David Walbert Hand-Tool Woodworking

About the work

Heirloom-quality furniture from a one-man shop in Raleigh, North Carolina. Built with traditional methods for future generations.

library chair

Mission

My goal is to build simple, functional, elegant furniture that invites you into a room and makes you feel comfortable instead of demanding that you be impressed with it. I build furniture to be used, and to last.

shaving horse and tools

Hand tools

I work almost exclusively with hand tools, in a more or less traditional manner, designing joinery and methods to leverage the virtues of my tools and my skill in using them. Hand tools let the wood talk back and keep me paying attention to my craft, and there’s real satisfaction in knowing that I’m inheriting and sustaining a centuries-old tradition. Hand tools also save money and space, and for making things one at a time, they're actually more efficient than machines that require a lot of setup.

the workbench

Workshop

My workshop is a one-car garage. Nothing fancy. For most of the year, I enjoy the open air.

The workbench is an English-style bench with no vise but a lot of clever and flexible contraptions for workholding, nearly all invented by someone else, a long long time ago. I also enjoy using a shaving horse; mine is a basic and workmanlike affair to which I added some leftover chair parts.

upholstered bench

Design

When I design a piece of furniture, I usually start by looking at historical examples from the golden age of hand-tool woodworking, roughly 1650 to 1850, and strip them down to essentials before re-introducing ornament and flourish that (I hope!) gives a more contemporary feel while respecting the integrity of the originals. Many other builders have taken similar approaches, from Shaker to Arts and Crafts to Danish Modern and, of course, a great many twenty-first century craftspeople. So I don’t claim to be original, even when I think of something myself — like simplifying cabriole legs to turn a Queen Anne footstool into a contemporary bench, which (as I’ve since realized) other people have thought of doing, too.

diagram of the solar woodshop

Sustainability

I rely on native woods of eastern North America — mainly cherry, walnut, oak, ash, maple, poplar, and pine. This is partly for sustainability but also because I want my work to be grounded in place. When possible, I use naturally-derived finishes that are safe for me, you, and the environment while still protecting and enhancing the wood. And, as my daughter (then eight) explained in the diagram, hand tools are a more sustainable way of working to start with.

seat frame upholstery process

Upholstery

I also do some upholstery, on both old and original pieces. Reupholstering a large chair typically includes complete stripping and rebuilding, including retying springs, building up layers of padding, and ultimately recovering and applying trim. Secondhand side chairs (like the one shown here) often require a new seat frame. For small projects, I use mostly traditional methods and materials: a webbed seat, (artificial) horsehair, and cotton batting provide the support and comfort.

me, at the shaving horse

Writing & Teaching

I have written a fair bit over the years about woodworking and craft, which you can read on my personal website.

I have also taught a class at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, on building the thirty-dollar shaving horse (shown here).

Dashiell, my workshop dog

Quality Control

All furniture is personally inspected by my assistant Dashiell before it leaves the shop.