Celebrating 40 years of handcrafted furniture
We are so thankful to be celebrating our 40th anniversary this year. Thanks to our dedicated team and wonderful community of customers and partners, The Joinery continues to create handcrafted furniture that is here for good. As part of our celebration, we are featuring members of our team and unique aspects of our process throughout the year.
Linking Design to the Woodshop
A critical aspect of creating custom furniture is ensuring that it has been engineered correctly. It is important that each piece is carefully considered in the design process to both provide the customer’s desired look, and to hold up to our lifetime warranty. That’s where our Design Engineer comes in. Marlin recently moved into this role after being a Craftsperson on our Case Team for many years.
Marlin joined us in 2016 as a Shop Apprentice and grew to be a talented Craftsperson on our Case Team, building many custom case projects. Marlin’s curious mind was constantly thinking of ways to make the process better and improve information flow. In addition to building beautiful furniture, Marlin expanded into a design support role over the last couple of years. Seeing the benefits this provided to our team, we realized that he was ideally suited for an expanded role as Design Engineer.
A big part of his day is to create CAD drawings to help our salespeople work with customers on their custom pieces. “This can vary from making a table slightly longer to a creating a completely custom piece,” Marlin says. “This process helps the customer get exactly what they want. I then create more detailed drawings and cut lists for builders to build those pieces."
“The part I enjoy most about my job is the problem solving that comes up with new designs and working with others to find solutions,” Marlin continues. “This often includes balancing aesthetics, functionality, the cost and efficiency of the building processes, the machine capabilities of our shop, and the limitations of the materials we work with. It’s a challenge to come up with a perfect answer, but we try our best to consider all these things when making decisions.”
Marlin also leads the efforts in updating product standards. As you might imagine with a 40-year old company, some of our product designs have been around for quite some time, while others are new. He reviews the details of all product lines to make sure they are consistent, and that older items are updated to meet our current design standards.
After all his years in the shop, Marlin notes, “I think people would be surprised to know how much effort we put into our lumber selection. We have very high standards, so builders will spend a considerable amount of time looking for the right boards. Matching color and grain, avoiding knots and defects, and taking into consideration sap lines and continuous grain across different parts of a furniture piece can be very difficult. At times builders have to look though every board we have on hand to find the right combination for a piece.”
Thanks Marlin for your thoughtful approach, detailed eye and significant contributions to The Joinery over the years!
The Art of Wood Selection
One of the most important aspects of Joinery furniture is that it is customized to meet unique needs. Customers select several key attributes of their furniture, which we then build to order. One of our most experienced craftspeople, Tenzin, is able look at stacks of lumber and visualize a beautiful finished product.
Tenzin has built many extraordinary – and oftentimes extremely customized – furniture pieces during his time at The Joinery, which is fitting for someone with an incredibly unique background. A Tibetan who was born and raised in the far northern Indian province of Ladakh, Tenzin began formal training as a carpenter there when he was 18, learning to build houses and furniture. He trained with a Tibetan master carpenter on traditional Tibetan furniture, which includes carving.
During this training, Tenzin traveled to remote areas in Northern India to build schools. Because of extremely cold weather in the region, the areas were only accessible for three months of the year. “A group of us who were bachelors were asked to go because the others were married and had children, so they could not leave for long periods of time,” Tenzin recounts.
“We would build a school in one village, then quickly move to another village in the same region to build a school there before the weather turned.” Tenzin said. “We had to complete the buildings and return home before the roads became impassable.”
In 2000, Tenzin moved to the US and began working at The Joinery before taking a break to return to India in 2008. He returned to Portland in 2011 and has been with us ever since. Tenzin is also unique in that he has built products in all four product categories at The Joinery, always with great skill and precision. He is currently on our Case Team, but has also been a key contributor on our Seating, Table and Bed Teams over the years.
