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Growing up I thought everyone had a Bridgeport in their garage – or at least had access to a vertical mill at their dad’s shop across town. Little did I know at the time that growing up in a machine shop wasn’t necessarily normal. My father instilled in me at a young age a belief that there’s nothing that can’t be fixed – even if you threw away the manual the second you opened the box. His can-do spirit and charming negligence for reading the instructions has served me well, but over the years I’ve had wonderful opportunities to receive formal education in the mechanical arts.

Back when I was in high school, my school district offered a pathway for students who thought they were headed down the road of engineering – I enrolled in a next-generation vocational school called the Pre-engineering Academy. It was there that I started to finally read the manuals for all of the machines and trades that I had learned through experience at the family machine shop. We had courses in CAD, metal machining, polymers and electronics. This new information was put to use immediately – by this point I’d been fabricating frames, wiring machines, welding and running CNC machines for several years at the family shop. Between the knowledge I gained in these classes and the years of growing up in the shop, I made my way through a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Technology at Ohio University with enthusiasm. That was until I felt a call into a totally different field.

Though I loved the company that my father and his brothers had built, I decided to venture into a new vocation, pastoral ministry. I headed down to Lexington, Ky., to earn a master’s degree before pastoring a church. My time with the church lent me the opportunity to discover leadership in our community and the depths of faith. It was in this season of life that I discovered woodworking. While my day-to-day with the church was largely an exercise of the mind and heart, I could not escape the pull into the shop. I scoured Craigslist and estate sales and outfitted my garage with a decent woodworking shop. My passion for woodworking was stoked by the personalities I discovered on YouTube and in woodworking magazines. But more on that later.

Over the last seven years, I’ve worked alongside my wife as she has built a name in the photography world. Stephanie specializes in weddings and family portraiture. Working together, we have shot around 20 weddings every summer of our marriage. Among the many reasons that I’ve enjoyed our family business, I have found that photography routinely forces me out of my creative comfort zone. Over the hundreds of thousands of images that I have captured on the most important day of our clients’ life, I have learned to discover beauty in the unique nature of every relationship. As a woodworker, I have strive to maintain the same appreciation. Building yet another chair or yet another table can seem mundane, so I strive to see beauty in the unique qualities of every project. My pastoral and photography experience made huge contributions to my decision to take up woodworking.

The transition from metalworking to woodworking made sense for me for several reasons. First, it’s really hard to haul a Bridgeport and welding table up to the third floor of your first apartment as a newlywed. Second, as I came to terms with choosing a career that wasn’t the family business, I simply could not set aside my identity as an engineer and craftsperson. I had to find a reasonable outlet to express this identity and woodworking has given me that outlet. Third, my appreciation for creation and the arts as a photographer have magnified my appreciation for the beauty of woodworking – peering into the depths of figured maple or gazing over the cathedrals in oak is a totally different experience than laying out bolt patterns on a plate of 6061.

Finally, the woodworking community is amazing. As a digital native, I attribute the YouTube community in particular for drawing me into this world. The creative and engaging personalities met me exactly where I was at and pushed me to take on projects that I might not have if I were left alone in my garage trying to dream up the next project.

After a winding career, I’ve tried pinching myself a few times to make sure that I am actually sitting at a desk in the Popular Woodworking office plotting strategy for our online content. But here I am, working alongside the mythical authors of seminal texts that have formed me over the years. I count this opportunity to serve the community as your online content director an honor. Please feel free to contact me with questions and comments regarding Popular Woodworking’s entire digital footprint – our website, Instagram, Twitter, our YouTube channel or anything else.

David Lyell

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Showing 4 comments
  • Shawn Nichols

    Good luck David. Glad to have you aboard.

  • Jim McConnell


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