Interview with our Bethesda showroom Manager, Steve.

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.

IMG_3109
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.

IMG_3186

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 (http://www.bethesdamagazine.com/Bethesda-Beat/) wanting to do an interview. Less than a week later we had a nice mention in the online version of Bethesda Magazine (http://www.bethesdamagazine.com/).

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 Parties.com ).

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.

Beginning
The knife in the beginning
start
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
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.

house
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

Tools

I was busy during snowmageddon 2016, buried for five days at my parents home in Great Falls, helping around the house and trying to dig out. In my spare time, I organized things, drawers, tools, files, and such mostly. During the cleaning, purging, and organizing, I came across several pair of scissors (40 pair approximately, but that is another story about parents). Two pair in particular.

These scissors are handmade in Japan, stunningly crafted and wonderfully sharp. Really nicely made tools. Unfortunately by the time I saw them, Mom had gotten hold of them some time prior and done that thing she does with most tools that find their way into her hands. The whole thing is a running joke in the family. Mom finds a way to break most things in her way. Computers, tools, knives, garbage disposals……but I digress from this blog post.

scissors
Before And After Scissors

 

I needed to wet sand with 400 grit sand paper to get the clay, rust, dirt and oxidation off without severely effecting the patina. I spent about an hour and a half working on the first pair on a lovely spring afternoon on my front porch. I then applied a clear lacquer to the scissors to help prevent rust.

I cleaned up the first pair and laid it side-by-side for comparison.  Now, the thing about scissors like these is that having to work so hard to remove the junk, you run the risk of personal injury.

hand
Need I Say More?

The point of this blog is not to pick on my Mom, but to talk about tools. I have been accused of being a tool snob. I think that is an unfair depiction of me. Like many of you, I like nice things in my life. I earn a living using tools. I need good ones. They need to be well made, accurate, reliable, indestructible, consistent. This is not just how I earn a living, but it is how I exact myself toward any project I invest in. If you were a doctor, would you buy your stethoscope from the dollar store?

Years ago, I watched a “This Old House” program. This particular show was not about the houses, but focused on the people in the show and their tools. Specifically, Tommy Silva, the lead carpenter for the show, revealed to the audience what his must-haves were in his tool pouch. He explained the “why” for each item, explaining what to eliminate to reduce the weight of the bag. I was incredibly impressed by his insightfulness about why each tool was carried. He described the quality of some of the various tools and the reason for needing a certain quality on these tools. I remembered that entire lesson.

I worked on my personal tool bag. When I built my house in 2001 – 2002, I further refined my tool bag. Since then, I have made adjustments, but it is pretty much ideal for what I run into at home, work, showrooms, or Haiti.

tool bag
“The Kit”

I probably need to break it down for you. The bag contents are:

Framing hammer or Finishing hammer, depending, made by Estwing. 25′ long tape measure – Klein, Zircon stud finder, Allen brand Allen wrench set in a folding system, LED flashlight, nylon string, Channel Locks, Wiss scissors, Klein lineman plyers, Empire framing speed square 6″, complete micr0 socket set (up to 1/2″), Crescent wrench, two Klein 11-in-1 combination screwdrivers, micro breaker bar (0r wonder bar as it may be known to some), Stanley chalk line, copper wire – very fine, Klein torpedo level with magnetic side, utility knife/razor knife, plumb bob (solid brass of course), nail punch, 4-in-1 file, Awl (I turned the burled walnut handle myself years ago), Dewalt hole saw assortment, tooth picks, Klein wire strippers, pencils (both carpenters and traditional), C-8 countersink (11/64″ slip hole with a 3/8″ countersink head – good for #8 screws), one or two masonry bits, electrical tape, Vise Grip brand locking vise grips.

Now, I know that you don’t believe I got all that in the bag, so here is a photo of everything, in order of listing, laid out on the floor. Actually, there are several other items currently in the bag that were not mentioned.

tools

When you add in a cordless drill, you’re pretty much ready to go in the hand tool department. Of course, other power tools or finer tools like hand planes need added. I used to carry a small block plane in the kit, but I didn’t use it enough to justify the weight.

The oldest tool in the kit is a pair of Vise Grips, pictured below. They are great. This set has been all over, including the girls shower in Haiti……….again, another story there somewhere. These locking vise grips are worn, a little rusty (remember the shower), very used, but not abused. They still work perfectly even if they look a little rough. Like the lines on our faces and the stories we tell about our lives, my tool bag and its contents has many great stories from its past.

I don’t always buy the best. I buy what I like and believe to be a very good quality for the money. I buy a lot of Klein and Dewalt (high-end) and Milwaukie because I like them. So, purchase tools with the correct thought about its use in your life, respect the tool by caring for it, and always know the difference between using and abusing a tool.

