Handcrafted 18th Century American Furniture

Pembroke: Hitting Our Stride

As both the demand for our furniture and our employee headcount increased, we soon outgrew our Hanson workshop. Fortunately, we found a great new facility in Pembroke, Massachusetts, and moved there in 1980. It was three times larger than Hanson, and the very picture of an old-time manufacturing plant: a three-story wood framed structure with white clapboard siding and a pilaster-framed colonial entry to the front office. We designed the layout so that wood receiving, storage, and rough milling were confined to the lower level, while final milling, hand assembly, and finishing were performed on the second floor or main level. The small third floor was reserved for producing prototypes and custom orders. We allocated space at the entrance of the building for reception, two private offices, and a small display area.

The move to Pembroke coincided with our acquisition of several new pieces of woodworking equipment, the most impressive being a new helical-head thickness planer. We were using greater amounts of tiger maple, and our previous thickness planer had increasingly become a problem. The straight approach of its blades chewed up the surface of the figured maple, forcing our cabinetmakers to spend an inordinate amount of time scraping and sanding to eliminate the divots. The helical head approached the grain from an angle and virtually eliminated the gouging. As an added benefit, the new planer was much quieter. Other new pieces of equipment included several heavy-duty table saws, a giant 30-inch band saw, a state-of-the-art spray booth, and an overhead router we affectionately named “Big Blue.” Our cabinetmakers also received a large assortment of new hand tools, including handsaws, a variety of chisels, spoke-shaves, and a large supply of cabinet scrapers.

Ben threw himself into making the place an ideal new home for our enterprise. He designed and built an elaborate dust-collection system, devised an ingenious elevator to move rough milled wood from the basement to the main level, and even constructed a bunch of wheeled carts for moving wood and parts around the facility. At Ben’s suggestion, we decided to take a week’s hiatus from routine production so each department could optimize its workspace. Our assembly department decided to construct new workbenches, and all the assemblers built their own, tailored to their personal needs. The finishing department outfitted its new spray booth with rotating platforms and designed and built two movable racks to hold bed parts. Walter Holmes retired to the third floor to set up his prototype shop. As a finishing touch, Ben installed a wood-burning stove in the assembly area, reasoning that we could save on heating costs by burning our wood scrap. The economics were never proven, but the stove did create an ideal atmosphere for woodworking, especially on cold winter days.