The fading daylight whittles away at the workday. The late fall chores at the farm begin to command less time and Dan Thompson starts to turn his attention to his workshop and the pallets of wood waiting for form and function.
“There is something rhythmic and natural about farming and woodworking together,” Dan says as he looks around his shop and the rain drumming at the windows. “A perfect year for me would allow me to tend to the farming when the weather is fine and retreat to the studio when the cold and rain return. It hasn’t happened yet but there is still hope.”
While Dan doesn’t think he has found that perfect balance, from the outside looking in you’d think he has hit the nail on the head. From his workshop along the East River in Pictou County, Dan continues to carve out a unique niche for himself in the furniture and cabinet-making world. He is a self- taught man, learning by doing.
In the late 1980s, he was engaged in general construction and framing houses after having made the move away from his previous career in sales. He started doing fine woodworking at the kitchen table in his Toronto condo, making hand cut dovetail joints, an element that still carries strongly through his work today. He studied Fine Woodworking Magazines and the Lee Valley catalogues, and gleaned whatever information he could on Architecture and
Design to develop into the master craftsman he is today.
He opened his first showroom and woodworking shop in 1994 in Toronto and then started training 1 to 2 apprentices during those first years and worked up to employing 4 to 5 skilled furniture makers. In the fall of 2009 he returned to his Pictou County roots and initiated the plan that would become his workshop on the East Coast and in 2010, moved here permanently and finishing the building and setting up his woodworking studio.
Architecture and sculpture plays a big part in Dan’s design thinking for furniture. “There is a language or a method of communicating through forms and symbols that speaks to the very nature of who were are. What we build and the objects we surround ourselves with inevitably tell our story.”
This philosophy is as much ingrained in Dan’s furniture making as the burls in the veneers he carefully selects for his projects. While he carefully matches the veneers to give uniformity to his finished product each piece still stands as unique. In a world where much of the utilitarian furniture we have in our homes is manufactured in mass production you can quickly see how his work defines the details of master craftsmanship.
While he could likely work with any wood product Dan says that the veneers are likely his favorite material to work with. Once the veneers are laid out he follows a four-step process to “joint” them. The pieces are trimmed with a very sharp blade, and then taped together on the underside with regular masking tape. The veneers are then flipped over and he uses a special fish flue activated by water to adhere the pieces. He then needs to create stable base to the veneers to give it longevity and stability which allows him to create shapes and angles to a piece of furniture and give the appearance of the veneer wrapping around the corners of a piece seamlessly.
While there is a consistency in the detail and precision of his furnishing and cabinetry what he creates usually evolves from the ideas or needs of his clients and then his own imagination. He says that he is never daunted by a client request and will fearlessly take on any project even if he does not know the immediate solution he will find a way to make the concept work.
Like a lot of local crafts people his work is likely better known in other markets. No doubt because his business foundations were set in Ontario he still ships a lot of work west. Dan has been featured in a number of architecture and design magazines. His kitchen cabinetry is showcased in fine homes in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, as is his specialized in various recording studios and film editing studios across the country. He recently finished a project building conference tables for Sobeys Head Office in Stellarton. Fine cabinetry and custom furniture does not come with fast turn around delivery. He does his best to honor the time sensitivity of commercial projects but says with custom craft pieces time is not as critical to the client.
As Dan speaks to the rhythm and timing of his work the order to his life seems apparent. As a father and farmer there are always things that could loosen his plans at the seams but he takes this all in stride. At the end of the day he puts the chickens to bed, shakes of the saw dust, slips off his boots and makes is way up the stairs to his finest creation, his family.