What is your “must-have” or “go-to” tool?

Mark Gatterdam

vise grips
A very worn tool

 

An Interview with a Craftsman

When I walk through the shop, there’s always something to see. Half of the time, I’m trying to find someone that I need to talk to that always seems to be on the opposite side of the shop that I’m looking in. I don’t mind this though because I get to see what the other craftsmen are up to. I’ll typically get a “Todd-man!” or a “can you help me move this real quick”  from Festus, a salute from Sergio on the CNC machine, and an intentional nod from Greg aside from his usually nodding to his music by his work bench.

This will be the first of a series of interviews that I will have with our craftsmen. I’ll do my best to ask questions to help you understand some of the interesting things that I already know about them. I’ll also ask questions to discover more about them that I don’t know. I’m excited to give you a look into the minds of these artistic men and women within these Interviews with a Craftsman.

GregNoSmile

Craftsman: Greg Smith 

Interviewer: Todd Breeden (Marketing Coordinator)

What pieces do you work on at the shop?

I work on tables, chairs, Shinto pieces, and any new or custom pieces.

When did you start woodworking?

I believe it was 1992 when I applied at Hardwood Artisans. An uncle of mine told me about the job so I applied. I was lucky enough to hired on the spot. I left in 1995 to work in construction but came back in 2001.

How long does it take for someone to really build some confidence in their craft?

About 4-5 years with your skills. Machines are pretty quick to get the hang of but you don’t want to become overconfident.

What is your favorite band?

(laughs quietly) Today Is The Day. (he then shows me his forearm with the band’s name tattooed on him). I first saw them live and was hooked. Their lyrics, music, and evolving style has got me hooked.

What would you say are some characteristics of your personal pieces? How can someone tell if it’s a “Greg” piece?

Very few straight lines, it will look more organic, and will have a contrast in wood. I usually use Cherry with Maple or Maple with something else.

I’ve noticed that you are quite the coffee drinker in the shop. What is your go to coffee brand?

Chock Full O Nuts.

What was your biggest mistake in shop and how did you fix it?

I was working on a piece for our founder’s friend. I pretty much screwed up the radius on the legs going down to the foot. After I realized I made a mistake, I offered to rebuild the piece off of the clock and in turn, Greg gave me the piece I had made the mistake on. After that experience, I learned to double check everything and never get too confident.

Who is your favorite woodworker?

Sam Maloof. I really like his Rocking Chairs and his absence of straight lines. It’s very organic.

If you weren’t a woodworker, what would you be?

Painter or sculptor. Maybe a stuntman (laughs).

Favorite Movie?

Blade Runner. The dark and futuristic aspect is appealing to me. There’s nothing quite like it even today. I have this thing for post-apocolyptic future societies. Road Warrior and Book of Eli are some other great films that are close after Blade Runner.

Favorite Food?

A pizza with the works or a Hebrew National with Mustard & Mayo. Either one is delicious.

What are some of your hobbies outside of work?

Working on my own furniture pieces, playing PS4’s Fallout, and visiting coffee shops and enjoying my close friends company.

Favorite Piece of Hardwood Artisans Furniture?

Glasgow Chair but we no longer make them so I’d have to say that at the moment a Waterfall Demi-Lune.

What’s your favorite piece to build & why?

Shinto Stools because they are challenging. They have thru tenons which I enjoy working on.

Biggest pet peeve?

The sound of silverware on teeth. (whew—shudders and shakes head–)

(I try to stop laughing so I can ask the next question.)

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

Egypt to see the Pyramids.

I think we just about got it. Thanks for your time, Greg.

Thank you.

GregSmileB&WGreg and his flaming work bench.

IMG_0775Pictured Greg’s current personal project. It’s an Asian-inspired coffee table with two end tables. The Yin-Yang is made of Walnut and Cherry while the table is Maple. He’s using copper pipes to stabilize the center piece while adding an industrial look. It’s not certain if this table will be for sale or not but if so, we will keep you posted.IMG_0776To view more of Greg’s work, click here

 

 

 

It’s Not About You. It’s About Them.

In a world where the news is immediate and generally bad, it becomes difficult to believe and accept that good things happen every day. Regrettably, we often see past the good and fixate on the bad. This post is about the good.

Going to Haiti, or anywhere you volunteer, you feel important. You are generally recognized and appreciated for your efforts, and your head swells a bit. Perhaps, just perhaps. You go there to get something, to give something, to have an experience, to redeem, to enrich, to contribute. You have something to give, you have something to offer to the problem. Whatever.

When I leave Haiti, I feel smaller, less important, but fulfilled and somehow enriched by the experience to the point that it invigorates me again. But still, I always feel smaller. I feel smaller because I am reminded of how small my contribution is. I don’t mean insignificant or unimportant – I mean small. The need is so vast, and I can only do what I can do. It is wildly overwhelming.

