Dust is part of Mike Block’s life. In a shop below his home, the owner of Whitefish Woodworks sands one-of-a-kind hand-built pieces of furniture. Dust clouds his short dark hair and lingers on his jeans until he vacuums it off.
You can’t buy Block’s work in a store, nor order it out of a catalog. He crafts unique furniture to customer specifications–coffee tables, entertainment centers, armoires, bookshelves, desks, and cabinets. He designs each piece for a particular space with whatever functional needs the client has in mind.
Much of his furniture is Shaker-style. While it may sport simple lines, it has multiple little parts and pieces. “I like the simplistic functional form,” he laughs. “I’m a linear person.”
That eye for a good line drives Block into meticulous construction—tactics he learned apprenticing 12 years ago. Grains are matched. Thicker bottom rails balance upper rails. Drawers line up. Most joints are mortise and tenon or held together with glue and biscuits, rather than nails that leave visible holes filled with putty. Block’s attention to detail–things a client may not even know about–results in furniture that is more art than trade.
Selecting boards for their character, Block relies mostly on local native woods such as fir and larch. “They have such beautiful vertical grains,” he says. “Once the wood sits for a year getting a little UV, it ages to rich gold.” Rather than painting, he prefers to use other woods to add natural color—cherry for red or walnut for brown.
Like many independent woodworkers, Block lives job to job, garnering projects from word of mouth or friends of friends. “I have to network pretty hard to keep the work coming in the door,” he says. “It’s a little nerve-wracking.”
While glue dries on one piece, he works with another. He picks up some fir—and returns to making dust in the shop.
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