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, asymmetry, and the golden rules of proportion. Shaker design sits among the world’s finest examples of these timeless, classic truths. During the 1960s, Danish cabinetmaker Ejner Handberg (pronounced Eye-ner, 1902-1985) repaired original Shaker pieces brought to his Stockbridge, Mass. shop and 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 cabinet maker in Connecticut, first told me about these books when I visited his shop and asked for advice about how to research further into 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.
Note: Although Handberg didn’t illustrate the above rocking chairs, they were included as part of a graphic in volume one (Berkshire Traveller Press).
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! Yes, we’re proud to call ourselves Houstonians! Go Astros! What's your favorite city?
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. Go figure.
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, Oregon, 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. Classic. 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 for 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 down to his basement 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.
Texas Monthly, our new state’s premier lifestyle magazine, just published a photo spread featuring 18 new Texans from Austin, Dallas and Houston in their April “Welcome to Texas!” issue. Houstonia magazine’s design director passed on my name and recent transplant status to one of their reporters. I’ll tell ya, the karma here is never-ending. I’m in the bottom right corner there. “What are you looking at?” asked my wife. “You look ridiculous!”
So, about this photoshoot. I offered to convert our dining room into a makeshift studio for Austin-based photographer LeAnn Mueller and her crew; she was able to set up shop for the afternoon, feel right at home and deftly direct and capture the daring souls as if she was in her Austin studio. Having been behind the camera directing shoots for 30 years, it’s always fun for me to be in front of the camera and take someone else’s direction. One by one, the three other featured newbie Houstonians showed up at the front door. They too were photographed, we had a few laughs (the guy touching his chin was cool) and then each person returned to their busy lives after a few short minutes in the spotlight. That’s a wrap people!
There’s nothing more satisfying than working with my hands. Nothing comes close. The joy it brings can be flat-out therapeutic, if not downright spiritual, especially after a good day in the shop. I first discovered this rock-solid truth as a boy when my father taught me how to cut my first pine board with a tape measure, pencil line and a handsaw. I realized quickly that with my hands and a few simple tools, possibilities were endless. And now, after decades of countless wood projects, creative endeavors and tinkering on all scales, I have learned to trust my hands and to always believe in what they are capable of. Let’s call it an acquired confidence — though I certainly know my limits.
Experience brings an unwaivering respect for process and a commitment to do things right the first time. Determined hands bring results that last. You with me? So, whether it be making things, fixing things, painting, cleaning, working in the garden or just pushing a broom — you can count me in.
After almost ten years in Portland, Oregon, the time had inevitably arrived to say goodbye. Texas-sized opportunities were presented to my wife Julie and I and now here we are, lock, stock and barrel: job offers accepted, house sold, house bought, new neighborhood, new schools, new everything. Texas was never on our radar, but after 3 short months we are indeed happy to call ourselves Houstonians. This city has been beyond welcoming and its one of a kind personality reveals itself around every corner. Our 2,241-mile journey caught the attention of Houstonia magazine and was featured in their humorous Escaped Converts column. Pretty cool. Most of all though, I’m excited to finally say that after months of unpacking and setting up our new shop space, Nutmegger Workshop is back and ready to take your orders!
Nutmegger workshop is so proud to have worked with the Oregon Public House to help further their mission — a genuine leap of faith which continues to inspire others to make a real difference. Absolutely brilliant. Please watch this great 3-minute video. Just click on the image!
Much interest in our signs and process (from all corners of the globe) compelled us to make our first video, a 2-minute, start-to-finish depiction of the making of the Witherspoon & Sons sign. Perfectly captured by the gentlemen over at Portland’s Parliament, this video now has 12,000-plus views and has been linked on many international design websites, as well as other unexpected sites including TheKidShouldSeeThis.com and Smithsonian.com.
Our second video has been in the works since early spring. Former Portland Tribune photojournalist Chris Onstott, now a busy photographer and videographer with his business partner and fellow photojournalist Leah Nash, agreed to sign on as videographer. He sees things unconventionally. As the designer of the Tribune, I was thrilled to use his images splashed across five or six columns of the front page each week. He stood on top of tables to shoot down on people, laid on the ground to shoot up, used unexpected lighting, composition and lenses to give Portland readers the best he could offer up. He worked long hours and always bounced in the newsroom with bags and cameras swinging from his body and for many seasons could be spotted courtside at Portland Trail Blazer games. No one else came to mind when I decided to move ahead with this project. Our early morning sunrise shoot in downtown Portland was so cold that Chris’s hands and face were just about frostbitten as he contorted himself to hold his camera rig up and out of the sunroof of my car as we drove along the 405 and the streets of Old Town.
The people in this video are clients and good friends. Their faces will be comforting to see whenever I watch this video and I am proud to know them all. Their Nutmegger Workshop signs are testaments to their family history, passions, business ventures and groundbreaking leaps of faith. As for Portland? Well, there’s no other place quite like it.
Recently, we were honored to be interviewed by Sarah Coombs, the multi-talented interior designer, set designer and former NBC Today show art director.
I had the good fortune to be introduced to Peter Vogel, head of Nutmegger Workshop. In his studio in Portland, Oregon, Peter crafts some truly remarkable sign art. He planes the wood, paints the type, and then ages it by hand. The result is a piece that feels one-of-a-kind: something that you’d be thrilled to find in an antique store, but that you have the good fortune to customize any way you want. His clients include retail stores, interior designers, and non-professionals, too — anyone who wants something unique to deck their walls. We spoke recently to discuss his craft, his sources of inspiration, and his favorite projects to date.
Our first house in Portland was a one of a kind 1927 Colonial Revival that was vintage to its core, right down to the massive old-growth floor joists. In the corner of the basement, seemingly as intact as the day he left it, was the original owner’s workbench. Sitting on top was Ol’ Man Amspoker’s set of 16 small utility drawers where he amassed an impressive collection of tacks, rivets, Cotter pins, screws (slotted — Phillips heads were yet to come), nuts and bolts and many more things old-school and now obselete. For our home fix-it projects, these drawers rose to the occasion time and time again with just the right washer or hook. So, when we moved and set up our new shop space, we brought them along and put them front and center on a brand new bench top.
The bottom drawer is a favorite (and the real inspiration for this post). It transports you right back to 1927 with its musty reserve of tiny, vintage hardware boxes. Graphically speaking, each box is uniquely different than the next, and with a closer look they prove to be little tributes to the designers of that era who invested long hours rendering by hand with real ink, paints and brushes. As simple and mundane as package design was for insignificant boxes of tacks and glazier’s points, the illustration, hand lettering and typesetting is truly classic, some of it quite genius and all of it inspirational. Take a look — courtesy of Ol’ Man Amspoker.
Disney, Apple, Google, Amazon, Hewlett-Packard, Harley Davidson and Nutmegger Workshop all started in a garage. It’s that “can do” place where seeds of inspiration are nurtured during long hours under bare light bulbs and alongside mowers, gas cans, shovels, rakes, bicycles and baseball bats. Most of these companies moved on to larger spaces and set their sights on diversifying and dominating the global markets — but one company decided to stay put, to stay small, to stay focused and true to its mission: Nutmegger Workshop.
I know, right? I should have been a writer.
We’re in our fifth garage now. The fourth was actually a basement, and the third was a 30'x40' detached renovated barn with 10-foot ceilings—hardly a garage. At 1200 square feet, it was work space that mortal men only dream about. My wife Julie called it the Taj Mahal. “Great things better come out of this shop!” Our current renovated space, about half the size, is high in the West Hills of Portland just minutes from downtown. A completely transformed garage space with brand new windows, insulation, drywall, attic, heat, double-basin utility sink, 16 electrical outlets, and state-of-the-art, energy-efficient T-5 natural-light fluorescent lighting. Hoowaaah! We have all the room and tools needed to work smarter and more efficiently than ever before. No mowers, no gas cans. And the view out the back is just killer.