come together at a single point. That point is tough to keep intact all the way through the work.
EllisBob, so the aesthetic is the point?
StuartHAfter looking at several A & C pieces overthe years, I came to appreciate just how much work went into making them look so 'basic" and elementary.
Bob_LangThere are also some details that are so subtle most people miss them. On Gus Stickley Morris chairs, there aren't any right angles. It isn't obvious at first glance but it makes the chairs inviting. And a lot harder to make the sides
seanphillipswhat a great conversation. It's interesting listening to you guys with some real experience. I'm a noob attempting what i consider a challenge in building a pair of Stickley end tables (seen next to the Morris chair in "Arts & Crafts Furniture".. Getting things square and completing 24 m/t joing is a REAL challenge! hah
Bob_LangOne of the lessons this furniture has taught me is the importance of making good parts. How careful I am in the initial milling, getting everything square and the correct size determines whether the rest of the project will be fun or a nightmare.
HI was admiring the mitered munions on your website today.... very well done (if that is the one you were talking about)
Bob_LangThat's the piece I was talking about. Very cool joint. It was in an article in Pop Wood a few years ago.
EllisThe final look is the reason why people like this style, though.
Bob_LangSomebody asked earlier about fuming. I've done it some, but it is dangerous and unpredictable. Looking at fumed and dyed pieces side by side, it can be hard to tell the difference.
Lowellmkthat was me. The anhydrous amonia is horrible nasty stuff!
EllisStickley fumed and dyed pieces. He really experimented a lot.
2B6Glad to hear that Bob.
Bob_in_NJMy only fuming experience is an occasional unplanned "fuming" of the oak flooring by one of the cat's or dogs:) If the anhydrous ammonia is hard to find, try animal piss. :)
William_of_the_CohanseyThe "unplanned" can be undone with Bar Keeper's Friend, or any other source of oxalic acid. I've had fuming success with much less dangerous household ammonia, it just takes longer.
EllisYeah, 28% ammonia can kill you if you take a big whiff of it.
2B6Rather not mess w/ that stuff!
LowellmkBob, what is your preferred method for precise measuring? Do you use calipers? Story sticks? Hhow do you approach accuracy in your work?
Bob_LangI have a curious mix of methods. I like to make a story stick at the beginning of a project, then put the tape measure away. I'd be helpless without my Starrett combination square and I use fractional dial calipers a lot when I'm fitting joints and milling parts.
Bob_LangGood parts = good furniture. Don't listen to the people who tell you one edge and one face are good enough. Maybe if you're building a treehouse . . .
EllisBut you need to start with a good face and a good edge, eh?
Bob_LangAfter about 1905, Stickley switched to early versions of aniline dye stains and lacquer. If you fume, you learn to touch up with dyes and colored shellac
Bob_in_NJFor a lot of projects I start out measuring, maybe the first pieces, but then if there are multiple pieces the same, I tend to mill them to match each other, using jigs and stop blocks on fences and miter guage etc.
Bob_in_NJThanks, William, yes I reacll the BK freind being mentioned a couple weeks ago for just such an occasion.:)
Bob_LangMy background is in production work, so that's the way I think. I want to be right in the beginning, not patching up at the end.
EllisGood advice for all of us, Bob. Words to live by.
HSpeaking of finishing.... what would be a good "go to" source/book on the subject?
William_of_the_CohanseyEither of the books by Jeff Jewett are worthwhile. Flexner, on the other hand, is more like Mahler.
EllisJeff Jewitt and Michael Dresdner are reliable.
2B6Does A&C look wierd in other woods &/or other stains. Never seen any that I know of.
Bob_LangThere's a lot to be said about getting to know the wood. The clock I'm making is turning into six clocks. I did a prototype in sapele, mahogany and ebony and talked Glen Huey out of some tiger maple. I couldn't decide on a color combination, I want tiger maple and ebonized walnut, so now I'm making two versions with the colors reversed. And as long as I'm making extra parts, I made enough for four of those. And my wife wants one to paint as the original was. My history as a production worker may do me in.
Bob_Langhi mark
Bob_in_NJEvening Mark
Bob_LangI disagree with Flexner about shellac. I've been leaning toward it the last few years and think it's gotten a bad rap the last 30 years or so. It's a good finish and easy
Bob_in_NJShellac is my go to finnish for predictable results.
LowellmkI'm just starting to play with amber shellac, ...liking it too
EllisI love shellac, too, And it is surprisingly durable as long as you don't get solvents on it.
Bob_LangAs long as you don't splash Everclear around the living room, you'll be OK
LowellmkI've tried urethane over non-waxed shellac...seems to have worked well
wilburI tried Everclear as a shellac solvent, thanks to Stephen. It works great.
