RIISKA DESIGN BLOG   |Woodworking Poetics

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Missionsleigher Bed

pat&edbed1The Missionsleiger Bed merges the vertical slats of the mission bed with the curved head and foot board of the Sleigh Bed. This bed features exposed bed bolts that come with a custom made key for tightening the head and foot board onto the base.  The bolts tighten into conveyor belt hardware formally in use on a Cannery Row conveyor belt in Monterey California.  The slats that hold the mattress on are made from recycled Cedar planks that smell good and naturally protect wool blankets from moths.  The head board, foot board and side boards are made of recycled Douglas Fir Wood found in Hollywood California.  The sleigh curves were drawn in 3d and milled on a CNC Mill.


The Cherry Patches add strength to the slats that were compromised by cracks in the old wood.


Joyce Kim’s beautiful photography  makes the head board look like painting by Peter Lodato. (Read more…)

POOF a field of marshmallow boxes


This is an installation titled “POOF a field of marshmallow boxes” that I had the pleasure to collaborated on with Wood Turner Sally Ault that was on display at the Patton-Malott Gallery at Anderson Ranch Arts Center nestled right next to Aspen in beautiful Snowmass, Colorado.

smell the flowers

The installation is made up of 147 recycled Oak Boxes that hold exactly one marshmallow each plus over 50 turned Aspen wood marshmallow flowers all on steam bent oak stems.  They grow out of a fallen aspen tree with turned Aspen mushrooms and microwave bent leaves culled from scraps of Persimmon and Oak sprouting up here, there and everywhere.

mbopening12Pluck!  Artist Collin McRae chooses her Marshmallow Box. For the opening we let all of the gallery visitors pick one marshmallow box off of its stem and take it home.    All you had to do was hold the stem, give it a little twist and pluck it is yours.  Each box was unique  because the Live Oak Dunnage they were made of has such amazing grain and character they all turned out different.  It was fun to watch who picked what box. Some had some obvious faults, holes through the top or bottom.  I like those the best.  Others found perfect boxes.  Somehow our choices seemed to reflect our personalities.  If you missed the opening you can still purchase the original Marshmallow Boxes from POOF. $60.00.

Field of Marshmallow Boxes Growing in Aspen

With the help of Artist and Print Maker Stefanie Dykes I created the series of Marshmallow Box Field Embossed Prints that line the back of the gallery.

Embossed Field of Marshmallow Boxes

First we did traditional hand rubbed block prints.   Then we experimented with using a woodworking vacuum press, used primarily to laminate wood together, to make this emboss. The final result is deepest emboss Stefanie has ever gotten. I think we invented a new embossing technique!


After making the hand rubbed block prints I turned the Persimmon wood block into a bench.  My drawing of a field of marshmallow blocks and flowers is carved into the top creating the relief we printed with.  Sitting on the bench the visitor is immersed in the installation.  They look through the bent and twisty stems with box and flowers perched on top to the embossed prints hung low on the wall to create the illusion the fields of boxes go on for ever. The funny thing I didn’t realize until Stefanie pointed out is that while you enjoy the show you are getting a marshmallow box field embossed on your bum.

Making Smores
 Outside we had more steam bent marshmallow sticks sharpened to a point perfect for skewers.  Thanks to Jason Schneider, Bonfire Master and expert S’mores maker, we had an amazing fire to roast marshmallows by plus all of the fixings to make grade A S’mores! (Read more…)

hugs and kisses belly table


The Hugs and Kisses Belly Table is made of recycled White Oak.  The bottom has carved bumps that tapper in size biggest in the middle to thin towards the edges.  There are 29 hand chiseled wood X shaped stitches that I snuck between the mounds on the bottom.  I was ten stitches in before I realized I was graffiting “xoxo” all over the bottom.  Hence the name.


The top has 23 stitches and lots of patches too.


Photographer Matt Lee taking photos.


Matt set up this shot.  He plans to comp it so I look like I am floating over LA.


This is a similar photo my friend Julia Wollenhaupt took when I lived in NYC circa 2004.  It is the third belly table I made.  Called the Triple Belly Table.  After I saw Matt’s photo I found this in a scrapbook.  Funny right?  The tables are getting better and I am getting worse. (Read more…)

Sessilanoid: A Sum of all Parts – Interactive Sculpture by James Peterson


I was lucky enough to experience Sessilanoid  in person and it was amazing!  Although you can’t interact with this film by James Mills it does a great job of capturing what fun it was being in the room with this sculpture by Los Angeles Artist James Peterson. (Read more…)

Grasshopper Lounge Chair for the LA Arboretum’s “Forces of Nature” Exhibition

Poof! The Persimmon tree downed in a catastrophic windstorm last December magically turned into this Grass Hopper Lounge Chair.

