Interview with Craftsman, Sergio Zepeda


Interviews with craftsmen are always fun and interesting as you hear about each craftsman’s unique background and passion for woodworking. Today, we are interviewing with Sergio Zepeda who currently oversees the CNC machine at our shop in Elkwood.

Interviewer: Olivia Kim (Marketing Assistant)

How did you get into wood working?

I came to work at Hardwood Artisans by Ricardo’s referral (Ricardo is one of our six partners). I started working as a filling person at first. Then advanced up to learning to do sanding, building drawers and headboards, and now operating the CNC machine.

How long have you worked for Hardwood Artisans?

It’s been 13 years. I can’t believe it. Time just flies by!

What pieces do you work on at the shop?

Currently, I am operating the CNC machine.

What exactly is a CNC machine?

CNC stands for Computer Numeric Controller. It’s basically a 3-D printer that prints AutoCAD drawings. It’s used to route wood panels, dovetails, mortise and tenon, handles, etc.

Favorite piece among Hardwood Artisans’ furniture?

I really like the Tansu style pieces. It has sophisticated design with Japanese flare to it. Many of the Tansu designs are now archived. I like the Tansu Bookcase and Dresser. I also like the Craftsman collection because of its classic design that fits well into different homes.

What are some of your hobbies outside of work?

I like to go fishing. I usually go to Mountain Run Lake Park in Culpeper. I also go to the Culpeper Sport and Racquet Club to lift weights and exercise.

What about wood working that you find most attractive?

You can be as creative as you want with woodworking. There is no right or wrong design to a piece you are making. Even if a piece didn’t come out to be what you planned for, you can figure out ways to branch off from the mistake and create a totally new design that still looks great.

I, of course, can’t make mistakes on customers’ pieces but on my own works, I like to splurge to see how a piece comes out.

What’s your favorite wood and why?

My favorite is the Leopard wood because of its unique and one of a kind look. Among the woods we carry, I like Cherry, Mahogany and Curly Maple. Finished pieces looks really good in those woods. I like Mahogany because it is soft to work with.

What is your ultimate goal as a craftsman?

To become a master woodworker. I admire peer woodworker’s different skills and want to learn from each one of them. I will continue to learn and polish my woodworking skills to become a master woodworker.

Do you have a role model woodworker?

There are many people in the company that I want to learn from. They all have different strengths and skills. Mark is very good with designs. Greg is very creative. I wish I can take the time to learn all the strength points from each of them.

What is the most difficult piece you have ever built?

The piece that was showcased at last Lemonade Social. It’s a coffee table with very organic lines and twisted looking legs. I wanted to make the legs resemble the look of a tree branch or root. So I used much time cutting and carving at the Bandsaw and Edge Sander. I first got the inspiration from Greg Smith who at the time was building his own pieces this style. I immediately wanted to try making one myself, so I did. The coffee table got sold at the last year’s Lemonade Social.

What’s your favorite food?

Sushi, because I love fish. One day, I will learn to make sushi from the fish I caught myself.

Do you have a travel destination that you would absolutely want to visit one day?

(without hesitation) I want to visit Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to see Christ The Redeemer statue. I always thought it was very cool and wanted to see for myself how big it actually is.

If you didn’t become a woodworker, what would you have been?

In High school, I wanted to become a pilot or doctor. Pilot after watching the movie, Top Gun. I was intrigued at the speeds of the jets, the heights, and the importance of their positions. I also thought about becoming a doctor because of my interest in the human anatomy. I am still is fascinated with the parts of the body.

Thank you Sergio for your time! I appreciate you sharing with us your background and passion for woodworking!

No problem, any time!


Sergio’s Coffee Table in walnut showcased during 2016 Lemonade Social


Another piece for his home

Tansu 5-drawer Chest 2

Sergio’s favorite Tansu style Chest and Dresser that are now archived

Tansu Grand Mesa













Elkwood, Culpeper Showroom Renovation


It is certainly about time.
Four and a half years ago, when we moved our shop to the Elkwood location from Woodbridge, we had big plans for the showroom. We were going to do this and that, take out these walls, and replace that thing…………………..all we did in the end was paint the walls…..

