Building Moxie with Thos Moser Cabinetmakers :: Moxie, Moser, Maine: the Next Part
Last week, I told you of my visit with furniture maker Thos Moser Cabinetmakers. For the lack of better way to put it, I was summoned to Maine to cover St. Timothy’s School of Baltimore as they were taking part in a very special session of Moser’s Customer in Residence program (CIR). While I intend to provide more information on the CIR program, I wanted first to give you a little perspective on the work behind, and the significance of, the pieces that this company produces. The first installment of this series, here >> Building Moxie with Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers :: Moxie Moser Maine: Part 1.
In attempting to describe what exactly it is that this company . . . produces, we’ll say – “the underlying aesthetic in every piece is unembellished, formally simple, yet sophisticated.” Oh and whoops, yes, Thos. Moser builds high-quality, American-made, solid-wood … furniture. Thanks.
Quite likely due to their locale (Maine) as well as to Tom Moser’s admitted early influences, the company’s output at times is mis-categorized as wholly Shaker in nature. But this is not nearly true. More accurately, the unifying thread – pieces built with both a sense of legacy, as well as an old-world(ish) integrity.
… experts in crafting furniture to last a lifetime. The hallmark of Thos. Moser furniture is exquisite joinery informed by centuries of craftsmanship.
OK, and maybe some of those words above were borrowed from the background I was presented with prior to taking this trip, but really … my point today – their work I think is something better experienced in person.
And perhaps you have had the opportunity to check in at one of Moser’s showrooms, seven dotted around the country. To this point, I had not, and my apologies now (for being wordy) … this was my first intimate encounter, well, with anything of this kind.
Maybe G. Washington Chopped it Down So He Could Make a Sweet Rocker for His Mother… Just a Thought
Each piece of Thos. Moser furniture incorporates carefully selected, sustainably harvested American hardwoods obtained no more than 350 miles from the Maine workshop. Cherry in particular, the company’s primary material, comes from PA, and more specifically – from the Allegheny Plateau.
Tom points to its more than century-old saddling, “Cherry was sometimes called the poor man’s mahogany.” But on talking briefly with a handful of the company’s 60+ cabinetmakers, it doesn’t really seem all that … “poor man.” Cherry, I learned, is considered one of the most workable hardwoods. Among other things, it does not splinter when it is tooled. The entire crew heralds its inherent beauty as well as the way it patinas with age, but Tom himself refers to it, in cases, as a source of “serendipity.” That is – he describes a market, which over years “caught up,” and thankfully, with his almost instinctive use of it.
Then, of course, there is the reverence with which they treat and finish this material. A focus on grain and color matching is apparent with a simple point of the finger. And this speaks to how the wood is addressed. A pair of drawer faces, for example, decidedly cut from a single board. Doing this allows for nearly no interruption in the flow of the grain (or color) from one side of a piece to the other.
With laminates, and maybe not what you’d think when you hear that term – a stack laminate, like that used to create the Wing Chair. This is produced (at least for Moser) by knife-cutting the wood. This method is chosen over cutting with a saw, because it produces no kerf, and no material is lost. (Wood Geek Fact: It is interesting, and maybe only for me, that through years and through experience the company has decided to call out a 1/10th inch cut on laminate layers to their suppliers. I am personally not aware of this unit of measurement being used anywhere else in, well, the building of anything. Please correct me if I am wrong.)
Most all pieces are finished with linseed oil and wax – a re-waxing kit is provided with all, and a re-waxing is required for long-term maintenance.
Man & Object
The first ever Thos. Moser advertisement read in part,” … Restoring a relationship between man and his practical art.”
While production methods have evolved some, there is still very much a hands-on, human interaction with the furniture that is produced. Yes, the level of precision has been improved with some pretty bass ass tools, but little really has changed with the … meaning baked into each object. (Side Note: T. Moser’s Auburn shop is scheduled to appear on the DIY Network’s Cool Tools this Fall. Look for it.)
