For Titusville resident Geoffrey Noden, solving a problem sometimes means inventing a solution
By Scott Morgan
Woodworker Geoffrey Noden isn’t only a craftsman: he considers himself a problem solver too.
One thing the Titusville resident makes clear, though, is that he doesn’t think he’s an artist.
“Some people look at my work and say ‘You’re a real artist,’” said Noden, who has run Geoffrey Noden Furniture Design on Stokes Avenue in Ewing since the 1990s. “I do appreciate it, and I know they’re being complimentary. I like to make things that look good, but (which) also solve a problem.”
A master woodworker, Noden said, is equal parts artists, craftsman, designer and engineer. Particularly when it comes to furniture, pieces need to be designed to solve real-world problems. A chair should look good, but it also has to be able to hold the weight of someone sitting down.
In Noden’s case, being part sales and marketing guy helps too. In addition to being a craftsman, Noden also is the inventor of two trade tools that have become hot commodities for woodworkers and one that may soon be: the Noden Adjust-a-Bench, the Noden Inlay Razor, and the upcoming Noden Radius Machine. His wife and business partner, Suzette, does most of the administrative work, which suits him just fine.
Noden, 53, is still the main face of his company, which he regularly shows off at trade shows and in numerous how-to and how-it-works videos on YouTube. True to form, Noden invented the Adjust-a-Bench, Inlay Razor, and Radius Machine to solve problems.
The Adjust-a-Bench—which retails for $430 as a complete bench with legs or $100 for just the legs—began as a personal item in the early 1990s.
“I made it to save my own back,” he said of the Adjust-a-Bench.
At its most basic, the Adjust-a-Bench is a set of legs onto which woodworkers can mount their bench tops. The “adjust-a” part is the fact that the legs can move around to accommodate any size top or adjust to the height of the person using it, Noden said.
Noden began selling the item in 2002 and the leg sets remain the bulk of the sales for the bench. A lot of fellow woodworkers, upon seeing the whole bench, say that they love the idea, but the bench wouldn’t fit their shop spaces, he said. Hence, just the leg sets.
The Radius Machine is not on the market yet, but will, Noden said, allow for greater latitude and stability when using a router. It should be out some time this year. Noden’s most recent invention to hit the market, the Inlay Razor, on the other hand, may have already revolutionized the painstaking work that characterizes decorative inlays.
If there is a purely “artist” aspect of woodwork, inlay would be it.
“Inlay is just to look pretty,” Noden said. “That’s all it does.”
The trouble is, inlays are usually made up of lots of tiny pieces. That’s fine for small jobs, but the Noden Inlay Razor was born to help its inventor not go zooey with a big order.
About three years ago, Noden received an order to make 10 arch-top chairs, each of which was to have a circular inlay on its back. He made the first chair and the first inlaid ring—which consisted of 180 pieces. All made by hand.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to go crazy if I don’t come up with a better way to do this,’” he said.
What he came up with looks a bit like a flattened camper’s shovel and works a lot like a razor-armed, tabletop paper cutter. And, like the Adjust-a-Bench, the Inlay Razor allows the craftsman considerable latitude with the equipment.
You as the woodworker make your own block, cut to the design you want to use. Then you load double-edged razor blades (yes, the ones you buy at the drug store, because they’re strong and flexible) into your block, then mount the block into the Inlay Razor. Like the paper cutter, you swing the arm down and slice out the piece of inlay you want.
The trick is to use end grain pieces—those cut at right angles to the grain, such as a piece trimmed from the end of a plank that are one-sixteenth of an inch thick. This is much easier to cut inlay from because it cuts along the fiber lines of the wood.
Think of rubber-banding a handful of straws together and then trying to push a ping pong ball into the bunch. If you try to push it through the ends, where the holes are, it’s much harder to do than if you just push the ball between the stems of the straws. They will open more easily.
If the concept behind the Inlay Razor sounds ridiculously simple (and old school), congratulations. In fact, Noden said, a lot of people he’s met at woodworking conventions just about heel-slap their own foreheads for not coming up with the idea themselves.
One fan of the Inlay Razor is Charles Bender, managing partner of the Acanthus Workshop in Pottstown, Pa., who commented that it’s “a great new tool” and expects it to become a favorite of musical instrument makers and bowl turners “because of the uniqueness of the inlays that can be created.” And for period furniture makers such as himself, Bender likes that the Inlay Razor “is just a fun tool to use.”
The shapes and styles of inlay pieces you can cut are up to you, and each razor blade, if used properly, can cut hundreds of pieces before wearing out, according to some online reviews. Noden mostly likes the idea of not pulling out his hair when doing inlay work—something that scares the pants of many a wood turner—and the fact that by having to shape your own blocks, “you’re being creative before you start working,” he said.
Noden’s inventions are available through his business and through Woodcraft.com, an online and catalogue purveyor of woodworking tools and supplies.
He’d love to sell them through Lowe’s or Home Depot, of course, but he first needs to whittle down the cost of making Adjust-a-Benches and Inlay Razors. And he’s working on it. In fact, the process is a lot like woodworking itself—first you rough out what will work and then pare down what’s not needed.
“It needs to work right, but it also needs to be affordable,” he said.
Having the equipment to sell has bolstered Noden’s woodworking business, which he admits is a tough one to make a living in. It’s especially tough when you don’t make furniture and decorative bowls the way many of his colleagues (and neighboring business competitors) do, with computer-driven equipment.
“They call me Caveman,” he said. “Maybe I am a caveman. My wife calls me a Luddite.”
But, really? Noden likes it that way.
But selling and marketing do take time away from the woodwork he so loves doing. Not to imply that he’s stopped making pieces because he certainly hasn’t. And his decorative bowls, platters, chairs and everything else command prices worthy of an artist who’s also an engineer, designer and craftsman.
“I’m not reproducing antiques,” he said. “I’m designing what people want and need.”
And what looks pretty, of course.
On the Web: geoffreynoden.com.