Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 189, June 2021 Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
Here's My Woodworking!
By William Francis Brown
Camden, Maine

I've been making high end reproduction and historically inspired furniture for 40 years. After graduating from Haverford college (in Pennsylvania) with majors in music & biology, I thought I wanted to get a doctorate in molecular biology. After the first 12 rather miserable months spent with test tubes in the lab, I learned a lot about myself. Firstly, I needed to be a generalist, academically. Secondly, having been a tinkerer, growing up as a musician, and possessing an artistic bent since toddlerhood, I realized that I needed to work creatively with my hands. I had a very strong sense that I wanted to work with wood and not any other media. So I took off a few years, worked at my dad's tree nursery hoeing fields and digging trees and worked on my brother's landscape crew. At that time, in the early 1980's, there was very little formal opportunity to learn woodworking on a hands-on level. There was almost nothing available in the way of classes. Having minimal funds, I wrote letters to furniture makers throughout the US enquiring about working as an apprentice. No one would take me.

However, I was very fortunate in convincing (begging is more accurate) a local Pennsylvania cabinetmaker, E. Townsend Moore, to let me into his shop. He had been a curator at Dupont's Winterthur, outside Wilmington, DE, and had learned from a long line of Chester County period furniture makers. His mentor was Thomas Treate Hogg, a well known Chester County reproduction period furniture maker in the 1940's- 60's. I worked 60 hour weeks as a landscaper but was at Townie Moore's shop near Media, PA every weekend. Because he sensed the earnestness of my desire to learn and did not have anyone to pass his skill on to, he really took me under his wing and gave me a lot of time. In return, as I had no money to offer, I did a very thorough cleaning of his shop after every work session, which he was quite grateful for. Moore was an extremely generous and patient teacher and I was an eager student who learned fast. After about a year, I was pretty much able to look at any photo of a period furniture piece and make what I saw.

To cut the story short, I went on to become an anesthesiologist and continued to be a passionate student of period furniture making. I used every opportunity to gain more skills and kept learning more about woodworking. Over the course of 30 years I slowly acquired a full shop of third-hand tools. My passion for furniture making and carving has only increased over the years.

Furniture making involves all of the senses and there's a degree of physicality that has always appealed to me. For example, years ago I had a busy windsor chair business. That building process, from the splitting of a fresh red oak tree, to riving and draw-knifing the chair parts, to the shaping of a seat and bending the arms, was a significant physical workout which I thoroughly enjoyed. I love the variety of patterns and figures in the local hardwoods that I use. I love learning new techniques and pushing beyond my comfort zone with each new project. I love designing new pieces and then executing the designs. I work from sketches on scraps of paper and my pieces often develop organically as I make them, so there's a certain creativity and open-endedness that's always there.

When I told my graduate school biochemisty professor that I was leaving her program (in 1982) and mentioned something about wanting to pursue woodworking, she said that I'd be bored. But I have not found that to be true. There seems to be no end of new challenges, new things to learn, better ways to do things, and new aspects of woodworking to explore.

I've been ready to branch into a new woodworking adventure for awhile now. The idea of starting a school has been lurking in my mind for many years. Woodworking for many folks is a rather isolated activity; we typically work alone in our basements and shops. I was excited about the prospect of getting a group of folks together, all sharing a similar passion and a desire to learn, which is why I have started my woodworking school, Maine Coast Workshop. You can find out more about my school in last month's issue of Wood News Online.

Below are more of my projects. You can also see several of my carving projects from when I was featured in the Show Us Your Woodcarving column in a previous issue of Wood News Online:

William can be reached directly via email at dei.gratia123@gmail.com. You can also visit his website by clicking here.

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