North Country Artisan - Tom McNichols

 
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By Tim Behuniak

A YouTube search brought Keeseville-based woodworker Tom McNichols’ attention to a cold storage site originally built for Lake Placid’s 1980 Winter Olympics. With an intuitive mind and thoughtful vision, McNichol’s transformed the space into what is now the fully functioning Wood Lab.

The Wood Lab has many nifty machines which all help produce the numerous cabinetry, flatworks, sinks, and other home furniture that leave the shop. But before any wood cutting takes place, the idea and design have first to be born.

The design phase is completely flexible and subjective; it changes with each project. McNichols works diligently to create the best concept possible, depending on a client’s needs.

Often, clients approach McNichols with already-made blueprints of their interior in which they would like custom-made and functional furniture.

Other times they simply propose an idea to McNichols, leaving him the creative freedom as an artist to produce a final product.

The woodworker doesn’t use computer programs like CAD to assist in the layout and design of each project. Rather, McNichols uses the old-school method of graph paper and pencil to carefully sketch blueprints.

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McNichols then transforms rough cuts into nominal lumber. These cuts are professionally dried in a kiln in order to prepare them for residential and commercial use. After preparing the wood and making cuts with a shaper, jointer, and thickness planer, he assembles pieces by gluing, screwing, and nailing. “And always lots of sanding,” said McNichols.

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The shaper creates specialty joints; the jointer flattens one side of a board to create a 90-degree edge; and the thickness planer flattens the opposite side of the board, relative to the other. Depending on the project McNichols also uses a lathe, which helps create anything that’s round, like spindles, pegs, and bowls.

Jointing and planing are the woodworker’s favorite part. “I can start to see the direction of the grain,” said McNichols. “And I can start to visualize what pieces should go together, and how.” This entire process creates usable wood that can more easily be constructed into a larger and complete final product.

McNichols hopes to start working directly with local lake-home contractors and homeowners in the process of building or remodeling, as this allows for the most creative freedom and easy-going projects. Plus, most items the artist churns out of the Wood Lab are full kitchen sets. “You can buy really nice tables from stores, but they’re not handmade,” said McNichols. Three main reasons customers choose custom-built over stock furniture are space constraints, custom colors and replication, and artistic desire. “If someone wants something a certain way, I can make it,” said McNichols.

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McNichols hopes to start working directly with local lake-home contractors and homeowners in the process of building or remodeling, as this allows for the most creative freedom and easy-going projects. Plus, most items the artist churns out of the Wood Lab are full kitchen sets. “You can buy really nice tables from stores, but they’re not handmade,” said McNichols. Three main reasons customers choose custom-built over stock furniture are space constraints, custom colors and replication, and artistic desire. “If someone wants something a certain way, I can make it,” said McNichols.

Tables and bars, in the woodworker’s opinion, are the most fun items to make because they take the least amount of time and require slab work. Cabinets take lots of time and are extremely intricate.

“But you never really get taught how to make a table,” said McNichols. “You get taught how to sand and put pieces together … You have to figure out the rest.”

www.thewoodlab.com