Oh, you say, we’ll get to that after the lemonade social. Oh, we can do it when we slow down after the holiday rush. Time marches on, and on and on. Four years later, Todd, our marketing guru, was the one who jump started the thing again and got the new Elkwood Showroom on the map. A little persuasion, a little guilt, a little terror seem to be the things needed to motivate some otherwise very busy group of craftsmen. There is nothing like getting an initial agreement, and then promoting and committing the project out to the public. Well done, Todd.

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Showroom Before Renovation

I did the layout and made up the plan, but most of the work was done by others. We hired drywall guys, but aside from that, we did the work internally. Mel scraped the glue off the floor for three days, Curt sanded the concrete, Chubb painted, Scott made trim. Everyone had a hand in it. One day I had stopped in on my day off for something, and Tina (the manager there) was in old tennis shoes with her pants rolled up looking like she was clam digging, using an old fashion mop, slopping and swabbing a stain all over the concrete floor. She was covered in a dark brown muddy looking goop. She looked exhausted. Two days of that sort of work for her. I wish I had taken a photo.

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Work in Progress


After We Refinished The Floor

By Friday, the day before our event, things were not coming together very well. I found myself where I always seem to be – at the tail end, piecing together a tough puzzle. Alone with a few Coronas and some very loud music, I was on a roll, accessorizing the vignettes, setting the track lighting, hanging pictures, and fluffing the space through the night. This is what I do, what I have done repeatedly since working for Conrans and The Door Store back in the early to mid 1980’s.

The point here is that we all get behind on our projects, even the really important ones. It is very easy to start a project, but very hard to finish one. The space is wonderful. It is filled with some nice pieces, and we have other pieces on the way soon. By taking walls out, we made the store about 2 ½ times larger. It is now about 1900 square feet. Pop in for a tour and a peek at the showroom.

-Mark Gatterdam, Designer and Sales Coordinator

Some After Photos


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Celebrating 40 Years of Furniture Making

Although we are now a prominent furniture maker in DC Metropolitan Area, Hardwood Artisans started out as a small loft bed store in Old Town Alexandria, VA. Two men in their late 20’s, Greg Gloor and Larry Spinks, built and sold loft beds in the basement of a retail building in 1976. The only tools that were available at the time was a router, Skilsaw, hand sander, and a drill.


(Greg and Larry at their first shop/showroom in Old Town Alexandria in 1977)


(The very first loft bed built in 1976)

After several years, Greg and Larry rented an industrial space in Lorton, VA where they continued to make loft beds. In 1980, the Loft Bed Store opened a showroom in Rockville, MD. During this time, different lines of dressers were introduced to our product line to accompany the loft beds. We also broadened our usage of woods to include cherry, oak, walnut, maple, and mahogany.

Business grew rapidly thanks to our customers who loved our products and trusted our honest and straightforward business style. In 1982, Greg and Larry undertook a venture to build their own wood shop in Woodbridge, VA to move up from their rental space. This was a crucially innovative time for the company as we broadened our product line to include tables, chairs, dining room, and other bedroom pieces.


(Newly built shop on Farm Creek Drive Woodbridge, VA September 1983)


(Larry and Seng loading truck for delivery on Christmas Eve)

Now that we have evolved from making just loft beds, in 1998, we changed our name from “The Loft Bed Store” to “Hardwood Artisans” to better represent who and what we had become. In 2006, Greg turned the business over to six partners who had worked for him and helped the company in its growth. The six partners are now  ambassadors of the company. They all have different roles ranging from sales and interaction with customers to designing furniture. However, they have one common goal which is to provide quality furniture and exceptional customer service to all of our customers.

We take great pride in building furniture the best it can be made for you and for future generations. 100% of our furniture is made with real, solid wood in 43,000 sq. ft. wood shop in Culpeper, VA.


(Hardwood Artisans Employees and Partners at the Culpeper Shop. Pictured sitting and kneeling from right to left is Kevin Carlson, John Buss, John Hillgren, Curt Smay, Mark Gatterdam, and Ricardo Berrum)

We would like to invite you to visit our showrooms in Arlington, VA, Bethesda, MD, and Culpeper, VA (currently under renovation) to see the quality and craftsmanship of our furniture. In addition to our showroom in Culpeper, you can take a tour of our shop and see how our furniture is made. Our craftspeople always enjoy demonstrating their skills and answering questions.

