LoneStar Artisans acquires the BoardSMITH

In the four years I’ve been doing this for a living, there’s been one guy out there who set the standard of excellence in butcher block: David Smith of the BoardSMITH. I recently learned that he was retiring, and reached out to him. He was extremely gracious, and was willing to invest time and effort in me to allow me to do what I do better. After numerous conversations, we have now worked out an arrangement that will allow me to be the steward of his business, continuing his tradition of excellence in craftsmanship under the BoardSMITH brand. Going forward, LoneStar Artisans will focus primarily on fine furniture and cabinetry. The BoardSMITH will focus on butcher block and perhaps some other kitchen-related items.

Dave flew from High Point, North Carolina to Dallas and spent the entire week with me last week. His attention to detail is incredible, and his approach is one of the most deeply thought-out I’ve ever seen. We made a whole bunch of sawdust together, and my ultimate goal is to reproduce butcher block that will be indistinguishable from those that David produced himself.

His website should be fully up and running again next week, and we are both excited to see where this will go.

The very last butcher block cutting board that David made before closing up his North Carolina shop was a maple with walnut border (dubbed, “Tail End Charlie”). And the very first board we made together in Dallas was that same style of board, seen in the picture.



(Photo credit: Barb Haseman)

Featured on Texas Homes For Sale

I was just interviewed for Texas Homes for Sale. Here’s the link:


And here’s the article:

Expert Tips on Custom-Designed Furniture for Your Home: An Interview with John Loftis of Lonestar Artisans

By John Loftis

Tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

LoneStar Artisans creates hand-made, heirloom-quality furniture and cabinetry. Our principle market is Texas, but we’ve shipped custom pieces to clients all over the world. Our philosophy is in stark contrast to the cheap, disposable, imported furniture that is mass-produced these days.

What are the latest trends of furniture design that you build for people’s homes?

Two popular trends right now are live edge tables and furniture made from reclaimed wood. With live edge tables, I work in partnership with my sawmill to find really extraordinary slabs of wood. Rather than milling the lumber in a traditional rectangular shape, they flatten the two faces and leave the edge alone, resulting in a beautiful, organic feel that follows the natural contours of the tree trunk. In the last month, I’ve made a live edge walnut kitchen island top, a dining room table, and two conference tables. They are challenging to make, but it is a lot of fun to let the natural beauty of the wood shine through.

With reclaimed wood, customers are generally looking for a rustic/distressed feel and often like the idea of re-purposing old wood. It can be challenging (and expensive) to find just the right pieces of reclaimed lumber, but the results can be really beautiful. Furniture made from reclaimed lumber can also have really great stories. I made a coffee table out of lumber from a 120-year old barn in North Dakota and am currently working on 3 desks out of reclaimed pine flooring from a really old building torn down in Dallas.

What are the biggest differences between a custom-designed and a ready-made piece of furniture?

With custom-made furniture, the answer is almost always “yes.” You don’t have to settle for cookie-cutter pieces. I can make you exactly what you want. And I love to collaborate with customers, lending my design experience so that we can come up with something truly extraordinary.

The flip side of this, of course, is price. Hand-crafted custom furniture is more expensive than mass-produced furniture. And it takes time for me to make each piece, so there isn’t the instant gratification of taking it home today.

What are your personal favorite advantages of using custom furniture that you can share?

The biggest advantage of custom furniture is getting a piece that has been built to last. Solid wood tables can be refinished if they get banged up rather than being left out in the alley on heavy trash day. Dovetailed drawers should hold up 50 years from now, when you pass the piece on to your children. It’s an important philosophical distinction, I think. You can either get something beautiful and hand-made, with the intention of keeping it, enjoying it, and then passing it on to future generations. Or you can buy an inexpensive thing that you will discard after a few years once it starts falling apart.

When I started LoneStar Artisans, I did so because I felt like there was already enough “fast food” out there in the marketplace. Craftsmanship is disappearing, and I wanted to create a company that really celebrates well-made things.

Can you briefly describe the main steps of the design process?

