Antique workbenches are popular with interior designers who buy them up to use as rustic accent pieces or functional pieces like computer desks and bars. We recently saw these classics at an antique festival in Round Top, Texas where they were selling for $1,000 and up. My father-in-law Terry and I built our own Swedish woodworking benches 25 years ago now, his was solid oak, mine was maple. We took a bench-building class together and followed the plans to the letter. The results were massive, sturdy pieces that if thrown off the back of a moving truck would most likely tumble a few times and land upright without a scratch. I’ll have my bench forever, no doubt, but my current shop space can’t handle its size. Rather than putting it in storage, my wife, a designer at heart, confiscated it to use as a desk in her home office. “Best desk ever,” she says.
If you haven’t been to the week-long, biannual antique festival in Round Top, Texas, then anything I say to describe it won’t do it justice. It’s something you have to experience yourself — all 20 miles of it. If you’re into world-class antiques, this is undoubtedly the place to be. A recent visit had me shooting photos of classic hand-painted trade signs around every turn. Here’s a photoshop string of some of my favorites. Enjoy!
I quickly stepped in front of graphic-design icon Louise Fili just as she was about to pass by and said, LOUISE!, nearly causing her to spill her coffee. I introduced myself, we talked a bit, I told her I had traveled all the way from Houston to hear her keynote presentation, and asked her to please take a look at my website when she had a chance. I didn’t have any business cards, so I left her with the little, metal Nutmegger Workshop nameplate that I mount on the back of my signs. A week later, I emailed her to ask if she had a chance to visit my site. Indeed, she had, and she also added that my “business card” was the most memorable she had ever been given.
Louise happens to be married to Steven Heller, the acclaimed New York design writer. Just recently, Steve emailed me saying that Louise had passed my website to him and that he’d like to write about Nutmegger Workshop on his daily design blog, The Daily Heller. OK, wait, hold on. ARE YOU SERIOUS? When I saw “Steven Heller” at the top of my inbox I dropped my cell phone on our kitchen counter and brought my hands to the top of my head in disbelief. My wife fires back, “HEY! Do you want to break your phone?” We were putting away groceries.
Since Steve wrote about Nutmegger Workshop on the Daily Heller, the Workshop has enjoyed unprecedented exposure and will no doubt be presented with new opportunities down the road. Thank you, thank you, Louise Fili and Steve Heller for your time, your generosity, and your belief in Nutmegger Workshop.
I really, really believed in this place. Boston’s Durgin-Park restaurant offered up an unwavering sense of place for generations of loyal-to-the-core New Englanders. Like ancient bedrock, this restaurant was always there, the line was always long, and the sights and smells that hit you at the top of the stairs was something you would always remember. When in Boston, I couldn’t wait to get there. Once seated with family and friends, it felt like the journey’s end with life’s weight magically lifted. Life was good.
Sadly (heartbreakingly actually), Durgin-Park, which opened in 1827 when John Quincy Adams was president, served its last meals on Jan. 12, 2019, after 192 years of continuous operation. That’s nearly two centuries! In the same location! “Established before you were born,” the signs read. Throughout the years, the workshop has made a few signs to commemorate this place, one of which hangs in our home.
Besides my wife, there are very few things that I can say are a sight for sore eyes. Thos. Moser’s ridiculously elegant interpretation of a Shaker classic puts me in a trance every time I see it pictured in their catalog. I find myself wiping away tears as I turn the next page. This past summer, I grabbed this photo of the real deal while visiting the Moser furniture showroom in Freeport, Me. After 15 minutes of absorbing every inch of this piece inside and out, my wife finally grabbed my arm to pull me away. Nooo!
I’ve been tearing up over Tom Moser’s work for more than three decades now. I have all the furniture books written by Tom Moser, I’ve made the pilgrimage to his Auburn, Me. workshop three times, I’ve built a roomful of tables from his published shop drawings, took part in his company’s recent marketing research study, and my mother still sends old-school news clippings in the mail when the Portland paper writes another Thos. Moser story.
