Adventures in Sofaland with Leland Duck


This sharp shooter in the funny hat is Leland Duck, owner and operator of Revive Upholstery & Design.  We work together.  Any Phloem piece you’ve seen or sat in that has upholstery was upholstered by Revive.  Our shop spaces are just across the wall from each other in the Beam & Anchor building, so collaboration is easy.  It helps that Leland is a nice guy as well.  There will soon be quite a few new pieces on the Phloem website that Leland has been involved in.  We’ve got those pieces dialed.

A while back in 2012, we made a pair of sofas…  one for me and one for my sis.  This was a “side project”, in the midst of a very busy year.  Leland has upholstered plenty for Phloem, but I was itching to design a sofa.  My sis needed a new one, I needed a new one, so it seemed like an easy way to experiment.  Sometimes things take longer than you think…

I started with a drawing, then we talked at length on how we would execute.  I then made a simple plywood frame.  Leland has torn apart countless vintage sofas and chairs to redo them, but working from the ground up with a new design was a little fresh.  We stuck to what we thought we knew and found out plenty along the way.

Large arms were essential to me.  You can casually sit on this arm or set a tumbler glass on it without fear of it falling over.

We adjusted the spring tension in the seat twice to get the right touch.  And in the process, Leland found that he would never, ever buy the individual noodle roll type again.  It’s no fun untangling the mess, cutting them, then pulling each one tight by hand.  And if you should slip and let go, make sure to jump out of the way.  They’re fast.  And painful.

THAT is the face of an unsatisfied sofa mock up participant.  There is no magic “back angle” that I know of.  I’ve done plenty of different chairs with different angles.  And a sofa was no exception.  I adjusted the angle three times.  We planted all sorts of bodies in that frame with various different foam densities, springs at different tensions, and plywood behind existing cushions.  It was essential to get it right.

After plenty of trial and error, we DID get it right.  Eventually we opted for a back angle that was further back than either of us anticipated, while still supportive.  We replaced the springs in the back with plywood behind the foam for firmness.  This felt really comfortable.

When it was finally comfortable, it was time for fabric.

This finished sofa has buttons along the back for a nice detail.  There is stitching at every angle, which adds a very nice subtle touch.  The legs are walnut — turned on the lathe, tapering to the inside, and parallel with the vertical sides of the arm on the outside corners.

Would we do things differently next time?  For sure.  Were we happy with the final product?  For sure.  It’s absolutely fine to make mistakes.  As long as you learn from them.  You don’t just push a button and out comes the perfect sofa.  Or the nicest chair.  Or whatever.  Designing, building, and creating always should involve refining.  Processes evolve.  People change.  Your relationship to your craft matures.   We’ve got a sofa commission coming up soon and I can’t wait to do it better next time.  And learn from that experience as well.

We continue to geek out on frame construction on everything Leland pulls apart…  there are always fresh surprises.  But with building from the ground up, we learned a whole lot about what not to do AND how to improve upon it the next time.  We discovered back angles that worked, we discussed the merits of webbing a seat over using springs, we rationalized a plywood back, we found no need to have the arms bolt on after the upholstering, I’ve since designed a base that looks more unique and refined.  It is always ever onward and learning from those experiences.



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Ping Pong!

Recently, I got a strange, but awesome custom commission.  The Swift Collective is a digital creative agency here in Portland.  You can see what they do here.  They moved into a new space and were in the process of outfitting a game room.  They put in a small indoor archery range.  You read that correctly.  Recurve bows rule.  And they wanted a custom ping pong table.

Yep.  A ping pong table.

This was a FUN project.  Their office is in a brick warehouse space with nice exposed wood truss rafters.  I’m a pretty huge fan of bridge trusses and angles, so that was my inspiration.  For this project the Swift Collective decided to go with powder coated gloss black steel. We went with 1″ x 2″ rectangular steel tubing for the entire base, cut at sharp compound miters, angled together to form “X’s”.  Drew Gaston from Dyadic IronWorks fabricated the base.  The top is European plywood painted slate gray with chalk board/ping pong table paint, so that balls bounce appropriately, and you can write your score with chalk on the table.  There’s a gloss black centerline painted down the middle.  The net is perforated steel.  All of this rests on locking castor wheels so it can roll out of the way.

2012 has been an amazing year for Phloem.  To end it with a ping pong table seemed entirely appropriate.

