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Let's Do The Twist!

Updated: Feb 12, 2023

Come on baby, let's do the twist!

The song was written by Hank Ballard, the bench was made by Suzanne Bonham and Buck O'kelly at Inventia Design.

This collaboration has brought dreams to life in such a rich manifestation! I present to you the beautiful, sensual, sexy Barley Twist Bench:
Photo by Jason Hill

I have been creating 3d models for Suzanne Bonham to help clients see their projects with various size options and design details. A walk around can really help you visualize your new dining table, bench or collapsible wine tasting table, to name a few of their fantastic projects. A 3d model can help you decide proportions , seating options, turned leg designs and so much more.

Then a beautiful design and manufacture challenge came along. Donna DuFresne approached Suzanne with a question, "can you make a barley twist?"

There are many ways to go about building things but a barley twist is one of those things most woodworkers will never attempt. How would you create those twists? They could be hand carved. Is it worth it? I could definitely do that but then the question is time and repeatability. They could be turned on a lathe. This would probably require an expert wood turner. Again, cost and finding someone skilled enough who is willing to take it on could be a real challenge. And like so many of these types of things, would you end up with exactly what you wanted? Suzanne thought I could design the parts in a 3d model and mill them on my machine. We have precise manufacturing of parts! Then, add our hand touches to create a beautiful twist.

Above is a great shot of Buck O'Kelly's legs and the beautiful Barley Twist Bench! I couldn't believe it looked exactly like the model I created. I must say, it was a wonderful experience to work with Buck and Sue. Not once did I need to worry about the construction or the finish. They are experts and that is good enough for me! YES!

Inventia Design
Buck O'Kelly and Suzanne Bonham of Inventia Design on the Barley Twist Bench!

Suzanne and I set out to start working on the design. My hat was the technical engineer, her hats were project coordinator, visionary-designer, finishing guru and overall deliverer. At this time I was recuperating from the loss of both of my parents so I appreciated a project that required my problem solving brain. At first it was all about the design of the barley twist itself. If you look at this historically there are so many interpretations of this concept which originated from a piece of candy! Yes! The Barley Sugar Candy. Could we make it in a model, what size and spacing would it be and how would we transition to the square blocks necessary to build the bench?

I created a twist right away. But then we began investigating all those adjustments we could make to the design. Suzanne had an idea of what she wanted and would know even better when she saw it. Designing like this was very interesting. We are each accustomed to working on our own. I kept listening and trying to create what I thought she was relaying while also managing how to make that happen in a 3d program. Finally, one day I was learning parametric modeling and thought of a way to make our twist! Sure enough, two days later I had a beautiful Barley Twist to work with just as Suzanne had envisioned.

Once we dialed in the details of the design I began running cut tests on my rotary indexer. For those of you who are reading this and say "what is a rotary indexer?" I'll save you the time to look it up. Its similar to a lathe but not a lathe. It does move the wood around like a lathe does but it is set in increments and the cutter can cut lengthwise and across. The cutter is directly above the work and it travels along the Y axis going high and low according to the design. It is a wonderful tool and does take time, patience and a little know how to learn how to use it. I have many, many years of using a hand held router full time, so I had a bit of know how when I approached this machine. The only thing I had made with it previously was to make a square 2 x 2 round like a rolling pin. That was it. The simplest project one can do on a rotary indexer. Needless to say, I was excited to get into this project and really learn how to use this machine.

On the right side of the photo above is the rough cut and the left side you can see my finishing cut. If you look closely at the barley twist emerging from this 4 x 4 you will see faint lines on those beautiful round twists. In this case this is the cutting path of the tool. This is very easy to sand out with Alderwood. It is possible to cut this without those lines but the compromise is time. Finding the sweet spot between time and production is one of the steps to producing a great part.

Jason Hill Photo
Photo by Jason Hill

Yes, this is a solid brand new bench intentionally made to look antique and it will last more than 300 years if cared for properly. This is Inventia Design's specialty and they did an outstanding job with this one. A solid wood top, full leather or tapestry, this bench is historical and sensual which brings a solid grounding to any environment. I want every home, office, architectural firm, engineering firm, Oxford Exchange, and even museums to have one of these benches! Ok, museums can have so many of them! I want to sit on this bench in every room of the MET.

Order yours today! Or of course you can order 100 for the MET!

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