A visit to the furniture frontlines

howard hatch

Furniture maker Howard Hatch discusses the conference room table he’s currently constructing

As we round the half-way mark of our 12 week summer course, students are nervously anticipating autumn. Many of the us here, myself included, quit our day jobs months ago to pursue the uncertain dream of professional furniture making. To prepare us for our imminent plunge, earlier this week our teachers took us on a field trip to two local woodworkers’ workshops.

Aside from seeing their ongoing projects and impressive machinery, we were invited to pry into the inner workings of their businesses. Students inquired into managing client projects and work flow, advertising and marketing methods and setting up their own workshops. But I was most interested to hear how furniture makers are surviving given such shaky economic times. Cabinetry, carpentry, furniture repair, writing and teaching seem to be how many are making ends meet.

In the end, the field trip was inspirational but sobering; both men candidly discussed the extreme peaks and troughs of their long careers with smiles on their faces. Yet again we were reminded that folks are in this industry to make anything and everything…except make it rich. But as one of our instructors once told us, “when all of my pencil pushing buddies are retired at age 60 with nothing to do, I’ll just be getting started.” Well aware of the challenges ahead, the best woodworkers see learning curves as springboards to a life far richer than any millionaire’s.

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Our first stop was at Howard Hatch’s shop and gallery located in a renovated textile mill dubbed Fort Andross in Brunswick. Howard’s passion is for fine pool tables but he has also spent much of his career constructing liturgical pieces. He emphasized the importance of exposing your style and craftmanship through more affordable items, while parlaying those small purchases into big ticket sales.

kevin rodell shop tour

Next we walked down the hall to Kevin Rodell’s sunny shop. A number of us were familiar with Kevin’s Arts & Crafts style furniture after he spoke at one of CFC’s Monday night slideshows. I was most curious to hear his thoughts on writing as he has published a number of instructional articles and one book, aptly titled Arts & Crafts Furniture. He noted that writing articles may not pay the bills but offers terrific, free exposure.

Thanks for letting us invade your shops guys!

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