May 2013 bring you joy and peace.







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Accessory Dwelling Unit Collaboration — Fall 2012

Over the summer and into the fall, Phloem Studio and Earthbound Industries got a chance to collaborate on another job with PATH Architecture.  (You can see photos of an earlier job we did together here.)  This time out, we worked with Jeff Vincent on the interior of an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) for a family not far from Laurelhurst Park here in Portland.  The structure is very simple, with a garage below and a studio/guesthouse space above, accessible by an exterior staircase in the back of the building.  The ADU has floor to ceiling windows on the south and east walls, overlooking the tree canopy of the backyard.  Jeff used the pitch of the roof along the west wall to maximum effect, designing a sofa that transforms into a bed and a dining table that slides underneath a desk surface.  The whole room feels like a magical, modern treehouse.

It was a pleasure to work on such a unique project.

This is what it looked like inside when we took field measurements before building anything.  If you look closely, you’ll see black steel brackets coming out of that wall that will eventually carry the weight of some pretty long floating shelves.

This is after the drywall, while the ceiling is going in.  The entire ceiling is rift sawn white oak flooring, to mirror the floor and match the cabinets and furniture.

It took a very large pile of rift sawn white oak to make all the counters, cabinets and furniture in the space.

Very large oak glue ups were a common sight in the shop for a while.  They were not light.

Here is our pile on the first day of install.  That low wall with exposed studs will soon transform…

Piece by piece we added cabinets, panels and counters.

After we finished installing the majority of the cabinets and the counters, it was back to the shop to finish the stools, table, sofa and some other odds and ends.

Here are a pile of the back legs to the stools…

We were all really into these solid wood cubbies that stored above the flat file cabinet.  Here they are, right before they had finish sprayed on them.  Notice the grain match on the front faces.

Here are the stools hanging out in the finishing room…

And we’re back to the ADU.

It was really cool how Jeff took advantage of the roof pitch — it was a very smart design.  The whole west wall has cabinets running along it that are deeper than average. The desk has room for a full size dining room table and stools to slide under.

Table and stools out from under the desk in the open room.

A very unique custom piece was this built-in sofa.  Leland Duck of Revive Upholstery  (another business in the Beam & Anchor building) did the upholstery.  It also takes advantage of the depth allowed from the pitch of the roof.

As you can see Bren (from Earthbound) demonstrate — the back cushions come off, and an upholstered door opens up to store away those cushions.  It’s also where bedding can be kept when the sofa bed is just a sofa.

The sofa pulls out, revealing itself to actually be a full size bed.

The sofa bed ready for sleeping and dreaming.

The roof pitch also allows for the very deep drawers of this flat file cabinet.  Notice those solid wood cubbies up top that pull out to house art and office supplies.  I wish I had this cabinet!

All the cabinets have these really nice custom made bead-blasted steel handles.

Here is the kitchenette with those two floating shelves and the east wall full of floor to ceiling windows.

The bathroom is on the other side of the kitchenette wall with this small vanity and floating shelf.

In the backyard there is a custom hot tub and small fire pit on the patio.

Here is the exterior of the building.  It’s stucco with cedar and douglas fir accents.


The whole project was very unique and extremely fun to work on.  You can see more pictures of the project on PATH’s website, here.





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The Laura Desk


Every two years, there’s a furniture design competition in Portland, OR called ShowPDX. I designed a new desk for Phloem Studio called the Laura Desk.



I wanted to design a writing desk that was simple, functional, and modern.  It was inspired by the classic George Nelson Swag desk that has influenced so many other modern desks.  It’s origins also reach far back to utilitarian Shaker writing desks that I admire for their simplicity and craftsmanship.

There are three open cubbies at the back end of the desktop, hiding two cord ports back in the shadow.  The front edge of the desktop contains two angled drawers that pull out to reveal themselves as simple storage solutions for small items like pens, paperclips, smart phones, and notebooks.  The drawers are actually wedge shaped to follow the profile line of the sides of the desk.  They have playful shapes routed in the front to help with organization.  It stands 34 inches tall to the top of the cubbies in the back, the writing surface is 30 inches off the floor, it’s 42 inches wide and 30 inches deep.

Each Laura Desk is made to order by hand here in Portland, OR with the finest domestic hardwoods available.  It is currently available in walnut, cherry, ash, or white oak.  Lead time is approximately 8 to 10 weeks. Contact me directly to order or with any questions.


