Featured Speakers at Bay Area Woodworkers

Lou Kern

Featured Speakers
LOU KERN – Wood Furniture Maker

Lou began his presentation by postulating that there are really only three basic tools: An Incline Plane, A Hammer and A String. Examples were to follow.

Lou was raised on a farm in the Midwest. He learned to be self sufficient and resourceful, but was not a craftsman or woodworker. 

Upon graduation, he took an office job with a lumber wholesaler. When the economy turned south and the company had a big layoff he found himself without a job. He had always enjoyed working with his hands and decided to become a carpenter. He loved it.

Clausen - Lou Kern Master Woodworker Oakland California

His passion turned towards making staircases using traditional methods and techniques. He showed us a set of photographs depicting a curved handrail set he made for a staircase on Bush Street in San Francisco. It features turned balusters with carved rosettes.

The railing is a curved helix with complex curves and a very tight corner that is made of 24 separate pieces. The top and bottom halves of the helix were made separately, then joined. Lou devised a custom die grinder with a PVC guide member to cut the railing parts.

The Clausen staircase is a spiral that took 6 months to build. It is made of cherry, has decorative dovetails and uses no nails in its construction.

Lou Kern also builds Storybook Decks. The Garrison deck has a curved rail made of Western Red Cedar and deck boards of redwood. He bought the lumber from Econo-Lumber in Oakland and was allowed to hand sort for the wood he wanted.

The deck is sealed with linseed oil. He recommends buying an old crockpot and heating the linseed oil to no more than 140 degrees to prepare it for application. Watch out for spontaneous combustion.

In another functional art project, Lou made a set of double cherry doors for a house in Atherton. The wood is highly figured and is finished with a Waterlox tung oil. He purchased the wood from a mill in Pennsylvania. The panels of the door used a core of Finish Birch and were covered with 1/8 inch book-matched veneers of the cherry. The door frames were made of Philippine mahogany and also veneered with the cherry. 

The last staircase photos were of a three-story project that cost $127,000 to build. Lou bought the curved plywood panels from Anderson International Trading. The staircase featured an atrium glass floor on the third level to prevent falling accidents.

The last set of photographs depicted a bunk bed set made of ash.

And back to the three basic tools:

  • Inclined plane: chisels, planes, knives etc.
  • Hammer: any mass in motion
  • String: tape measures, odometers etc.

Amazing work, classic staircases, and beautiful functional art. Thank you, Lou


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