When Chris and I wanted to make something outside the realm of textiles, wood seemed like a logical choice. At every market we work, about half of the crafts people are making something out of wood, so why not us? All we had to do was figure out what to make. Then it dawned on us, the perfect complement to a necktie: a hand cut wooden tie bar. Most of the wooden tie bars we had seen had a piece of wood glued onto a mass produced metal clip, so we wanted to do something a little different. After sketching out a few prototypes, Chris and I were dead set on having a tie bar made completely out of wood.
We went searching for a wood shop that could help us realize our product and stumbled across a gem in the Santa Fe Art District: I Made It Workshops, a community woodworking shop that offers studio time and classes to teach people how to work with wood safely and responsibly. The best part? All of the wood they use is ethically harvested and sustainable. They even fell some of their own timber from kill beetle pine, which, if you're a Coloradoan, is a pretty big deal. After introducing myself to the owners, Francis and Loretta, and giving them an idea of what I was looking for, they got to work on a few prototypes for us.
Some amazing prototypes a la Francis
A few weeks later, Francis had whipped up a few examples for us, made entirely out of wood. We couldn't believe the results and were excited to get to work on our own versions of the wooden tie bars. We scheduled a meet-up and spent our first session with Francis going over the basics: how to use the tools, what types of wood were available to us, the proper precautions to use while working in the studio, and how to enjoy a cold IPA while working. (Did I mention that they offer a great selection of wine and beer during their classes? It's a pretty great place.)
Francis showing us the ropes with the table saw
A week later, Chris and I were finally ready to get into the studio and start working on our own concepts. We figured out what dimensions we wanted the tie bars to be, what types of wood we wanted to use, and got to work. I'll start by saying that we had a lot of trial and error; so much so that our tie bars went through the most intensive prototyping phase of any product we have ever made.
Sanding the tie tie bars down is crucial to getting a deep color and smooth texture before finishing
First, we wanted to make tie bars out of a single piece of wood. However, due to the dimensions we wanted our tie bars to be, the wood wouldn't hold up and snapped in half when cutting down to size on the table saw. Next, we tried gluing three separate pieces of wood together: one for the front, one for the back, and one as a joint piece between the two. This method was the most frustrating because we had to wait over a week for the resin to completely set. When we came back, we took our large piece of wood and started cutting smaller tie bars from it. Because the table saw moves so fast, tie bars were literally flying across the room. Some would smash and break into pieces, but others would survive. Those that did, however, went through several bending and straining tests to make sure they could hold up to regular wear and tear. The result? The resin would either give way or the wood would break at the grain. We were really pleased with how they looked, but we just couldn't be confident that they would hold up.
We loved the way the entirely wood tie bars looked, but...
... they just couldn't hold up to wear and tear.
I'll admit that after this, I was stubborn; I was overly set on making a tie bar completely out of wood. Chris tried to convince me to use a metal back, but I didn't want to do that, I was convinced that we could figure it out. I wanted everything to be made by hand, from scratch. Using a mass produced clip seemed counter intuitive to the ideals of HIM. Fortunately, Chris came up with a brilliant solution that saved our tie bars.
He drafted up a model that would use the wood as the front of the tie bar and a metal clasp as the back, BUT the metal clasp would be hand made. We would use a narrow piece of brass and bend it into a paper clip shape. Half of it would be inserted into a small hole in the back of the wood and the other half would curve around and meet the underside of the tie bar. It was the perfect solution and it maintained our handmade integrity!
Chris' ingenious solution!
The best part about this solution was that it opened the door to several different types of wood. Our original method required hardwoods in order to hold up when cutting, but now, because the woods wouldn't have as much strain on them, we could use any type of wood we wanted. And we did. We wanted some exotic woods and some domestic, so we settled on six different types of wood in total. A South American Padauk, an African Leopard Wood, and a Central American Purpleheart Wood would be our exotic woods and a Poplar, a Walnut, and a Maple would be our domestic woods. Whether it was the vibrant red of the Padauk or the faint green and purple tint of the Poplar, each wood had an incredibly different mood. We couldn't have been happier with the end result.
Left: Padauk, Leopard Wood, Purpleheart Wood; Right: Poplar, Walnut, Maple
And there you have it, the turbulent process to create wooden tie bars from scratch. A journey spanning months, causing many cuts and bruises, resulting in some amazing products staying true to our vision: handmade out of ethically harvested and sustainable woods.
Chris and I want to give a HUGE thank you to Francis and Loretta at I Made It Workshops for helping us with this project. We learned incredibly valuable skills, created some truly beautiful products, made a lasting local partnership, and it's all thanks to the amazing service you offer. If anyone ever has an opportunity to stop by or sign up for a class, you won't be disappointed. I know that I'll be back this summer to build an outdoor table for my patio!
The many chapters leading to our hand cut wooden tie bars