My custom furniture process starts with selecting materials, which may seem uninteresting, but is the first step in creating a quality product. I hand-select individual hardwood boards or slabs from a regional hardwood dealer or local sawmill. For outdoor furniture I will only use woods that perform well in the outdoors.
I pay close attention to grain orientation, color matching, and potential weak points in each board, and select only those with appropriate qualities and/or character. I often select wood for each individual order, but I also keep a significant stock of a variety of species that can be used.
Once I get the wood to my shop, I often let it acclimate to the conditions for anywhere from 3 days to a month, depending on the thickness of the boards and the climate of the location where I acquired the materials relative to the climate of my shop. Thicker boards, more time, similar environmental conditions, less time. When drying whole slabs I check the moisture content using a moisture meter.
If the moisture content of the wood is already suitable for a finished piece, I may start the project right away. I may also use wood right away for pieces that will go outdoors. Acclimation helps prevent the wood from warping after the in-shop milling process.
This is in some ways the most important step. Once I receive a request for a custom piece, I spend the time necessary to flush out all the details by providing options for materials, joinery, and finish.
I'll collaborate with you to determine exactly what will create the piece you want to see. This step will include initial communications about what kind of custom woodwork you need, where it will be located, what function it will serve, and what sort of design elements you find appealing. These choices will determine various aspects of my recommendations for the materials, joinery, and finish. This process may include creating a 3D rendering of your project.
Once you have approved the final design of your custom furniture or woodwork, I will begin building your piece as soon as my schedule allows. This starts by going through the rough boards or slabs to select those I will be using to build your piece. During this step, I am even more careful about color and grain matching than I am while initially selecting materials at the hardwood dealer or sawmill.
Once wood is chosen, I decide what part or parts each board or slab will become, and then mill them to their rough dimensions. After finessing them to their final dimensions I create the joinery. Finally, I dry assemble the piece to check its fit, further finesse the joinery where necessary, then glue or otherwise join it together.
The final step before delivering the piece starts with surface preparation. This can include flush-trimming various parts of the joinery, easing edges by adding chamfers/roundovers, planing, scraping and sanding the wood surfaces to 220 grit or higher. The piece is thoroughly cleaned off to remove dust and debris.
The final finishing can be as simple as clear coating, or may involve other steps like dying or pigment staining the wood, and/or sealing then glazing. The final finish coats are applied, sanding between coats when necessary. Most pieces will be waxed in order to help prevent surface scratches.
Yes, I am willing to paint some pieces. Expensive hardwoods, and even softwoods with lots of character, in my opinion should not be painted. But there are some hardwoods I will paint (soft maple, alder, other low-cost or "boring" hardwoods), and many softwoods. I will also paint plywood pieces, so long as it is paint-grade plywood and not something like walnut veneered plywood.
If you want a painted piece, bear in mind the fact that it wouldn't be worth the expense of paying for a wood like walnut, or quartersawn white oak, or sapele, or any of the dozens of hardwoods that have tons of character and often have prices that reflect not only that character, but the scarcity and aesthetic value of these woods.