By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN Using “time-honored joinery,” Greg Wood, of Howard Lake, builds furniture he wants to last for 200 years, he said.
Wood is featured in the February 2012 issue of “Woodworker’s Journal,” teaching others how to take their cues from nature in constructing a walnut foyer bench.
This is the third article Wood has contributed to the journal. He has also been in the “American Woodworker” magazine twice.
The first time Wood was featured in “Woodworker’s Journal,” he was recruited to construct a bookcase by the main editor, Rob Johnstone.
Because the article for that project was so successful, and received a lot of feedback, Wood was invited to contribute again.
This time, he led readers through the construction of a walnut counter stool, and received the same positive response.
“They (the editors) want a lot of feedback, and the response was really good, especially for the stool,” Wood said.
It is also important that the reader will be able to take what has been learned from Wood and apply their own personal taste to a project, Wood said.
Although this project is technical, Wood said he hoped that woodworkers reading the magazine will feel confident enough after reading about it to apply what they learned and build their own bench.
“It’s mostly simple joinery. The intriguing part is it’s done in a way that looks difficult but it’s simple,” Wood said.
Wood conceived of the project when he was considering what to do with some thick, leftover pieces of walnut.
Being an admirer of George Nakashima’s natural-edged furniture, Wood saw the possibility in the “sinewy shapes hiding behind the bark,” and the “wonderful contrast between the light sapwood and the darker heartwood” of the walnut pieces.
His “solution for putting nature’s artistry to best effect” was a foyer bench.
“This is a green project using the whole board except for the bark,” Wood said. “Arranging the boards in an aesthetically pleasing way becomes more artful.”
The article in the journal follows Wood’s thought process and work from unrefined wood, to conception and design, and finally construction of the finished product.
Joinery a big part of Wood’s work
Wood does all his own design work, starting off by “playing around with sketches.”
When he gets something close to what he is looking for, he works at drawing a scale model, and then builds it to know what changes or modifications need to be done.
The majority of Wood’s custom furniture uses joinery to hold the pieces together, rather than metal fasteners or dowels, he said.
If done properly, “the joint becomes even stronger than the wood itself. It can’t come loose over time, because the joinery is stronger than the wood,” Wood said.
The glue used in Wood’s projects is to bond and interlock the fibers of the wood, not to hold the wood in place like many big manufacturers.
“That’s a big part of custom furniture building, that the joints not only look good and sit well, but last,” Wood said.
He noted that outside chairs and benches he made in 1992 and 1993 using joinery are still holding up like new, although they now look weathered.
Wood’s history as a custom woodworker
Wood has been working as a professional woodworker since 1992, having only taken shop classes in seventh and eighth grades, and another course on how to use hand tools.
“People think of hand tools as primitive and time-consuming, but if used properly, it doesn’t take more time,” Wood said.
Before becoming a woodworker, Wood was a commercial airline pilot, having logged 4,000 hours of flying time.
“I never felt that it was as fun as I thought it was going to be as a pilot, it got so routine,” Wood said.
For a few years, Wood both flew and made his custom furniture, but finally decided to focus on woodworking after his shop in a remodeled barn in Howard Lake was completed.
“I thought, if it doesn’t work out, I can always go back (to flying),” Wood said.
A big inspiration for Wood deciding to start a career was reading Sam Maloof’s autobiography.
Although he never went to school for woodworking, Maloof is well-known in woodworking circles.
One of Maloof’s chairs is in the White House, and a lot of his furniture is in the Smithsonian, Wood said.
“He built with a lot of integrity that’s what I strive for,” Wood said.
Wood shares retail space in Minneapolis with about 10 other custom woodworkers.
Some of Wood’s biggest customers are surgeons from the Twin Cities.
“They like the perfection of joinery and how materials are utilized to embellish the design,” Wood said.
He noted that the surgeons often ask a lot of interesting questions, and like to come to the shop to see how he works before they order something.
To learn more about Wood’s work, click on the link on the Herald Journal’s home page.