I met David Haig during Wood Dust 2018 when he was the feature speaker at the festival’s Insiders Dinner, and the major prize winner at Wood Review’s Studio 2018 exhibition. I had seen pictures of David’s famed ‘Monogram’ rocker, but it wasn’t until I had seen his work in the flesh that I fully understood what all the fuss was about. ‘Folium No. 3’ is such a subtle and intensely beautiful piece of furniture, its soft, smooth lines and creamy finish made the piece seem almost edible. David’s extraordinary attention to detail, in particular his sculptural treatment of joinery is sublime – I stood there scratching my head wondering how one creates such a sensitive finish. I caught up with David recently to discuss his work and understand more about this wonderful maker from New Zealand.
“there are unrecognised masters everywhere, people who quietly and unostentatiously get on doing good work… They help keep your self-image in perspective”
John Madden: David, how do you describe your work?
David Haig: As a furniture maker, I look for comfortable, practical and durable. As a designer and artist, I look for sensual, vigorous and finely wrought.
JM: Who or what are your main influences?
DH: It’s been a cumulative thing, but I’ve been surrounded and deeply moved by places and things of beauty all my life. So what stands out? Meeting some great designer/craftsmen in my twenties felt like a transmission, a key turning in a lock and somehow a new level of awareness and aspiration being launched. Jim Krenov and Alan Peters, they stood out like beacons in my early career. Yet there are unrecognised masters everywhere too, people who quietly and unostentatiously get on doing good work for the pure joy of it. They help keep your self-image in perspective, which is important when you work mostly on your own. I am also inspired by landscapes, seascapes, sky-scapes, star-scapes – they all give you that sense of connection to something bigger and for some reason that is one of the most potent energising forces for creativity. Living in the South Island of New Zealand, and in Cable Bay of all places, it’s constantly there to nurture.
JM: How did you get started in woodworking?
DH: I met a hippy woodworker in my early twenties who was also a very warm human being who took me under his wing when I was a very uncertain young man. He started showing me fundamentals of woodworking and practicality, and a sort of pride in craftsmanship which was deeply attractive for someone who came from a very academic and impractical sort of educational and family background. He also smoked quite a bit of dope, so reliability was a problem and we parted company amicably after a couple of years.
JM: What is the main focus of your current work?
DH: I am probably at the stage of ‘variations’ right now. There are many alleyways I’ve explored but there are some of them I’ve only poked my nose around the corner, and I want to look further. Seating is still the biggest challenge for me, and I’ve not yet built a sitting bench that has gone very far.
JM: Who collects your work and why?
DH: So many people are looking for ‘things’ in their life that connect them to some elemental sense of beauty, and are moved by the sensual qualities of wood, always warm to touch, smooth, lustrous, we all know the list, and by combining that with forms and shapes that flow from it and enhance it and enliven it, well it’s hard to resist. Of course, for collectors of one off and one of a kind pieces, the economics make them very costly, so my work has been collected as such by wealthy people. But now and again, a person with only moderate means has splashed out and bought just one piece from me and treat that purchase as a very special ‘investment’, something that really means a lot. And that means a lot to me too.
JM: Where do you see your work in 10 years?
DH: Well, I’m nearly 65, and I build slower but better right now. I’m still fit and healthy, but I don’t do such long stints in the workshop anymore. I don’t want big commissions, so scale will reduce, I guess. I’ve just finished a very beautiful Jewellery box that took ages but has a gem-like quality itself, so I think maybe that’s a pointer – I’ll reduce scale but increase intensity.
JM: What do you love most about woodworking?
DH: The actual working of wood with sharp well-tuned tools… no-one has put it better than Jim Krenov, so read him, but it’s still for me, the making of purposeful fine shavings – so much goes in to doing that simple act really well. Also, opening up a walnut log is wickedly exciting.
JM: What do you love most about wood?
DH: There are so many different qualities, but I think wood is a solid form of water really. A tree after all is a slow-motion water pump and so many of its qualities seem to reflect flowing water. So, you can sit, stand and walk on water…it’s a miracle!
JM: What is your favourite material to work with?
JM: Explain your favourite woodworking techniques.
DH: I kind of love and hate steam-bending, there is a level of unpredictability that gives a frisson to the whole process, and it still seems like a kind of sleight of hand when a piece bends and stays put perfectly…then I love it!
JM: Have you developed any techniques you can call your own?
DH: I developed a technique about fifteen years ago for producing wide curved and tapering panels out of solid wood that involved laminating, kerfing and steam-bending – see Wood Review #55. That is almost certainly not the first time it has been done, but I have not seen it done anywhere else before, so possibly…
JM: Describe your workshop and core equipment.
DH: There’s a video that Linda Nathan made that was a walk-around in my workshop a couple of years ago for AWR magazine, that would be the easiest way to get a feel for it. The core? well my workbench, my chisels and planes and knives and shaping tools, spokeshaves and scrapers, and then marking out tools including squares, bevels and gauges. And my sharpening station – water-stones, wet-stone grinder, sink and towels. I have a nice old Wadkin jointer that gets the wood started on its journey, that and the thicknesser, saw-bench or bandsaw and then it really gets going.
JM: What is the hardest thing about being a designer/artist?
DH: Maintaining the desire and interest in the whole endeavour – the stuff that feeds it all. Trying not to let it become too mechanical and balancing repetition, which teaches patience with exploration, that feeds curiosity.
David Haig is teaching a 1-day ‘Shape it Up’ Masterclass at Wood Dust Designer Maker. Shape it Up is perfect opportunity for you to learn more about David’s work, and is a special opportunity to develop your wood shaping and detailing skills using hand-tools. You will also gain insight into the design approach of one of world’s leading designer makers. Suitable for all medium to advanced woodworkers – only 14 places available so purchase your ticket today.
Wood Dust Designer Maker
Held over four days in August, at Melbourne’s newest makerspace FAB9 in Footscray, Wood Dust Designer Maker explores the art of design for woodworking and the processes of fine craftsmanship to realise the designs intent. Wood Dust Designer Maker offers a full suite of Masterclasses with leading designer makers including David Haig from New Zealand, Reed Hansuld from Brooklyn New York, Vic Tesolin from Canada, Carol Russell and Ross Annels from Queensland and Melbourne’s own Bern Chandley. Demand will be high so check out the range of Masterclasses today.
Wood Dust also offers our new event, the Weekend at Wood Dust Makers Conference featuring Matt Kenney, Alastair Boell and Adam Markowitz. Adjacent to all the action is the Wood Dust Timber & Tool Marketplace with all your favourite retailers.
Plan your Wood Dust Designer Maker experience—tickets on sale now!
For any enquires on Masterclasses or the Weekend at Wood Dust please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wood Dust Designer Maker
August 8th – 11th 2019
90 Maribyrnong St
Footscray, Melbourne VIC