What If

What if is a fascinating phrase.

What if I hadn’t become a woodworker. Would my St. Vitus dance have taken me out?

What if I thought it was time for a change? Would I make the right choice?

What if I did this work only for myself, to please some interior motivation, some unconscious or semi-conscious need for symmetry or perfection or an attempt at perfection? Is that wrong?

What if I paid attention to that interior sense I have of what’s right or good for me? That sense that immediately knows when something, or someone, is off, not quite right, standing crooked but promising straightness?

What if I listened to my gut instead of my head? What if I listened to my heart instead of my head?

What if I learned from my mistakes? Wow, what if I learned from my mistakes? I had to write this twice it was so stunning a thought.

What if I needed to practice more?

What if I needed to presume my ignorance instead of my sure knowledge?

What if you came to the DESIGN: Open House tomorrow night, Wednesday from 6-7:30 pm to talk about possibility, choices, what if ideas?








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Humble Pie

Let me point out that in this age of digital professorship, not everyone who gets in front of a video camera knows what they’re talking about or can teach. They may know a lot about cameras.

Not everyone who picks up a chisel or a guitar can teach you how to use it. Even the best woodworker or musician may not be a teacher. A teacher remembers what it was like to be new at this skill. To be unsure and tentative and yet to be excited by the possibilities of their new vast world.

I remember being new. I remember being astonished by what I could do and yet how much there was still to know. I remember making mistake after mistake in my feeble attempts to make something work at the bench.

It’s one of the lessons that teachers have to learn, that I had to learn as a teacher. That being superior to someone else in knowledge has nothing to do with your superior skill or your pedigree or your innate talent. It is study and persistence and experience that gets you to that place. It isn’t just skill. It is practice. And if you don’t understand that everyone starts from a place of ignorance, if you forget your beginnings, if you forget how many mistakes you had to make in order to become who you are, you will forget that the master needs the greatest dose of one trait in order to be able to train others. If the master has learned well, he or she will emanate this quality. It is humility.

The work will teach you to eat pie, humble pie. Accept its lesson.

Making sure the plane bottom is flat and true with a flat and true hand plane.


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Classic Vs. Romantic

One of the interesting arguments in Robert Pirsig’s great book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, is about the separation between the classical and the romantic point of view. Simply put, looking at a motorcycle and seeing it as an assembly of systems, ignition, fuel/ air system, etc. is a classical view. Looking at a cycle and imagining the wind in your hair as you ride is romantic. Pirsig’s philosophic goal is to bring these two points of view together to find the essence of Quality. Pre-intellectual awareness is his way of putting it. Trying to combine form and style together.

Not just the tool and your knowledge of what it can do, but the feel of it in your hand. Combine these two senses together and you get his Zen approach to living.

Join us this Wednesday, October 21st, as Elizabeth Rosner and I discuss the nature of Quality and some things Zen and Classical and Romantic. It’s sure to be an intriguing evening of chat.

DESIGN: Open House at the Studio, 6-7:30pm, Wednesday, Oct. 21.

Base Camp Brewing always sponsors our events. Thanks to them.

1-Electric City cover highest resdoveclose-1




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DESIGN: Open House on Quality

Join us October 21st for a fascinating discussion on Quality. From 6-7:30pm, Elizabeth Rosner, author, poet, and teacher, and Gary Rogowski, Director of The Northwest Woodworking Studio will chat about the idea of Quality.

Who decides the standards? Is there one arbiter or many? Does the crowd know Quality or is Quality driven by marketing? There is a wealth of information up for discussion this evening. Please join us for this free Open House at the Studio, 1002 SE 8th.

Elizabeth Rosner‘s third novel, ELECTRIC CITY, was published by Counterpoint Press in October 2014, and named one of the best books of the year by National Public Radio.  It’s a coming-of-age love story set against the historical backdrop of a company town in upstate New York that once called itself “the city that lights the world.”  Featuring Charles Proteus Steinmetz, the protégé of Edison who electrified the early 20th century, and a love triangle among the children of Electric City in the late 1960s, the novel interweaves past and present to explore the way inventions transform cities, heart and lives.


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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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