So far, in an effort to define "fine furniture" we've discussed craftsmanship and the type of wood used, so now let's talk about finish. One thing most people are surprised to learn is that even though a piece of fine furniture is crafted and assembled it's a long way from being finished.
I like the way Vermont furniture maker, Bob Gasperetti of Mount Tabor puts it: "The saying that it takes 90% of the time to accomplish the last 10% of the work couldn't be more true than in handmade furniture."
He is right! I wish you could run your hand across one of Bob's table tops right now. After a piece is built, Bob sands the surface to 320 grit (this requires multiple sandings with increasingly fine sandpaper). That takes forever but there is no substitute if you're looking for the kind of smooth, supple feeling you get when touching Bob's furniture.
After sanding, Bob applies multiple coats of a non-toxic, environmentally-friendly oil until the surface of his furniture feels as smooth and soft as a baby's skin.
Some people would opine that an oil finish is the only option for "fine furniture" but as someone who doesn't like to take the time to maintain (aka re-oil and it's really no big deal, but I'm lazy) an oil finish I'll say oil is not the only option. Vermont furniture makers offer dozens of other choices, including a blend of oil and beeswax, non-toxic lacquers and even an eco-friendly clear finish made out of whey (a byproduct of our Vermont dairy industry). Copeland Furniture is once again leading the green furniture industry in the research and application of eco-friendly water=based lacquer finishes. I'll write about them next time when we wrap up this disucssion of fine furniture definitions with the topic of sustainability and karma.
Anyway, no study of fine furniture finishes would be complete without a visit to the workshops of a few fine furniture makers where you can run your hands over the furniture and compare the sensations from different finishes. Information and driving directions to the shops I've talked about (and many more) are available in the Vermont Forest Heritage brochure. If you're coming in from Boston or New York to go skiing, you'll pass by a number of them. So if there's no snow, or it's too cold to ski or if you're just too tired... take a day off and treat yourself to a tour of some of the world's best fine furniture workshops.