Nestled in the forest near the Silver Coast in Portugal lies the De La Espada factory, a facility that values the independence of master craftspeople and embraces both the traditions and innovations of woodworking.
TECHNOLOGY AND HAND CRAFT
Our craftspeople use high tech machinery and handwork for different operations according to which provides greater value: CNC machinery can provide a precision not possible with the human hand, while only a skilled craftsperson can decide how to work each unique cut of wood for maximum strength, or which planks look most beautiful together.
PRECISION IN REPEAT OPERATIONS
CNC (Computerized Numerical Control) machines contain multiple tools such as cutters, drills and a circular saw. The machines are programmed to craft product components to a high level of precision.
CNC machinery is used for increased efficiency in repeat operations. This machinery distills the knowledge of the carpenters, product development, and technical teams into one place.
CAD (Computer Aided Design) drawings created by our product development team link to the CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing).
The technicians at our factory decide the tools, operations, and sequencing needed for optimal results and programme the CAM accordingly.
Even after the CNC is programmed, which can take as long as building a complete piece by hand, the watchful eye of a skilled craftsperson/technician ensures that each unique piece of timber is machined in a way that maximises its structural integrity.
INITIAL PLANK SELECTION
De La Espada craftsmen and craftswomen take pride in their work, and apply their expertise to create the most beautiful furniture possible. This begins with the initial plank selection, where each plank is examined by an expert eye to assess its structural integrity and to define for which product component it is best suited.
On chests of drawers, each drawer face is made from a single plank of timber, chosen carefully for its beauty and proportions, as well as how well the colour and grain works with the other drawer faces.
In the final assembly, each chest of drawer is painstakingly adjusted by hand to get the shadow gaps even.
JIGSAW OF PARTS
Most De La Espada products are a jigsaw of parts, each worked individually, then together.
It would be far simpler, faster and more economical to use fewer parts, fewer operations, but this would create a very different product, lacking the depth, detail and integrity.
The parts are defined to achieve the most beautiful cuts of timber, the finest shapes, the strongest long grain to long grain bonds.
Many components require first assembly, a run through the CNC, second assembly, sanding, then final assembly where it is married with the other components before being sanded again and finished.
Just one leg of the Light Table by Matthew Hilton is made of no fewer than six main components and utilises six complex joints.
Three planks must be rough cut and joined together with a long grain to long grain lap joint, locking dowel and wood glue before being run through the CNC machine. This makes one half of one leg. The other half of the leg is formed the same way. Then the two halves are joined together with dowels and glue before being sanded and hand finished.
LOCAL WITH AN INTERNATIONAL VIEW
The De La Espada factory is filled with skilled craftspeople with varying expertise including: 3D drawing, operating and programming CNC machinery, selecting timber, and cabinetmaking. Half of our craftspeople are women.
Portugal has a long tradition of small workshops that make a wide range of products from furniture to textiles to ceramics. De La Espada sits proudly in this region, working with international design talent whose creative vision is optimally expressed through this superb Portuguese production.
TRADITIONAL BONDING METHODS
Traditional joinery including mortise and tenon, lap joints, wedge tenon, and dovetail joinery is used in abundance.
The joinery is bonded with wood glue that seeps deep into the fibres of the timber to create an unbreakable connection.
Mortise and tenon joints feature a locking dowel to add further stability.
Meet Our Craftspeople
General Assembly: Senhor Euclides
Senhor Euclides is the most senior carpenter at the De La Espada factory, and is in charge of the assembly department. He brings together components and sub-assemblies to create the recognisable forms of the final pieces. His work is varied, and includes gluing, joinery, the application of specialised materials, and precise hand-adjustments. He inspects the products as he works, rectifying any issues he may find. Once his work is complete, he passes the assembly on to the sanding team adjacent to his station.