In an era where mass production is an industry norm, we are focused on building the best furniture at the highest level of craftsmanship. Good furniture is a rarity nowadays and we know that people want the best when it comes to having furniture that will last. We are committed to assisting you in ordering your furniture as well as building it with best craftsmanship possible.

Interview with our Bethesda showroom Manager, Steve.


Steve with our Bi-Folding Bookcase Murphy Bed in birch wood.


Salesperson: Steve Doyle

Interviewer: Olivia Kim (Marketing Assistant)

How long have you been with Hardwood Artisans?

I started working in 1987. I was away for two years for grad school, so in total it’s about 27 years till this date.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I do many things in my free time. I like to read books. I tend to read good number of books related to my topic of interest. Recently I read some physics books. I also like to look at geography and historical books. I go to the gym to workout,  check out new, interesting restaurants. I like to spend time with my wife at church.

Do you have any favorite restaurants?

My go to place for lunch is St. Elmo’s deli which is right by the Bethesda showroom. It’s a great place to get delicious sandwiches. They have friendly staff and good food. I’ve never failed at my choice of sandwiches.

For dinner, I like to go to Jaleo, it’s a Spanish tapas place on Woodmont Avenue, Bethesda.

I heard you are from this area.

Yes! (gets very excited) Bethesda is my hometown. I was born at Suburban Hospital just off the Old Georgetown.

I grew up in this area, went to Bethesda Elementary, Leland Junior High, and Bethesda Chevy Chase High School.

Very cool, what do you like most about Bethesda?

Bethesda has a relatively small, local community vibe although it has changed quite a bit. No matter how much it changes, Bethesda will always be my home and favorite place to be.

What do you like most about working in the showroom?

Definitely the people I meet. I have met many interesting and cool people while working. It’s very fun to meet different people, getting the opportunity to talk with them and build relationships.

Which is your favorite piece or collection in the showroom? And why?

(thinks for a few moments)

The Waterfall Collection, because it is very elegant.

The style translates very well to many sizes and shapes. Sometimes, with different designs, if you change the size to either bigger or smaller than the original dimensions, it throws off the general aesthetics. With Waterfall Collection, it always looks good. That’s why I like the Waterfall collection the most.

To go along with the question, what is your favorite type of wood?

Birch is my favorite. I like how it is original, nobody can make a fake birch. Every birch wood is different and unique.

What is your favorite food?

My favorite food would be Japanese. I like sushi. I like how Asian cuisines have variety of textures.

What is your biggest pet peeve?

When people don’t put things back to where they belong after use.

You must be a very neat person then?

Yes, I can be obnoxiously neat, but I’ve learned to live with some disorganization.

As a salesperson, what do you think is your strength?

Paying attention to details. Whether it is placing orders or talking with customers, I like to pay attention to details. I’ve learned that if you pay attention to the smaller details, the bigger details always seem to work themselves out. Also, I am a good listener.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Oh my, the list is very long.

Could you share a few?

Yes, I have never been to South American continent, so I would love to visit sometime. Machu Pichu and Buenos Ares are on my list.  I also want to visit Europe. Although I have traveled to Asia, I haven’t had chance to go to China and Japan, so they are also on the list.

Basically I want to travel all around the world. I plan to travel plenty after I retire.

Great, sounds like a lot of fun! Do you have any favorite movie or TV show?

Yes, I watch way too many Clint Eastward movies (laughs)

I have seen the Unforgiven probably forty times. I also like My Cousin Vinny.

Do you have anyone who you look up to for inspiration?

Yes, he is one of the most knowledgeable men in the world. His books are used as standard textbooks in three different areas. He was my professor from college. He is very passionate about his field. At the time I took his Aerodynamics class. I was stunned when I found out that he rehearses an entire lecture before he gives one. He has accomplished a lot in his field yet is still very humble, which is one of the reasons I admire him. I was pleasantly surprised when he walked into the Rockville showroom one day.

