On Friday I attended a meeting of the Rochester Woodworkers Society. This meeting included a lecture by Thomas Pafk . Thomas operates his shop and custom furniture business in East Aurora, New York – just outside of Buffalo. He designs and builds custom furniture in many styles but, is most influenced by the Arts and Crafts style. The most unique aspect of his designs is his use of veneers which appear somewhere in every piece that he builds.
The East Aurora area is also the home of the Roycrofters, a group of artisans following the philosophy of Elbert Hubbard and preserving the ideals which made the Roycroft Campus a center of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Thomas is also one of the few people recognized as a Roycroft Master Artisan which allows him to use the Roycroft “double R” symbol on his work. To become a Roycroft Artisan one must submit his work to a jury comprised of Roycroft Master Artisans who judge it based on the following criteria:
- High quality of hand craftsmanship
- Excellence in design
- Originality of expression
- Professional recognition
- Continuing artistic growth
Periodic reviews of all Roycroft Artisan’s work are mandatory in order to maintain the integrity of the movement. To maintain their status, Artisans are reviewed yearly and Master Artisans every five years.
Thomas is degreed in modelmaking and spent the early part of his career doing work for architects. As his career evolved, he took on freelance work including built-ins and kitchen cabinets. Eventually he gravitated toward furniture and discovered veneering. Living in close proximity to Certainly Wood (one of the best sources for premier veneers) has definitely influenced his progression as a woodworker. Thomas uses veneer in some way in every piece of his work. He feels that the use of veneers really opens up the design possibilities and he describes his work as Arts and Crafts for the 21st century – more modern and contemporary. He does all original designs rather than reproductions though, his work is most certainly influenced by the roots of the movement and designers such as: Harvey Ellis, Charles Limbert and Rennie McIntosh. This influence is evidenced by his heavy use of tapers and arches. In addition to his Arts and Crafts work, Thomas also does some work in the Art Deco style.
During the lecture Thomas, showed many examples of his work and noted various construction techniques as well as the specific use of veneers to enhance the designs. Very often in his designs he will use veneers on panels in the construction. This does two things: it allows for a very solid construction because the panels do not need to float and it also promotes the use of contrasting wood types to highlight specific design elements. For some of his curved pieces Thomas will actually laminate up layers of veneer in a form to create the piece – this allows him to use the most beautiful veneers for the outside faces of the piece. Some examples of this technique were in slat backs of some of his chairs and also in some bow front and Art Deco tables. Thomas noted that in doing veneer work you need to be a bit anal about grain matching but, making this effort results in pieces that set themselves apart from normal solid work. In his veneer work he uses Unibond exclusively for gluing. MDF is his most common substrate because it is flat and stable however, he has used many things including foam for very light weight structures.
Thomas’ lecture was very interesting and informative. I have not done much in the way of veneering however, after seeing some of Thomas’ work and hearing his philosophies on using veneer to enhance the design possibilities I am feeling that this is something that may be worth a try on a project in the near future. Also, it’s funny that I live only about 60 miles away from East Aurora yet I have never been to the Roycroft Campus. Looks like there may be a Woodworking roadtrip in my future!