Bright lights, big business | Woodshop News

Volz, Clarke & Associates — known as VCA Inc. — is a multidisciplined shop offering high-end residential millwork and studio furniture projects. Co-owners Bruce Volz and Tony Clarke operate a 20,000-sq.-ft. facility with around 30 employees in Northampton, Mass., selling mostly to the New York City metropolitan market through architectural firms.

Business has been really good during the last couple of years. The addition of an in-house metal brazing department has helped, along with collaborations from local artists working in a variety of media. The owners have a passion for art furniture and guess what? It sells.

Following Leeds

Volz is originally from Minnesota and moved to Massachusetts in 1978 to attend Leeds Design Workshop, a former woodworking school in Easthampton, Mass.

“After two years I went off and worked for Wendell Castle for two-and-a-half years,” Volz says. “It was pretty interesting time to be there because [Castle] was at that point where he was transitioning out of the stacked lamination. He started getting into Art Deco types of things and did all of the carved trompe l’oeil style pieces. He’s an amazing guy.”

The young and idealistic Volz was intrigued by the designer/maker concept and there was a strong market for art furniture in the 1980s. After learning what he needed from Castle, he returned to teach at Leeds and met Clarke.

“I was a student,” Clarke says. “Bruce was teaching and, when I was in my second year at the school, he started his own full-time furniture studio. When I finished the program, I went to work as a carpenter and rented a small shop trying to make art furniture. But then I got married, had kids and got scared. I needed real income, so I started doing more millwork and cabinetry through an architectural connection.”

In 1988, Volz, Clarke and a third woodworker formed a cooperative shop at the former Leeds school building. Clarke was producing architectural work, while Volz continued with his furniture. But when the economy weakened in 1989, they needed a new plan.

This is where fate comes in. At a birthday party, Volz met an architect from Robert A.M. Stern Architects, a large firm in the heart of Manhattan.

“He was designing furniture for a big house on Long Island and asked if I was interested in doing it,” says Volz, who leaped at the chance. “I wound up making eight or so pieces for that house in a style I was really unfamiliar with. We somehow made it happen and one of the pieces was published in Architectural Digest.

bright2“From that article, somebody called up out of the blue who was building a house in Brooklyn. They said it was a Robert Stern design and wanted me to do all of the custom furniture. I was a little bit skeptical, but I met with him and he was serious. At that point, Tony’s business had slowed down so we talked about joining up together.”

VCA started in the co-op space. Employees were added until they ran out of room. They moved to their current shop in 2008.

Service expansion

While work from Stern and other firms kept the shop busy, there was a shift to also make designs from outside sources.

“We had moved in a more commercial direction at this point, meaning we were building other people’s designs more than our designs through architectural firms. The business grew into servicing the design community in New York with either architectural millwork or with furniture,” Clarke says.

The only hitch was having most of their eggs in one basket. In 2001, they were ready to start a large job at an apartment in New York. The contract was supposed to be signed on Sept. 12. After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, the client backed out.

“That was just a reminder we needed to build our client base a little more. We had other clients who were architects and designers, but after 9/11 we were suddenly left with no work for a few months. We were basically shell-shocked and wanted to expand our client base,” Clarke says.

“At that point, we had always wanted to get a furniture line together,” Volz continues. “So we put a line together and showed it at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair. We got some interest, but it didn’t really generate much for sales. The main benefit was it kind of got that out of idea out of our system.”

Since they didn’t have the resources to properly promote the line, they decided to target architects and designers with a “can-do-anything” approach.


Bruton Strange installs drawer glides in a cabinet.

“One of the unusual things about our business is it’s really a mix of furniture and architectural millwork, which I don’t think a lot of shops do. The diversity alone is unusual,” Clarke says.“The different challenges are what’s exciting about this. We are working with amazing designers and architects. They continually present us with new challenges. They want to push us with their ideas of what they want to do.”

In New York, contemporary trumps traditional, according to Volz.