What can I say other than the Moser family’s body of work, loyal dedication to craft, and flawless execution provides me with endless inspiration.
This sign was a departure from what we normally do here at the workshop. We opted for hand-cut dimensional lettering and a smalted-paint background inspired by signs from the late 1800s and early 1900s. This project has all the authentic character and size of an architectural salvage piece, and we couldn’t be happier with the results. At ten feet long, this sign would look great in a home, restaurant, pub, or office lobby.
I first saw it out of the corner of my eye from quite a distance and uttered, “Are you SERIOUS?” I ditched my colleague and made a bee line straight for it, practically knocking people down on my way. I spent the next half hour just standing there ... looking. I sat on a nearby bench and looked more. I didn’t want to leave.
This art installation at the convention center in San Antonio is the permanent location for this project that took artist Gary Sweeney four years to complete. Made entirely from pieces of old, weathered signs, this Herculean effort recreates the first two paragraphs of “The Story of Civilization,” the epic, eleven-volume history of Western civilization. You would think I would have already known about this guy!
Remnants of San Antonio’s golden era still exist. I’m talking old-school stuff, like from the late 40s and early 50s when Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys sang San Antonio Rose on the radio. Ya know, Western steel guitar, “take it away Leon” and “eatin’ corn and taters!” Historic Texas limestone walls and architectural details are easily found on most city streets near the riverwalk and Alamo Plaza (impressive, indeed), but venturing just a few blocks off the beaten path will offer up some pretty sweet rewards as well, including an awesome corned beef sandwich and ice cold sweet tea at Schilo’s.
A family trip to Portland, Maine provided a much needed right-brain reboot. Wow, spring in Maine is flat-out beautiful. Portland’s surroundings were so full of color and texture that it made our heads spin trying to capture it all on our iPhones. Nutmegger Workshop is all about creating pieces with texture and color that capture the spirit of places and memories for those who wish to never forget what means most to them. Important stuff, right? I feel as though this endeavor has been woven into my DNA. These images of Portland’s Old Port, surrounding coastline and forests inspire me to no end.
So, what is a saddle tree? Chuck Hadlock explains, our client who commissioned this sign to commemorate his family’s business:
So, yes, a saddle tree is the frame that all saddles are built upon. The two bars, cantle and swell are hand carved from timber pine and nailed together. The cast iron horn is then bolted to the swell. The assembled tree is then covered with wet rawhide and stitched together. The rawhide shrinks and creates the final, solid tree. Saddle makers glue, nail, and screw leather to the tree in various stages until the saddle is complete.
There are probably 200-plus variations of saddle trees — from Civil War saddles and charro (Mexican) saddles, to Western style. Within the Western style alone there are barrel racer saddles that are built light, roper saddles that are built tough, reigning saddles that are built light, and tough, etc. Trees are ordered with a seat size ranging from 12 to 20 inches, with 16-inch seats being the most common. As years passed, my father, Bret Hadlock, designed and built efficient saw machines that cut the timber pine parts into shape much like a wood lathe, which streamlined production by eliminating the hand carving process. These innovations helped meet increasing orders of 200-plus trees per week. My father and his brother Lonney bought the business from their father, Kenneth, in 1979 and continued to grow the business until they retired and sold to an investor in 2007. The business still exists today using the same processes and machines developed by my father, Bret Hadlock.
Many thanks Chuck!
I fell under the spell of Shaker furniture as a design student studying form, symmetry, and the golden rules of proportion. Shaker design sits among the world’s finest examples of these timeless truths. During the 1960s, Danish cabinetmaker Ejner Handberg (pronounced Eye-ner, 1902-1985) repaired original Shaker pieces brought to his Stockbridge, Mass. shop where he carefully measured and drew each piece. After compiling drawings for most of the local Shaker community’s furniture collection, he published a three-volume collection of drawings in 1977. These small books are the go-to source for inspiration and lessons in proportion for cabinet makers all over the world. Ian Ingersoll, a master cabinet maker in Connecticut, first told me about these books when I visited his shop and asked for advice about getting started in furniture making. “Do you have the Handberg books?” was the first thing he asked! I’ve had my set some 20 years now and look at them often.
