St John’s valet

The St. Johns bridge here in Portland has always been among my favorite US bridges.


Designed by engineer and poet David B. Steinman, the bridge was the longest suspension bridge in existence at the time of its construction. Mr. Steinman was an interesting man; he helped to codify what it means be trained as an engineer. His poetry often makes reference to his passion for the craft.

“A bridge is a poem stretched across a river, a symphony of stone and steel” – D.B. Steinman

I’ve always admired the St. Johns’ flying buttresses and tall spires and have wanted to incorporate some of it’s features into one of my pieces.  After all, I was an engineer in another life; what better representation of the engineers craft?

“A bridge is mathematics brought to life” – D.B. Steinman

During our first year at the NW Woodworking Studio, we were tasked with building a standing cabinet. I finally had my chance to play with the iconic Portland landmark!

As the father of two young girls, I recognize that we have a coat and shoe problem. Unfortunately, I am condemned me to always be the tidiest person in any gathering, and since having kids I’ve been cursed with the task of general pick-up any and every time I enter a new room in my house. Where are we going to put all these things? Our craftsman bungalow hardly has any closet space; we need a standing cabinet that holds shoes and coats!

And the St. Johns coat rack was born.

Version one is for our house and is made of white oak and has a hemlock carcase. The top features enough room for 10 or more coat hooks (four in front, four in back and two or more on the side). I used a Japanese finishing technique on it called  shou-sugi-ban, in which the sides of the case were charred with a propane torch, then scrubbed clean of charcoal prior to oiling and waxing. It leaves a textured surface on hemlock indicative of the woods early and late growth. I wanted a cabinet carcase that represented the asphalt on the bridge deck and I believe the shou-sugi-ban technique was a real success at this.

The oak had a few interior checks which I left and filled with black colored epoxy.  I’d be remiss in my allegiance to my former profession if I did not point out that the checks are representative of the poor state of the Nation’s bridges and other infrastructure.

The final design is large; large enough to get laughed at at the NW Woodworking studio, but sufficient non-the-less to fit nicely into our vaulty craftsman home. I topped it with a hand-carved pull, meant to represent the automobile age in it’s angular appearance.

St. Johns Coat rack V.1

St. Johns Coat rack V.1

The front features a fall-front door which swings down on spring-loaded pin hinges I devised and reveals two shelves of shoe storage space. Boots fit in the bottom.


St. Johns Coat rack v.1

The back is designed to hold things like umbrellas, walking sticks and tennis rackets.

St. Johns coat/shoe rack v.1

St. Johns coat/shoe rack v.1

Version two is currently under construction and will be sold via auction to benefit the “Lumber to Legacy” program which buys Oregon white oak habitat to set aside for future generations. The auction is set for Nov 9.

Version two was built with Oregon white oak from the Hackleman grove in Albany. High-school aged kids assisted with the milling. The interior cabinet will be made with the same oak, and may be “tarrified” by use of the shou-sugi-ban technique, or I may just darken it with vinegar and steel wool. I have been modifying the first design to get more of the iconic arches seen in the design of the actual bridge, as well as bring down the overall size.

The feedback that I got at showing v.1 at the Studio was that I might try to slim-down some key features, advice which I took to heart while designing v.2.  It is a challenging piece to build; full of curves and irregular-angled joinery, and the carcase is amenable to none of the regular shortcuts.  The lumber itself, though beautifully colored, is very difficult to work with due to it’s propensity to never stay static. All in all a very satisfying fill-in project for this summer. You know what it needs? A bike rack!

More details on the auction to follow.

For now, just one sneak-peak;


St. Johns’ Valet v. 2






This entry was posted in carcase, curved, design, inspiration, Uncatagorized, workshop. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to St John’s valet

  1. I’m guessing you are also a patient person? :<) Where did you find out about the technique?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s