“The majority of what we do and respond to are 21st century-style designs. There are certain trends we see in architectural work that will become popular. Grainy woods are popular or something that’s wire brushed and painted gray, for example. Two years from now, there will be something different and it’s been that way all along. We always try to accommodate.”

Millwork, already half of the shop’s work, is a growth area. “The millwork jobs have gotten bigger,” Clarke says. “We used to get a half-million-dollar job and think that was huge. But over the last year-and-a-half we’ve done a few that are $1 million or $1.5 million.”

The shop does about $5 million in annual sales.

The challenge in the shop is to find woodworkers with the talent to build furniture and millwork.

“Some people have a better headset for millwork and others with furniture. Some are good at both. Because everything we do is custom, nobody is just doing one thing,” Clarke says.


Jesse Morrisey uses an orbital sander to prep a sheet of brass.

“When we moved here in 2008, we had about 18 employees. We had that nasty bump in the recession, but we were lucky because we had some large projects that carried us through and didn’t get crunched until 2010. Then we had to do some layoffs, but now we’re bigger than we were before.”

Moving forward

The owners feel the shop is operating at near-capacity. The volume of work justifies an expansion, but they are cautious of another downturn.

“This past year we had two sizeable millwork jobs going on at the same time as well as quite a bit of furniture work, so we explored the idea of adding on. There is space to add on, but we’re trying to figure out which way to go. Our sales went up significantly in the past year-and-a-half, but we don’t know whether that will continue or not. Unless we feel a little more confident about sustaining our volume, we’re staying how we are,” Volz says.

Clarke and Volz recently wrote a five-year business plan as they think about retirement. They enjoy a three- to five-month backlog on furniture orders and have millwork jobs that can last five months or more. But customer service, they say, is key to whatever they hope to accomplish in the future.

“Relationships are important to us, not only for in the shop, but with clients, and we work hard to maintain them. The most important part of being successful is being available. We just answer the phone, respond and deliver on time,” Clarke says.

Contact: VCA Inc., 209 Earle St., Northampton, MA 01060. Tel: 413-587-2750.

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue.

Source: Bright lights, big business | Woodshop News

Helpful hints for applying water-based finishes | Woodshop News

Switching from solvent- to water-based finishes has some advantages, primarily reduced odor and fire hazard, as well as reduced harm to the environment. But the switch can be difficult because the application is different.

It’s true that pulling the trigger on the spray gun and covering the surface while keeping the gun moving doesn’t change much, but there are differences that cause enough problems to discourage switching unless forced to do so by the changing VOC laws.

Here are some of the problems and how to deal with them:

First, before you even begin spraying, you should be more diligent than with lacquers to strain the finish. Solid pieces of lacquer falling into the finish from the lip of the can dissolve back into the finish. But this doesn’t happen with water-based finishes. Also, water-based finishes can sometimes coagulate a little in the can. Always strain water-based finishes.

Water-based finishes don’t atomize as easily as lacquers, especially if the finish is cold. The best spray guns to use are airless and air-assisted airless, especially the latter. If you use a turbine HVLP, the more stages the turbine has the better. Three is minimum.

You can thin water-based finishes with water to improve atomization, but the thinning is different than with lacquer. Very little water makes a much bigger difference than lacquer thinner in lacquer. So try 5 percent or so at first and see how this works.

The problem with water is that it has a high surface tension, so it might not improve flow-out at all. It also might increase grain raising. So a better reducer is usually a glycol-ether solvent. The one commonly available is ethylene glycol monobutyl ether. It is sold under a number of names, including EB, butyl cellosolve and 2-butoxyethanol. Take a look at the ingredients on the can or at the MSDS to be sure this is what you’re getting.

Adding EB directly to the finish is usually a bad idea, however, because the solvent shocks the finish into crystallizing. It’s better to mix the solvent half-and-half with water, then add it. This usually works well and creates better flow-out. Keep the amount you add very small, however, until you figure out what works best with your specific brand of finish.

Also, keep in mind that temperature affects water-based finishes more than it does solvent finishes. For every 10-degree drop in temperature the viscosity increases by 10 percent. You might find that the best solution for your problems is just to raise the temperature in your spray area.