Below are some pictures of it coming together.

It’s essential to prototype to solve potential problems.  The process of refining prototypes gradually evolves to the final design.  This one was made out of plywood and maple scraps.

Then patterns are made, milling begins, and shapes start to form.

Even high quality plywood with premium veneer has veneer that is only less than a 1/32″ thick.  On a writing surface, this absolutely will not wear well over time.  We choose to hand cut and stitch 1/16″ THICK veneer and lay it up over a solid plywood core.  This produces an heirloom quality writing surface.  You’ll never see it nor be able to tell, but it’s one of those very important hidden details that truly matter.

One leg assembly.

The part pile grows…

There are shapes routed into the front of each drawer.

The strangest (and coolest) pile of drawer parts to ever come out of the shop.

Those tapered drawers getting glued up.

Each desk is finished in a very eco-friendly oil and wax based finish that’s easy to touch up over time.

The leg assemblies bolt to the back stretcher then to the desk top, with a total of eight allen head bolts.  This makes it very easy to come apart and ship in a box directly to your doorstep.  Very minimal assembly is needed to put the desk together.

The Laura Desk has a simplicity of form that is both elegant and timeless.  It’s stance is modern and playful, but inspired by classic functional writing desks from the 20th century.




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Jordan Tull at AIA PDX


Jordan Tull is an artist here in Portland who explores spacial relationships with site specific installations.  His work is generally full of repetitive, sharp geometric patterns.  He currently has a really cool installation called Ecto-Paraprism at the Portland chapter of the Architects Institute of America’s Center For Architecture at 403 NW 11th.  It’s made of thin transparent plastic and a whole bunch of small magnets attached to the existing steel structure in their showroom.  It’s a part of the Portland Architecture & Design Festival, and it’s on display from October 4th thru the 31st.  Jordan and I recently got a chance to catch up at the opening night reception where we drank some wine and talked about repetitive patterns.  I sent him an email with some questions.

Ben Klebba — What’s your background?  Where’d you go to school?

Jordan Tull — I’m from Derby, Kansas – which is where I spent most of my life. I studied sculpture and design at the Kansas City Art Institute in KCMO.

BK — Did you have any mentors that nurtured your vision?

JT — A professor at KCAI, Steven Whitacre, taught me architectural drafting during my freshman year – and it completely and forever altered my aesthetic language. He hosted a summer internship for me once I graduated and he essentially gave me the reigns to be a interior architect. That summer I tricked-out his clinically-modern work studio downtown with a family of steel and glass dividing systems that I designed, engineered and fabricated. Steven introduced me to a machinist in Kansas City, Dick Jobe. Dick taught me how to be a machinist.

BK — I met you way two years ago when I needed some steel brackets fabricated for some floating shelves and you went above and beyond what was necessary.  Now, you’re not doing steel as much these days in your art — why?  Do you miss it?

JT — I do not need material permanence in my work right now. I find it refreshing to be able to trash (or recycle) an installation or idea easily as opposed to caressing and caring for heavy metal objects. I’m coming from 8 years of high-output welding and fabrication. Doing this for a living and making art about welding — I’m just over being a metal fabricator. Ultimately, I think working with metal restricts my potential to explore this whole new frontier of conceptual possibility, so I’ve abandoned metal for the time being. But anyone that knows my work will recognize the fabricator at hand, even if the work is plastic. I will always rely on my fabrication skill-set. Knowing how to actually build is invaluable.


BK — What’s the obsession with repeating geometric patterns?  I love them.  I think it’s really beautiful.

JT — I have an obsessive compulsive personality and I love to sacrifice my body for my art – therefore working in repetition suites my fetishtic need for creating systemic order through geometric abstraction. You could say that I’m an ordealist – but without the performative aspect of the work being made apparent. For instance, for Ecto-Paraprism behind the scenes I cut out all of the parts by hand and then folded them, and then taped and glued each one before meticulously installing them each within a reflexive geo-pattern utilizing yet another pattern of magnet connectors. The work is layered with repeating geometric cycles in the same way techno operates musically. I set up certain variables for this installation that are purely logic based, like time and money, (life cycle patterns we all know) the intuitive-artistic aspect of the work manifests in the fact that I simply trusted my gut about how everything would appear installed without physically mocking anything up before committing to buying materials. The installation is completely reckless. Being reckless is also a pattern of mine but I can usually accurately predict the rational consequences of my irrational behavior.