DaveThanks guys for all the info. And thanks Bob it was great getting your prespective. I look forward to your next book
EllisThat's what conservators use, Wilbur.
StuartHEverclear has SO many uses! :)
Bob_LangActually, I wanted to mention that. Pop Wood is putting out a book that is a collection of my magazine articles for them. Should be available in a month or two
wilburSo I've heard. But what do the conservators use for a solvent? :)
StuartHCool. Sign me up!
Bob_in_NJI grew up with ooasters under the glasses on all the furniture, so leaving marks is never an issue here. ;)
HI thought you drank the stuff
EllisSo Bob, do you think A&C aesthetics are burned into the American psyche?
2B6Good question Ellis
Bob_LangI think so. It's something uniquely American, kind of like jazz or rock and roll. Big part of the culture, and I think that is what it came back to life in the late 1970s
wilburDoes A&C have the same hold in England that it does here? There was an A&C movement there, too.
Bob_in_NJStarted there, I think?
Bob_LangI also think it's a good antidote to our current cultural condition
Bob_in_NJThats for certain, Bob
Bob_in_NJ(or lack of cultural condition):)
LowellmkI agree with you Bob. And also, it's style is timeless and can be blended into many different settings!
William_of_the_CohanseyThat's a real good point, Bob.
Bob_LangI'm not sure where the English are with it today. I believe it is popular, but I can never figure the British out.
wilburWhen I went there, the Stickley house in NJ had an interesting theory on the 1970's comeback of A&C.
Bob_LangThat's one of the reasons I publish what I do. If we don't get the history right, our kids will look at watered down versions and ask "what's so special about that?"
Bob_in_NJYeah I would hesitate to predict what future generations will like or appreciate.
StuartHI've seen several pieces that just look VERY clunky...victims of bad proportions. How do you, Bob, insure you don't cross that line.
wilburIn the 1970's, Babs needed to redecorate one of her homes. She had a thing for A&C furniture. When everyone saw that Babs liked A&C, the popularity skyrocketed.
Bob_LangI think our eyes develop with the more pieces we look at. Look at everything you can, reject the clunky and the spindly and you'll turn out with a good sense of proportion
wilburThe problem was, the prices of A&C went up so much that the museum couldn't compete in collecting original pieces.
EllisThis brings up a pet peeve of mine -- the aesthetic norms of the early 20th Century.
Bob_LangEllis-care to expound? I find period stuff pretty warm and appealing when done well
EllisI like A&C designs, but I find many of them to be visually very ponderous.
HBob, do you think the Stickley furniture made today adhere to the old principles?
EllisFLW in particular, I think, designed very heavy looking furniture.
William_of_the_Cohanseyand uncomfortable, as well
Bob_in_NJBob said it, 'when done well', that's the key. Our eye's can see 'done well'.
EllisI have seen modern take-offs of Stickley and FLW designs that are much lighter and more aesthetically appealing.
William_of_the_CohanseySo I've been told. Never sat in any of it, but it doesn't look as inviting as the chair Bob's sitting in, in the chat invite picture.
LowellmkThe modern lazy boy is a copy of the Morris chair!
EllisConceptually, at least!
Bob_LangToday's Stickley is very high quality in its manufacture. A couple of things they do bother me. There line is a mix of authentic pieces and new designs and they really aren't clear which is which. And they have gone overboard with the Harvey Ellis inlays. Those are cheap to produce now, thanks to CNC and they tend to stick them everywhere.
Bob_in_NJthose are better descibed as 'modern interpretations' ,of FLW and Stickley designs.
William_of_the_CohanseyStickley's not the only one to do that. Moser's the same with "Shaker."
LowellmkI totally agree with you on Stickley, Bob. They have also taken some classic designs and made "modern" interpretations....which I think have totally flopped in the market.
EllisI think that A&C lines, with lighter colored woods and more open, airy designs, are more appealing than the 1900 aesthetic.
Bob_LangI think the design aesthetic is an excellent starting point. Don't like Dark oak, make it in cherry. Look too heavy to your eye" lighten it up. Continuing with my music analogy from earlier on, it's a great progession to start with and improvise on.
wilburI have to get to bed. Good night everyone, thanks to Ellis for organizing this, and thanks to Bob for all the great information.
Bob_in_NJIt seems a lot of modern pieces are 'infulenced by' rather than striclty Stickley, or Shaker etc. desings.
LowellmkIt's amazing how different the same piece looks when you use spindles vs. slats
HLocal store carries alot of Stickley, some i like, other i don't, was wondering if that was the reason, not original... thanks
Bob_in_NJsay that three times fast 'Strictly Stickley' :)
EllisGreat analogy, Bob. I agree with you on the flexibility of the genre.