Other tricks you can use are to store your water-based finishes in a heated office overnight if you lower the shop temperature and to use heating pads, bucket heaters or inline material heaters.

Better prep
I see instructions to sand to a finer grit (280–400) to reduce grain raising. I haven’t experienced this and it’s a lot of work to sand to that fine a grit.

I think it’s more important to pay close attention to sanding the first coat smooth before applying the second. Once the first coat is smooth to the touch, the next coat of any finish will go on smooth as long as the finish is atomized well. It takes more work to get the first coat of water-based finish smooth, however, than it takes with solvent finishes.

Because of the grain-raising problem, some manufacturers promote their water-based stains and finishes for reduced grain raising. Be doubtful.

Though improvements are being made, water-based finishes dry slower than lacquers. Moreover, you don’t have solvents you can add to speed the drying as you do with lacquer. Adding acetone to a water-based finish only causes problems.

So the best way to speed the drying of water-based finishes, especially in humid conditions, is with airflow or heat. Airflow can be from the draw of the spray booth or from fans. Be sure the air being circulated is clean or you’ll introduce debris into the finish.

You can also use lamps to speed the drying or, of course, warm the air in the spray area.

One of the biggest differences switching from a lacquer to water-based finish is the increased difficulty of cleaning spray guns and equipment. Simply running water, warm water or soapy water through the gun and other equipment doesn’t work well in my experience, especially with spray guns. There’s almost always some finish left in recesses and it will harden there and be difficult to remove.

There are three possible solutions to this: The first is to disassemble the spray gun at the end of each spraying session and scrub the finish from the parts with a stiff brush.

The second is to use a mixture of water and glycol-ether solvent to spray through the gun and/or to scrub the disassembled parts.

The third is to use a special gun-cleaning solvent supplied by the finish or spray-gun manufacturer.

Another difference from lacquer is that water-based finish tends to collect on the fluid nozzle right at the tip of the needle. This happens because the water-based finish isn’t being redissolved by the thinner.

You need to be aware of this buildup and clean it off whenever it occurs or it could be blown onto the finish surface and leave a bump.


Staining is more complicated with water-based finishes than with solvent finishes. If you use a water-based stain, you experience much faster drying than with oil stains. You might need two people — one applying and the other wiping off — to be successful on large surfaces.

Using an oil stain can present a bonding problem with the finish. You can let the stain dry longer or use heat to get it to dry faster. Some water-based finishes bond well over some oil stains depending on the formulations of each. Check with your supplier, then test well.

You can also use a water-based spray/no-wipe stain. The effect you get is different because of reduced pore definition, but it might work with your objectives. Spray/no-wipe stains (also called spray-to-color stains) are highly thinned so you don’t get striping. They are meant to be sprayed in three or four passes.

Tint the finish

The final tip concerns dealing with the cold appearance of most water-based finishes when compared to lacquers. Often a stain underneath takes care of this, but if you aren’t staining, you might want to add a little water-soluble dye to the finish to warm it up.

Bob Flexner is author of “Understanding Wood Finishing” and “Wood Finishing 101.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue.

Source: Helpful hints for applying water-based finishes | Woodshop News

Upton Cape impresses with custom woodwork throughout 158 South St., Upton; $599,900

By John R. Ellement GLOBE STAFF JUNE 11, 2015
It was an unusual decision that had a marvelous result. When the current owners had this oversized Cape built, they took on the task of finishing every room themselves. It took 5½ years, but the attention to detail and custom woodwork shows there is nothing amateur about what these “This Old House” fans did.

Off the main entry, a pair of French doors leads to the study and its built-in cabinetry, floor-to-ceiling wainscoting, antique reproduction sconces, and a fireplace mantel based on a design from Norm Abrams’s “New Yankee Workshop.”
Across the hall, the formal dining room is rich in tall baseboards and crown dentil molding.