I am kidding.  The creation of this chair has been an epic journey from fallen tree to milled wood to a place to rest on.

It is up for Auction this Friday at “Forces of Nature” Artist Exhibition at the Los Angles Arboretum.  Luckily if you can’t make the auction you swing by Saturday and Sunday to see all of the amazing work that was created by artists from wood salvaged from the Arboretum’s 235 lost trees during a catastrophic windstorm last December.  The art will be sold throughout the three-day exhibit with a special reception on the one-year anniversary of the windstorm.  Proceeds will benefit the Arboretum tree fund.

The art exhibition is free November 30, December 1 & 2 from 9:00am-4:30 pm and is free with general admission to the Arboretum which is $15.00 for members and $20.00 for non members.  The Special Evening and Art Auction is Friday, 30 from 6:00 to 9:00.  The Live Auction begins at 8:00pm and is $15.00 for members and $20.00 for non members.  You can register for the reception by contacting Brittany Fabeck  at 626 821 3237 or email her at Brittany.Fabeck@arboretum.org

I know this is just the final product and I still have to show you how this piece came to life with the help of my friend Zachary Hoevet of the Forge Design Studio.  Stay tuned and we will show you how it was all done:)  In the mean time come on down! You are the next contestant at the LA Arboretum!


Slicing Up Bread

The last we spoke I had a bunch of wet Persimmon logs in the back of my truck from the Los Angeles Arboretum that we are going to transform into furniture for “Forces of Nature.”  Finally, I promised to show you pictures of milling the wood with Doctor Stranger and Rich, who is a woodworker and a Deep Space Communications Scientist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  As I promised, here we are with Brent Cashion from Urban Logs to Lumber, milling the fallen Persimmon tree from the Los Angeles Arboretum on Rich’s property in Altadena.

Here is a picture of sliced bread with Rich’s log roller leaning up against it. (Read more…)

Environmental Directions Radio with Nancy Pearlman

I had the honor of doing a radio interview with environmental guru Nancy Pearlman of Environmental Directions Radio Series.  I am surprised if you don’t know Ms. Pearlman becasue she is the most dedicated and prolific environmentalists I have met.  Ms. Pearlman is an award-winning broadcaster, environmentalist, college instructor, anthropologist, editor, producer, on-air personality, and outdoorswoman who has made safeguarding the earth’s ecosystems both a vocation and an avocation. For thirty-five years, she has given her time and energy to the environmental cause. She was selected by the United Nations Environment Programme as a Global 500 Laureate a title she shares with such prominant figures as Jimmy Carter and Jane Goodall.  This is just one recognition of Ms. Pearlman’s vast achievments.  If you don’t believe me just type in this evironmental wonderwoman’s name into google and you can see that the hits just don’t stop.

Environmental Directions is an international award-winning interview radio series airing on commercial, listen sponsored, and collage-sponsered stations as well as the internet.  The series has continued weekly since 1977 as the longest-running environmental program in the country.

You can listen to Ms. Pearlman’s on Itunes, Vimeo, www.radiofreeworld.com, 95.5 FM out of Fullerton College in Southern California on Friday at 6:00 PM, Saturday at 5:30AM, &Sunday at 9PM  Live simulcast and archival shows are on the internet at ww.kbpk-fm.com


Los Angeles Arboretum “Forces of Nature” You Must Choose Your Wood

The world famous designer, craftsmen, Doctor Stranger from Stranger Furniture invited me to partisipate in an event at “The Arboretum ,” Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, called “Forces of Nature” November 30 to December 2, 2012.   I sent images of my work to the show’s curator Leigh Adams and crossed my fingers.

On the one-year anniversary of the great windstorm that swept across Southern California toppling  thousands of trees, the Los Angeles Arboretum Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports the Arboretum, will host Forces of Nature, a curated exhibit featuring art inspired by the singular beauty and character of wood.

The show will commemorate the 235 trees lost from the Arboretum’s living botanical collection of over 15,000 plants.  From this legacy of magnificent wood that ranged from native oaks to exotic species from around the world, invited artists and artisans will create work that will include expressive sculpture, furniture, implements and other functional art. The exhibit will be curated by Leigh Adams, a San Gabriel Valley artist well known for her work with glass and other natural materials, as well as landscape installations at the Arboretum.

Forces of Nature will open to the general public for the weekend and feature a reception and auction the evening of Saturday, December 1st.  Event proceeds support ongoing restoration efforts that will ensure the Arboretum remains one of Southern California’s great places to discover and appreciate the beauty of the natural world.

