For more than thirty-five years, serious collectors and other admirers of fine furniture have sought out William Evans to create originals and reproductions for them, and to restore precious antiques. Their testimonials and anecdotes appear throughout the website for you to read at your leisure. Meanwhile, here are some insights into the career and techniques of this master craftsman.
After sampling the corporate life as a young man, Bill left Xerox to focus on turning his passion for cabinetry into a livelihood. He apprenticed for eight years under Dutch master craftsman David Hendriks in Toronto and quickly established his own reputation and clientele. Since returning to the States in the 1980s and settling in Maine, he has continued to perfect his use of traditional techniques and develop his own design ideas. His work is displayed in historic buildings and private homes throughout North America.
Bill is known not only for the way he works with wood, but also for the way he works with people. For him, listening carefully is an integral part of making fine furniture.
“It’s important to me,” he says, “to make sure that a piece is tailored to the wants and needs of the people buying it. I want to make sure it looks just like they want it to look, that it functions just like they want it to function. And I want it be used and enjoyed for generations.”
Whether he is building new pieces or restoring damaged heirlooms, Bill starts the construction process by personally hand-selecting the wood. Most furniture makers, especially those who manufacture by machine in order to produce high volume, don’t do this. Instead, they settle for the less expensive, less time-consuming option of simply ordering loads of lumber, sight unseen, from large dealers.
“Hand-picking the materials is the only way that makes sense to me,” says Bill. “For a cabinet-maker to accept the luck of the draw would be like a chef trying to make a delicacy from whatever the food wholesaler leaves at the door.”
He begins his search for the right wood by inspecting slabs cut from premium logs. And if your piece requires large areas of exposed grain, he will choose from “flitch-sawn” logs, which are logs that have been cut in sequence so that later the grain pattern can be matched.
“Outstanding grain pattern and consistency of color,” Bill says emphatically, “are critical to making a quality piece of furniture. The grain has to flow and not fight with the eye or look jumbled when it is pieced together.”
What’s also true is that Bill Evans flat out loves fine wood. In fact, he is known for a somewhat “pathological” habit of squirreling it away until he finds just the right use for it.
“Yeah,” he confesses sheepishly, “I’m like a kid in a candy store. If I see good lumber, I have to buy it, even if there’s not a use for it right off. It’s really fun to imagine how a particular piece of wood might look when it becomes a bed or a table or a chest. But when it comes time to actually use it, it can be hard to let go because I won’t get to have it around anymore. And I get teased a lot.”
This fussiness and care extends to every other aspect of creating a William Evans masterpiece as well. Dovetailing drawers together by hand takes time, though its beauty is obvious. Not so obvious is the traditional mortise & tenon joinery Bill uses in the doors and the “carcass” of a piece.
“Mortise & tenon is much stronger than simply using dowels,” Bill says. “But it also takes a lot longer, and you can’t see it. So, it’s tempting to just use dowels and let somebody else worry about it later when it starts to come apart. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do that.”
Bill also hand-picks all the brass hardware he uses, again from the finest available. And then there is the finish, another place where he will not compromise on quality. He insists on “French-polishing,” a centuries-old method of hand-rubbing thin layers of shellac into the wood…over and over and over again:
“As far as I’m concerned, shellac is the only way to provide lasting protection and still let the natural beauty show through. Lacquer and polyurethane go on much faster, but they make for a thicker, cloudier finish that causes light refraction and reflection. You see the finish instead of the wood. And while oil is also easy, it tends to be dull and does not make for a hard, protective finish.”
So, there you have William Evans, fine furniture maker, in a nutshell. When you’re ready to see what he can do for you, just let him know.