BK — What’s next?

JT — I’m giving an artist’s lecture in April at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington.



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Portland Design Show Curated By Beam & Anchor

There’s an event/gallery space in Portland, OR at 525 SE Pine called Union/Pine.  They recently asked Robert & Jocelyn Rahm of Beam & Anchor to curate a First Friday event showcasing the works of local artists and designers.  It’s this Friday, September 7th, starting at 7 pm.  Phloem Studio will be introducing a new chair design melding thick tufted upholstery from the turn of the century with a mid century modern shell.  This cozy seat will be nestled in a stark wooden frame, with tapered, angled limbs.  Her name is Regina and she’s very very comfortable…

There are many other very talented people who are showcasing some beautiful new work just for this special night.  You really should make it.

Jocelyn & Robert Rahm – Beam & Anchor

Ben Klebba – Phloem Studio

Bren Reis – Earthbound Industries

Matt Pierce – Wood & Faulk

Leland Duck – Revive Upholstery & Design

Erik Johnson – Hankbuilt

Shannon Guirl – Caravan Pacific

Eric Trine

Kyla Mucci

Meghan Morris

Indian Vs Indian

Laura Buchan

Hickory Mertsching

The Kenton Collective: R. Rolfe & Jake France – Boys Fort

Preston Browning – Salvage Works

Sarah Helmstetter & Alea Joy – Solabee Flowers


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Building The Prospector Canoe — Part 2

It’s August!  And I’m not paddling yet.  “Free time” has been in short supply.  My canoe project has taken a backseat to work.  But, here we are again and I’ve got some progress to share.

The last Prospector chronicle left us with a fully constructed mold and some stems.  My dad, Ron Klebba has helped with some of the process as well as my girlfriend, Laura Buchan.  I’ve been hanging it from the ceiling from a pulley system and bringing it down when I’ve had time to work on it.  That orange spraypaint you see on the strongback legs matches up with some orange spraypaint on the floor so I know it’s consistently level.

We’ve since milled that pile of cedar strips to it’s final thickness and put a cove on one edge and a bead on the other edge of each strip.  We sent all the 18 foot strips through our wide belt sander then each strip went through two different router table set ups.  That process was a bit annoying.   It was pretty much a half day of router noise…  not a glorious refined noise.  If you’re planning on making a canoe and are not concerned with building or milling every aspect of your canoe, here’s a helpful link.

After the all the router milling, we spent some time fairing the molds to the curve of the boat.  We spent a couple hours with handplanes and rasps, beveling the edges of the molds.  We tacked a strip of cedar to the center mold and gently curved it towards the stems.  This gives you an idea of the eventual shape of the hull and you shape the molds to it.

Then we shaped the inner stems.  We took a shorter strip of cedar, curving it over the first and second molds towards the stems.  From there, it was easy to see how to shape the stem to accept the planking.  Dad excelled at this task.  We made pretty quick work of the top near the shearline, then down the bow.  We didn’t shape the stems all the way down — Dad recommended shaping them a little at a time — this made a whole lot of sense later, because it’s really hard to  accurately tell exactly what the hull was eventually going to be shaped like — it’s easier going bit by bit and not taking off too much.

Ted Moores book “Canoecraft” primarily uses the staple system to make a canoe, wherein you adhere a strip to a strip with glue, then staple it to the molds to hold it in place while the glue dries.  He discusses another, more elegant method in his book called the “stapleless system”.  We opted for that.  I didn’t want the look of staple holes in the side of my canoe.  And, realistically, using wedges and shims to push the strips into each other creates a tighter gluejoint than just stapling a strip to the mold.  And who doesn’t like a challenge, right?  We’re fully grown mammals.

There was a lot of preperation next.  You have to put packing tape or wax over the molds so the strips don’t stick from their glue squeeze out.  We used packing tape.  Then you have to make all sorts of small blocks out of plywood or hardwood to accept the first strip.  Then you need to make a small army of hold down blocks that will accept a wedge and shim to push one plank into the last.