 Artists and artisans will display sculptures, furniture, bowls, jewelry and other artwork specially created from salvaged wood from the hundreds of trees downed by last December’s windstorm. The art pieces will be shown at the Forces of Nature exhibit at the Arboretum from November 30 to December 2.

(Read more…)

Jai&Jai Opening


In the early evening Spring street in Los Angeles’s Chinatown is filled with the tempting scents of delicious food.  The Mayflower Seafood Restaurant lures you in with the scent of rich Chinese dishes. Having been in business for over 26 years, this restaurant knows how to make great food.  Down the block Authentic Thai draws you towards them with the promise of spicy Thai peppers and aromatic fresh basil. However, you might notice something else.  Could that be BBQ in Chinatown? Sure is. Hickory smoked glory fills the air with tang and bang. It is The Spring Street Smoke House that might just win the tug a war for your scent and appetite. Especially when you consider their selection of fine beer.  Anyway you choose you are going to win.

Jai&Jai Studios is the bright red door next to the Spring Street BBQ.  If you peek through the window this is what you will see.  Actually, not anymore.  We took the show down three days ago.  Oh. . .don’t be sad.  It was a great show and there is better still to come from Jai&Jai! We even had a few nice articles written about the show including one from the Huffington Post with the title “Everything Solid Melts into Air,” and this one from the Blog Downtown “Artist displays furniture upside down in Chinatown.”  Thank you Harris Silver and Sonali Kohli for gifting us your pen craft!

Hanging from the ceiling my Dragon Table glides through the gallery.  When I first saw the space I imagined the tables like this and I made the mistake of telling the Jai&Jai owners.  Sure enough they held me to it.  They insisted on curating the show so that the details I have been hiding underneath my tables were exposed.

We made nine feet of grain matched marshmallow boxes for the opening.  Each box held one fresh little marshmallow sugar puff.  A wooden box frames the marshmallow so you see it in a different light.  It looks like a little button so you won’t recognize it at first.  When you finally do recognize it you experience a little joy.  You remember a time when you roasted marshmallows on a campfire and made Smores with chocolate and graham crackers or made Rice Krispies Treats and inevitably you smile.  Really the marshmallow box is the theme for the whole show.  By showing my work upside down, hanging it from the ceiling and the wall we are attempting to present my work in a different light or frame.  So perhaps you won’t recognize it as a table, chair, or coat rack, or coaster at first.  Instead you notice the design, details and craft.  Then you imagine it sitting properly on the floor and you smile.

And it was all possible because of these two sisters.  Jomjai and Jaitip Srisomburananont are two young women with a mission to explore and promote Los Angeles artists through original creations and exhibitions.  With Jai & Jai they aim to create a vibrant discourse surrounding emergent and traditional design and I am honored that they started the conversation by curating their first show with my work.  They have the talent to do it too.  Jomjai leads up the business side with a degree in economics and her experience working in international business, and Jaitip has a graduate and undergraduate graduate degree in architecture and is an artist and designer whose most recent work includes a soon to be released line of collectible vinyl toys called “Stubbs and Lulu.” (Read more…)

Jai & Jai Studios Presents “Wrong Side Up”


You are invited to the premiere of Jai & Jai Gallery in Chinatown, Los Angeles where I am displaying my wares upside down to celebrate dyslexia, reverse psychiatry, and the long lost rewind button.  The gallery owners Jaitip and Jomjai  are both Srisomburananonts.  No that doesn’t mean Astronaut in Thai.  It is their last name.  Nor are they life partners.  They are sisters with their fingers on the pulse of the new design wave that is about to engulf your house like a tsunami!  But with positive affects that enhance your life like fun, functional design and none of the negative conotations assosiate with… well. . . never mind.

The point is you are invited to come see all of the carvings and details I have been hiding under my furniture without having to bend down and crawl on the floor.  I know that is really going to pull people in.  Come to my show you get to stand!  You also get to drink vodka with Izzy Soda’s plus wine, beer  and eat some snicky snacks.  Most importantly you get to see my furniture Wrong Side Up! (Read more…)

Construction Coasters

Check out this fun sculpture my friend Corbin made with my new Construction Coasters.  They are simple square coasters with half lap notches cut out of the sides so you can link them together in many different creative formations.   Think of them like Legos with a purpose. 

I chose to show you this form out of the many sculptures you can create becasue it also has a function.  It is perfect for displaying your favorate spirits such as vodka, scotch or even wine like this bottle of Sofia Riesling by Francis Coppola.

