Earl Nesbitt has "always loved
wood and furniture," but he spent the first part of his career
working as a machinist -- until he decided to look for something more
fulfilling. "I saved up all my money, got on my motorcycle and
traveled around the country talking to all the schools" that
taught woodworking, until he "found a guy doing exactly what I
wanted to do."
Earl served a year-long apprenticeship
with furniture maker Jeffrey Greene in New Hope, Pennsylvania. While
there, the first thing he designed and built on his own was a Wavy
Back Chair: a linear frame with a wavy back. "It's kind of a
take-off on a Frank Lloyd Wright chair," Earl said. "I took
it to the next place by making it comfortable."
He did that by adding curves and lumbar
support to the back, and soliciting feedback on whether he'd achieved
his comfort goals. "New Hope, Pennsylvania, is a tourist town.
I'd done mockups after I'd sketched out my back and a number of the
other apprentices' backs and took them out onto the busy sidewalks,
where I had a number of people of different sizes sit down and give
me their feedback. I got almost no negative feedback, so I knew I was
on the right track."
These days, Earl still uses that method
to seek feedback for projects, putting the mockups of chairs,
especially, out for customers to try out at shows.
He has successfully made the transition
from machinist to woodworker, combining what he calls a freeform
sculptural aspect that has appealed to him with the meticulousness
called for in furniture making that also fits his personality. "I
also just love wood, its versatility, that you can make just about
anything with it," he said.
Earl describes his style of woodworking
as contemporary, with clean lines. As he designs projects, he also
likes to keep in mind a wide variety of woods. "I like to have
'em all at my availability," he said. "As I'm designing,
I'm keeping in mind, 'This would look good in zebrawood,' because
it's dramatic and striped, or 'this would look better in a solid
Currently residing in New Mexico, Earl
does note that there's one wood he doubts would have been part of his
repertoire if he'd remained in the East: mesquite. "It's one of
the most beautiful woods we have, and out here, we have access to
some fairly big slabs. There are family businesses that go out and
find the big boards. Mesquite is also extremely stable; it does not
move very much with seasonal changes."
One of his suppliers, Earl said, calls
mesquite "rescued wood" because much of it comes from trees
that are "in the middle of nowhere, past the decay stage, and
we're bringing it back to life."
He's also about to get into additional
uses of other recycled materials, as many of his customers are
expressing interest in getting LEED [Leadership in Energy and
Environmental Design] points.
It was also a customer request that led
to the piece that Earl says had "technical opportunities that
took me to a whole new place in my career." Previously, he had
created a dining set -- a large circular table and 10 chairs -- for
these clients, and last year, they decided that wanted a
complementary corner cabinet/buffet and a china cabinet. Difficulties
faced in these projects were the space requirements and meeting the
asymmetrical, organic desired aesthetics.
The most difficult piece for the
clients, however, was an entertainment center meant to complement
their Art Deco style radio. It needed to be 8 feet long, and a
"contemporary with an Art Deco look." Earl used over 300
pieces of wood just in the four doors on the piece, which are created
out of bubinga and Australian lacewood bent laminates. After milling
the lumber to very thin, easily bent pieces, he had to do a lot of
preliminary layout work to determine placement in the clamps for the
glue-up -- and then, "When it comes time for the glue-up, work
Earl's been using bent laminations to
some extent ever since that first Wavy Back Chair, but overall, he
said, he enjoys teaching himself new techniques as part of his work.
He does note, however, that he consistently likes to use construction
techniques that are "beautiful as well as functional." For
instance, he built a semicircular desk, the base of which has sliding
pegs. "They're a definite part of the piece, but they're also
functional: the pegs allow for seasonal wood movement," he said.
And, he noted again, he loves the
sculptural aspect of his work. "I enjoy when I get the grinder
in my hand: sculpting an edge or an interesting shape is something I
truly enjoy about the work."