Nothing quite completes a house like custom-designed furnishings — a dining room table made from an amazing slab of wood, kitchen cabinets designed to your specifications, or a unique set of corner shelving no furniture store offers.
Such choices will be on prominent display in the main lobby and the Hickel Room of Centennial Hall during the 34th annual Alaska-Juneau Public Market over Thanksgiving weekend. The two Juneau-based custom wood craftsmen participating in this year’s Public Market are Reid Harris of Northern Edge Craftworks and Dean Graber of Rainforest Custom Woodworking.
“The only consistency with my customers is they each want something different,” says Dean Graber. “Everyone here is used to the mass-produced products found in furniture stores. The people who come to me want higher quality, not the ordinary, something that fits their personalities and their homes. My customers get involved as much or little as possible, just depends. I look at their house, get a feel for what they want, draw it up, set a price, maybe tweak the design.”
Graber will display an intricately designed office desk, a variety of tabletops, as well as turned items and cutting boards. He uses local woods like spruce, yellow cedar, some hemlock, but also a variety of difficult to find hardwoods that he gets from suppliers in the Midwest where he once lived. “We also use reclaimed materials like wormy chestnut from barn wood — we get it, clean it up and re-use.” Graber is especially fond of the Asian mahogany he recently reclaimed from Boeing crates that come in 1.5-inch thick strips of finger-jointed, 17-foot lengths. “Just gorgeous when you put a coat of oil on it.”
Reid Harris, born and raised in Juneau, is dedicated to using regional lumber, and one of his favorite raw materials is the Chichagof yellow cedar that he gets from Wes Tyler of Icy Strait Lumber in Hoonah. “Yellow cedar is the best. It is one of the hardest and longest lasting of the softwoods, and has a lot of character,” he says, referring to the grain, knots, and color that can produce compelling patterns. On the Northern Edge Craftworks website video he narrates, Harris says, “Every tree tells a story; we accentuate the natural beauty of regional lumber, the design inspired by the raw material. We aren’t so much crafting the wood as interpreting it.”
Harris prefers timber from selective harvests. The most sustainable timber he uses is dead standing yellow cedar that is becoming all too common due to climate change. “Cedar is declining throughout the region,” he says, “but it is so resilient that dead standing cedar, some of which may have been dead for 100 years, is often great, easy to mill wood.”
For a local corporation Harris recently produced a 14-foot long boardroom meeting table of straight-grained, book-matched Sitka spruce (book-matched means two mirrored, joined slabs from the same cut). Another table he produced can be seen in Kindred Post at the corner of Front and Franklin — this one six-feet long and made from reverse matched red alder cut from a 30-inch wide trunk, one of the widest cuts of local alder Harris has ever worked with.
Northern Edgeworks is co-owned by Reid’s sister Heather, a trained and skilled industrial designer. Adam Dimmitt of Eight Zero Technologies fabricates many of the metal parts Heather designs. Adam of Eight Zero Technologies and Kindred Post’s Christy NaMee Erikson will also participate in this year’s Public Market.
The choice of materials, design, and finish is entirely up to the clients of Northern Edge Craftworks and Rainforest Custom Wood Working. A visit to the Public Market will be an opportunity to see and handle excellent examples of black walnut, Asian mahogany, and reclaimed chestnut at Graber’s location in the main lobby, and the many variations of regional raw materials in the Hickel Room where Harris will be set up. Both will have products that range from easily affordable cutting boards, coasters, pencil holders, to… well, the sky’s the limit when choosing super-select hardwoods that can cost up to $40 per board foot.
Harris and Graber will join about 150 vendors from throughout Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, all of whom will be on hand to sell products ranging from the practical, to the wearable, to the many crafted items suitable for household décor.
The Public Market begins Friday, November 25, and will be open from noon to 7 pm; and on Saturday and Sunday, from 10 am to 5 pm.
Photos and story provided by Peter Metcalfe who, with his wife Sandy, produces the annual Alaska-Juneau Public Market.