Without a Song

No one will see it you say. No one will see all the effort I put into this work. Why should I do it then? What’s the point of doing work that no one will appreciate, no one will recognize, even if I point it out to them and show them the dexterity of my hand tool work, the brilliance of my hidden design, who will care? Why do it?

The answer is simple. You will see. You will know. It will be you who knows that you did your best work, imperfect as it usually is. You will know. Let go of the desire to be rich, let go of the desire to be famous. Do the work for yourself.

Sonny Rollins, the post bop saxophonist, practiced on the Williamsburg Bridge in New York City for months in the early 1960’s to perfect his sound. He did this without accolade, without compensation certainly. He went out on the bridge to practice because he knew he had to be better. He knew that this practice would make a difference. Who would know? He would know. And now late in his life he can think back with no regrets and say to himself, I did this. I made this happen. I did it for me and it made me who I am this day.

There is no price that can be placed on knowledge. No cash value for satisfaction can be counted out in your hands. You do this work because you have to do it for yourself. Because, as my friend Bogy said to me, you don’t make the work, the work makes you. Practice this and good things will come from it.


Bruce Petersen, Mastery Student, Inlay


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Mastery Show



Katerina Minola         Signature Credenza                    Mastery Program Local #11

Mastery Show              Oct. 1, Thursday, 5-8PM            Studio, 1002 SE 8th

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A Career in Woodworking

Hello Northwest Woodworking,

I am interested in taking your complete novice class this coming October.  I wanted to ask a couple of questions before committing to the class. First off is there still room in this class, and what is the usual size of the class?  I want to take this class to get some of the basic knowledge of woodworking in the hopes of making it a career. In your opinion, does this class give enough knowledge to feel, at least slightly, comfortable going out and finding work, or is something more in depth necessary to move forward into a career in furniture making/woodworking?  Thanks for your time.


One class prepare you for a career?
Woodworking is as broad as music, as deep as literature. We have worked wood as a species for longer than we have created work in either discipline.
One introductory class will in no way prepare you to go out and find work. It will introduce you to the ideas, the concepts, some of the tools and a little bit of the materials used for one small part of the craft. Woodworking can be organic and sculptural, or precise beyond measure when instrument making. It can be geometric in marquetry or very focused in your dovetail work. There are cabinets, chairs, tables, boxes, chests to build. And a thousand variations of them.
Our introductory class will in no way prepare you for the breadth of what woodworking has to offer. It will introduce you to the smell of the work, the feel of the tools, the frustration of your progress and the triumph of your finishing small projects. From one class, there are one thousand choices that can be made. This is its joy. You start at the beginning and find out from there.
There are just a few spaces remaining in Tuesday’s class and plenty of space in the Thursday one. Class size is ten. Come and find out how huge the world of woodworking is. Dip your toe into the waters.
two leaf box


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A stumped student wrote me: Hey Gary, I need some inspiration.. Any good design related books you recommend? I remember you showing me a few a while back.  Thank You, M.

I wrote him back suggesting books on Art Deco and the Shakers, books on Chinese furniture and Frank Lloyd Wright, books on Mackintosh and architecture. Then I warmed to the subject.
Look at flower patterns, the wings of moths, tree branch patterns.
Take photos of every sewer grate in town.
Study porch designs and building entrances.
Grab all the watches in the house and look at their designs.
Study birds in flight.
Start drawing without expectation. Sketch your hand, your knee, the view out your window and just draw. Turn off your hope of designing the best piece ever. Find something that interests and intrigues you. Satisfy the function of the item, make a pleasing form, discover the intention of the piece: to make you sad, hopeful, intrigued by pattern or shadow lines. Make everything in it work towards a whole. Sketch a dozen versions of this idea. Narrow them down to three. Work on those three until you have one you like. Make a model of this one.

Study the work you like as a starting point. Why, ask yourself, why do you like it? What aspects appeal? The shapes? The negative shapes? Tear the furniture you like apart in your mind to find out why it beckons you.

Remember that inspiration is serendipitous, but design is hard work. Expect to work hard to design simple things. Work every day on seeing design in the world. It is truly everywhere. Open your eyes to it to find what inspires you. Then ask yourself why.

I hope these few things will help you. Thank you for helping me wake up to today. Good start on the day.


Ramona Falls


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Simple things can make a difference. The way you hold a tool, how you pivot when you dance, the note sustained.

Many people have aspirations for changing the world. I have given that task over to those with more Atlas in their system than I. My hope is to make small changes for folks close by. People who will be positively affected by the impact I can make on their lives by showing them the value of quality. By showing these folks how I approach and solve a problem, by giving them an example of how to do your best work, by working with them to improve their own skills, I hope to change the world that I know.

I do not know the size of the ripple that I make.

Please join us for our WIN fundraising event at the Studio, this Friday, 11, September. Join us in support of our efforts to change the world through the study and practice of working with tools and wood. It ain’t much, but it’s what we can do. 1-Cafe chair detail Gary




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Liberal Arts Education

In working with high school interns last year, I was asked to write about our program. I sent this in to a local newspaper. It sums up my feelings about education.

