Branching Out Wood

Modern Functional Home Decor by David Wertheimer

Every Last Scrap

David Wertheimer3 Comments

Maybe it's the environmentalist in me (or packrat or cheapskate?) not wanting to throw anything potentially useful out. Maybe it's from years at Google trying partnering with others on how to utilize otherwise "wasted" computer cycles in the datacenters. Or maybe its just excitement at creating new things that - at least so far - have gotten positive reactions and enthusiasm.

The Problem

First, let me back up a little. Though I've only had this business going since the tail end of last year, I've been woodworking with beautiful hardwoods for close to fifteen years. I'm happy to have a campfire with scrap pine and perhaps even redwood and oak, and of course, the scrap treated wood, MDF / particle board, and plywood go into the trash.

But I've been slowly but surely accumulating scrap walnut, maple, padauk, and so forth over the years, with one box hiding in the corner of my workspace ballooning now into three, and with no sign of letting up. These are pieces too small to make a lamp or shelf with, but yet too beautiful to burn or toss.

I've been making small samples available as trinkets for the kids that need something in their hands at the shows (and also for the adults) - better to fumble with a 1" sample of wood than a glass light bulb - but it will take more than a few years to get through about 90# of scrap I already have, not to mention the flow of new additions to that heap. What's a carpenter to do?

The Solution

I was incredibly excited for two recent ideas to start making good use of this material. A few weeks ago, I shared one of those ideas with the "backlit base" concept, in "The Evolution of an Idea" post. The other idea, for which the original inspiration goes to my cousin Emily, is buttons, for those who knit or sew hats, sweaters, and the like for gifts, looking for a similarly unique and decorative way to adorn their handiwork.

The Outreach

Though it's a lot of buttons and backlights to make to whittle down those three boxes of scrap, I'm committed to using every last ounce.

So I welcome other suggestions from folks with this problem - and with a similar design aesthetic. I love making this stuff, and I love being efficient and not wasting this beautiful wood. What would you do with your cut offs and mistakes? Or do you have some scrap that you'd like to see turned into something you and others can appreciate? Reach out over email or otherwise - I'd love to hear your ideas.

Summer Festivals

David Wertheimer4 Comments

Woohoo! I have been confirmed in several late spring and summer festivals, and I hope to see you at one (or several!). In addition to just about everything on the site, I'll have a bunch of one-offs and special colors with which you can customize on-site, or won't be able to find online.


De Anza Success

 March 4 DeAnza Flea Market

March 4 DeAnza Flea Market

Of course, these later festivals wouldn't have been possible without some early success at the De Anza Flea Market in Cupertino. Thanks to the friends and family, and the many customers and browsers in March and April. And an extra thanks to my boyfriend, Michael, who got up with me the first weekend at 5a to begin the drive south to set up in time.

Beyond introducing me to a number of customers, the Flea Markets provided invaluable experience:

  • How to drive cautiously with things both strapped to your roof and hanging out your trunk;
  • How to be ready with an umbrella despite a sunny forecast; and
  • How to triple check your assigned spot before unloading (whoops!)

On a more serious note, I got a few good show photos - a pre-requisite for the larger festivals - and I also identified a number of different ways to display product, which will be key for higher traffic shows. Hello, slat wall!

Please visit at any of the coming festivals. And I welcome other feedback on how to make the display more appealing, whether via comment here or via direct email. Thank you!

The Evolution of an Idea

David WertheimerComment

Some ideas arrive largely formed - a flash of inspiration while in the shower, or an idea that comes to you overnight. Others are a process of evolution that take a few attempts, perhaps inspired by a few other insights along the way before they are somewhat presentable.

I was fortunate in my former career in the tech world that many of the first category came to me when working on a challenging analytic problem, how to think about the value of servers in a server farm, how to model the dynamism of a datacenter, or how to pick the “best” set of pallets for an order. But you didn't come here to read about those! Rather, I’ll identify the first inspirations for a few of my recent creations in the woodworking world, two of which I am happy with, and one of which is still a work in process and may yet evolve into something else before it sees the light of day.

Twenty Years to Backlight a Vase

 The console table that started it all!

The console table that started it all!

It was probably nearly twenty years ago on a visit to the New York International Gift Show at the Javits Center - an annual massive exhibition I had the pleasure of walking for many years while my Mom owned her gift shop in upstate New York - that I saw a shadow-box console table I really appreciated. I can’t find any pictures online that come close but, drawn from memory many years later, it looked something like this.  I had no use for such a table in a cramped dorm room, but the craftsmanship, clean lines, and multi-functional aspect of it really stuck with me.