“I really enjoy the creative process involved,” he says. “In this era, it is rare to find woodworking businesses that make high end hardwood furniture and where builders can select the lumber and complete the project from beginning to end.” It is this creative process where Tenzin's skill and artistry really shows thru. Before any production begins, he is able to envision the finished piece and is able to select the boards that best showcase the design of the piece. With more customized designs, Tenzin draws upon his rich background and experience to build furniture to meet very distinctive customer needs. To see an example of his artistry on a recent build of a Custom Maud credenza click here.
Through the years Tenzin’s favorite aspect of working at The Joinery are the people he works with. With a cumulative 19 years at The Joinery, he has had the pleasure of working with countless talented craftspeople over nearly half of our 40-year history. When reflecting on his time here, Tenzin believes people would be most surprised if they knew more about the make-up of our team. “Our builders come from diverse walks of life and training,” he notes. “Some of us are trained carpenters, while others have advanced degrees in fine arts, engineering, design, and architecture. A finished piece may include the input of several team members, drawing upon those different backgrounds.”
Tenzin is the consummate teammate that all of us at The Joinery appreciate and admire. He offers great insight into our furniture products and shop processes while exuding a calm, peaceful presence and kind heart that we all enjoy being around – as well as an infectious laugh that makes everyone smile.
Thank you Tenzin for your great contributions to our team and customers!
Blending art and science to build Joinery furniture
Building furniture at The Joinery requires great skill and a blend of art and science. No one brings in the science element as much as Brian, our Lead Seating Craftsperson as well as our on-the-floor engineer. Outside of his role of leading our Seating Team, Brian champions efforts to improve our shop processes to make life easier for all of our Craftspeople.
“My specialty at the Joinery (besides building dining chairs) is designing and building jigs that help speed production, reduce errors, and get more consistent results with less effort,” Brian says. “Designing a jig can require some creativity to imagine the different ways available to do an operation on a piece – and occasionally to come up with an entirely novel approach. It requires knowing all the features of a furniture piece and determining the best order of operations. Jig design also entails understanding the accuracy required in the feature, making the jig easy to use, knowing where adjustment is needed, how long it needs to last, making it safe and ergonomic to use, making it error-proof, etc.”
Brian epitomizes our company values of “Details matter” and “We do this together.” His thoughtful, methodical approach are perfect for his role, as are his team-first attitude and sincere desire to share knowledge to help others.
“I enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to build our furniture better, faster, and with less effort,” he says. “I also take pleasure in knowing the pieces I build will be cherished in someone's home. I also really appreciate the teamwork with my fellow builders, that we share our knowledge and help each other improve.”
As well as being our resident process improvement guru, Brian’s curious mind makes him one of the people you’d most like to have a dinner conversation with. “Intellectually, I like learning and thinking about all things human: how our minds work, role of spirituality & religion, how we know what we know, how evolution has shaped us, the nature of money, how to arrange our family/social relationships, the hazards of social media, the best uses of the free market, and the utility of marriage” – just to name a few.
Outside of work Brian appreciates meeting new people and spending time with his nephews (and watching them grow!). He also really enjoys physical activity, including riding his BMX flatland bike and contact improv dance. (What exactly is “contact improv dance,” you ask? This is another subject on which Brian can wax poetic.)
We are grateful for Brian’s contributions to our team. Not only will the furniture he has built live on in customer homes for decades, but so will the jigs and other process improvements he has made in our shop.
The Finishing process with Angel
It takes a trained eye and a passion for details to be a part of our Finish Team at The Joinery, as these last steps are critical for enhancing the natural beauty and durability of each piece. These skills are exemplified by Angel. His love of working with wood, dedication to quality, and a great personality have made him a true gem in our company for nearly a decade.
After our Craftspeople build, assemble and sign each piece, it is turned over to our Finish department. Under the bright lights, each piece is inspected, and then the sanding process begins. It is meticulous work, and where we often find Angel. When he first started at The Joinery, he was surprised at how the variety of wood species we offer respond to our process. Each species has different characteristics that require a slightly different approach to ensure we bring out the best qualities of the wood.
Once each piece is methodically sanded, it moves onto the most revealing step, applying our natural oil finish. It is in this phase that the true color and wood grain really come to life. “People would be surprised how different tones come out after applying oil, even though the wood is all from the same tree,” Angel says. Even after nine years with The Joinery and finishing thousands of pieces, he still gets excited to see how the piece is transformed once oil is applied.