The first strip sets the stage for everything else.  Bead down, cove up, set on blocking to hold it tight to the sheerline.  You get to set a nice gradual curve with that first strip to start most of the other strips out on.  I clamped it in place, stepped back, let gravity do most of the arch, and went for it.  It is very important you level that first strip on each side to the other side — port and starboard.  Or left and right.

Each strip gets glued to the next with a bead of glue in the cove and glued to the stems at the bow and stern.  I handled the stems with my trusty cam clamps — they apply an appropriate amount of pressure and are quick.

The stapleless system makes good use of shims and wedges.  You hammer in wedges til you see that sweet glue squeezeout over there in the right of the photo.

Move blocking.  Glue.  Place next strip.  Screw blocking back in.  Wedge.  Shim. Clean glue squeeze out.  Repeat.

Early in the process of stripping the hull, Dad went back to Michigan for the summer.  I realized very quickly that I needed a second pair of talented hands…  My girlfriend rules.  Our date nights working on a canoe were much cooler than that romantic comedy you had to go to…

We used some of that color variation in the cedar to create some stripes on the canoe.

The strips flew on initially.  When we got to the bilge (the underside curve of the hull) around the future waterline, the strips had a compound curve to them that was tricky to hold in place.

When clamping the ends of the planks to the stem, you have to get inventive.  I made different wedges, odd shaped shims, used packing tape (Ted recommends this) and the occasional precarious clamp set up.  Squeeze out?  Check.

At this point, we’re past the stems.

The sheerline on the Prospector extends up (down on the mold) past the first strip.  One thing that wasn’t too thoroughly explained in the book was this process, but I basically wedged cut off strips UP into that first strip.  it worked really well.  Later, we cut the gentle curve of the boat into these strips.

After both stems are covered by strips, we crossed the centerline on just one side of the hull.  This process goes really fast compared to the bilge.

Once the centerline has been crossed completely with odd, jagged cutoff planks sticking out into the other half it’s time to cut the centerline.  This process was very gratifying.  We tacked a nail into the center of the bottom of each stem, then ran a piece of string between them.

From there, we took a nice, straight flat ruler sighting along the string and put a sharp line with pen into the cedar.  Then we used chisels to cut right up to that line

That’s Laura Buchan chiseling up to the centerline.  Laura is an amazing sculptor and I highly recommend you check out her work — she currently has pieces on display at The Northwest Woodworkers Gallery in Seattle.

After chiseling really close to the centerline, a rabbet plane puts the final edge on.

Center LINE.

Each strip from here on out has to be fitted from end to end.  And because of the fact that there’s a bead that is going into a cove, each strip has to be a little bit longer than you think it should be…  Laura and I had some serious cedar wrangling.

In Ted’s book, the last 2 strips are glued together at the curve, then basically scribed into place.  The above shot is a picture of the setup we did on my workbench to glue them to the approximate curve.

Notice all of those curly shavings?  I would try to fit it…  then realize it was too tight, mark it, take a little bit more off with a hand plane, then do it all over again…

…until FINALLY I had the shape I was looking for.

Then, we put the glue on, put it in place, and tightened it with packing tape.

The final shape of the hull.

I really wonder now how many people have been ambitious enough to take on a canoe project around April and expect to use it by summer time, only to reassess and aim for fall.  Or spring.  Next up, we’re fitting the outer stems, SANDING, and then some…  Enjoy the rest of your August…  summer is fading FAST!




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Kitchen/Dining Room Remodel — June, 2012


Phloem Studio shares the wood shop in the back of Beam & Anchor with Earthbound Industries.  Bren Reis owns and operates Earthbound.  Sometimes, we get the opportunity to collaborate on jobs together.  Recently, Bren and I enjoyed working on a remodel together with Jason Riffle and PATH Architecture.  Jason was the lead architect of everything you see here.  We made the kitchen cabinets and wall paneling out of rift sawn white oak with the lineal grain going horizontal.  We built two tables: a counter high table that sits next to the island and a dining table with matching design elements.   In the dining room we built a set of cabinets and benches for storage along one wall out of sweet gum with the grain running horizontally again.  It was a very fun, challenging, and rewarding job for everyone involved.

Sweet gum cabinets in the dining room.  Sweet gum isn’t used enough — the grain is gorgeous and it reminds me of the planet Jupiter.  Jupiter wood!

Dining table made with solid rift sawn white oak.

Notice how the wood grain to the table wraps down from the top.