Any Moser piece, if examined, contains the signature of the craftsman or craftswoman responsible for the creation of the piece, paired with the date of the piece’s production. This in itself creates connection to the piece, both as a means to show the personalization of work, but also in a way as a testament to the individual’s relationship with, a bit of their … essence perhaps imbibed by the piece.
During my stay, I had the chance to spend few quality minutes shadowing cabinetmaker Kevin Cooper – an employee of the company from the days, and their earlier roots, in nearby New Gloucester. (I have attached some of that video below.)
Speaking of signing the work, Kevin says almost emotionally, “What else is there?” He reluctantly hints that in a way it is a “leaving behind of something,” but he finishes strongly by saying, “You know . . . to let them know you were here.”
Kevin, one the few individuals I met on the floor trained in classical furniture making (most come up through the ranks), suggested that what I was looking at was what he called, “the evolution of 21st Century Cabinetmaking.” There I was witnessing a perfect blending of traditional and modern processes, practices and methods.
… To Last a Lifetime
All Moser furniture has a lifetime warranty. In the “Repairs Department,” I eyed not only a Continuous Arm Chair back for a tune up, the signed date – 1986, but I also saw a set of awkward custom end tables sitting lonely and dusty in a corner. These tables as I learned were retrieved from the … *ahem* sale of Bernie Madoff’s personal items. (Remember him, and funny I’d say – almost as if the company felt it a necessity to reclaim those pieces.)
When I ask about custom work, I am referred to Michael Phelps’ now Twit-famous bed. A custom-sized version of Moser’s Vita frame and set in a high altitude chamber. It is not infrequent that catalog pieces are tweaked in some way to customer specifications. But many true custom pieces are also produced … “kitchen cabs?” . . . I heard them mentioned. To put it plainly, though, “custom” is easily accomplished within Moser’s framework, after all – Everything is Built to Order.
There are a couple pieces, from my trip, that I must call out specifically: The High Stool and the BowBack Stool, seats inspired by a John Deere tractor seat and a Harley Davidson motorcycle saddle, respectively. And man . . . one word to describe these = Comfortable. (My theory is — it’s all in that little divider and those cheek thingys… idk.) And speaking of comfort, whew! Can anyone say “nap time”? Right here >> the Chaise (yep, and just “The Chaise.”)
* While I didn’t have a ton of time for it, I gotta give a minor shout to walnut and ash (for light effects) as other hardwoods the company prefers to work. Moser, however, is quick to point out that any wood is possible upon request.
Thanks for reading and please come back for the Next, Next Part… the CIR. More pics to support this post on our Facebook page >> https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151399725279502.574176.388703849501&type=1, and a happy day. ~jb
Outtake: A Tale of One Table
Tom (as he is known by everyone within the company) frequently says, “I learned how to build furniture from dead people. Taking apart antiques and putting them back together to learn how they were built. … “
And while I was in town I heard whispers of a post to Popular Woodworking‘s Editors blog. Connection here is displayed, you see, not only by the creators of the pieces, but by the owners as well. For a great tale, and to see exactly what I mean, you know – man with object >> “Would You Cut Up This Table?” . . . Enjoy!
And OK, in a nutshell, one of PW’s editors was faced with the dilemma of no longer being able to use a Moser dining room table, the one his family came up around. Ninety-eight comments found this article and apparently that number tops the ranks of posts on that blog. Tom chimes in. His message, “It’s your table . . .” And see again a tendency toward deconstructing furniture. Ha! >> Thos. Moser on Steve’s Table Dilemma. OK, there! . . . Enjoy your day.
Sorry, Spoiler Alert: In the end the table was spared >> Moser Table Spared . . . :~)
Disclaimer: While Thos. Moser paid my expenses for this trip, the point of view expressed here is my own.
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About jb bartkowiak (259 posts)
A one-time construction manager, and always handyman, turned blogger and editor. My wife, Jen, and I are on our 6th property (. . . yes, together). She is a real estate agent. We have two beautiful daughters Evyn and Eva. We currently live and are restoring an 1889 farmhouse in Baltimore's Lauraville area.