More than 30 years on TV hasn’t softened his approach to the craft, tools or people
By Christopher Schwarz
It’s a typical day at The Woodwright’s School in Pittsboro, N.C. Sunlight floods the storefront room through two enormous plate-glass windows. Six students carve ball-and-claw feet at their German workbenches while 1930s-era music tinkles through the air.
Something crazy, radical and perhaps dangerous is about to happen.
Roy Underhill makes the rounds at the benches. He checks on each student, cracks a few jokes and retires to his miter box to crosscut the material for the next day’s class.
A bell rings. The door to the school opens and in walk two women and a man. They stand at the entrance and look a tad bewildered, as if they accidentally stepped into a small flaw in the space-time continuum in this small Southern town.
Classes: Find out what classes are coming up at The Woodwright’s School.
Video: Start your collection of “The Woodwright’s Shop” with DVDs of the venerable PBS television show.
Video: Watch episodes of “The Woodwright’s Shop” online at our Roy Underhill streaming video channel.
To Buy: “The Woodwright’s Guide: Working Wood with Wedge & Edge,” “The Woodwright’s Apprentice: Twenty Favorite Projects from The Woodwright’s Shop” and “The Woodwright’s Eclectic Workshop.” Read more
On the cusp of his 80s, Wendell Castle revels in the techniques that launched his career.
By Scott Gibson
It is a cool June morning, and a light northwest breeze is clearing out yesterday’s squalls over western New York State. By 9 a.m., Wendell Castle is in his studio, alone, working on a drawing of a chair. An ellipsoid leg takes shape as the pencil glides over the paper.
A first-time visitor to this spacious workroom would be hard-pressed not to stand at the door and gape. Worktables are crammed with urethane models of upcoming projects, tools, glue bottles, bits and pieces of projects. Near the center of the room, a 400-pound chunk of stack-laminated ash rests on a pair of sawhorses and awaits carving. Drawings are pinned to a corkboard on the wall. Against one wall is an immense shipbuilder’s band saw with a rotating head. Where do you look first? It’s as if Castle’s head had simply exploded, spilling ideas everywhere.
At the forefront of American furniture design for more than 40 years, Castle occupies a unique space bridging the gap between utility and fine art. On the day of my visit, five months before his 80th birthday, he is as deeply engaged in his work as he’s ever been, juggling commitments to multiple shows and galleries both in the United States and abroad. And he seems to be savoring all of it.
Web: View some online galleries of Wendell Castle’s work.
To Buy: To learn more about studio furniture, read “Studio Furniture of the Renwick Gallery: Smithsonian American Art Museum,” by Oscar P. Fitzgerald. Read more
A trip to Europe, a phone call and an undying love of carving led her to the creation of an online school.
By Christopher Schwarz
Many traditional woodworkers daydream about serving a formal apprenticeship, working as a skilled and independent craftsperson and then passing on his or her hard-won knowledge to the next generation of woodworkers.
It’s a daydream that rarely evolves into anything more than that.
But for a young Mary May, that twinge led her to the phone book in her Minnesota town to look for someone – anyone – to teach her how to carve in the classical tradition. She had just returned from a backpacking tour of Europe where she had seen castles, cathedrals and some impressive carving.
She wanted to learn to carve like that, and she thought the Yellow Pages might be the place to look. As it turns out, she was correct.
She found two Greek carvers listed in the phone book, left phone messages for them both and got a call back first from Konstantinos Papadakis. Papadakis is a Byzantine-style carver who began in the craft at age 9 in Crete and then entered into a formal apprenticeship three years later.
Video: Get Mary May’s DVD with step-by-step instruction on carving an acanthus leaf.
Blog: Follow Mary’s blog.
Web Site: Visit May’s web site for her carving business, Cornerstone Creations, and to find out more about her online school.
In our store: We offer a wide selection of Two Cherries carving tools at discount prices. Read more
A journey from carpenter to furniture maker to teacher.
By Robert W. Lang
Dale Barnard got an early start in woodworking and he paid his dues the old-fashioned way. As a teenager, Dale worked for his father and learned on the job. Apprentices in trim carpentry literally start at the bottom, running baseboard. He had to master that task in closets before he was allowed to work in other rooms.
By the time he graduated high school he was performing finer work, in more visible places, but thought that a career teaching math might be a better choice. A few years later, Dale decided to follow in the family trade, and moved to a rural area in Southeast Indiana.
“When you move to an area like this, you can’t be too choosy about the type of work you do,” Dale said on a recent visit. “If you want to survive, you need to be willing to do just about anything.”
Video: Dale Barnard and his work were featured on the HGTV show “Modern Masters.”
Web site: At Dale’s web site you’ll find a class schedule and a gallery of his work.
Article: Dale wrote about his technique for making through-tenons in our June 2010 issue (#183).
Blog: Read about Robert W. Lang’s earlier visit to Dale’s shop. Read more
From journeyman to elder, a craftsman redefines his role.