The grain on the wall with the bathroom door (right side of photo) wraps around the corner into the wall panel and the cabinet drawer fronts.  This involved 12 foot long sheets of veneer stitched together, a lock miter corner (glued up on site!) and plenty of careful planning.

Here’s a close up of that grain wrapping the corner into the drawer fronts.

The island.







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Happy Father’s Day

I love my family.  They are remarkable people.

My dad is Ron Klebba and he’s been a huge influence on how I live my life.  He is a woodworker.  When I was young, he had his own business as a furniture maker.  We lived in the middle of Michigan in a small town with not much to offer.  But he made a go at it,  and he did it.

We lived in a house he built himself with help from his people.  This is not like when you’re at your uncle’s house and he says “Oh, we built the addition…”  and he means he hired a contractor and a small group of subcontractors to build it.  No, my dad BUILT THE HOUSE.   He was up early on days off starting in the spring, with his friends and  family helping set the foundation, frame, insulate, roof, run electrical, plumbing, windows, doors, siding, painting, all of it.  He also built most of the furniture and cabinets in it.  He had a shop that sat about 20 feet from the house, with a tablesaw, jointer, planer, bandsaw, and lots of lumber.  The lot also held a large shed with firewood.  I had a big sandbox and my parents had a garden that seemed enormous at the time.  My mom would can vegetables and we would make tomato juice.  Dill pickles in mason jars lined shelves in the basement.  We lived about 5 miles outside of town on a dirt road across from acres of woodland.

When I was in third grade, my family decided it was time to move.  Dad got an opportunity to teach building trades at a county wide technical center (trade school) 20 minutes from the town he grew up in — Harbor Beach, MI.  It was where I would spend my formative years.  Mom and dad bought 7 acres of woodland property across the street from Lake Huron, 5 miles outside of town.  Dad built another house.  This time, I remember it being built and I even played a very (very very) small role.  It was a really cool thing to be a part of.   I remember string being pulled tight from wooden stakes in the ground that laid out where the foundation would be.  I roofed.  I painted.  We moved in without doors on the bedrooms and with a plywood floor.  It all got finished within the next year.

We had an owl that hung out in our yard and hunted.  You could walk down the dirt road to a creek.  The lake was easily accessible through our neighbor’s backyard.  I would wander the trails in the woods behind our house and beyond for hours and hours.   The trees and the lake were huge. In high school, I would sneak home late on a trail in the dark and through the backdoor.   Looking back, it was a great way to grow up.

In the wintertime, we would selectively log our property for firewood.  Dad and I would get up early, take the tractor and sled onto the snow covered trails deep into the forest. With a chainsaw and a splitter we cut down ash trees for fuel for our woodstove.  It was grueling, but looking back, those are some of the fondest memories I have from growing up in the woods.   The cold holds you and it’s beautiful tall barren ash trees with white.  There’s something really pastoral about a Midwest forest in the snow.   I can smell it.

Dad had a new shop behind the house.  Pretty much every single day, dad would get home from teaching school and go work in his shop.  This man is driven.  He worked on projects for clients or for himself.  He built all sorts of things.  He worked hard.  He taught us (my sis and I) the value of hard work, responsibility, and focus.  I’m pretty sure it’s called discipline.  Not only that, he taught us you really can do anything you want to if you put your heart and mind into it.   He built wooden sailboats in that shop.  Beautiful, gorgeous, functional sailing vessels.  Watching that unfold was absolutely inspiring.

My folks were teachers.  Teaching salaries will not make you rich, but we did alright.  They were smart with their money and they were able to save by building their own houses.  We were happy.

My sister and I both spent time in Chicago before we moved to Portland.  Here, I make furniture and she’s working in the footwear industry.  Our parents recently moved out here.  They’re spending this summer in Michigan, but they’re in Hood River, Oregon 8 to 9 months out of the year.  We couldn’t be happier.  I get to spend a lot of time with my father and his experience is invaluable.  He is the head of research and development here at Phloem Studio.  Family feels really good.  Happy father’s day, Dad.  And thanks.

The stool above Dad made has followed me around for years.  The chair he made below has gone from Harbor Beach, to my sister in Chicago, to Portland, where it now resides at Beam & Anchor.