There are people, both Haitians and Americans, who are the unsung, who manage to do a lot of good with their time. I wanted to talk about them in the third part of this blog. These people do all sorts of good every day, working to help and improve the lives of the people who are in the greatest need, and not just in Haiti, but in the States as well.

Gil Irwin, Peter Dirr, and Ken Kornetsky are three pivotal doctors/volunteers/administrators who make things happen in the US from an administrative perspective. They are all actively involved in the program and have spent countless hours helping people through the clinic.

Here is a link to the Medical Missionaries site to learn more about it.

http://www.medmissionaries.org/id15.html

So, a guy rolls up to me on day one in Haiti last year in a wheel chair, with one leg, paraplegic, two college degrees, one of which is a law degree, speaking four languages, who is unlike anyone you have ever known.

“Junior”, as he is known, is the clinic administrator. He basically wakes up every day to total chaos all around him at the clinic. Given all that, he remains a kind, calm, observant, and patient man. He is absolutely not what you think when you first meet him. He carries an air of confidence and even invokes a little fear around the compound. He is good at what he does.

I first met him in Haiti, then in the states, and then again in Haiti. He broke his back falling out of a banana tree when he was young. He went to school, got his education, and became affiliated with the clinic by being a patient first.

What I like the most about Junior is that he is perpetually grateful for everything around him. Like, all the time, man. Wow. I love the aura he puts off to the world.

IMG_5944 (1)
Junior in the dining area with Dr. Penna

Doctor Vincent is the on-site medical director. He is a Haitian, a general practitioner, and basically lives in the compound 24/7. He has a serious addiction – clothes! Last year we made him a wall-hung clothing rod to handle his obsession. Sick bastard!

The staff that lives at the clinic have small dorm rooms. These rooms don’t have dressers for clothes. I am not being critical about the organization, or their priorities. I understand that most of the dollars go to the medical care, and not the “luxuries” we take for granted. So, I have tried to improve their situation by making a bookcase here, or finding a trunk for them from over there, or adding some hooks on the wall as needed. I do it because I can, and they are extremely grateful, which makes me feel small and complete. This is how it should be, but it does not make the equation always equitable.

The reality for the clinic is that if there is room on a shipping container bound for Thomassique, medical items will always win. The other sad truth is that when these containers get “inspected”, many of these “luxury” items are stolen outright, so it is almost impossible to get things shipped there like durable goods.

I like Dr. Vincent. He is very private, but on Super Bowl Sunday, many of us were desperate to see the game. The Doctor has a few private amenities, one of which is Haitian TV. He opened up his 10′ x 12′ dorm room to a dozen football fans to watch the game. It was pretty cozy, but memorable. (Note – the downside was that we never got to see the American commercials!)

IMG_5216
Doctor Vincent

There is an entire support staff for the clinic. Many of the staff pull dual duties, like Wilna, pictured below. She is the main cook for the clinic, feeding the staff daily, as well as a mid-wife for the clinic. She has a beaming and always-pleasant disposition. She is funny, smart, talented, and while she speaks absolutely not a stitch of English, we communicated well enough. While we were there, I watched her work, as I am interested in different cooking methods. She was there from about 5:00 am ’til about 8:00 pm every day, making 6 meals a day (three each for the staff and the surgical team).

There is a midwife on call 24/7 at the clinic, along with nursing staff and at least one doctor. The largest problem the clinic faces with respect to emergency services is that there is no transportation to get people to other medical facilities for critical care. This place is pretty isolated from other parts of Haiti. Thomassique is in an area called the Central Plateau, 20 miles from the Dominican Republic border, and about 1 1/2 hours to the nearest city.

IMG_2792
Wilna, the lead cook and midwife at the clinic.

There is a local doctor in the Warrenton area, Dr. Dave Snyder. He is an orthopedic surgeon. He goes to Haiti regularly. He has committed himself to the improvement of kids for the last decade or two in the States. He runs a place in Rixeyville, VA called Verdun Adventure Bound. Its purpose is to  encourage and inspire teenage kids. In the Warrenton and Culpeper areas, he is very well known. Doc Snyder is a pretty cool guy to get to know. He tells great stories about the military, famous people he has met, people of valor, children of inspiration, and his wife Bambi. Now, any man married forever to a woman named Bambi must be doing something right. Being around Doc Snyder makes you feel like you can do more; and then you do. He is that good.

http://www.verdunadventurebound.org/

IMG_1684
Dr. Dave Snyder and Dr. Anna Penna on the rooftop of a clinic building

There were 9 nurses on this trip, all with different specialties. I have a photo of two, Joan and Ron. They are friends of mine outside of work and Haiti. They have both been on this trip several times. They are good at what they do, knowing how to improvise, which is critical down there. Many more nurses dedicate their time to the clinic who I wish I had photos of, like Donna, who has been many, many times.