It’s all about collaboration. Some customers know exactly what they want; others only have a vague idea. In our initial meeting, I listen and ask lots of questions. I’ve found that pictures are extremely helpful, so I love to send customers to “idea” websites like houzz.com to get inspiration and show me what they like. I tell customers it won’t bother me at all if they send me lots of information. The more I know, the better able I am to create something they love. Once we’ve gone back and forth and settled on a design, I almost always create a 3D rendering of the piece to ensure that we are on the same page with the final design.

Interestingly, the majority of my customers don’t meet me in person. We do almost all of our collaboration via the phone and e-mail, which saves a ton of time. Some customers still want to look me in the eye, which I totally understand. But the Internet can really streamline the process.

What advice would you give someone who wants custom-designed furniture but is afraid they won’t be able to afford it?

I never play games with price. So the best thing you can do is to be honest with me about your budget. If there’s a number we need to be under, then I’ll do my best to come up with a design that allows us to meet that budget. Sometimes there are simple design changes that can really save money. As long as we don’t compromise on craftsmanship or quality, I’m happy to try to save customers money.

I do need to give a caveat though. Every week, I’ll get at least one call from someone who wants me to make a less expensive version of a desk they saw at Ikea. It’s just not going to happen. Custom furniture is always going to cost more than mass-produced stuff. So if your budget is tight, it is always better to have that conversation early rather than later in the process.

What’s the best way for people to contact you and your company?

E-mail is great: john@lonestarartisans.com or I can be reached on my cell at: 469-387-8581. Our website is www.lonestarartisans.com.

– See more at: http://www.texashomesforsale.com/articles/expert-tips-on-custom-designed-furniture-for-your-home#sthash.I8uI1yvg.dpuf

They like us… they really like us!

Somehow, our company completely missed this announcement, but we are grateful for the honor (even if it happened six months ago)!


PALO ALTO, Calif., February 4, 2014 – Houzz (www.houzz.com), the leading platform for home remodeling and design, today announced that LoneStar Artisans has been awarded the Best Of Houzz 2014, a homeowner to homeowner guide to the top home buildersarchitectsinterior designerscontractors and other residential remodeling professionals on Houzz, both in the U.S. and around the world.

“By providing homeowners with the most comprehensive view of home professionals – from images of their work and client reviews to an opportunity to interact directly with them on the Houzz site and app – Houzz empowers homeowners to find and hire the right professional to execute their vision,” said Liza Hausman, vice president of community. “Each year, our community of homeowners and home design enthusiasts recognizes the home building, remodeling & design professionals delivering the best customer experience and the most inspiring and innovative designs.”

The Best Of Houzz award is given in two categories: Customer Satisfaction and Design. Customer Satisfaction honors are determined by a variety of factors, including the number and quality of client reviews a professional received in 2013. Design award winners’ work was the most popular among the more than 16 million monthly users on Houzz, known as “Houzzers,” who saved more than 230 million professional imagesof home interiors and exteriors to their personal ideabooks via the Houzz site, iPad/iPhone app and Android app. Winners will receive a “Best Of Houzz 2014” badge on their profiles, showing the Houzz community their commitment to excellence. These badges help homeowners identify popular and top-rated home professionals in every metro area on Houzz.

About Houzz
Houzz is the leading platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish – online or from a mobile device. From decorating a room to building a custom home, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals across the country and around the world. With the largest residential design database in the world and a vibrant community powered by social tools, Houzz is the easiest way for people to get the design inspiration, project advice, product information and professional reviews they need to help turn ideas into reality. For more information, visit www.houzz.com

The Loser of the Pittsburgh Marathon


My wife and I were spectators at the Pittsburgh Marathon this weekend.  As we watched from the 11-mile mark, the African runners passed us in a flash, the first drops of water in a coming storm. Then the torrent began in earnest, with a constant stream of 30,000 runners thundering by. We cheered for the effortless runners at the front of the pack. We cheered for the runners in the middle who had trained for this for years. We cheered for the folks at the back who were about to lose a lung. And then, inevitably, the storm dissipated as the torrent became a trickle and the final runners limped past. And then there was silence as we waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, Jonathan Powell turned the corner and crossed the Birmingham Bridge.

Jonathan is not the poster child for a marathon runner. He’s short. He’s heavy. He wears thick glasses. As he turned that corner and headed towards us, he was tired but smiling, decked out in a bright purple shirt from the Team in Training charity that he loves so much. Jonathan is a pediatric oncologist and he was sporting a bright orange digital watch, a gift from a young boy under his care at the DuPont Hospital for Children.  This young boy was worried that a car might hit Johnathan while he ran the marathon, so he used his Make a Wish money to buy Dr. Jonathan a brightly-colored watch as a warning to passing cars.

