glen guarino carving mirror

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall:
Glen Guarino talks design and process

Most of us devote considerable time and energy making sure our work is square and level. We like our work to execute perfect geometric turns as evidence of mastery. We impose rigid order on a material that begs to twist and warp. Thankfully, there are those out there who see things a little differently. Glen Guarino is one such person.

Though he is certainly more than capable of creating traditional pieces — thirty-two years of teaching woodworking will do that for you —  Glen’s designs seem to eschew the right angle in favor of organic curves, where each contour flows seamlessly into the next. This month, we were lucky to have Glen stop by to walk us through the process of creating some of his beautiful custom mirrors, from rough sketches to finishing.

Despite the freeform appearance of his work, Glen’s approach to the design of his work is meticulous. He begins with small scale freehand sketches, sometimes eight or nine for a given piece. From those, he will select two or three favorites and present them to the client. He then scales those sketches up to full-scale drawings from which he will layout his templates and that’s when the work really gets going.

The key to constructing one of Glen’s pieces is a method called “stacking”. Rather than starting with a large block of wood and carving it to shape, Glen breaks down each curve into sections, joining pieces at an angle such that it maximizes the long grain of the wood along that curve. These pieces reinforce each other, adding strength and stability to the entire work. Stacking allows Glen to utilize smaller individual pieces and create any shape he desires without having to worry about a section of short-grain threatening to, as he says “snap, snap, snap.”

Since each curve involves multiple pieces, Glen will often make templates for each layer and carve the pieces individually before assembling. That can mean three or four templates per corner. He points out that keeping track of left and right becomes very important at this stage. Once the templates are all laid out and happy, Glen moves on to the carving. Lots of carving. He sometimes uses a power grinder or rough carves on the bandsaw, but the bulk of the work is done by hand with various spokeshaves.

One amazing aspect of Glen’s process was his constant willingness to reevaluate his work as he goes along. He showed us one mirror where, just before he was set to begin the finishing (an ebonizing process which involved soaking steel wool in vinegar for up to ten days), he thought one area looked too bulky. So he did what any of us would do: he took this piece he had spent weeks creating and put a two-inch spade bit right through the corner! Of course, to look at it, you would think this was part of the plan all along. We should all hope to be able to keep such a keen critical eye on our own work from start to finish.

Glen’s talk was both inspiring and educational. He is clearly a natural teacher; but even he picked up a new trick from one of our members, Michael Stone (pro-tip: sprinkle some salt into your yellow glue to prevent movement during clamping!). In addition to talking about  “the work,” he and his wife, Marie (who manages much of the business side of things), spoke candidly about the challenges of putting a price on your work and leveraging digital media to increase your visibility. There really was something for everyone at this meeting.

We thank Glen and Marie for being so generous with their time and look forward to seeing you all next month! Stay tuned for more info!

For more of Glen’s work, please visit: