Fastidious furniture makers craft art for a lifetime

By Cory Hatch

Father and son, Barry and Richard Hinchliffe, are really picky about wood. These proprietors of the Green Mountain Workshop might spend half a day sifting through stacks of unfinished tiger maple searching for the perfect drawer fronts.

The grain of the wood must be continuous from drawer to drawer. The figuring must have the best striations for a flowing ripple effect under the high polish finish. The wood must be kiln dried to six percent moisture content, knot free, and straight as an arrow.

Anything less and the board ends up in a scrap pile in the front of their barn/workshop on the Common Road in Waitsfield.

"If the customers had any idea what you have to go through in the wood yard, they'd be stunned," said the youngest Hinchliffe, who with his father, has made handcrafted furniture for the past ten years using techniques perfected in the seventeenth and eighteenth century.

Only after hours of searching and fretting over the tiniest details do the Hinchliffes select the piece de resistance...the perfect piece of wood. Now the father and son begin to meticulously craft the furniture, which could be one of their popular sleigh beds, a table and chairs, or a cabinet.

On April 12, the Hinchliffes demonstrated their passion for the intricacies of fine furniture making on a custom 6 foot x 2 foot x 32 inch serving table in progress. A satisfied customer ordered the piece of furniture to match another, larger table.

The father and son start the piece by constructing a frame that includes the front, back, sides and legs. They first joint and plane each piece of wood to ensure the straightness. The legs are turned on a lathe.

The four pieces of wood that make up the top receive a careful sanding with six grades of sandpaper starting with 60 grit, a course paper, and finishing with 1000 grit after the piece is stained.

The Hinchliffes then shape the pieces on a stationary router attached to a jig to form the mortise and tenon joints, held together with pegs and glue instead of wood screws.

This joint allows for the proper expansion and contraction of the wood due to moisture. "You've always got to be thinking about that (expansion and contraction). If you don't allow it to move, it's going to break," said Richard Hinchliffe.

The drawers are also subject to this same expansion and contraction. The younger Hinchliffe hones each drawer down to within 3/32nds of an inch of it's spot in the frame. "We spend alot of time getting that right," he said.

The drawers also feature the same high quality wood on all four sides, which are joined together with dovetail joints and glue. "I don't know anybody's drawers that are made like this," he said.

Once the piece is stained and assembled, the Hinchliffes put the final touch on their painstakingly crafted creation: eight layers of a secret finish the family has developed over the past ten years.

With so much time and effort invested in each piece of furniture, the father and son craftsmen develop and personal relationship with the customer. Aside from the cost of the piece, the customer must also possesses enough patience to persevere through the three month waiting list and the two or three weeks it will take the craftsmen to finish the piece.

One customer said she knew her piece was special when she noticed that the underside was finished with the same care as the top."It's like you go for a suit and have it custom made," say the Hinchliffes. Unlike mass manufactured furniture, pieces from the Green Mountain Workshop should actually increase in value as they age. The Hinchliffes are making future antiques that people will pass onto their children.

2002, The Valley Reporter