Ames Tribune Article
RVP~1875 owner uses his craft to create 19th century furniture
by Beth Anderson
Feb. 23, 2004
© Ames Tribune
Used by permission
STORY CITY - A bit of history has moved into Story City and has filled a corner storefront with apple pie scented candles in oversized jars, wood-curl shavings scattered on the floor and the gentle sound of hand tools on wood, set to the rhythm of bluegrass music.
Robby Pedersen, 33, is a master furniture builder, as attested by rows of punched-tin pie safes and cedar-lined hope chests in his new RVP~1875 shop, which opened in December in the old Charlson's Clothing Store at 526 Broad St.
The name RVP~1875 is a take-off on the standard 19th century cabinetmaker's brand: RVP are his initials ("V" standing for Virgil), and 1875 is the year he builds the furniture. Or rather, the year on which his art form centers.
Pedersen creates furniture in the style, tradition and technique of post-Civil War America, roughly the years between 1865 and 1880, he said.
And it soon becomes obvious that he seldom takes the easy way out.
He fells his own trees with an axe, bucks them into lengths and has them cut into planks.
He then creates the furniture with hand planes, chisels and a foot-powered lathe. He narrows his work to dovetail joints and mortise and tenon, rather than nails and glue.
"The rule of thumb is that glue will fail after 50 or 100 years," Pedersen said. "I like to make things that are going to be around 200 or 300 years from now."
Pedersen cooks his own wood-stains, boiling up a base of walnuts and adding ingredients such as raspberries or onion peels to get the right shade. The furniture is then rubbed with a combination of linseed oil and beeswax.
The result is the perfect imperfections of real wood - knotholes, true grain and all - worked into simple, solid furniture that radiates with warmth.
"My style tends to be very utilitarian, very country-style," Pedersen said.
Display pieces in his RVP~1875 shop range from a $50 pine step stool to a $3,000 eight-foot trestle table that cries out for a family dinner. There are tall chimney cupboards, writing desks, benches and inlaid chess boards with hand-tooled pieces.
Pedersen shows his signature piece, a round-topped Scandinavian-style trunk that was the suitcase of its day.
"It's a very romantic trade," he said.
Choosing a trade
Pedersen is an artisan. Yet in his period clothes and his wide-brimmed hat, he is also part actor, part educator and part historian.
The Jefferson native said he took a few shop classes in high school.
But it was 10 years ago when he was studying at Iowa State University, majoring in history and elementary education, that he took an internship as a trade worker at Living History Farms in Urbandale.
He found a passion in the woodwork, he said, and began to study the style and techniques of 19th-century cabinetmaking on his own.
He also perfected the technique of teaching demonstrations.
In fact, now that he is on his own, "It's almost strange to me not to be talking to people while I'm working," he said.
Now Pedersen is never happier than when Story City residents stop by the shop to watch him work, ask him questions and share their own history of their grandfather's workshop and their great-grandmother's steamer trunks.
"Woodworkers like to come in and razz me about working so hard," he said. "They tell me, 'I can do that at home in a minute.'"
Pedersen has tried the way of power tools. He studied under a master builder in Kansas City.
"There is nothing worse than standing in steel-toe boots, goggles and ear plugs for hours at a time," he said. "Besides, you'd be surprised how fast I can cut dovetails."
For today, the shop is offering custom-made furniture, as well as woodworking classes and learning tours for schools and community groups.
RVP~1875 - a custom, historically built heirloom furniture shop
526 Broad St., Story City
Hours: Owner Robby Pedersen said he is usually in the shop from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., "but I might lock up to go fell a tree." Customers are welcome to call first or just stop by and take a chance.