This year our city has been through the wringer to say the very least. Our home and workshop managed to stay dry with no damage to property from Harvey flood waters. Just a mile away in most every direction counter-height currents of water coursed ruthlessly through streets and into homes. Houston is flat, allowing flood waters to spread indiscriminately. Why our section of the neighborhood didn't flood while others did is anybody’s guess. Pure luck.
With our newly crowned, world champion Houston Astros now lifting the city’s spirits to record heights, everything feels positive again in Houston, which is why we felt compelled to show off the two Houston-themed signs we proudly made since we’ve lived here in Space City — also known as H-Town, Bayou City, the energy capitol of the world, and the fourth largest and most diverse city in the country!
After three years in the wildly trendy Heights neighborhood, living in the long shadows of downtown Houston, we are heading to Pearland (yes, like the fruit), a relaxing, spacious suburb 18 miles due south. There’s a Sugarland too — and there’s also a Muleshoe, Texas, a Happy, a Hoop and Holler, a Turkey, a Noodle, and even a Ding Dong, Texas (Pop. 22).
Daily commutes will find us in downtown Houston five days a week, so we won’t miss a thing the city has to offer. The workshop will be slowly packed up during the coming months with brushes, tools and machinery heading to storage for a bit, but it will all be whole once again and better than ever in late fall 2017.
I didn’t believe it until I finally tried it. Grab a large large container, pour in a half gallon or so of white vinegar, throw in two pads of fine steel wool, cover, and let steep for three to four days or until the steel wool totally dissolves from the acidity. On day three the steel wool was still intact, on day four it was gone.
The result is a dark amber-colored, toxic-waste-looking leakage. Give it a stir and brush it on your wood heavily, letting it puddle. Once dry, you’ll need to wipe the dusty residue from the surface with a dry rag to reveal what you’ve created. Before I got started, a good beating on the wood with a chain and awl-made worm holes was worth the effort.
Believable weathered barn wood? Not as bleached gray as I was expecting, but after a few more coats it was as close as I was going to get using this method.
We’ve moved six times in 25 years. Workspace is always a factor in house selection, and garages, more often than not, are perfect spaces for this one-man side gig. The bigger the better, and no cars allowed. It all began in Chandler, Arizona — just married, and three years in a tight, one-car garage. Then into a two-car garage for four years, and finally, six years in a massive 30'x40' outbuilding with glorious 10-foot ceilings on our acre-and-a-half property on the edge of town. More kids—more space needed.
After our move to Portland, Ore., we spent six years in a home with a huge 25'x55' shop in the walkout basement, then we bought the hilltop home with the shop pictured above. The 24'x24' space needed serious attention, so within a few months we had the perfect workshop once more. Three years spent there.
And now Houston! Another two-car space with just 7-foot ceilings this time. I'm tall, and I’ve knocked myself silly a few times on low hanging garage door runners. Other than that, it’s our latest haven of creativity.
This place has “one of a kind” written all over it. Check out the old-school broom near the front door. This beloved beach retreat has known just one family since it was built more than a century ago in 1897 and is listed with the local historical society. Cottages along the Connecticut coastline are as quintessential as cottages get and are the stuff of summertime memories, no doubt. This sign was ordered as a gift for the owner by his brother-in-law to commemorate the cottage’s sentimental value to the family and its place in local history.
Our family also hails from the Nutmeg state, where the beach was just a 50-minute drive away — a trek that was boldly made on bicycle once or twice through some pretty hilly countryside. As kids, we spent summer weekends in Black Point, a few miles from Old Lyme at great Aunt Flo’s beach house on Niantic Bay, just a short barefoot walk from the beach.