Oh did you invite him to the showroom?

No, he just walked in one day after many years. He loved the furniture in the showroom.

Wow, it’s always great to run into old acquaintances and friends you haven’t seen in a while.

Well, that’s all I have got. Thank you so much for your time!

Thank you (smiles)



Change and InTransit

Change is hard yet necessary for growth. I don’t think anyone would argue that statement. We have all experienced it. It tends to be scary, walking into the unfamiliar. Most of my career at Hardwood Artisans, I held the title of Qualifications Director. This was an interesting and quirky job, which resulted in me having to know how to do every other job within the business, often poorly, but learned non-the-less. It had to do with understanding what was needed by the worker, and what was wanted by the customer. It was a painfully great job that involved me creating change within the organization all the time. It involved me getting people within the group to embrace and accept change.

Fast forward to 2015. Our Rockville store lease is ending in a year, and we are not going to renew the lease. We knew it was time to leave, so the hunt had to begin. What I realized, much like in 1997 when we decided to change our name , was that we were not the company our image portrayed any longer. We needed an external face lift.

On different occasions I found myself wandering around the newer, trendy (some say gentrified, but I think that word is overused) areas of Washington, DC and Bethesda, MD, looking for a space. We went to the 14th and U Street Corridor, the H Street Corridor, NOMA (North of Massachusetts Avenue), Bethesda Row, The Woodmont Triangle, etc. We kept seeing many low-rise steel and glass, full amenity modern condominium buildings going up everywhere.

This architecture was the catalyst for the InTransit design. The key points of motivation and standards for the InTransit Collection were: solid wood construction, impeccable joinery, industrial, simple/clean lines, relatively less expensive, efficient use of space, and scale appropriate (smaller).

We found some wonderful handles and finish for our prototypes in a serendipitous manner, as most good projects seem to go. I had a client who wanted something very transitional to go with other pieces they had. The handles and the wood/color selection were due to their efforts on that project. The handles are a distressed pewter finish, large and heavy.

For the prototypes, we wanted walnut wood, but darker. We also wanted the walnut to not fade, as walnut does over time. Still, we wanted the finish to feel natural (oil), and not be a lacquer-type finish. The demand for the correct wood and finish was changed several times. Finally, we applied Aniline Dye Stain to walnut wood, actually dying the wood, and then applied a clear Danish Oil on the top.

The InTransit Bed design was motivated by wanting storage, coupled with lightness. We integrated metal supports into the design for the headboard, made the surface for the mattress flat, and created open cubbies in the base (finished interior spaces), with drawer storage options. The entire bed system rests on a pedestal, resulting in an efficient storage bed that looks like it is floating.

InTransit Bed. The exquisite lamp is courtesy of Bobby Lipman, artist and customer.


The InTransit Chests and Dressers were designed largely around scale. We wanted a standard five drawer chest, but with generously sized drawers. We also wanted a dresser, but not in the traditional sense. The seven drawer dresser is a mere 52” long, with larger “bin” style drawers on top and ample drawer storage below. It is taller than most standard dressers, trying to utilize wall space while maintaining aesthetics.


Back to locating a space, in February of 2016 we found the space in the Woodmont Triangle area of Bethesda that we now occupy. It is like meeting the love of your life – the minute you see her, you know it. Steve Doyle, the Rockville (now Bethesda) store manager and I non-verbally, but simultaneously agreed this was the spot. So here we are.

I had not considered or accounted for the vast generosity of the community that welcomed us. One day after signing the lease, we got a call from Aaron Kraut from the Bethesda Beat ( wanting to do an interview. Less than a week later we had a nice mention in the online version of Bethesda Magazine (

There is a guy in Bethesda. Most people seem to know him, or know of him. Charles, the window cleaner. He is a tall, thin, black man, who wears the stars and stripes on his shirt, pants, bandana, etc.. He is a little odd, I must say. But he is the exact flavor of “old” Bethesda we were looking for. We are in the funky northern part of Bethesda, where the little guy still prevails. A perfect fit.

