This month we are returning to the The College of the Redwoods Fine Furniture program in Fort Bragg, California. As I mentioned in the
August 2016 column
I met some very talented woodworkers this past summer while attending their summer program. This month we meet Jess Ouyang, woodworker, currently living in the Bay Area of California.
Prior to meeting Jess I had followed her on instagram and knew that she took great care and pride in her work so when I figured out she was that
I was excited to get to know her in person and hear how she found her way to working with wood.
In 2014 she took the shop safety course that is on site at her employer. She is fortunate to have use of a woodworking shop that is on the Facebook campus. Right away Jess decided to make a kitchen table through one of the one–on–one mentoring classes. She spent four months working a couple of nights a week on that project and she got her hands on a Stanley No. 3 Planer. She loved it, the No. 3 fit her hand well and she was hooked. She then made matching benches and one of them broke in use. As she says, it was a chance to learn a lot. Traditionally in technology, Jess's day job, you have a post mortem (to review what went wrong and what went right) for every project. She applied that kind of thinking to her woodworking project and learned what went wrong. Jess then made the bench smaller and also made another one. She would not have learned about joinery and wood direction without that failure.
Jess has always liked to work with her hands so it's not surprising that she was drawn to wood. She enjoys the material. She is also a painter. When we were talking she compared these two pursuits, "With wood the material has personality, each species has a unique personality, you negotiate with wood, it has a mind of its own. With painting you control the materials and you learn to master that control." Her mindset is simple and yet presents the challenge that draws each of us in; "Use the material you love. Covet the final object, whatever it may be, so you will work to get it just right."
I asked Jess about her experience being a female woodworker. I sometimes wonder if the conversation is still a valid topic. She says that in the shared shop there are several women who are regulars and yet she says she still gets comments from male woodworkers on her clothes and haircut that are not appropriate. The shop is managed by a female and that makes the space immediately welcoming to others who might be intimidated.
I wanted to know how she ended up spending three weeks vacation at the College of the Redwoods Fine Furniture Program. She was talking with the person who mentored her through the table project and he recommended reading Krenov, which was then followed up by the shop manager posting details of the program at College of the Redwoods and the dots began to connect. Jess loved the school space. There is a room for machines and a bench room for hand tools. She really appreciated how peaceful it was to work in the bench room, in your own space, your own little world including your own sharpening station. She was able to get deep into the work and learned a lot, including dovetails and mortise and tenon joints. She liked the atmosphere and found the environment super personal and helpful but not prescriptive. She learned a few other lessons from her dedicated time at the bench. One of her biggest lessons was all about ergonomics. Standing and doing a repetitive motion can be hard on the body. She found taking breaks to sharpen, and stretching each time helped a lot. She saw a real physical difference being at the bench all day and found herself going back to yoga to help her body adjust.
Jess's advice is to make what you want to make. Her pet peeve is the term "heirloom quality furniture" as that assumes others down the road will want your design. Make what you enjoy, that fits your aesthetic.
The next project for Jess is a desk made from a cherry slab. She says the material inspired the design. To follow her progress check out her website
and Instagram at
Andrea Ramsay is a dedicated student of hand tool woodworking since attending Port Townsend School of Woodworking and completing their three month intensive program. She left the technology world in 2014 and is happy every day that she traded in her laptop for a chisel. She does commissioned work out of her shop in Seattle's Equinox Studios..
Andrea can be reached directly via email at
and you can check out her website at
and follow her on Instagram at
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