With 30 years of experience, Senhor Euclides works with a calm confidence and engaged focus. The greatest challenge of his job is also what he finds the most enjoyable: the problem solving that is required for the development of new products. He works closely with the product development team to ensure every product reaches its full potential. This includes not only new products, but also the continual optimisation of existing products.
When he’s not working, he enjoys travelling, a bug planted in his 20s when he worked as a fisherman in countries including Norway, Canada, and South Africa. He often travels to the US to visit his sons in New Jersey, who relish the daily feasts of Portuguese food these visits bring. Central on the menu: fish, of course.
Oil and Wax Finishing: Donzilia
Donzilia is in charge of oil and wax finishing at our factory. After receiving components that have been laboriously sanded to a silky touch, she applies the oil by hand, using a soft cloth to work it into the wood fibres, and around all contours of the many diverse shapes. She must apply the oil in a single, even layer, with no overlap, even on the most complex forms. As she works, she checks the quality of the wood surface; the oil application reveals details of the timber that were not previously visible, including the intricacies of the wood grain and colour, and any surface irregularities caused by sanding. If she notices any issues, she will return the item to the relevant department to rectify it. For example, if the orbital sander has marked the timbersurface, she will return the item to the sanding team to resolve the issue, before reapplying the oil.
After oiling, Donzilia passes the piece to her assistant, who sprays the wax onto the surface before rubbing it in by hand with a soft cloth, also in an even layer. They have found this distribution of responsibilities to be the best way to maximise efficiency.
Donzilia has an enormous amount of skill and knowledge gained over 25 years working with a variety of different finishes. She sees the factory as her second home, where she gets along with everyone. It’s easy to see why: her strong work ethic and attention to detail are matched by her infectious smile and easy laugh.
Paulo is the production manager at the De La Espada factory, organising every stage of manufacture from the raw materials through to final assembly. He applies his deep understanding of woodcraft and detailed knowledge of every machine and process in our facility to constantly improve efficiency and productivity. His management role is supported by his work programming the CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) which defines the tools and processes that must be performed by the CNC (Computerised Numeric Control) machinery. The insight gained by this programming work allows him to optimise even our most advanced manufacturing methods.
Managing an entire team of people and their work expectations requires a sharp focus on detail as well as the bigger picture, profound knowledge of carpentry, and a personable approach to communication as he coordinates efforts with craftspeople in every department. Though the tasks are challenging and varied, Paulo is well-equipped to deliver results due as much to his warm personality as to his extensive experience. He has been an integral part of the factory for 27 years, and has forged many friendships during that time — friendships which extend beyond the factory doors to weekends at the gym, or a catch up while helping each other with home improvements.
PAINT FINISHING: MICHEL
Michel is in charge of the painting department at the De La Espada factory. Twenty years working as a painter in the car industry, well-known for its demanding skill level and intensive R&D, gave him a deep understanding of his craft which he has built upon for the last ten years as part of our team. He oversees all painting, staining, and lacquering at our factory, and works closely with our product development team to devise new finishes. His expertise allows him to create finishes with colour precision that successfully balance lustre with durability. His eye for detail ensures that every piece is finished to a superior standard, and most of our gloss painted finishes are applied by him personally.
Originally from France, Michel has lived in Portugal for over 17 years, and finds enjoyment in the favourable weather: walking, playing sports, and mountain biking. In summer, you’ll notice his bike resting among the pine trees in front of the factory; it’s his favourite way to travel.
General Assembly: Natalina
Natalina is part of the general assembly team at the De La Espada factory. Her work involves marrying the individual parts and sub-assemblies to create the final timber forms before they are sent to the sanding team. This includes finessing joinery details and component profiles, as well as connecting wood joinery and hardware. She also performs precise hand-adjustments which are particularly demanding on drawers and doors where shadow gaps must be uniform throughout. Natalina enjoys the variety her job offers: with every piece made to order, her specific tasks differ daily.
When she’s not working, she tends her own plot of land where she grows lettuce, cabbage and fruit. She is quick to share the harvest with her neighbours who happily offer their own crops in return.