We moved in the same week we signed the lease. I had just gotten back from Haiti two days earlier. Just a soft opening, but getting things placed and organized takes time. The space is different from most, with a curved front and a ton of glass, all nice, but challenging when wanting to create vignettes. Vintage. We had no phone, no printer, no internet. Our neighbor, Creative Parties, offered to design and print some signs for us, which they did at no cost ( Tracy Schwartz of Creative ).

Back to the InTransit Collection. As we work to get Bethesda ready to go, we are putting the finishing touches on the collection. The InTransit Collection turned out exactly how we had hoped, exactly how the new showroom needed it to be. We have become a different company. Still, we are the same, but we have evolved, changed in a positive way, like your teenage son who you now recognize as a man for the first time.

Greg Gloor ran us through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s in the jeans and tee shirt and running shoes days – a bunch of hippies mastering woodworking. Now, we have traded up to something different, emulating the furniture we make. Now, designer jeans and dress shirts with wing tip shoes. Not better, just different and new. With all this change, I still only shave two times a week.  Most people see me in a perpetual three day beard. There are some things that I just will not change!

Mark Gatterdam

Tools, Part Three

I have given several lectures/lessons on knife sharpening in the showrooms in the last few years. Over the past year, I have spent a lot of time really re-worked my skill set, changing some methods, resulting in even sharper edges. I take a lot of pride in this, not so much my ability to do the work, but to make it simple, understandable, teachable to others. I often times say that 80% of doing the job is just removing the fear. The rest is easy.

I find there is a lot of incorrect information on the internet regarding the subject of sharpening things. I have watched hundreds of videos on various methods, using all sorts of devices. By far the best method is still by hand, and in all the videos where the person has truly mastered the craft, it is always done this way.

I came across a very sad looking knife at ………ahem…..ahem…….some persons home who may be related to me, who is known to be a little rough on tools……who gave me crap about the last post on said person…….It looked like “someone” used the knife to open a can. The blade was bent, the tip sheared off, and there were several dinks in the blades edge.

This knife is a 3 1/2″ paring knife. It has an odd, very specific shape and use. I would never use a knife shaped like this, and as the tip was in such bad shape, I wanted to rework the profile to something that would actually work for me.

The knife in the beginning
Close up of the edge and tip

I am a huge fan of Shun knives. I think they are some of the best in the world, and they are a good value for their quality. This particular knife is laminated Damascus steel, with 34 layers of cladding on each side. These knives are made in the same manner that Samurai Swords were crafted in several hundred years ago.

That said, they are not cheap. This knife retails for about $50. Larger chef knives run up to $250, some fancier ones even far more, upwards of $500. I like the Shun Classic set the most. It is a basic model, having the quality a good reliable knife should have, without all the bells and whistles of some higher end models (with elaborate hollow-grind engraving, and additional laminations).

The first thing I did to modify this knife was to mark out the profile I wanted on the blade itself. I was looking for a Mini Chef knife, used for cutting lemons and herbs. I particularly wanted to grind off the “heel” of the blade, and get a straighter line from front to back. This is how I like to use a knife, with more of a rocking motion. I have several Santoku knives and I have gotten used to that style of chopping.

rough profile sharpie
Very rough outline of profile wanted

I don’t actually own a grinding wheel. Go figure, a guy like me, and in my business, doesn’t own a grinder! I have never felt the need for one, and if I do need one, I simply go to the shop. I have an angle grinder, or die grinder as it is also known as, and what I call it. This is a hand held grinder/cutting tool. I used it a lot in the past, back on the farm when I needed to cut and grind and weld all sorts of things (everything broke – all the time). It is still very handy, even in my more domesticated life. Clamping it in my woodworking vice, preferring to free-hand the blade onto the wheel instead of the other way around, I made the initial grind with the blade at 90 degrees to the cutting surface. If I had four hands, I would have shot a video.

angled for the profile

knife flat edge ground
Showing the newly ground edge

After the initial grind, the cutting edge was very flat, almost 1/16″ across the metal. All this steel needed to be ground to a 16 degree bevel. I repositioned the grinder so I could work the blade on its side, as if I were honing the blade against a stone. This is simply more comfortable for me, which is one of the first things I teach people – get comfortable, physically and mentally, to do an otherwise uncomfortable thing.