Ten years later, with the privilege of owning a home with a cute little loft but with no furniture that would fit just right - low enough to not obscure the window, wide enough to perfectly fit but shallow enough to not overpower the space, and practical enough to aid with my burgeoning book collection, I resurrected this idea with my first major furniture piece. I backlit the shadowboxes and turned a console table into a credenza, but there is a clear paternity from that original end table.

I can also credit that project with whetting my appetite for good tools: with a $99 table saw and a hand drill as the only power tools used in this project, I saw the need for equipment both more accurate and more reliable, and invested in a much more substantial table saw not too long after this project.

Flash forward a few more years, and as I was noodling with ideas on how to incorporate more glass into my pieces, I was thinking of individual standalone backlit shadow boxes. Turning around, noticing the three giant - and growing! - boxes of “scrap” wood in my shop - wood too good to toss, but too small to use in a larger project - I came up with this. Its simple, it’s practical, and it’s a lot classier than the $15 plastic ones you can find on or in cheap gift shops.

And these backlit bases are a lot easier to ship than a credenza! Available online in three "standard" combinations here, or customizable here with just about any wood combination you would like to see.


Lenticular Art

A “lenticular image” is just a fancy name for a concept everyone who has gotten toys from a Cracker Jacks box, or who has seen some modern street art installations or even some advertising in the subway station. In fact, for many years, my Dad worked on a high end commercial lenticular art business at Kodak, back when Kodak actually made stuff.


Appreciating these installation pieces, I thought I’d try my hand at making my own. Sure, you can make an 8x10” piece with some simple software and a little equipment - but who has a 3’ wide piece in their home? And how hard can it be to do it by hand, for some simple geometric shape shifting?  Turns out, very hard.

Making the substrate was technically easy enough though a bit tedious as I routed out all 168 of these lines from a 4'x3.5' piece of fiberboard.  (Yes, a CNC router would make quick work of this step, though I couldn’t quite justify the investment of something like that).

The much harder part turned out to be how to print or paint that geometric pattern onto the fiberboard. Marker would be too imprecise and time consuming; printing and pasting narrow paper strips would be challenging and wouldn’t last. Printing one giant sheet of paper and folding around the edges wouldn’t allow for the imprecisions in my hand routing. Out of ideas, this fiberboard has languished in a neglected corner of my shop, waiting for some attention.

However - again, inspired by some extra “scrap” in the form of thin maple strips - I thought I’d try my hand again at a similar idea, but let the wood grain be the “paint” in the art, rather than attempt to paint any pattern. As a long strip, it looked pretty cool, already surpassing the appeal of my unfinished textured fiberboard, but it wasn’t yet something I would hang in my home. Cutting off a few pieces and playing with their arrangement led to this - first in a complementary maple walnut combination, and again in this more contrasting maple wenge combination. Now, I have something I’m pleased with, and that I hope that you might appreciate as well. Now available in the store.

Wine Rack Fail

Not every idea comes out as well, however. Some are just outright failures. Or perhaps more generously, I might consider them steps on the way to better ideas.

Witness this wine or sake rack. It has a much shorter gestation period from idea to creation, visiting the True Sake store in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley last month. I loved how they turned the variety of glass and range of sake filtration into an eye-catching display, and figured I’d try a much smaller version of that for home consumption.

I spent a half morning prototyping a rough version of this in a two-by-two display with walnut and fitting it with an LED. And what do we have? Nothing - it ain’t no good with wine bottles. Perhaps I need to go back to the true True Sake, and try it with a more-transparent set of sake bottles instead...


But I think that’s only half the problem. I used thinner walnut to prevent the small rack from looking (or being) too heavy, but I think that also gives it a cheap Target or Ikea look when a bottle is removed. Maybe a more unique hardwood will do? Maybe that combined with sake (instead of wine) will indeed work?

At the moment, this piece will be joining my fiberboard-based attempt at lenticular art, in the cobweb-filled dark corner of abandoned project ideas and lost afternoons.

Your Successes and Failures?

I’d love to hear your inspiration stories for things you’ve created - both those that succeeded and failed.

And I always love to hear your ideas about what you’d like to see me add to my collection - perhaps you can be the inspiration for my next set of pieces. For an story of that, check out last month’s posting which featured a few new pieces based on requests, which spawned over forty lamps.