I started fooling around with woodworking when I was a kid, took it up as a hobby in graduate school, but didn’t have time to take it seriously until I was in my forties. Probably it’s in the blood; my great-grandfather built houses.
I build everything from solid wood, almost entirely with hand tools and traditional joinery techniques. No plywood, no routers. Hand tools made sense at first for someone with little money and less space; now I simply prefer them. Hand tools let the wood talk back and keep me paying attention to the craft, and there’s real satisfaction in knowing that I’m inheriting (if frequently struggling to be worthy of) a centuries-old tradition. What’s more, as my daughter (then eight) explained in the diagram above, hand tools are a more sustainable way of working.
You can read some of what I’ve written about woodworking and craft on my personal website.
My workbench, 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. On the floor is a sawbench. (Woodworkers may recognize both benches as Christopher Schwarz designs.) And no, if I had really been in the middle of a project when I took this picture it wouldn’t have looked even this good.
My goal is to build simple, functional, elegant furniture that invites you into a room and makes you feel comfortable rather than shouting at you and demanding that you be impressed with it. I build furniture to be used, and to last.
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.
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.