My day job as a graphic designer and marketer has allowed me to design with type on a much larger scale than in the workshop. Before this project, billboards, an 18-wheeler trailer and light rail train wraps have been the largest graphics I’ve designed. This towering banner measures 60'x16', twelve feet taller than the typical billboard is long. The aluminum framing went up first, taking an entire day of endless drilling and bolting into the brick wall from the deck of a cherry picker. The next morning, the crew started hanging the banner at the very top (right photo), and unrolled it slowly like a huge window shade, snapping tension clips along the edges as they went. After three hours, the front of the building had been visually transformed.
Our latest sign was inspired by classic steamship travel posters from the turn of the 20th century. Industry giants such as Cunard, White Star lines, North German Lloyd and Holland America ruled the high seas before commercial air travel brought an end to the golden age of oceanic passage. From West Manhattan’s Chelsea piers, Boston Harbor, and other east coast ports, voyages took as little as five days to reach far off ports such as Southhampton, Liverpool, Queenstown, Glasgow, Dover, Rotterdam and Bremen. The era’s top graphic designers and illustrators were commissioned to romanticize these voyages to lure adventurous travelers. The hand lettering on these posters is absolutely genius. So much so, it makes me weep (seriously), not to mention the majestic renderings that bring these “greatest wonders of the age” to life. The fact that these posters still inspire after 120 years with never-to-be-obtained-again perfection is a remarkable testament to these early graphic artists.
A Portland, Maine nonprofit executive, world traveler, avid snow boarder, expert flyfisherman and family man does, in fact, need some time in his workshop to relax and clear his mind. When he heads into his workshop, he likes to make vintage-style signs for family, friends and associates. Working with his hands keeps him happily occupied for hours, just as it does me. He schedules his precious shop time in advance and looks forward to firing up the table saw the same way he looks forward to a weekend road trip to the mountain to shred the slopes with his son. Rod Vogel happens to be my brother, and he has respectfully adopted his own love and passion for creating vintage-style signs.
The thought of growing Nutmegger Workshop into a two-location effort crossed our minds just once and we quickly realized we wouldn’t have our relaxing hobbies anymore. And at our age, the thought of sacrificing our hard-earned and modestly lucrative careers even just a little was quickly tossed aside in favor of the status quo. Perhaps when we’re both retired we’ll collaborate a bit to bring in some extra vacation money. In the meantime, our common interest keeps us communicating across the country, sharing shop techniques and texting photos of our latest projects. Here’s to more good times in your shop, my good brother!
So, when I told my wife I was buying a really old table saw, when I already had the top-of-the-line “last table saw I’ll ever need to buy” table saw already sitting in the shop, she avoided eye contact with me for a month. Every passionate woodworker knows that the early model Delta Unisaws are legendary workhorses and the grandfather of all modern-day saws. I just had to have one.
Delta introduced the world’s first tilting-arbor cabinet saw in 1939 with its fully-enclosed steel cabinet and polished cast iron top. Leading the industry for decades, the 1960s and 1970s brought the Powermatic Model 66 table saw into a neck-and-neck position with the Unisaw, boasting the heaviest trunnion assembly (table saw guts) and virtually vibration-free operation. Nowadays, the Unisaw and Powermatic models are still market leaders but most tool hounds would agree that each brand’s no-nonsense, 600-pound-plus models from a lifetime ago are often preferred over today’s state-0f-the-art models.
We have both in the shop! A vintage Delta Unisaw and a 1990s Powermatic Model 66. The two rival beasts coexist side by side creating one long cast iron work surface and infinite creative possibilities. We researched our Unisaw’s serial number and learned that it was made in September of 1941, three months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor! Pretty amazing. The woodworker I bought it from said I was now just the fourth owner of this 75-year-old industry icon. I couldn’t be more proud.