Belt-Sanding: Graça and Graça
Graça and Graça work together on the belt sander at the De La Espada factory. After receiving glued planar elements and select components, they run these through the belt sander to remove excess dried glue and create a perfectly level surface with precise measurements. Each component is passed through the belt sander a number of times, and before each pass, the team measures the piece then calibrates the machine to achieve the dimension required. Though largely used for planar elements, other components such as some legs are also adjusted in this machine. The final dimensions of each component must be exact, and it is the expertise of Graça and Graça that ensures this precision is achieved. The pair enjoy working together, laughing and joking throughout the day. As they describe it, “Any problems stay outside the door.”
Final Assembly: Jardel
The De La Espada factory is filled with skilled craftspeople with varying expertise including 3D drawing, operating and programming CNC machinery, selecting timber, cabinetmaking and upholstery. It is in final assembly, in the capable hands of Jardel, where all stages of production come together to create the final piece.
After finishing and upholstery, products are passed on to Jardel for final assembly. Having worked in all areas of the factory, Jardel has a deep understanding of the craft of our products, allowing him to skilfully make final adjustments to pieces before they are sent to Quality Control. He is essentially the first stage of QC, as he meticulously checks the finishing, assembly, hardware, alignment, and all other details of a product, fine-tuning as he goes. He finds satisfaction in seeing each piece of furniture in its finished stage, and with each product in our diverse range made to order, every production week is different, creating a variety he also enjoys. Jardel’s great depth of knowledge allows him to rise to the challenge each day brings, and ensure strict De La Espada standards are met.
In warm weather, Jardel travels to work by bike or motorcycle and can be found on weekends riding along the Silver Coast with loved ones.
Plank Sequence: Isabel and Celeste
De La Espada furniture is built with a respect for the unique characteristics of solid wood, which requires our craftspeople to take intelligent decisions regarding stability and aesthetics at every stage of manufacture. This is particularly evident on our tabletops and chests of drawers, where the expansive surface highlights the expression of the wood grain.
Isabel applies her 26 years of experience to the selection, sequencing, and gluing of timber for planar surfaces and chests of drawers. She works closely with Celeste, who brings 29 years of experience, and together they create the stunning compositions of timber you find on De La Espada furniture.
For tabletops, they choose the planks and sequence that are most pleasing to the eye, always using the maximum plank width that their demanding standards for strength and consistency allow. This varying plank width is characteristic of De La Espada products, a detail that honours the natural beauty of the material. For chests of drawers, each drawer face is made from a single plank of timber, chosen carefully for its beauty and proportions, as well as how well the colour and grain works with the other drawer faces.
The discerning eyes of Isabel and Celeste bring an added layer of depth and artistry to De La Espada furniture, showcasing the profound natural beauty of solid wood.
INITIAL PLANK SELECTION: ELISEU AND ELISABETE
The very first stage of manufacture, the initial plank selection, plays a key role in De La Espada craft, requiring an expert eye and careful assessment. Eliseu and Elisabete work together, examining the raw boards to determine their structural integrity, removing any knots and cracks, and cutting them to the rough dimensions required for the week’s production.
While they work, they apply the De La Espada internal wood-grading system. All of our timber has an FAS grade (First and Seconds) which is the highest grade wood available, but we apply our own internal grading system as well, where we select which part of the product will be best served by the natural characteristics of the plank: cuts of wood with minor blemishes are reserved for undersides of products, while the most consistent planks are reserved for the most visible surfaces.
Our furniture can be particularly demanding for plank dimensions. For example, our McQueen Chests require exceptionally beautiful planks that are wide and tall enough to serve as the face of each drawer with no lamination, and our tabletops require wide, blemish-free planks with lengths up to 290cm.
The expertise of Eliseu and Elisabete ensures we maximise the performance and aesthetic beauty of our timber.