Witness the utilitarian function of a single coaster as it protects the table from rings created by sweating glasses.  If you have grown up in the era of use and discard furniture you might not understand the purpose of a coaster.  In our modern times you can buy a cheap table abuse it, toss it in a land fill and purchase another table of the same descent cheap.  But virtually all finishes that you might find on a table are susceptible to rings from sweating glasses.  Therefore, if you have a nice table that you want to last for years or you want to take a green stance and stop filling up landfills with ruined furniture my Construction Coasters are perfect for you!  Plus playing with coasters is a great way to get your guest to use coasters with out nagging them.  So have fun, create, and protect the things you love!

LA Box Collective’s THE DUNNAGE SHOW at Inheritance


The LA Box Collective’s (BoxCo) will present their first collaborative body of work, on November 3, 2011, at Inheritance in Los Angeles, CA.

Using their partnered acquisition of 12 tons of “dunnage” and decades of combined experience as artisan woodworkers, BoxCo will take a creative look at lumber headed for the landfill and give it new life, purpose and function.

What is “dunnage”? Before 80% of the earth’s old growth forest had been cleared, entire barns were constructed in, now coveted, walnut. Dunnage, the square pieces of wood used as support and padding in building, shipping and trucking, were made of high quality wood species, like old growth oaks and elm. These days, dunnage is made from plastic, and most of  the prior iterations were discarded or used for firewood. Discovered in July 2009, via a Craig’s List posting from another dedicated re claimer, the mixed hardwood dunnage, stored for years in neat, orderly stacks of 4 inch by 5 inch by 4 foot pieces of wood will be used primarily, if not exclusively, to craft all original and unique pieces.

Work in progress to be shown includes the “Cloud Pony” bench by Andrew Riiska (www.riiskadesign.com), stools by Casey Dzierlenga a Shinto bench by Samuel Moyer, (www.samuelmoyerfurniture.com), a children’s eating table and chairs by Cliff Spencer, a woven screen by David Johnson (www.sidecarfurniture.com) as well as new work by William Stranger (www.strangerfurniture.com) and Robert Apodaca (www.fifthfloor.com


About LA Box Collective

LA Box Collective is a group of Los Angeles-based, professional furniture designer-makers, committed to environmentally-conscious design and production. While working in various modern styles, the individual furniture makers that make up BoxCo are devoted to fine craftsmanship, sound design, and the use of long-lasting, reclaimed, and other sustainable materials. The group has come together to showcase what Los Angeles has to offer in the way of beautiful design, local craftsmanship and sustainability. Sustainability is not a new idea, but the imperative to live a sustainable life is. “We are radically rewinding our approach to a time when value was placed on fine craftsmanship, long-lasting materials and sound design. Looking forward, we value the precious materials that our society wastes.” – from L.A. Box Collective mission statement

Why the “box” collective? Every piece of furniture, from a cabinet to a chair, is essentially a box. It has a bottom, sides and a top. Though a box appears to be a simple woodworking endeavour, it embodies all the skills a woodworker must master to make it right.

The makers of LA Box Collective can be viewed as a group at laboxcollective.com

About Inheritance

Dan Zelen opened the store Zelen in 2004. He transformed a crumbling former loft and storeroom into a unique gift and design shop. Zelen carried a mixture of modern and vintage furniture, accessories, artifacts, and curiosities. Michael William Andrews took over the store in 2008 and has continued Dans’ eclectic design asthetic and detailed curation. Recently Michael changed the name to Inheritance.

Inheritance 8055 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048, P.323.658.6756, F.888.660.3750, www.inheritanceshop.com

Photos will be available after the event upon request.

Contact: Leigh Spencer 310.823.0112 office@cliffspencer.net






God Save the Queen Bee Hive

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A collaboration with Walker and Will Rollins of 100xbtr.

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This is a quick animation of how this bee hive stacks and unstacks.

A carving of a bee on honey comb is milled into one panel of each four sided cube that make this Japanese style bee hive called a “Multi Tiered Box”

Five of these cubes stack up to make the body of the hive.

There is also a lid and on top of the lid is the roof.

The lid is tied on with a hemp rope that goes through a heavy cement base. The lid and the cement base sandwich the five tiers of the hive, the grand entrance way and the slanted landing pad together anchoring the whole hive solidly to the earth. The roof fits on top like a cap shielding the hive from sun and rain.

How did I get “roped” into making this Bee Hive?  Its a long story. (Read more…)

Cloud Pony Bench

This bench is inspired by puffy down coats, rubber rafts, a bugs view of corduroy and the Michelin Man’s belly.

