By Laura Cochrane
Photography by John Keatley
Neatly lined up along the walls of Len Cullum’s 1,500-square-foot north Seattle workshop are handmade Japanese chisels, saws, and planes.
In a building rumored to have once been a shark oil processing plant, Cullum, 46, creates Japanese-style shoji doors and windows, garden structures, and furniture. Cullum constructs these pieces using traditional joinery, a specialty where it’s crucial to be precise and to understand the temperamental qualities of wood because there aren’t any metal fasteners to hold together poorly measured or cut pieces. Port-Orford-cedar is his favorite wood to work with. “It planes to an amazing sheen and it smells great,” he says.
His philosophy dovetails with his work. “I’ve long felt that life is largely about making connections. When connecting two ideas or people (or pieces of wood), not only is the fit important, but also the type of connection,” Cullum muses. “Some things benefit more from a flexible, freer connection, some from one tighter and more rigid. But none survive one that is sloppy or poorly fit.”
Although he uses power tools for the larger cuts, he prefers handmade hand tools for the finer details. “Things that are made by hand have a kind of vibration to them,” he says. “The little inconsistencies, even ones you can’t consciously see, give it a life.”
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