CNC Machining: JC
JC operates the 5-axis single-tool-head CNC machine at the De La Espada factory. This machine is used primarily for shaping large components and planar elements.
Upon receiving the prepared materials from the fabrication department, JC assesses each piece, determining the best starting point and order of operations to optimise its stability and performance. He then alters the programming of the CAM as required before machining. This must be done for each individual piece, many with complex curves and angles, which is a challenge JC is well-equipped to respond to effectively due to his 5 years’ experience on the CNC, and 12 years as part of our product development team. His fluency with carpentry and the technical aspects of the CNC allow him to achieve superior results every time.
He is also using his expertise to create a family home to his own specifications, from defining architectural details to designing and building his own furniture. Modern with oversized windows, the house is awash with the Portuguese sun, which sometimes beckons him outdoors for a game of football or a cycle with his family.
CNC Machining: Nelson
Nelson is in charge of the 6-axis multi- tool-head CNC (Computerised Numerical Control) machine at the De La Espada factory. His work involves operating, programming the CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) that drives the machine’s movements, and overseeing the work of his team. The combination of a 3-tool head and a mobile split bed allows this CNC machine to efficiently create complex components with excellent precision, making it particularly well-suited to the manufacture of chairs and other intricate pieces with sculptural qualities.
After receiving timber parts cut to the approximate dimensions of the final compo- nent, Nelson assesses each, choosing which face of the plank should be most prominent. He alters the machine’s programming when necessary, changing the starting point or order of operations to optimise the per- formance and beauty of the plank. Applying expertise gained from his interior design education and years of hands-on experience, he ensures every component is machined to a high level of perfection made possible by the exactitude of the machine.
Taking advantage of his proximity to the Silver Coast, Nelson practises kite surfing, paddleboarding, and even a bit of seaside capoeira in his free time. Afterwards he likes to refuel with one of his favourite traditional meals, Portuguese stew.
CNC Machining: Rui
Rui has been an important part of our factory team for 25 years, working in various departments before becoming a CNC operator 15 years ago. He is the most prolific prototyper at our factory, and while he cites new-product development as the most challenging part of his job, it is also where he finds the most enjoyment. His perfectionism combined with his sharp understanding of carpentry and programming drive his excellence in this area.
Utilising the 5-axis single-tool-head CNC machine, Rui shapes large components and planar elements, acting as a link between the fabrication, pre-assembly and general assembly areas. When he receives prepared materials and pre-assemblies, he must determine the best starting point and order of operations to optimise the material’s beauty and structural integrity. He then alters the CAM programming accordingly before machining begins. His expertise ensures each component is machined to its full potential.
Guida has worked at our factory for twenty years in various departments from sanding and finishing to operating the CNC machinery. She has many years of experience making clothing in her own time, and now applies that expertise to her role sewing upholstery.
The technical sensibility and eye for perfection that allowed Guida to excel as a CNC operator are what drive her success on the sewing machine as well. We have high standards for the consistency of our seams, and the often-sculptural forms of our furniture call for a particularly high level of skill, a steady hand, and a great deal of patience.
When working on new designs, our product development team consults Guida and the rest of the sewing team on how to achieve technically challenging stitching, refine patterns, and create features such as intentional creasing. The seamstresses' understanding of the craft allows them to offer solutions that create an optimal final result.
In her free time, Guida tends to the flowers in her garden, and takes great enjoyment in flower arranging, even helping out at her local florist shop for special events. She also sings in a choir that performs in competitions and at weddings.
Sewing: Fernanda and Luisa
Fernanda and Luisa are sisters who work side by side in the upholstery department at the De La Espada factory. Stationed at the sewing machines, they are responsible for bringing together cut fabric components to create the precisely tailored upholstery that dresses our furniture. Working with a wide range of textiles, they achieve consistent, steady seams across every contour of the often-complex forms of our products. This is particularly challenging when working with leather as it is thick, heavy and unforgiving: the leather must be sewn perfectly the first time, as any corrections would reveal puncture holes from the previously applied stitches. The seamstresses must work with great concentration and steady movements to achieve the required level of perfection on edges and seams. Their understanding of the craft allows them to offer essential advice in the development of new products, helping us to achieve technically challenging stitching, refine patterns, and create features such as intentional creasing.