Grinding wheel vise grip for edge bevel
Part two of the grind, getting the bevel correct


Here is the final look at the blade with the profile and the bevel set for honing.

Final on edge profile
Final on edge profile and bevel grind

While the shape of the profile and bevel has been put in place, the cutting edge has a very course and jagged nature. I begin the honing part by using a piece of glass for the surface, and 180 grit sandpaper as the abrasive. I have a stone that is 220 grit, but I like the glass as a starting point because I can push harder, getting that initial honed edge just the way I like it.

There are entire sharpening methods/systems that use only glass and sandpaper. These sandpaper grits can go up to 12,000, actually measured in microns because the particles per inch are so small. Several men I have worked with in the past who went to woodworking school had as one of their tests to sharpen chisels with glass and sandpaper only. It is a true test of skill.

Sandpaper grind
Glass and sandpaper

Once I get through the glass grind, I move to water stones. I prefer Norton brand water stones. I start off with 220 grit, move up to 1000 grit, then 4000 grit, and finish with 8000 grit. If each step was done thoroughly, you should have a mirror finish on the edge when done. It is really amazing how polished the edge becomes in such a small amount of time.

8000 grit hone
Final, shown with the 8000 grit stone

Still, there are a few other things to do. Running the blade across a strop is very important. The strop gently removes  the final “wire” that is created along the cutting edge from all the honing. This wire needs to be removed in such a way so it is not broken harshly away from the steel, which would result in a new flat spot in the blade, thereby dulling the blade. The strop makes the difference between cutting the hairs on your arm or not.

Strop hone
Strop and knife

The final thing is to actually test the knife. Sometimes, I miss something, and it is not quite right. Fixing the problem is usually a two minute repair usually, going back a few steps and making some corrections. My way of testing the sharpness of a blade is to see if it cuts the hair on my arm without excessive dragging. I literally am looking for “razor sharp”, and I usually get it. With this knife, I was very happy with the new life I was able to bring it.

The final picture is the knife against a 7″ (blade) Santoku knife. The Santoku is 12 3/8″ long. The new Mini Chef knife (as I now call it) is 8 1/2″ long, with a 3 1/2″ long blade. I need to tell you that the entire process, from start to finish, took me about an hour. I spent more time thinking about what the blade should look like than I did actually making it happen!

Good luck to you, and let me know if you need some guidance in the sharpening world.

As an aside, if you enjoy these posts, please share on Facebook or elsewhere. I really need to know you find these posts educational or otherwise entertaining, and I would like to have a larger audience. Thanks so much.

Mark Gatterdam

mini chef again


A Craftsman Is As A Craftsman Does (Regrets to Forrest)

I have a buddy, well an ex-employee really, but still a buddy. I classify friends based on the 2:00 am rule. Like, if my car broke down on the beltway at 2:00 in the morning and I needed to call someone for help, would this person show up? Rob would.

Rob came to work for us right out of high school. Warmly, I can say he was the most naïve person I had ever met. Great kid, but needed to be taught, well, everything. Fortunately, there was a strong willingness on his part which made it all happen. So, a few years at Hardwood Artisans (twice), a run in the Navy as a navigator on a fighter plane, and 15 years of working hard have produced a really good man, husband, father, and craftsman.

Rob and I stay in touch here and there. He pops into the store sometimes. I know that he values the time he spent with us at Hardwood Artisans. I know it has had a lasting effect on him, perhaps a life-long impact. After my last blog post on tools, he wrote me the following:

“I don’t know how you choose the topics for your blog, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on the difference between a carpenter, craftsmen and artisans.

When I talk with people about my time at HWA, most of the time I hear “you are or you were a carpenter”. I don’t know why, but it bugs me when someone calls me a “carpenter”. I always considered myself to be a craftsman and I considered Greg [Gloor], you or Kevin [Carlson] to be artisans.

I wonder, does it also bug you when someone calls you a carpenter?”

Well Rob, the short answer is “Yes”. But, after years of doing this work, I realize that this knee-jerk twinge of irritation is merely my ego getting in the way. Many people get hung up on titles, certificates, those two, three, or four letters after your name. As a Craftsman, accomplishment is not something you hang on the wall. In the early days, I worked so very hard to get from Apprentice to the level of Journeyman, then Craftsman, and then Master Craftsman. I hung onto those titles, I think because the effort to get there was still fresh in my mind.