Why I Did the WIN Class
Letter to the Albany Democrat Herald, 2014
What was great was to see how excited these kids were to learn. They listened to me talk
about geometry and physics. They asked questions about these subjects. They listened to me talk about joinery and cutting angles. They were to a person all interested in learning. And that’s what education should be about: curiosity and the excitement of discovery. Add on that you get to put your hands on tools and it’s a slam dunk for just about every demographic. But certainly it is of vital importance for our kids. Please let all our educators know that hands on education needs to be back in every school. From the arts to music to shop class, we need to train our kids in the broadest possible way. This is called a liberal arts education. I’m a fan of it.

Join us on the 11th of September for a fundraiser in support of the WIN program. We’re trying to expand our efforts into local Portland area schools.


Brayan and Gar Bear



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NWS/ WIN Fundraiser

Our Internship Program last year with Albany High School students was a great success. Funded entirely by Albany Parks and Rec, shout out to Ed Hodney, Director, this group came up monthly to study with me at the Studio learning about geometry, furniture design, joinery, construction, and finishing. They made several great pieces culminating in a bench donated back to the City of Albany. Cool stuff helping students learn how to think critically and how to carry a project through to completion.

Expanding it to two Portland area high schools is our goal for this year. We hope to raise funds for this effort on Friday, 11, September, from 6-8pm. Please rsvp at studio@northwestwoodworking.com if you would like to join us. There will be refreshments and a short presentation on our efforts.

Albany High School Kids LtoLegacy 2014 049


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The Battleship

Projects come, projects stay. I walked around the shop one day to count the projects I had started only to put down for one reason or another. I got depressed by the number 20. Unfinished for any number of reasons. I cut a panel too short on one. I wasn’t sure of the curve of another.  Not hard to make a new panel, 0r try to mock up the curve. That logic does not fly in the face of a simple defeat. I just let the projects linger, go to your corner.

What is it that stumps me? Probably this doesn’t happen for you, this is probably just me. I think for me it is the battleship called focus. The work is never the issue, I am the issue. Getting me to focus long enough on the problem at hand usually solves it in such a short time that it’s embarrassing.

Get the battleship turned around and pointed in the right direction and it’s amazing how quickly I can knock out one of those unfinished jobs. So I’ll make another list and put a couple of these nearly complete pieces close by and see if I can knock one out today, in an hour or two.


1-China cabinet cherry GR



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Chair Design, Please Sit

Chair design is a fairly new design concept. Read Witold Rybczynski’s book called Home and he points out that chairs were used only by royalty for centuries. The idea of comfort only came later on after the Middle Ages. The notion that people could sit unceremoniously slouched around a dinner table took a few more centuries to take hold.

We discover the intricacies of chair design this weekend. Three days of design, engineering, and joinery. What a trio! On Day One we look into the needs of design, function vs. intention, how joinery affects the look of a piece, and how to engineer the important triangle into our chair. We will sketch, build a 1/4 scale aesthetic model of our chair design and then a sittable prototype by the end of the weekend. Good fun.


Cafe chair rail detail Gary



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The Weekend

I switched things around a bit for this summer. Not every week is filled with class time. Maybe I can get some of my own projects down finally.

There are some good week long classes. Windsor Chair Making with Elia Bizzarri is coming up. He’s a fun guy and super talented with hand tools and on the lathe. http://www.northwestwoodworking.com/courses/36

Then there’s that guy Rogowski and his Stool Workshop. Five days of fun with one day of mind bending geometry thrown in. http://www.northwestwoodworking.com/courses/25

Finally there are three weekend classes planned for July. They start on Friday so they will be long weekends. The first is 3 Simple Finishes. The only true word in that title is Finishes. We’ll cover more than 3 and nothing about finishing is simple. It is chemistry plus alchemy and there is a ton of information to discuss, as well as lots of finishing tips, plus we do samples of all these. We will discuss surface prep, scrapers, coloring, stains, chemical stains, oils, varnishes, and the miracle finish shellac. Oh and wax. And rubbing out. And . . . http://www.northwestwoodworking.com/courses/28

Then because Bob my vet asked for it, we’re doing Inlay Secrets. This is great fun and simple, once you know a few tricks. It’s persnickety work at times but that’s what makes it so fun. From straight line to curved work, we’ll be working on inlay techniques that will make your work shine. http://www.northwestwoodworking.com/courses/79

Finally, Chair Design Strategy will fill our last weekend in July. This will be fun and cool because everyone knows a chair. But how do you make them pretty enough and comfortable enough and sturdy enough? Lots to consider. We’ll make a scale model in wood and a sittable prototype of your never to be forgotten chair design. Good fun. Join us. http://www.northwestwoodworking.com/courses/77

Bench tumultous



SAB Detail Inlayimage

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