The circa 1900 chandelier (not included in the sale, but negotiable) showcases the intricate “Arbutus” wallpaper by 19th-century designer William Morris.

The dining room leads to the eat-in kitchen, which features high-end stainless-steel appliances, custom birch cabinets with lighting above and below, a center island with room for two stools, and an accent wall of white subway tiles that mimics the backsplash.

From here, the ceiling height grows to nine feet in the step-down family room whose focal point is a handmade wood mantel that counterpoints Morris’s “Willow Boughs” wallpaper and is flanked by windowed nooks.

The flooring in the home is white oak, including on the second floor, which has the classic attributes of a Cape — the rooms are shaped by the roof lines and dormers — but none of its limitations.

In the master suite, the bedroom features two large dormers that channel sunlight into the space with dramatic effect, and it is large enough to easily accommodate a king-sized bed.

The full bath comes with a deep soaking tub, a double vanity with black granite countertop, a separate shower, and a water closet. The sitting room is conveniently located next to the walk-in closet.

The other two bedrooms offer good closet space and, like the master, are sunny and airy because the rear dormer runs the length of the second floor.

The basement is partially finished (but not by the homeowner) and includes a media room with a propane-gas fireplace, custom sconces, crown molding, aboveground windows, and laminate flooring. The bath with shower boasts a polished-marble floor. There is a large workshop space and an office. The home, set on a hill on 2.68 acres, has a two-car garage and an ipe deck.

Judy Leonelli of Millennium Realty in Mendon will hold an open house on Sunday, June 14, from noon to 2 p.m.


Style: Cape

Year built: 1999

Square feet: 3,469

Bedrooms: 3

Baths: 3 full, one half

Water/Sewer: Private

Taxes: $8,905 (2015)


More from Address:
Your winter home checklist
What is it like to live in Topsfield?
Home of the week: At Dorchester town house, master suite deck with fireplace
Rob Robillard’s Ask the Carpenter columns
Write at home: Blogger transformes 1960s ranch from ‘nasty’ to beautiful
John R. Ellement can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe. Send listings to Please note: We do not feature unfurnished homes and will not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.


Why Wood is Best for Building

OLYMPIA, WA – Laying out the case for wood construction over steel, concrete and bricks, the Innovative Wood Products Collaborative notes that as timber grows, it soaks up carbon dioxide. That carbon is stored in wood products, a carbon sink that mitigates climate change.

About half of the dry weight of wood is stored carbon;  while 16 percent of global fossil fuel goes into making steel, bricks and concrete. At details are presented about these and other benefits of building with wood.

The Innovative Wood Products Collaborative launch its website – – Sept. 11.

The new site is the product of a collaboration between Washington and Oregon sustainable forestry managers, wood products manufacturers, conservationists, academics and architects to highlight the latest information about using innovative wood products from sustainably managed forests.

Wood – the only building material that is grown by the power of the sun – is a renewable resource that has a low carbon and energy footprint. Using wood from sustainably managed forests will significantly reduce carbon emissions from the building sector.

As timber grows, it soaks up carbon dioxide – about half the dry weight of wood products – a carbon sink that  mitigates climate change.

According to a Yale University study, substituting wood for more energy-intensive building materials would reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by 14 to 31 percent because wood consumes much less energy than concrete or steel construction.

“Wood construction is incredibly fast and effective, with the added benefit of producing a building that stores carbon rather than emitting it,” says Canadian architect Michael Green. “The only way to achieve a net-zero building is to build with wood.”

As timber grows, it soaks up carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, and that carbon is stored in wood products. This creates a carbon sink that helps mitigate climate change. About half of the dry weight of wood is stored carbon. In contrast, 16 percent of global fossil fuel consumption goes into manufacturing steel, concrete and bricks.

“This collaboration between Oregon and Washington sustainable forest growers and manufacturers is capturing the recent wave of recognition among architects, builders and conservation groups that wood products have real carbon benefits, and can be used in tall buildings,” says Mark Doumit, executive director of the Washington Forest Protection Association.