Finished the bottom looks cloud like and compared to the 14′ Dragon Table, of which this shares similar traits, this modest 30″L x 19″W x 19″H bench looks like a pony.

Naturally, I designed it to appear puffy and light because its future home is the entrance way of a high rise apartment in New York City.  Since it will live so far off the ground I thought having a cloud belly would help it make other cloud friends.


It is made from reclaimed spalted oak dunnage.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Dunnage is a term with a variety or related meanings. Typically dunnage is inexpensive or waste material used to protect and load securing cargo during transportation. Dunnage also refers to material used to support loads and prop tools and materials up off the ground such as jacks, pipes, and supports for air conditioning and other equipment above the roof of a building.




From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Spalting is any form of wood coloration caused by fungi. Although primarily found in dead trees, spalting can also occur under stressed tree conditions or even in living trees. Although spalting can cause weight loss and strength loss in the wood, the unique coloration and patterns of spalted wood are sought after bywoodworkers.[1]

Although dunnage is milled straight it bends warps and cracks as it dries because it is cut from the parts of the tree like the crotch that have swirly knotted unstable grain.  It is not very good to make furniture with, at first, because the stress with in the drying wood just tears the finished piece apart. However, if you are lucky enough to procure dunnage that has dried for fifty or so years as it was being used in the aid of transportating goods across America’s western states then you have a stable wood with unusually beautiful grain.  

That’s what I got thanks to my friend Sam Moyer who dragged me from Los Angeles into Valley last year to look at a giant 8′ Oliver Joiner he ended up purchasing from a man named Bud.  Sam only communicated with Bud on the internet and had never met him in person.  After driving an hour into the Valley we met Bud who turned out to be a giant, just like Sam, so it only seemed naturally that all of his wood working equiptment was industrial and huge as well.  He was selling everything so he could move to Florida for retirement.  While looking through his stockpile of cool old machines we notice a wall that was tiled with 4″ x 6″ oak end grain blocks from floor to ceiling. When Sam asked Bud about the wall he explained that it wasn’t end grain tile. It was 5′ long stacked oak dunnage he salvaged over ten years ago.  All we were seeing was the ends of the boards.

Bud originally salvaged the wood to make Kinaras, 7 branched candelabra used in the celebration of Kwanzaa. He showed us a finely crafted example he made of the dunnage oak that had the same tiered design as the one in this picture except bigger.



Not only had the wood thoroughly dried while being used as dunnage but it was also stacked in Bud’s dry garage in California’s San Fernando Valley which can reaches three digit temperatures in the summer.  Essentially it was cured in a Solar Kiln for the last ten years so it is perfectly dry and stable.  Sam and Bud negotiated a very reasonable price and we split the batch of dunnage up with other members of the LA Box Collective.  In September the LA Box Collective is planning a “Dunnage Show,” at the Hi Lite gallery in Downtown LA where members will draw out the beauty in this unique batch of material by creating original furniture from it.

To further stabilize the gnarly old cracks in the wood I hand chiseled a total of 11 of my wood stitches into the bench.  On the bottom of the table I left this wood stitch proud so it can be detected by touch.

I was lucky enough to catch Andrea Lee Mitchell, the photographer ex pat who now lives in Spain, while she was on a recent jaunt to Los Angeles. Congratulations to Andrea on her “non married” domestic partnership to a Spaniard of the opposite sex.  They now live together on an island off the coast of spain where Andrea is brushing up on her spanish and of corse documenting her new life with photographs.  She named this shot “Turtle_0n_back.” Thanks for the beautiful photographs Andrea!

This is corduroy seen through a bugs eye.

I want to thank  “Math Man” Matheos Asfaw who was kind enough to render the bottom of this table in 3d for me.  I also want to thank Kristy Velasco and her sweet old man pit bull named Sage who are responsible for the beautiful hand/paw rubbed 100% pure Tung oil finish that gives this piece a beautiful shine and a soft touch.  Please don’t call the Humane Society on me.  Sage didn’t really work on the table but he did help by holding down some blankets right out side the shop as Kristy sanded and finished the bench.  I also want to thank Zack Main who also logged some hard earned hours sanding mill marks out of the bottom of the bench.  Thank You Matheos, Kristy and Zack!  Plus, I have to thank Ford&Ching for choosing the Cloud Pony to be displayed at their Dwell on Design 2011 after party.  Finally, I have to thank Will Rollins of of 100xbetter who expertly milled the bottom of Cloud Pony with his CNC mill in trade for me helping his wife, Walker, make a Japanese style bee hive.  More on that later:)