William_of_the_CohanseySome Greene and Greene I like, some I don't. Some Goddard and Townsend I like…
Bob_LangThe old catalogs are still being printed, and that's a good reference for what's legit and what isn't. I know most of the original model numbers and get e-mails every so often looking for plans to build an authentic reproduction of a piece first made in 1997.
EllisTo me, it's the simple honesty of the form that is appealing.
Bob_in_NJYes, that is it's real appeal
2B6But isn't flexibility the problem w/ the newer stuff?
Bob_LangI think one of Gustav Stickley's big contributions was nailing basic forms. One of my favorite quotes of his is along the lines of "...a table doesn't try to be a chair."
Bob_Lang2B6-adaptations are possible and can be excellently done. But what happens is designers, either in factories or magazines tend to take the easy way out. Instead of really knowing the style, they pick a few details and slap them on any old thing
EllisI guess it depends on your concept of furniture form. A chair or table takes up a certain amount of space and serves a particular function, but the details can vary a lot, and that's what gives the piece its overall look.
Bob_LangThe best example I can think of is pieces with loads of small spindles. They are authentic to the period, but only lasted a couple of years. Not fun to produce, and not easy to live with. If you've ever sanded stained or dusted a piece like that, you'll know what I mean
EllisI think it is in the spirit of Arts & Crafts to create forms and designs that embody the basic constructs.
EllisI know what you mean about spindles, Bob. :)
Bob_LangStickley was a real master of proportion, sizes of different parts in relation to each other and to the pieces as a whole. It isn't in your face, and it's easy to miss.
Lowellmkand spindles are impossible to dust! LOL
Bob_in_NJI just made a small stair gate with 7 or more 3/4"-square spindles, mortises into the top and bottom rails, ok for one off, would not be fun to make a dozen of them:)
Bob_LangThere's also a lot to be said for the sturdiness of the stuff. I often think when I first assemble something that if a tornado comes, I'm getting under there.
EllisThere must be something universal about his proportions that continue to resonate. With Americans, at least.
EllisSturdy construction is a good thing. It can't come at the expense of appearance, though.
HDo you see the Golden Ratio (1.618:1) in his original designs?
William_of_the_CohanseyI've sanded Morris chair spindles. I fully appreciate
Bob_LangI think he put together an entire package. Great proportions, too solid to break or toss after it's out of fashion, and a nice showcase for both the wood and the guy who makes it.
LowellmkBut does simplicity ever go out of style?
Bob_in_NJUnder this table looks like a safe place to be.
Bob_LangH, nope. I'm not a fan of the golden rectangle. I think they made it up (mostly) when art became an academic subject in the 20s and 30s
William_of_the_CohanseySimplicity never goes out of the practical pocketbook. However, there are always those who need to show off how much more money thay have than we have.
Bob_LangSimplicity has gone out of style. That is one of the reasons arts & crafts fell off in the 1920s. Wallace Nutting convinced the public that Colonial was better
William_of_the_CohanseyNutting had no sense of taste. He just promoted what he could sell.
EllisOkay, folks. We're going to let our guest off the hook. Bob, thanks so much for joining us tonight. I'm sure we could talk for hours.
Bob_in_NJYes, Thank you Bob for a great chat, hope we didn't wear you out:)
Bob_LangWorn out, but it's been fun. Hope you guys will visit my blog and read my stuff. If you don't, I could end up at the front door of WalMart
EllisI'll be editing down a transcript of this chat for our archives.
Bob_LangThanks again for the invite Ellis.
HThanks Bob
EllisThanks again, Bob, and good luck with your future ventures.

About Bob Lang:

    "I've been with Popular Woodworking Magazine for eight and a half years, and executive editor for the past three years. In addition to editing articles and designing and building projects, I also do most of the illustrations for the magazine. Before my career with the magazine, I was in the custom cabinet/architectural millwork industry, the last ten years of that as project manager/engineer making shop drawings and figuring out how high-end projects go together and how to get them through the shop and installed.
    "My first book, Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture was published in 2001, and there have been several books since, as well as a few videos for Pop Wood. The past few years, I've been caught up in teaching SketchUp, a 3D modeling program. I've self-published a digital book titled Woodworker's Guide to SketchUp that integrates video content within the text. My first, second and fourth books were republished last year in a single volume titled Great Book of Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture, and my publisher is currently in the process of updating The Complete Kitchen Cabinetmaker.
    "I've started a new blog at, and I still maintain my original website where I sell my books and large-format plans based on drawings from my books."
... Bob Lang
[NOTE: You can read our reviews of some of Bob's books in our Book Reviews department.]