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Women in Woodworking - Meet Lauren Mollica
By Char Miller-King
Atlanta, GA

Of all the tools we as woodworkers use, there is one that still baffles me, one that takes incredible skill and patience in my mind. It's the scroll saw. There is one person I know who has conquered it and turned sheets of birch plywood into beautiful jewelry displays and that is Lauren Mollica of Norwalk, Connecticut.

Lauren is a well-traveled woodworker who transitioned her career in the financial industry to a full-time maker. Born in Hong Kong, and spending time in Bahrain and Cairo as a child, she ultimately settled in the United States and decided to turn her side hustle into a full-time passion from her basement.

Back in 1990, Lauren fell in love with the scroll saw during her 7th grade shop class. Her very first project was a jewelry board for her mother. However, it would be years later, after college that she picked up the scroll saw again. Combined with her artistic drawing skills, cutting her designs seemed like the natural next steps. She credits her school counselor with noticing the spark that lit up when she spoke about scroll sawing, which gave her the validation to pursue her creative endeavors. What she does today was all self-taught. While there is a desire to one day delve into furniture making, she is already well prepared with intro to furniture builder and routing classes under her belt.

It's safe to say that making is in her genes, as her grandfather was an electrical engineer and a DIYer. During his retirement he picked up jewelry making and stain glass making. Her aunt was a carpenter and Lauren spent many days assisting her on job sites and riding in her pickup truck. These experiences combined art with functional design and construction, and have produced the sought after artist and skilled maker that is Lauren Mollica.

The building process starts with a shape or pattern that is sketched and redrawn many times until it is right. Her projects are all commissioned based with input and inspiration from her clients and the rest is all creativity. All of these amazing life experiences pour into her designs, whether it's a memorable photograph or a spontaneous thought that occurs during the making. The outcome is always a success as she often experiments with new techniques. The beauty is usually a process of prototypes that are unique and original designs that can be customized with stains, painted accents and different jewelry holding capacities.

Working from her home basement, the arsenal of tools is definitely professional grade. Her most beloved tool is her 22" industrial Jet Scroll Saw, which has a quick blade release and an upper arm that stays in place. The feature that Lauren decided to splurge on for her scroll saw was the mechanism that allows you to clamp and tighten the blade with one motion. This powerful, efficient and functional tool is used in 90% of her work. The other go-to tool is an absolute must. Most woodworkers find that swapping their drill bits for various tasks with one drill can be cumbersome, which is why Lauren works smarter not harder with Dewalt drills, especially her forstner bits used for making flat-based holes that are common in her workpieces.

Lauren calls her workspace her heaven. In a shared room with her home appliances, furnace and HVAC system, she has crafted an area that produces incredible work. To maximize floor space, the walls are covered with pegboards to hang her tools and a slop sink set up right next to a staining table for quick and easy clean up. Her workbench gets the most traffic by way of spills and stains, but Lauren is able to swap the plywood top out with a new one to keep it looking fresh. With her larger power tools using the floor, all she has to worry about is where to store the irregular scraps from her projects.

Her most recent additions to the shop include a Micromark mini table saw and a Laguna 14" bandsaw. All of the earring holders are impressively cut by hand and the small table saw makes it easy to cut slots and can be clamped to her workbench without taking up a significant amount of space. Not only does she cut wood on the table saw, but also two new mediums she has been experimenting with, plastic and metal. The bandsaw is great for her to slice through layers quickly.

Lauren has done plenty of wonderful commissions over the years. One of her favorites was for a friend who owns a local dance academy. For the last 13 years, she was commissioned to create unique and personalized dancer jewelry displays as gifts for the graduating seniors each year. While most of her projects are easily done without a hitch, there are some that are more complex. One of the most challenging projects Lauren did was a 19 foot baseboard heater cover made of solid oak. The uniquely designed vent had a chevron style pattern. At the time, she did not have the proper tools to complete the project. It was too large for the scroll saw and a jig saw would not have produced quality results. She also did not have a router. That's when she discovered the Rockwell Versacut, a mini circular saw with an adjustable depth gauge. The Versacut allowed her to create precise hand drawn patterns on the face of the vent. Some of the cuts were straight through to allow proper venting and others were shallow dadoes. She successfully completed the project and recalled, "It took me so long to finally figure out the tool that could allow me to create what I wanted and practice on scraps before I was able to create it. I would definitely say that some of the hardest projects bring the most reward, but also that trying new things can also bring you to realize which parts of the woodworking process you are passionate about and which parts you are not."

Sourcing her birch plywood from local lumberyards and online retailers, she can transform them into almost any new creation. One of her claims to fame is the Tigers Eye. Lauren exclusively uses General Finishes water-based stains. The eye of the tiger is created by applying Black stain and allowing it to soak in and dry, then sanding it down and adding a coat of Light Brown stain. When the two mesh perfectly together you achieve this beautiful multidimensional experience. Sanding is probably unanimously the least favorite part of woodworking, except when the purpose of doing so is not only for the purpose of achieving a nice finish, but an amazing ombre effect. By using two to three stain colors and sanding a portion of her work with various grits you have this natural flow of colors that draws you in to the intricacies of the design. If it isn't sandpaper, then it's a chisel that gets to meet her birch. By hand chiseling textures into wood and brushing them with metallic paints, you can see the pop of detail that makes each piece special.

Lauren has nailed the scroll saw game, which has set her sights on expanding her line beyond jewelry displays. She hopes to create a business model that is sustainable long term and incorporates her passion of advocacy for girls. As a creative, she is a life-long learner and plans to improve her joinery skills, box building, and furniture making. "Open yourself to endless creative possibilities and just enjoy the learning process. Make mistakes, try out new things and allow your own creative voice to shine through". Her voice is shining through, as she has been featured in Stringing Magazine and in Beads Magazine.

You can learn more about Lauren by following her on Instagram and visiting her website. You can also support her business on Etsy.

You can find out more about Char and her woodworking on her website and by following her on Instagram.

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