Frequently Asked Questions

Why is handcrafted woodwork so “expensive”?
Many professionally produced pieces can take 200 or more hours to complete. When the overhead of materials, machinery costs and upkeep, and workspace are added to the wages and healthcare costs of a good craftsperson, most quality pieces cannot help but end up being costly.

What makes handcrafted pieces “heirlooms”, what does that mean?
An heirloom quality piece literally refers to pieces made to high enough standards that (with a reasonable amount of care) are able to be passed down through several or more generations of a family.

Why are there usually no nails in a quality piece of furniture?
Nails are one of the worst ways of holding separate pieces of wood together (conversely, they are also one of the fastest and most efficient ways). However, even the lowly nail has a place in fine woodworking, helping to hold panels or pieces of removable trim in position.

Why are glued joints superior to nails?
Glued joints are the most secure way of holding separate pieces of wood together; if you think of the strength of a joint as a function of the amount of area that is held tightly together, it doesn’t take much to realize that the area of a nail, a screw, or even a dowel, is much smaller than a well executed joint.

Why is Koa wood so popular? Why is it so costly?
Few woods can match Koa’s range of colors, or brilliance of figure. Koa nearly always delivers a deep, rich look. There is now, only an estimated 10% of the original Hawaiian forest left. Demand far exceeds supplies and landowners have chosen to place restrictions on the felling of live trees in the hopes of perpetuating supplies for future generations, this has naturally affected costs and availability.

How does a person go about asking a craftsperson to create a “custom” piece without feeling intimidated about price?
A. Discuss your budget and needs openly with the craftsperson. However, please do not expect him/her to compete price wise with a computerized factory turning out hundreds of the same items. You can generally expect to pay two to five times the price of a manufactured item for something that on the surface seems comparable from a good craftsperson, but the handcrafted item should far outlast the manufactured one.

Is solid wood better than veneer?
If you happened to accidentally put a scratch in the surface of a solid wood piece, you could remove small amounts of wood until you reached unmarked wood, then refinish the piece. If you did the same with a veneered piece, that bit of veneer world be ruined, but a reasonably talented woodworker could repair or replace it in some fashion. The real difference is that you can carve into and shape solid wood in ways that you cannot do with veneers. With veneers, you can repeat grain patterns and even “paint pictures” in ways you cannot do with solid wood.

Common Terms

GRAIN: Wood is composed of fibers that grow interlocked to form a solid substance. The pattern of these fibers is what we call “grain”.

FIGURE: The fibers that compose the grain of wood occasionally grow in convoluted patterns that reflect light differently than a straight fiber can. The various terms such as “fiddleback, mottle, quilt, pommelle, etc.” refer to these patterns.

JOINERY: The art of cutting mating shapes in separate pieces of wood as a means of joining them together.

CHATOYANCE: A term from the French that refers to how well a substance reflects light. Have you ever seen how Koa, some Maples, Claro Walnut, and a few other woods gleam under bright lights while some other woods look dull no matter how well lighted they are.

OIL FINISH: In modern times, this refers to a finish that does not cover the wood with a noticeable clear film. It is really a resin that has been thinned down with linseed or tung oil and solvents, which help the resins penetrate the surface of the wood where over the course of a day or so, the resins harden. In times past, an oil finish was composed of linseed or tung oil, with very few other ingredients. It would take up to a year to build up enough dried and hardened resins to provide any meaningful protection, and then it would still require maintenance coats a couple times a year.

It should be noted that linseed and tung are among the few hardening oils we have. Most vegetable (seed and nut) oils will just turn gummy and rancid. Petroleum oils will slowly evaporate and what little is left will mineralize over many, many years.

VARNISH FINISH: Varnish is really a broad term that refers to leaving a film of clear resin on the surface of the wood. We used to have only shellac, then lacquer; now we can also choose from alkyds, urethanes, acrylics, epoxies, and melamines.