The eldest of the two, Fernanda, began sewing at the age of 12 and has spent most of her life sewing apparel both for her personal use and for a living. She taught her sister Luisa how to sew at the age of 23, and for 10 years they worked together designing and making clothing to sell direct to clients. Later they worked together as seamstresses for apparel brands before joining De La Espada. Almost inseparable, the sisters have spent most of their careers working together, and live within arm’s reach of one another, just two minutes from the factory.
The upholstery department at the De La Espada factory is adjacent to our woodworking facility and product development office, easing the collaboration between the departments. This fluid communication allows for the creation of upholstered products that excel in every aspect of craft and performance.
Quim is the head of our upholstery department, personally mapping out all of the patterning, in addition to overseeing the work of the pattern cutters, seamstresses, and upholsterers. It is his expertise that allows us to achieve precise tailoring and deep comfort on such a diverse portfolio of upholstered products.
Upholstery is a uniquely challenging craft for a variety of reasons: finding the right balance of comfort and refined profile, defining the best combination of layers for aesthetic and practical performance, creating steady seams around complex forms, and implementing tailoring details that convey the designer’s visual message. Developing a new upholstered product requires sharp problem-solving skills, and it is not uncommon to create 10 prototypes before the final result is achieved. It is this challenging process which Quim finds the most rewarding; his role in developing a product stirs a feeling of personal connection to it. Quim’s expertise ensures that the quality of our upholstery meets the same exacting standards as that of our woodworking.
De La Espada furniture is made primarily from solid wood and upholstery, crafted by our in-house team in Mira, Portugal. We also employ the use of complementary materials including stone, glass, metal and fibreglass. These additional materials are worked at factories within easy reach of our facility, most between 50 and 100km away, to allow us to communicate fluidly with the suppliers, ensuring the highest standard of workmanship.
Rogério plays a key role in this process, as he not only transports the parts, he is the first team member to see and assess the product components. He checks every piece upon collection so any issues can be rectified swiftly. His assessment is crucial to ensuring our assembly team is able to marry the parts with precision and on schedule.
Manuel works in pre-assembly at the De La Espada factory. Positioned in the centre of the woodworking facility, between the fabrication and general assembly areas and adjacent to the CNC machines, Manuel operates as a link between the three. Raw planks are first processed through fabrication, being cut, planed, and glued into panels, before being passed to the CNC machine where they are cut to more precise three-dimensional shapes, complete with joinery. The components then make their way to Manuel, who creates a sub-assembly from the parts. His work involves connecting joinery components including mortise and tenon, dovetail, and wedge tenon. He then passes these sub-assemblies back to the CNC operators where they are machined a second time for yet more shaping, before making their way to the general assembly area, where they will become more recognisable as products.
Thirty-three years ago, Manuel arrived as part of the team that built an extension to the main building, doubling its size. Then he decided to stay on as a carpenter, and worked in various departments before moving to his current post. About his long history here he says, "I am almost part of the building now.”
Zé is in charge of the fabrication department at the De La Espada factory. He specialises in traditional carpentry, and oversees the creation of select components, as well as the preparation of raw materials including solid wood, laminated wood, engineered board, and moulded plywood. This involves the use of classic machines including table saws, spindle moulders, and vacuum and gluing presses, among many others. Once prepared, the materials are passed on to the CNC machining and assembly areas where they are shaped and joined. The efficacy of Computer Aided Machinery relies on perfectly prepared materials, and Zé’s 27 years of experience and eye for precision allow him to achieve such high standards of workmanship. He is passionate about his craft, so much so, that in his free time he builds furniture for family and friends in his own home workshop, with an emphasis on hand craft.