Next, the furniture is hand-sanded and a final beeswax finish is applied to give each piece its silky-smooth hand feel. This process not only lets the natural beauty of the wood come through, but it also allows for easy repair from dents and scratches that inevitably happen to furniture that is built to last for decades.
When speaking to Angel about his years working at The Joinery, he says he has experienced a lot of changes – from new furniture designs, new team members, and now a new woodshop location – but a constant for him is his love for working with wood.
Thank you, Angel, for celebrating our 40th anniversary with us, and to many more years to come.
Honoring a 20-year employee during our 40 year celebration
A lot has changed over The Joinery’s 40-year history, but for the last two decades one thing has remained the same: Bruce. Our longest tenured employee, Bruce joined us in 2002 as a Finisher and has been with us ever since.
Bruce contributes to the Finish team in many ways. He has mastered the nuance of finishing Joinery furniture to its silky-smooth final state. He plays an important role in training new members of the team. He builds small parts and crates. And if customers ever find that a piece of their furniture needs to be spruced up a bit? They just bring it back to us and Bruce takes it from there. After all, he didn’t get his nickname “Sprucey” by accident.
Although he’s seen it all during his time with The Joinery, Bruce appreciates the continuous challenges. “The days are never the same,” he says. “After twenty years in the Finish department, I find that there is a new challenge every day that keeps you engaged.”
Bruce continues, “It’s great to come to work at a place where people care about the furniture they build. The Finish department takes great pride in making sure the furniture we send out the door is the highest quality.”
Besides being our longest-tenured employee, Bruce is just an all-around great guy. He is a fan of seafood as well as good wine, and enjoys fishing, clamming and crabbing.
Thanks Bruce for your contributions for half of our 40 years!
Training new Craftspeople with Levi
Critical to our success over the years is training new Craftspeople as they join our team. Even the most skilled woodworkers have a learning curve as they work to understand our specific quality standards and processes for creating beautiful hardwood furniture. Levi, who has been with The Joinery since 2017, wears many hats as a Shop Lead, Lead Table Builder, and chief trainer. He recently spearheaded the effort to overhaul the onboarding process for new builders on our Table Team that now serves as a model for our other product teams.
In celebration of our 40th anniversary we connected with Levi about not only his craft, but also his passion for helping others. “Training and mentorship is such an important part of what we do at The Joinery, and woodworkers holistically,” he says. “I learned the ins and outs of furniture building with The Joinery and had a lead builder showing me the way. To this day, I still do certain operations or build certain pieces with his voice in my head. I feel a great sense of duty to not only pass on the building of timeless furniture, but all the foundational knowledge that has helped The Joinery for forty years.”
An important aspect of the training process is to understand how new employees learn best, and use that knowledge to guide them appropriately. Recently Levi has led the effort to develop training documents for individual products to be used in conjunction with hands-on training. While training new Craftspeople, Levi balances support and oversight with the freedom for new team members to move ahead on their own. He brings a great mix of technical and people skills to his work, and has been a critical part of our team for many years.
“What I like most about my job is that it rarely feels like a job,” Levi says. “It is fulfilling, and the results of my work are tangible. I can sit back at the end of the day and physically see what I accomplished. I also love watching builders grow throughout their careers. It’s really fun to see people go from ‘deer in the headlights’ apprentices, to crafting beautiful, high level pieces and even passing on their knowledge that they learned along the way to new folks.”
Levi approaches each piece with very high expectations for quality and aesthetic beauty. “I’m never completely happy with how a piece turns out. I will be very nitpicky and hard on myself about some small detail and then hear back that the customer loved everything about it. I guess it helps to not be satisfied because it keeps you believing you can always do better and gives you motivation and focus for the next piece.”
Levi’s commitment and dedication over the years has paved the way for not just his own success in the company, but that of other as well.
Thanks, Levi, for your role in helping develop skilled Craftspeople who continue the tradition of creating handcrafted furniture that’s here for good.