It took a while for Norman Cramer to find his passion in life. The woodworker and furniture designer tried a bit of everything before settling on the job that makes him happy.
“I always enjoyed shop class when I was a kid, but I never thought it would go anywhere,” he said.
After high school he tried business school but found that he “just wasn’t into it.” So he embarked on a different path. He got a construction certificate from ECC, then worked for years doing custom cabinetry both here and in Fayetteville, Ark. but found little creative outlet or freedom.
“When you work in a custom cabinet shop, if you have a good idea they just kind of say ‘Great, but keep doing it our way,’” Cramer said.
This dissatisfaction led him back to college, but this time in an area he could thrive in: the Furniture Design program at Buffalo State College.
“I came to the realization that I was much better at woodworking than most people,” he said. “It’s funny how passion can lead you to understanding things better.”
He graduated in just three and a half years and won the Windgate Fellowship in 2014, which awards $15,000 to artisans and craftspeople graduating from college. He used that money to start his eponymous company, Norman Cramer Furniture. But it’s more than just him: Cramer founded a co-op for woodworkers and furniture designers, too. He currently has five other artisans working out of his North Buffalo space.
“I run a cooperative, everyone here runs their own business,” he said. “If I have a big job, I’ll subcontract some of it to other people in the co-op. We all pitch in and help each other on big jobs.”
This idea came from his time working in cabinet shops in his early days.
“I worked too many places that undervalue their employees,” Cramer said. “I wanted to create an environment where the incentive is to work hard and fast to put out the best product possible.”
1. First cut
Cramer rough cuts each of the support pieces for the chair on a band saw based on a template of his design. Before cutting, he chooses wood of a specific size and quality to become the four leg pieces, as they each stretch from the floor to the top of the chair.
2. Smooth operator
Each piece of wood that will have a finished edge is then hand planed to make it smooth, enhance the look of the wood and bring out its natural beauty.
3. Lock it in
The arm rests and the braces that will connect the front and back legs are then cut and planed. They fit together with a system of grooves and notches. Cramer assembles the chair using wood clamps to hold the pieces in place, then drills holes for the bolts.
4. Strap in
The straps that support the cushions are strung in place and tacked in once the back and seat are assembled. Each piece of wood has been sanded, rubbed with a soap-flake solution (a mixture of water and soap that brings out the grain of the wood) and polyurethaned to avoid wear and tear.
5. Bolt upright
All the pieces are brought together once again, bolted in place and topped with the cushions.