“Free Form” Rustic Furniture
Guest blogger Keith Keyser of Rustic Wood Creations reflects on his development as a rustic furniture maker and how an appreciation for the character of wood and attention to balance and harmony in each piece define his style.
I guess I became a rustic furniture maker through years of making my own gates, fences, and trellises for my gardening and homesteading ventures. I used tools like shaving horses, drawknives, and brace and bit, because electric power wasn’t accessible at the work sites and also I’m a bit of an ascetic at heart.
Ten years ago I made my first commissioned piece: a coffee table with natural branches, bark on, designed to support an etched glass top. I wanted the branches to appear to grow out of one another so I tediously mortised the joints in the rough limbs. The extra effort opened my eyes to the time and care needed to create the desired effect. Since then, I’ve refined my technique by using traditional mortise and tenon and also saddle joinery for strength and appearance. I also work mostly with wood I’ve peeled and sanded myself.
I deliberately choose wood that has inherent character, which usually means lots of curves, indentations, or knobs, and sometimes all the above. These features give a piece of furniture visual movement and interest. A single piece of highly characterized wood is often the catalyst for an entire piece of furniture, such as this madrona chair. The long, twisted back leg with the arm-like appendage was a find that I saw immediately as a chair leg. I then found and prepared the remaining elements, making sure all the parts were proportional and aesthetically placed, so the chair evolved harmoniously.
Balancing various dimensions within a single piece sets this style apart from log furniture, for example, where uniformity of dimension is usually the norm. I believe the contrast between large and small parts in a piece is more representative of natural tree growth and the balance between masculine and feminine.
This type of furniture is often called “natural,” which it is, but a more apt name might be “free form”. All the parts of my furniture are made from minimally altered natural wood. The notable exceptions are the milled pieces used as seats on some chairs. All natural pieces are selected for their suitability as specific parts of the furniture, such as arms, legs, stretchers, or stiles.
I really enjoy working with the different characteristics that each species of wood can impart to a furniture piece. Native dogwood, which grows over 50’ here in Washington, has knobs and long indentations reminiscent of human knees and tendons. Maple often reveals grain patterns like fiddleback, curly, and birdseye that seem to shimmer before the eye. The various grains, coupled with an infinite assortment of forms, often present this furniture designer with the challenging task of converging all that diversity into a single piece of utilitarian and attractive furniture.
Check out CustomMade’s galleries for more examples of rustic furniture by our artisans. You can also narrow your search for rustic coffee tables, rustic chairs, or for furniture made from madrona, dogwood, or maple.