Mellow words from a woodworking fellow

By Johnny Williams, guest blogger

NOTE: Johnny Williams operates a custom woodworking business in Newtown, CT. His website is www.jawwoodshop.com.

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Johnny Williams at his Newtown, CT shop.

No one would ever describe me as a “self-taught” furniture maker. Despite consuming countless how-to guides and step-by-step videos, I quickly recognized the benefit of hands-on instruction with more experienced woodworkers. Sometimes it’s best to swallow your DIY pride and get yourself schooled by the pros.

Six summers ago, I did just that — enrolling in a twelve-week intensive woodworking course at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship (CFC) in Rockport, Maine. With big dreams and little know-how, I swiftly learned the fundamental lessons of making furniture. Under the guidance of gurus like Brian Reid, Tim Rousseau, AustinMatheson and Adrian Ferrazzutti, my classmates and I studied furniture design, lumber selection, machine safety and maintenance, hand-tool techniques, traditional joinery and finishing. But woodworking is an endless education, and last fall, I returned to further hone my skills as a participant in CFC’s Studio Fellowship program.

CFC executive director Peter Korn explains the purpose of the program, which began in 2004: “In part, we wanted to address that uncertain time between going to school and being a self-employed furniture maker. Once you’re out in the working world, you’re so busy trying to make money that it can be difficult to find time to explore new designs and develop new skills.”

The fellowship offers well-equipped workspace for up to six fellows at a time, each accepted on a rolling basis for as little as a month or as long as a year. Fellows share the CFC campus with regular students, facilitating daily interaction that is enlightening as well as challenging. Shop time is punctuated by breaks to enjoy potluck meals, play games of croquet, or simply take in the Maine coast’s beautiful scenery (CFC is located in Rockport, ME). Fellows are required to contribute six hours toward facilities maintenance and monitoring the school’s Messler Gallery, a space showcasing contemporary furniture craft. Personally, I loved taking trips to the town dump in the school’s big blue truck, each pothole sending a cloud of sawdust into the air like a smoke signal celebrating the preservation of our craft.

During my six week stint as a fellow, I designed and prototyped a luxury wooden stash box for the cannabis connoisseur featuring storage compartments and a built-in rolling tray. At first, Korn was amused and somewhat reticent. Yet once I explained the commercial viability of the emerging high-end market for marijuana accessories, he welcomed my exploration into what he recognizes as a new movement of “studio design.”

From the outset, I was impressed by the range and quality of work being pursued on campus. In the dual-purpose Whittington Woodturning Studio, students hollowed out beautiful bowls one week, while Asher Dunn of Studio Dunn led a product design and development course the next. In our busy workshop, students from the nine-month comprehensive course eagerly experimented with the school’s shiny new ShopBot CNC milling machine. Despite my aversion to computer-aided technologies, their foray into the future of craft synced seamlessly with the comparatively Stone-Age tasks of sharpening chisels and cutting dovetails by hand.

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Located in Rockport, ME, the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship provides fully equipped workshop space and expert instruction for a wide variety of woodworking courses.

As for my fellow fellows, I lucked out to work alongside an inspiring group of woodworkers. Take Jack Mauch, a Massachusetts furniture maker who focused on elaborate marquetry patterns and shaded surface decoration, or antique restorer Mark Catalini who built a beautiful walnut writing desk. I was also reunited with my former College of the Redwoods benchmate Sarah Marriage. As Marriage describes the fellowship, “this program recognizes that craft is always in a state of flux and it thrives on that.” I couldn’t agree more. At CFC, woodworking is a pursuit that’s both timeless and ever-changing.

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