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Building the Prospector Canoe Part 1

I design and build furniture and cabinets for a living.  In my “free time”, I try to get outside of the city and into the woods as much as possible.  Nothing is quite as nice as being out on a mountain lake attempting to catch a fish or two.  My shopmate Bren Reis and I are building canoes right now.  We’ll each have a cedarstrip plank canoe hopefully sometime before the end of summer so we can actually get out on the water and enjoy them.

A cedarstrip planked canoe is a beautiful thing.  It is made by milling up a whole bunch of 1/4″ thick cedar strips and wrapping them around a mold.  Once the mold is covered in planking, it is sanded and covered with a layer of fiberglass on the inside and the outside, then coated in epoxy.  It makes a very lightweight, yet strong wooden vessel.  Please realize, that there’s a lot more to it than that easy summary.

We each picked up a book called “Canoecraft” by Ted Moores.  It is considered by some to be the bible of cedarstrip canoe construction.  Ted Moores presides over Bear Mountain Boats, in Peterborough, Ontario, where he gives workshops on building canoes, sells plans and kits, and has been an authority on wooden watercraft for decades.

Bren choose to build Bob’s Special, a 15 foot canoe known to handle well for anglers.  I choose to build the 16 foot Prospector, known as a good “all around” canoe.  My dad, Ron Klebba is a very accomplished woodworker who has built many very beautiful things throughout his life, among them 2 sailboats (both Herreschoff designs), 2 kayaks, and a few rowboats.  His wisdom in this process has been highly appreciated and integral.  These posts will be by no means a “how to”, but a document of our progress and the processes we used building our future yachts.  I hope you enjoy it.

The above picture is a disaster captured and thankfully diverted.  When making a 16 foot long canoe, you need to make a very large pile of Cedar strips that are 3/4″ wide and 1/4″ thick out of really long boards — we bought 16 to 18 foot boards.  These strips will end up becoming the hull.  If you send an 18 foot board through a planer, pay close attention so that it doesn’t get caught on something and bend like this board did.  Apparently wood really is pretty elastic.  You cannot sand that out.  Thankfully we stopped the planer, pulled the board free and no one was hurt.  And we got some awesome photos of this very unsafe tense board.

Ripping Cedar boards into 5/16″ thick strips.  Over.  And over.  And over.  And over.

The finished pile of ripped Cedar for one canoe.  We will sand this with our wide belt sander to a final thickness of 1/4″…  They will then be run through a router setup to make a cove and bead on each strip.   More on that in another post…

This is the strongback.  It’s basically a long beam-like structure made of plywood.  It’s what the canoe is built on.  It’s essential to make it as straight and level as possible, otherwise you’ll have a boat that doesn’t track straight.

Leveling the strongback up on its legs.

Cutting out the mold stations on the bandsaw.  These will be placed on the strongback.  They will form the negative space on the inside of the hull — the cedar strips will be glued together over them (not to them), forming the hull.

The mold cutoffs make a pretty cool pile of shapes on the concrete floor.  After the mold stations are cut out on the bandsaw, they have to be shaped and sanded to make nice uniform fair curves.  That process however does not make a pretty picture.

The stem molds (the bow and stern) are set first.  After they are leveled and plumbed, we move on to the station molds in between.  The Prospector, like most canoes, is symmetrical, so the bow and the stern are the same shape — unlike a sailboat or a kayak where the bow and stern are very different.

A string is run from one stem mold to the other, forming a centerline for the hull.  The strongback has a centerline, as do the station molds.  The string, strongback centerline, and individual station mold centerlines must all line up.  This is done by using your eye and sighting down the string over the centerlines and cross checking with a level for plumb.  It hurt my head and my eyes, but ultimately everything lined up.

Each stem mold gets an inner and outer stem.  I made mine out of ash, a very strong wood that bends extremely well.  In the book, Ted steams thicker wood then bends.  We’re lucky enough to have a wide belt sander in our shop — so we were able to sand the ash thin enough to bend by hand.  It’s glued up overnight with epoxy, clamped to that curve.  The stems will be shaped to almost a point to accept the cedar strips at the ends of the hull.  The plastic wrap around each stem is so the epoxy doesn’t bond to the mold or get all over your hands.  It also keeps the strips from sliding against each other.

We’re still miles away from paddling, but we just bought a 5 gallon tub of epoxy, so we’re officially committed.  We’ll be shaping the stems and stripping the hull soon.  Ever onward and until next time…



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