Inevitably, the yellow ‘sweeper’ school bus pulled up behind Jonathan and offered to give him a ride to the finish line. Traffic needed to resume, after all. He politely declined. He’d made a promise to ‘his’ kids that he was going to finish this marathon. And beneath the smile, there was steel in his eyes. He was going to finish.

At mile 15, a police officer gently asked that Jonathan move over to the sidewalk. So he did. The crowds were gone by then. There was only Jonathan, flanked and protected from oncoming vehicles by his dogged Team in Training coach, Angela Flannagan.

At mile 20, he had nothing left physically. But the same strength that allowed him to finish a pediatric oncology residency, that allowed him to hold the hands of hundreds of worried parents as days turned to weeks and months, that allowed him to smile through the tears as he cared for children who were suffering with leukemia and lymphoma—that same strength let him keep…moving…forward.

At mile 25, we joined Jonathan on the sidewalk. We made our way together down the gentle decline on Liberty Avenue and turned into downtown. We crossed Third and Grant, and Smithfield, and Wood Street, and Market. Jonathan’s wife and three kids joined us there, and we kept moving forward.

The loser of the Pittsburgh Marathon crossed the finish line at the eight-hour mark. Of course, the Finish Line was gone by that time, as were the banners and the crowds. There was the just the street littered with trash and steel scaffolding and barricades being disassembled by a construction crew. When the crew saw Jonathan, they put down their wrenches, set down whatever they were carrying, and started to cheer. With no other fanfare, the loser of the Pittsburgh Marathon was celebrated briefly but loudly by a rag-tag band of friends, family, and construction workers. And it was beautiful. The loser of the Pittsburgh Marathon is more than my friend. He is my hero.

Mile 11: Heading to the Birmingham Bridge in Pittsburgh

Mile 11: Heading to the Birmingham Bridge in Pittsburgh

John Loftis, Jonathan Powell, and Angela

Mile 25, heading towards the finish line

World’s Most Expensive Cutting Board


At long last, I wanted to document the process of building this crazy cutting board, the one purchased (in part) with the dalbergia cochinchinensis in the previous two posts. I’ve also been wanting to write about fear for about six months now, but that will have to wait.

Anyway, you might or might not recall that Lee, the customer, asked me to build the cutting board that I’d always wanted to build but had never attempted. The only other guidance he gave were the rough dimensions and the woods he wanted used. He selected bloodwood, a rare, reddish-maroon South American exotic hardwood, blackwood, a really rare, African hardwood, and Rock maple.

This is an end-grain cutting board, AKA butcher block. Making stripes in end grain wood is deceptively complex. In fact, this cutting board required 16 different glue-ups over the course of a month. The bloodwood and blackwood are so expensive that I was pretty nervous each time I made a cut. During the course of all the glue-ups and board flattening, I sanded away over 1/4″ of the thickness of the cutting board (that’s a lot of sanding). For you non-woodworkers out there, it might be better just to skim the pictures to avoid going into a coma from the wood-nerditry.

The first step for me was settling on a design. I went through a bunch of iterations on Sketchup, then brought in an artist friend and we played arts and crafts with construction paper until we got a layout we liked.

Sketchup design 2

Sketchup design 2

I’ll be honest; I’ve never made red sawdust before. Bloodwood has an unbelievable smell when it is cut… like warm cotton candy.

Image 2 Red sawdust

First, glue it up into strips…Image 3 first glue-up

Then, cross-cut those strips and clamp up…


Image 4 Second glue-up

Blank Canvas.

Image 5 blank canvas


Arts & Crafts design tweaking with April Ashton. Note the bohemian lack of footwear (hobbit feet mine, not April’s).



Image 6 finalizing the design



Lots of glue-ups for the different stripes…




Image 8 maple glue up

Image 7 maple glue ups

Image 9 blackwood glue ups


Now we start cutting up the board. Note for woodworkers: If you are going to add a 1″ wide stripe, you must remove 1″ in width from the cutting board. You can’t just make a slice through the cutting board and call it ‘good.’ If you do that, nothing will be square or line up. The easiest way to do this is to lay the actual stripe you will be using on your cutting board, and scribe lines on each side of it. This will show you what needs to be removed.