Tallest Wood Building On the Rise

Cross laminated timbers are being used in mass quantities for the tallest wood building so far: a 121-unit, 10-story  apartment complex  in London.

Wood products are carbon-negative because they sequester and store carbon,” says Joseph Mayo, a designer at Mahlum Architects in Seattle. “There is no other natural building material like wood. Increasing the use of wood also supports local jobs and industry.”

“The forest landowners and lumber manufacturers in the Pacific Northwest are the largest supplier of wood building materials in the nation,” says Paul Barnum, executive director of the Oregon Forest Resources Institute. “Using those wood products in new and better ways will benefit both the environment and the economies of Oregon and Washington.”

Wood’s strength-to-weight ratio is comparable to concrete and steel. Engineered wood products such as cross-laminated timber (CLT), glue-laminated timber (glulam) and laminated veneer lumber (LVL) make it possible to build taller wood structures. These mass timber construction materials are highly fire-resistant and cost-effective. Prefabricated CLT panels can also be installed quickly, speeding up construction time.

“As global demand for wood continues to increase with population, we need to be sourcing our timber from sustainably managed forests,” says Thomas Maness, dean of the Oregon State University College of Forestry. “The most environmentally sustainable place to grow wood is right here in the Pacific Northwest.”

The Stella  apartment complex completed in 2013 in Marina del Rey, CA, with work by Larrabure Framing of Chatsworth, CA, includes two buildings, 244 units, 650,466 square feet total, and cost $65 million.

About the Innovative Wood Products Collaborative: The Innovative Wood Products Collaborative is co-sponsored by the Oregon Forest Resources Industries and the Washington Forest Protection Association to promote the use of wood from sustainably managed forests in the Pacific Northwest.

About the Oregon Forest Resources Institute: The Oregon Legislature created the Oregon Forest Resources Institute in 1991 to advance public understanding of the state’s forest resources and to encourage environmentally sound forest management through training and other educational programs for forest landowners. OFRI is funded by a dedicated harvest tax on forest products producers. For more information, go to

About the Washington Forest Protection Association:
The Washington Forest Protection Association is a trade association representing private forest landowners in Washington state. Members of the 100-year-old association are large and small companies, individuals and families who practice sustainable forestry in Washington’s private forests on about 4 million acres of forestland. WFPA is committed to advancing sustainable forestry in Washington to provide forest products and environmental benefits to the public. For more information, go to

SOURCE Innovative Wood Products Collaborative

A New Woodworking Academy Headed to National Prominence

The Peyton, CO School District has taken the first step to creating a woodworking program that will become national in scale. That first step was the opening of a dedicated woodworking school in Peyton, CO on the site of a former middle school campus. Enrollment in the current academic year is expected to reach 60 students. For the 2016-2017 school year, 120 students are expected.

The secondary-level educational program draws students from surrounding school systems to the program, formally called the Career Technology Education Facility. In addition to the woodworking program, courses in automotive technology are also offered. Tim Kistler is Superintendent of the overall program at the Peyton CTE.

The Peyton School District Woods Manufacturing Program is headed by Dean Mattson, the WMIA Wooden Globe Educator of the Year winner. Mattson is also a member of the Woodworking Career Alliance, and a certified tester – so students completing the program at Peyton will have ready access to the WCA tools mastery credentialling process.


Call for a National Woodworking Academy

What if the wood industry launched its own model of classroom education in a cutting edge training center? Award winning educator Dean Mattson challenges suppliers.


Mattson says the school has received commitments approaching $1 million in support from woodworking machinery and supplies companies in anticipation of a new national academy.  The Peyton School District expects to establish that national academy in January 2017.

The board of directors of the school district has provide strong support and advocacy for the creation of the national woodworking academy, and the for the Woods Manufacturing Program that launched this year. This has garnered significant backing from industry suppliers, with more than two dozen listed as partners who have readily supported the program in kind, and financially. On Oct. 26 an appreciation dinner will be held followed by an open house Oct. 27 at which suppliers will be able to tell students about the importance of the school and its missions to the woodworking industry.