By Matthew Teague
The story of Brian Boggs’ first foray into building chairs has become almost mythical among furniture makers: Then a struggling artist in his early 20s who picked tobacco in the fall and did occasional carpentry, Brian stumbled across a copy of John D. Alexander’s “Make a Chair from a Tree.” Having little money for tools, Brian sharpened the end of a screwdriver to function as a chisel and set about building his first stool, and soon after he built his first chair – both using exactly the same processes Alexander taught.
Almost 30 years later, walking through the door of his current shop and gallery, 4,000 square feet at Biltmore Village in Asheville, N.C., those humble beginnings could seem a distant memory. It’s quite the opposite. The three-slat ladder-back, perhaps Brian’s most iconic design, is prominently placed and shows a clear but refined lineage to that first greenwood, Appalachian ladderback design. The other chairs and furniture in the room – a full line of outdoor seating, a heavily sculptural musician’s chair, a six-slat rocker, a couple of dining tables, a headboard and a few others – have veered drastically in form from Brian’s early chairs, but even at a glance something ties them all together. Perhaps it’s the consistency of the lines in the backs of Brian’s chairs, the attention to detail in the joinery or the hand-textured surfaces that adorn many of the pieces. Whatever it is, Brian’s designs long ago became his own, both structurally and aesthetically. Taking a seat in a quartersawn oak outdoor chair that has recently gone into production, I’m reminded that not only are Brian’s chairs stunning works of art, they also are arguably the most comfortable wooden chairs ever made.
Video: Find Brian Boggs’ DVDs, “Hickory Bark from Tree to Chair: Weaving Hickory Bark Seats,” and “Drawknives, Spokeshaves and Travishers: A Chairmaker’s Tool Kit.”
Blog: Read an excerpt from the interview for this article in which Brian Boggs discusses his design theory and methods.
Web Site: Read Brian Boggs’ article, “The Myth of Original Design,” from the December 2011 issue, #194. Read more
This Iowa-born toolmaker, woodworker and luthier strives for perfection.
By Steve Shanesy
Family has clearly played an important role in the development of Iowa-born woodworker and toolmaker Jameel Abraham. In 2006, Jameel, along with his brother, Father John Abraham (an Orthodox priest), and their father founded Benchcrafted – makers of a handful of high-quality, primarily workbench-related products including leg and tail vises and a Moxon-style benchtop vise.
But family influences run much deeper than the relatively recent origins of Benchcrafted. Jameel traces his woodworking interests to both of his grandfathers, who he describes as “serious hobbyists.” He fondly remembers spending time in the shop with both, and watching many an episode of Norm Abram’s “The New Yankee Workshop” and Roy Underhill’s “The Woodwright’s Shop” with his maternal grandfather. Who knows – this may partially account for Jameel’s mastery of both hand and power tools.
There is also a strong tradition of operating a family business. His father started a beeswax candle making business that Fr. John continues to oversee while also helping out with the Benchcrafted business. And until Benchcrafted began to consume all his time, Jameel worked in that business, too. Family influences and obligations aside, the accomplishments of this 38-year-old craftsman are keenly driven by a native sense of engineering and a self-imposed drive for excellence.
Web site: Check out the Benchcrafted site and blog. You’ll also find a link there to Jameel Abraham’s extensive blog about the oud.
Article: Go online to read our review of Benchcrafted’s Glide Leg Vise.
Video: See the oud being played and discover the beautiful sound of this ancient instrument.
Video: See a clip of the new Benchcrafted Crisscross vise mechanism in action.
To Buy: Popular Woodworking Magazine April 2011 (#189) with Jameel’s article ”Precision Inlay, Simple Tools.”
In Our Store: Find books and videos by Christopher Schwarz on bench design and construction. Read more
Can America’s most recognizable woodworking personality actually retire?
By Jefferson Kolle
Norm Abram first stepped in front of a television camera in 1979 as the lead carpenter on “This Old House,” a show on which he still appears. A decade later, Norm began “The New Yankee Workshop,” and for 21 seasons he taught a glued-to-the-screen audience how to make furniture. Norm never skipped the hard parts, and while he didn’t make them look easy, he did show you that they were doable. As such, his gentle smile and reassuring manner coaxed countless people to take up the craft of working wood.
He has appeared on lots of other shows as well as in countless magazines, including two articles in the August 2005 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine (#149). “The New Yankee Workshop” may be over, but Norm is hardly retired. He just bought a new old house that he’s renovating and he’s mulling over ideas for a new shop, so he can keep building and building.
In a recent discussion, Norm talked about TV, the Internet, woodworking and safety.
Video: In 2007, Norm Abram was interviewed by Popular Woodworking Magazine senior editor (then editor and publisher) Steve Shanesy.
Blog: Read this blog post about Norm’s decision to stop production of “The New Yankee Workshop.”
Web site: Visit the official “New Yankee” web site to watch selected episodes of the show, or purchase project plans and DVDs.
Articles: Our August 2005 issue (#149) featured a visit to ”The New Yankee Workshop” and a build-along of Norm Abram’s Adirondack chair. Read more