Laying out the first cut

Laying out the first cut

The boss inspecting my work

The boss inspecting my work

clamping it up

clamping it up

Note to woodworkers: clamping these angled cuts up is a complete pain in the rear. Nothing wants to stay square. You have to flush trim the edges of the stripe first, then clamp it together using cauls. You need 2-3 people to do this. Cussing optional.


Ready to scuba dive

Ready to scuba dive

Routing the groove for the next stripe

Routing the groove for the next strip

bandsawing it close to the line

bandsawing it close to the line


Image 15b smoothing the cut with a flush trim bit

Note for woodworkers: There are a couple ways to do the cut-outs for the stripes. You can route a shallow groove, then bandsaw it close to the edges of the groove, then flush trim it on the router table. Or you could use a Festool track saw with a good rip blade (this is a rip cut) if you have one. I tried it both ways, and thought the groove/bandsaw/flush trim method was more precise.



Fourth stripe

Fourth stripe

clamping the fourth stripe

clamping the fourth stripe

drum sanding again

drum sanding again

fifth stripe

fifth stripe

Image 21 Sixth stripeImage 22 fifth-sixth glue up

Lots of clamps

Lots of clamps

final stripe

final stripe

final sanding

final sanding

Cutting board in its final home in San Francisco, CA

Cutting board in its final home in San Francisco, CA

Cutting board in its final home in San Francisco, CA... sitting on a gorgeous table made of jarrah

Cutting board in its final home in San Francisco, CA… sitting on a gorgeous table made of jarrah


Will Work for Wood, Part 2

I didn’t realize there was going to be a Part 2 to the story, but we’ve got major wood drama! Stop the presses!

I asked a pen turner friend to make me a pen out of a chunk of cocobolo burl. When he began slicing it up, he grew suspicious and sent off a sample to a Dendrologist at an SEC university. The scientist did his thing, doing cellular analysis, burn tests, and other mystical incantations, and concluded that the wood is definitely NOT cocobolo burl. He believes it is actually dalbergia cochinchinensis, sometimes called Siamese Rosewood, Thailand Rosewood, Tracwood, or Flamewood.  It’s much harder to determine species with a piece of burl, since the grain patterns in burl are totally different than they are in traditional wood.

Will work for wood

A customer in California recently commissioned the most complex cutting board I’ve ever attempted. He said, “I know there’s a cutting board you’ve been wanting to attempt, but haven’t done it yet. Well… I want you to make that board for me.”  Turns out, he was right. There’s a cutting board I’ve been thinking about for years, now, but haven’t made it because of the level of effort required.  It will take about 20-30 separate glue-ups and probably around a month to complete.

Custom Anigre Desk

This was a really fun project and was a ‘first’ in many ways. Thus far, all of my furniture has been commissioned. This piece represents my first departure… my first speculative piece of furniture (gulp).  I absolutely love this desk and can say with a straight face that it’s the finest piece of furniture that I’ve ever made (in truth, 3 of us collaborated in making it). I hope someone else sees this and falls in love with it enough to buy it.

Bearings Magazine article on LoneStar Artisans

The editor of Bearings Magazine (http://southeast.bearingsguide.com/) decided to do a story about our little company! It went live today and I think the author did a fantastic job of capturing what we’re about.

Here’s the link to the article: http://southeast.bearingsguide.com/2012/11/02/restoring-american-craftsmanship/

BTW, Bearings Guide is a seriously cool magazine, their plug of me notwithstanding. Subscription is free. You should check them out.


Where did all the wood go???

There were a number of trade publications that excitedly announced the following yesterday:

U.S. Hardwood Exports Hit 72-Month High:

May’s hardwood lumber export data totaled 121.4 million board feet, the highest level in 72 months and the fifth highest monthly total ever. China shipments set a record. 

This is good news for hardwood sellers, I guess. And it might indicate that the global economy is improving. Hardwood is used to make stuff, after all. And if factories are making stuff, then it’s likely that people are buying stuff.  But I’ve got to admit, this headline makes me sad. Here are a few of the reasons: