All posts by Patrick McCauley

About Patrick McCauley

Patrick McCauley is Centerbrook’s Master Model Maker and Product Designer. In addition to making furniture, architectural models and lighting fixtures, he created a six-foot two-inch scale replica of the historic “Aphrodite,” a classic powerboat that once ferried President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Hyde Park. The model is on permanent display at the Ocean House in Watch Hill, R.I.

The Moral of Making Chairs

Editor’s Note: The Centerbrook Chair Workshop is a design/build exercise offered semiannually to architectural staff and is led jointly by Patrick McCauley, the firm’s Master Model Maker and Industrial Designer, and by Bill Rutan, Master Carpenter and Facilities Manager. Images of the recent harvest of unique chairs follow, along with prose comments by Patrick and the six participants; Bill’s review is in rhyming couplets, well mostly.

Bill Rutan and Patrick McCauley lead a class in the workshop
Bill Rutan and Patrick McCauley lead a class in the workshop

The moral of this second (and every) Chair Workshop is: Everybody makes mistakes. I know. I made one once…

In order to learn, we have to practice and, most importantly, we have to fail. This is what we call experience. Sure, the goal of our chair class is to create beautiful, comfortable and well-crafted pieces that awe everyone, but first things first.

Chair crafter Dan Batt told me while working through his piece: “Jeeze! There’s like a thousand decisions you have to make doing this!” Sage, only I would say closer to 10,000, but who’s counting? Guess what? It’s impossible to make them all correctly.

Warren Shaw from Thos. Moser holds a design review session with Dan Batt and his model
Warren Shaw from Thos. Moser holds a design review session with Dan Batt and his model

Some of our chair people were loath to accept the fact that they are not expert woodworkers as soon as they stepped over the woodshop threshold. They would justify and modify and deceive themselves into thinking that they hadn’t screwed up when they had. They changed their design in order to accommodate their error. They often spent much more time and energy justifying and accommodating the mistake, as opposed to admitting it and fixing it right away.

Think about it, when did you do a good job at anything the first time you did it, like riding a bike? Woodworking is no different. An old craftsman once told me; “It’s not the mistakes you make, but how you fix them that counts.” Boy, was he right on. Remaking a part is not a sin. The most experienced and capable woodworkers screw up; they just do it less and they are better at fixing their mistakes.

Mistakes in the woodshop are never a waste of time or material. The woodstove can always use the kindling, and God knows, while I may have only made one mistake that I can recall, I’ve somehow made enough kindling to keep me warm all these years. Continue reading The Moral of Making Chairs

Extreme Vernacular Brickwork

Examples of compelling architecture and exquisite craftsmanship are all around us. I have always admired the Deep River Town Hall, just one town north of the home office here in Centerbrook, Connecticut. The building was completed in 1893 on what was then the region’s major artery leading north from the beaches of Long Island Sound. The adjacent trolley line is evidence of that.

Designed by architect G. W. Cole, the town hall is a handsome Flat Iron building of the Romanesque Revival style, and was considered at the time to be quite avant-garde. In 1976 it was added to the National Registry of Historic Places. The exterior is fashioned of common and local clay brick (probably from New Haven), which is accented with granite foundation, sills, and water tables that serve both structural and ornamental functions. The graceful beauty of the building is in its detailing, execution, and uncommon footprint. Continue reading Extreme Vernacular Brickwork

Sawmill on Wheels is the Buzz

Photos and video: Derek Hayn

Peter Nyberg of CT Logs to Lumber, LLC brought his portable sawmill to Centerbrook recently to demonstrate how raw timber – wherever it may lie, bark and all – can be turned into boards and beams for buildings. He set up his mobile mill in 20 minutes, and in less than two hours he reduced two sizable red oak trunks (courtesy of local arborist Town Burns) into roughly 500 board feet of useable lumber – plus “waste” slabs for my wood stove. The mill is essentially a horizontal band saw that travels back and forth on tracks. Continue reading Sawmill on Wheels is the Buzz