IIDEX Woodshop Winners Spotlight | Randy Kerr

The IIDEX Woodshop Exhibition is next week, and now that we’ve covered the featured designers that were solicited for the initiative, we’re going to turn the spotlight on the 5 competition winners who will be joining their ranks at IIDEX. This week: Randy Kerr  for IMPRESSIONS.

Randy Kerr can often be found cutting & splitting firewood for his off-grid house that sits atop a cliff. At the café, NURBS modeling software supplements his sketchbook. At the shop, CNC machine processes complement more traditional machinery, but a fishtail gouge can be found sitting on his vacuum table.

We caught up with Randy this week, and here’s what they had to say about about his competition submission, the IIDEX Woodshop initiative, and designing digitally:

ideacious: As a city and IIDEX supported initiative to use a portion of the 200,000+ ash trees being destroyed over the next 5 years, IIDEX Woodshop has a strong narrative going for it. How did this inspire you when designing your piece?

Randy Kerr: Using wood from trees that have died due to disease, fire and weather is nothing new. It has though become more popular in part out of necessity as our forest resources have been depleted. Its been my experience that the volume of high quality of furniture grade woods are less and less as each day goes by. I have noticed that for the most part high end woodworkers still aspire to using the select and better lumber and architectural grade veneers but many contemporary industrial and architectural designers have seen the benefit to using this “secondary” resource of salvaged material with its inherent expressiveness, formerly seen as defects. It was 50 years ago that George Nakashima popularized the use of live edge lumber and this salvaged wood is often perfectly suited to have that cambium surface as a design detail. We can no longer afford to waste a single piece of wood, call it post rationalization or finally see the beauty in the mineral stains and crooked grain. The salvaged wood from urban and storm ravaged trees may help take a small amount of pressure off of our remnant forests. The entrance doors in my house came from an ice storm damaged tree on my property. This time I  designed around the “defects” by digitally drawing in Rhino on top of an image of the ash wood that I received. The carved vessel  in this case had to flow around the checks in the knots to provide a sound and useful object that would hopefully not distort too much when relieved of the surrounding wood.

Many designers opt to work with aesthetically rich woods like Walnut or Maple. What are your thoughts on using Ash as your primary material? Is it a challenge, does it change your process, or do you disagree and think Ash is amazing?

Ash was the first wood that I ever worked, making my own snow shoes as a kid. I then went on to make chairs completely by hand using both green and dried ash. The smell of working ash today evokes wonderful memories of those days. The aroma of the green wood shavings that piled up at my feet had a much sweeter smell than the dry shavings that fly off of a CNC router today. Over the years I have worked 1000s of board feet of lumber and 1000s of sq. feet of veneer and nothing takes me back with a smile to those days of draw knives and spoke shaves like the smell of Fraxinus Americana . Ash is amazing, aesthetically its surface texture is powerful and demanding because of that it needs to help support the form to avoid unwanted negative tensions.

What qualities in other designers’ work often catch your attention or make you really think the designer is on to something?

Regrettably I pay very little attention to names other than the obvious great ones from Zaha Hadid to Wendle Castle, its is the objects alone that seem to catch my attention. Simplicity of form, direct to the point, an expressive process and craftsmanship all tied together by concept are what have me taking a second look.  

And finally, what’s something that you’re really into right now?

I have been around for a while, today what i am into is designing digitally. That is what has caught my attention and in my case it is simply drawing in ‘Rhino’. I cannot say that I have caught up to where I once was. I am having fun these last several years learning this new process and I am always surprised by the results. Couple that with CNC fab and some good old fashioned hand work and I am a happy man.

Stay tuned for next week as we have the scoop on Kevin Armour and the Truss table.

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