IMG_2854
Ron and Joan on our last night, finally cutting loose.

Every year the mission elects “fellows”. These fellows are college students who dedicate a year in Haiti, contributing to the work of the mission, which includes things like water purification education, feeding the very poor, general care and welfare, acting as translators, and pretty much whatever else is needed. It is an extremely hard immersion, and I am certain no one can adequately prepare for it. I got to know the three fellows below pretty well last year. I thought they were all very interesting, and dynamic in their own individual ways.

IMG_1720
Fellows – Adam, Caroline, and Li

Only once a year does a fully-assembled surgical team go to Haiti. Dr. Penna does the planning of the trips. Each year, typically, three surgeons of various specialties come to Haiti, but generally they include an urologist, a general surgeon, sometimes an OBGYN or an orthopedic specialist, and always an anesthesiologist. To put it in perspective, the arrangement this year was for 18 people with their carry-on luggage, and 32 additional pieces of luggage (that is 50 pieces total), transportation from Port-Au-Prince, cooks, translators, assorted other help, etc. Dr. Penna does an amazing job with it all.

Regarding the surgical doctors, I can only say that I was very impressed by how hard and long they all worked. I enjoyed working with all of them. I have to assume that the high stress and long hours make them different after work. They were all very funny and\animated after hours. I had a genuine interest in all of them.

IMG_2714
The four doctors. Andy, John, Mark, and Anna.

Jeremy Mercier, known in Haitian as Mercier Jeremya, acts as one of the translators for the doctors when the surgical team is in Haiti. Otherwise, he is busy operating an orphanage he started after the earthquake of 2010. Jeremy is a very soft-spoken man, small in stature (like many Haitians from the lack of nutrition), but terribly committed and vigilant to his cause of helping the children. His orphanage is in the nearest large city, a place called Hinche.

Joan, the nurse pictured above, has since asked to put together assorted donations for the orphanage. Now, this is all simple stuff. I donated a bunch of items from my house that I didn’t need. There are 42 children now, 22 boys and 20 girls, ages 4 – 18. They need clothes, shoes, sheets, and towels that can be from the closet or the thrift store. Other items are school supplies, soccer balls (and pumps), musical instruments, and used computers.

I am not sure how this will work, though I know the shipments are more secure now, as they will go to Florida and be flown over on a chartered flight. Jeremy will have someone pick up packages in Port-Au-Prince direct. If anyone is interested, I will make arrangements to get items to Joan. She will get them shipped down. Anyone can reach me at mark@hardwoodartisans.com to discuss this.

A bit of honesty. I have always felt that taking care of those closest to you, in the States, was first and foremost. “Take care of your own,” as it were. It is how I was raised, and I was never taught to think in a more global way. Add to that point that there are so many people and causes out there looking for assistance, it is all terribly confusing and intimidating, to the point of paralysis, at least for me.

Last year, I decided to take a chance and  give about $100 in cash and items (from around the house and the dollar store) to the orphanage. I had visited the place last year, and had a real sense of what was happening there, and what the needs were. The items were received about three weeks after I got back to the States. Almost a year later, meeting Jeremy at the airport, the first thing he says to me is ‘Thank you for your thoughtful gifts to the children.’ This is a person I can get my head around. Someone who juggles 42 kids, along with various side jobs, who not only remembers a small contribution, but takes the time to thank that person – this is someone I want to know.

There is an online charity site that is set up for his orphanage. It is honest, safe, and secure. If you are interested:

https://www.youcaring.com/mercier-jeremya-387128

Jeremy Kids

Finally, I debated if I should get so personal, but in for a penny, right? These blogs are personal. They are my conversations to people interested in design, fashion, and sometimes life. I hope they reach you and move you, otherwise, what is the point. That said, I promise to get back to woodworking and design again in my next post.

Doctor Penna is more than a great administrator, she is also my girlfriend, for lack of a better word. In Haiti, at the compound and in the community, she is well known, and perhaps even feared a little. She is very tough, and at 5’1″ tall, she holds a presence. She is respected, focused, competent, generous. This is the sort of person needed to get the surgical job done. She opened my eyes to a whole new world of ‘need’, and I am a better person for it. This has all happened just because she asked.

As I struggle with my personal issues in my role in the business, my struggle to be a pescatarian, my aging parents, my body, health, future, and my overall confidence that it will all be okay in the end, I remind myself that no one gets out of this place alive, and we need to sleep well at the end of the day knowing we took care of all the things we needed to take care of today. This trip to Haiti reminded me –  it is really not about me, but all the people surrounding me. It is those individuals for whom I serve. I am satisfied being small and full.

IMG_2847