At Ernest Thompson Furniture and Cabinets, virtually everything we build already has a customer waiting for it. Whether you select one of our many classic designs or work with us to design a custom piece, your name is on your order, every step of the way, as it moves throughout our workshop.
The Mill Shop
The building process begins with the purchase of wood that meets our exacting specifications. Knotty alder accounts for most of our production, but we also source pine, wormy maple, walnut, and a variety of other specialty woods upon request.
Whatever the species, all of our wood has been kiln-dried prior to delivery to the Ernest Thompson workshop. Before accepting wood deliveries, our mill shop manager checks the moisture content to make sure the wood has been dried to the proper level. He then carefully sorts through the order and rejects any boards that do not meet our requirements.
From there, the craftsmen select materials for the pieces they are building. One builder is responsible for your furniture or cabinetry from wood selection until the time it reaches the finish shop; as such, great care is taken at this stage. Proper wood selection in the mill shop is crucial to ensuring a top-quality finished product.
The Building Process
While it is easy to admire a finished piece and to readily recognize its quality, it can be hard to conceive of, or properly appreciate, the skill involved in building the parts that can’t be seen. From the mortise and tenon joinery used in all Ernest Thompson construction, to the French dovetails used in our drawer making, traditional building methods are essential to fine wood building. And, although these techniques may not be readily apparent to some, their cumulative impact gives our fine furniture its distinctive quality.
In addition to the care taken in the building of each piece, a good portion of our furniture and cabinetry panel work is enhanced with hand carving. When you look closely at the complex carving and hand-chiseled details of our work, you’ll see that each rounded surface and every clean angle has been created by a wood carver’s own hands. It’s a time consuming process, one that requires the craftsman’s intense concentration and the artist’s ability to visualize. Small wonder that our Master Carver Emilio has over thirty years of wood carving experience.
Sombraje translates as “branch covered screen.” At Ernest Thompson, we gain inspiration from this traditional utilitarian practice to produce a collection of shutters, screens and furniture that is as durable and long-lasting as it is beautiful. The Sombraje building process begins with basswood, chosen for its straight grain. Panel frames are built by hand, using traditional mortise and tenon joinery, and a channel is carved within the inside of the frame to hold the twigs. Cottonwood, willow, and salt cedar (tamarisk) branches are hand gathered from along the Rio Grande Bosque after drying the appropriate amount of time. Back at the workshop, each twig is individually cut to size to fit within the grooved panel frame. The true artistry of the Sombraje craftsman comes from the thoughtful arrangement in the twigs. The craftsmen is looking to achieve a random pattern, while maintaining a certain proportion of painted to natural twigs.The panel is finished with one of our gorgeous stains or painted finishes. Sometimes the panel bevel is painted, requiring extreme concentration and a steady hand.
The Finish Shop
Once a piece is completed by the builder, it’s ready to head into the finish shop. Here, each item is repeatedly hand sanded, using progressively finer grits of sandpaper, to achieve stain-ready surfaces. While many pieces of our furniture remain smooth, we also specialize in applying a wide range of distressing techniques designed to make a piece look aged and lovingly worn, imparting the warmth of heirloom pieces passes on from generation to generation.
Finally, the furniture is ready for the finish process. Individually formulated stains are hand-rubbed over the entire piece, imparting a rich embellishment that, over time, will mature into a rich patina. The application of painted accents or carefully applied glazes are additional options that our customers often consider. Finally, a protective topcoat is applied and then buffed to achieve a luxurious, natural sheen.
At this point, your order is complete and ready for shipping. Each piece is carefully blanket wrapped or crated and then delivered by a high value shipping and delivery service. The final step is a follow up telephone call from your design consultant and the mailing of your Certificate of Authenticity certifying your piece as an Ernest Thompson original.
In all of our work, the constant theme is our unrelenting commitment to traditional craftsmanship as expressed through the hands of an experienced, conscientious furniture maker. This commitment to tradition results in beautifully crafted furniture, built to serve generations.