My history in furniture making is not long by any formal standard, but I had made many smaller things for family and friends nights and weekends since I was in high school. I have never had any formal training in woodworking of any type. I’ve never taken a class. Everything I know, I’ve picked up on the fly and through trial and error (there have been a lot of those). I like to say that you become your most inventive and creative when you’re staring down the barrel of one of your miscalculations.
For all my working life I was in the construction trade. I was a carpenter in Middlebury, Vermont for 10 years and a union carpenter, in the greater Boston area, for 40 years, before I “retired” in 2011 and started building furniture full time. While in the trades, I worked for almost 60 different companies (some of them many different times) in over 200 locations. I would be on the job for the “finish” work, installing millwork or doors and hardware. Whether it was a Niemann-Marcus or Bloomingdale store, Boston College or Harvard University, the job was working with a chop saw, a skilsaw and a drill. For the last 20 years, most of the time, there was a table saw there too (the little Makita portable - I learned how to cope complex curved crown molding on it). I cope cut laminated counter tops by climb cutting (backwards so it wouldn’t chip the laminate) with a skilsaw, having an undercut because there was no backsplash. I installed all the 18” deep oak window sills and baseboard scribed to within 1/32” in an entire building with a Bosch jigsaw holding it upside down, with the blade towards me. The tile setters taught me how to cut tile with a diamond wheel, a grinder, and a wet sponge on a bucket.
I spent my working life removing material from a piece held with one hand with an exposed moving blade in the other on a set of plastic sawhorses, always within 1/32” and I was pretty good at it. It’s not that unusual, most finish carpenters are good at it.
Every company has slightly different tools in the gang box, a slightly different method of working, and vastly different expectations of what the work should look like on completion. The quality of work and the quantity of work were the 2 contradictory things that constantly were a sticking point.
In your life, there are people who stand out, people who made a difference in how you saw things. These are 4 people who stand out in my working life, people who helped me immensely with that aforementioned contradictory sticking point. By the way, these are all wonderful people and I know that, typically, these guys all think that this is no big thing!
I’m saying that, in my life, it was a very big deal.
Gary Guilmette: The little Vermonter who, with humor and example, taught me to care ONLY about the integrity of the work!
Charlie Duffer: The outside foreman for National Door who brought me inside based on my work ethic. A believer of the integrity of the work, Charlie taught me how to install doors and hardware on a fast production basis. Please, work smarter not harder!
Norman Godfrey: This guy hired me based on our work together and on his jobs (the Henri Bendel store in Chestnut Hill in particular), quality of work was primary. He pushed me to new heights, pickled oak panels for three floors while carrying a 1/8” reveal cut at eye level through the whole three floors.
Bob Drover: This man is the best mechanic I have ever known. He taught me how to make a living installing millwork to 1/64” while keeping production in line with what any other carpenter could do at a much lower level. I carry his techniques now in making furniture and am incredibly grateful that he took me under his wing.
I retired in November of 2011 and started building up my shop in the basement. There has always been a shop in my life, whether it was my dad’s when I was little, or my own, out on a porch when we lived in a rented apartment or in a basement in Arlington with a 6 foot overhead. I started making furniture with a skilsaw and a drill and I’ve always made small things for friends in my “shop”.
But now, for me, this was living the dream. Designing and building my own ideas, not just installing someone else’s designs.
Of course, there have been interruptions. In 2011, a hurricane hit Haiti and Paul Farmer’s organization, Partners In Health put out a call for the Union’s help building a hospital in Mirabelaise (L’Hopital Universitaire de Mirebalaise), high in the mountains of rural Haiti. With some trepidation, in May and June of 2012, I went, and trained a team of local carpenters in the art of hanging doors on an institutional, commercial basis. I will say that I brought home much more than I contributed.
Then, in 2013, there was the upstairs bathroom…In 2014 the back of the house needed siding, scraping and painting.
By 2015, I was back in a groove, had joined the Lexington Woodworker’s Guild, participated in Lexington Open Studios, and was showing locally in Gallery Blink. I was also on a local cable TV show called Art Talk for a half hour talking about how I build a rocking chair.
In Sept., 2015, I was awarded winner of the best summer project photo contest by Highland Hardwoods in N.H. for a commissioned walnut rocker I had made.
In 2016, I was back in Lexington Open Studios, Gallery Blink, and the Lexington Woodworker’s Guild show, Light and Wood.
In October, 2016, I was invited to the juried show at Paradise City in Northampton, Ma. and was selected as 1 of 4 Director’s Picks for the show.
In April, 2017, I was juried into the prestigious Philadelphia Furniture Show.
In April, 2018, I stayed more local and participated in the (juried) AC/CraftBoston Spring show at the Cyclorama in downtown Boston.About