Back in the day, I would cringe when someone referred to me as a Carpenter, or even as a Woodworker. I do not know a single Carpenter who knows how to make a chair. I’m sure they are out there, but I have never met one. The running joke is that a Carpenter needs to cut within 1/4″ to be correct. A Woodworker needs to cut close enough to fill the void with putty. A Craftsman’s tolerance is as close as the wood itself will allow. That means there really are no gaps to fill.

Coffee Table I Made For Myself
coffee 2
And The Grain….


In the Latino community, everyone who works with wood is a Carpenter. This is not a derogatory word in their culture. Carpenter is a title of status, respected, and nomenclature worthy of aspiration. Of course, Craftsman does not exist in their vocabulary because they have so few words relative to the English language, but Master does. So, we have Master Carpenters in our shop. Many of you know Javier, a multi-generational Craftsman.

Shop 4
Master Carpenter Javier


The real problem with my buddy Rob’s outlook is that in the USA, we tend to look down on most people known as Carpenters, generally disgusted with the quality of home construction, renovations, exterior decks, most of the time poking fun at it really. In fact, this outlook is nothing more than a lesson in economics. Often, consumers are not willing to pay a Carpenter the amount of money it would take to get a job done right, like in the day when your grand parents built a home. Building materials are harvested too green (early), twisting and bowing. Finding someone who knows how to correct this, and will take the time to get a wall as straight as possible, is hard to find. These individuals still exist, but they tend to be very busy, being afforded a station in life by someone else, with the money and time to do the job right, maintaining a reverence for the work itself.

David J. Brown Construction is one of the few Master Carpenters left. I have a friend, Jon, who did a major expansion/renovation on his home. The project took a year, actually two with the planning and punch list. I watched Dave Brown’s first hand work blending an 80 year old floor with a new one. Seamless. Really nice work. Patient. And Jon paid dearly for the attention, but he is delighted.

I looked up a series of words. Carpenter is one who builds or repairs wooden structures. An Artisan is one who is skilled at a craft. A Craftsman is one who does something with great skill and expertise. A Master is one who is highly skilled at something. These definitions seem to me to be perfectly correct after thinking about it for a day or two.

I remember the day I became a Craftsman. It was a Tuesday. I had been working a lot of hours at the shop over the past few months, struggling to keep the team on schedule and also keep the company profitable and my boss happy. I took a long weekend. When I came to work that Tuesday, somehow everything clicked. Everything was suddenly “easy”. I knew exactly what to do and how to do it. I had broken some imaginary barrier. It literally was like a light switch getting turned on. I had 12,000 hours into the craft.

The House I Built, Modern Arts and Crafts


I also remember when I became a Master Craftsman. It was less of a light switch, and more like a free fall into darkness, trusting the parachute would open (sort of like cave diving, which I would love to do). The change began when I started losing my vision (to getting old), when I stopped trying to measure and sand with the absolute precision I was used to (.005). I closed my eyes and simply “felt” my way through the projects. It sounds ridiculous now, but the products on the back end after my failed vision were better than before. Intuition and instinct had gotten hold of me, and I stopped fighting it.

fezz sergio
Me with two future Masters, Fezz and Sergio


I love talking to customers who are masters in their own crafts. I meet some of the most interesting and accomplished people. I feel very fortunate and blessed to be surrounded by such a diversity of individuals. I get a lot of satisfaction in my personal life by these exchanges, and it is these exchanges that keep me terribly interested and passionate about what I do. In most of the meetings I have, I have become the expert. It was only in recent years that I realized people wanted to hear ME speak of MY craft. People who can explain profoundly complicated subjects with precision and simply are the ones who are the real masters. Greg Gloor taught me that. Thanks Greg.

I leave this blog post with something I came across years ago. This matrix diagram explains it all for me. Oh, and Rob, you were once and always will be a craftsman. Go ahead and correct those people. I love you, man.

Mark Gatterdam

correct passion