Garrett Michael is a craftsman out of Vancouver, Washington that along with partners, Dan McCarl and Justin Appel opened Makers Woodworks in 2013. They specialize in building and installing custom furniture for people or businesses in the Portland metro area. The passion for their work comes through in the pieces they build; “When the client tells you they love the piece, then we’re happy,” says Garrett.
1. How would you refer to yourself? Woodworker? Artisan? Craftsman? Craftsmen
Garrett Michael, Justin Appel, and Dan McCarl of Makers Woodworks
2. How did you get started? I was introduced to woodworking in about 6th grade. I loved the ability to create something tangible from rough lumber with machinery and hand tools. There’s also an element of danger and caution you always have to keep in mind.
3. Why wood?
I think I was kind of drawn to it. It’s so random and varied in species; each has its own distinct characteristic, color, pattern, even within that species. Wood is workable, yet super strong, and has a warmth that invites you to feel it. It’s also kind of instant gratification seeing an idea progress through different stages and take shape. You can change direction along the way.
4. What was the first thing you made from wood? I don’t remember the first thing, probably a mirror or something like that. I do remember making an 8 sided box in a school shop early on.
5. What does being creative meant to you? Expression. The thought of coming up with something that’s interesting and just a little different than anything you’ve done yet. You can’t help but get inspired by all the awesome stuff being created out there.
Taking some of the black paint off the Kentucky Fence Board
6. Do you have any rituals? Coffee in the morning.
7. What is your favorite piece? That’s a tough question, there are really so many. I’ve really become partial to the mid-century stuff over last few years.
8. Who inspires you? There are so many awesomely talented people out there, you see fantastic stuff all the time these days with social media. Historically, maybe Tage Frid, Sam Maloof, Greene brothers, even some architecture is inspiring. And I can’t forget my wife.
9. What do you hope to communicate through your work? That we are into what we are doing and want our clients to love it.
10. If you weren’t doing this what would you be doing? Don’t know, can’t imagine that at this point. I’ve always wanted to fly though…
11. Ultimate piece you want to create I would love to build my own home.
12. What’s your favorite thing about PDX? The rain…haha. The casual vibe, color, music and art scene, biking, and the FOOD.
13. Favorite song? Too many; I could change daily. I love music.
14. Favorite bridge? St Johns, though there are still one or two cool old covered bridges around town…I think.
15. Favorite neighborhood? Hmmm… maybe Laurelhurst. There are so many great areas.
16. What’s your favorite tool? Whatever I need for the next step.
Preview of the bench Garret is constructing for Design Week Portland
Garrett Michael from Makers Woodworks at read:grain, works with reclaimed wood on Friday, April 28th from 4-7pm during Design Week Portland. For more information, go here.
Bill Wessinger is a sixth-generation native Portlander. He grew up working with his grandfather, Clay, who was always building things in his garage workshop. From the 1st grade until he graduated high school Bill was in the school shop. After college, Bill began building boats and substitute teaching for his former shop teacher. In 2014, he began working for a local nonprofit teaching a mix of boatbuilding, woodworking, and math and introduced him to the community hub of ADX. Since joining the fabrication team at ADX, Bill has worked on his own company Wessinger Woodworks, providing custom made furniture and sculpture.
1. How would you refer to yourself? Woodworker? Artisan? Craftsman? I think of myself primarily as a woodworker. There are a lot of folks describing themselves as makers these days, but I think of myself more as part of a continuation of the studio furniture movement that has been quietly going on for decades. The newer maker movement I see as being much more focused on integrating electronics and computer modeling into how they make things.
The use of hand tools features prominently in my work, and I think the traditional sense of craftsmanship applies to my work. I’m not sure you can talk in terms of craftsmanship, at least not in the traditional sense, when your pieces are cut out of plywood by a laser cutter or cnc machine. That’s not to say that the things made that way are of a lesser quality in terms of their function or durability, but I think there is something that has been lost when things are made that way.
2. How did you get started? My grandfather was someone who was always building things, and he would often find ways to involve me and my brothers in his projects. He passed away when I was only about 13, but I think those projects helped me learn to love working with my hands.
Growing up I also went to a K-12 school that even now continues to have a woodworking program. They had me pounding nails into a stump starting in kindergarten or first grade. In high school, shop was an elective that I took all four years. This foundation gave me the skills and the confidence needed to start building boats and to take on a variety of ambitious projects after college.
One of Bill’s boats from Wessinger Woodworks website
3. Why wood? It is organic and it has a warmth to it. When working with wood we are trying to make things as perfect as possible out of an imperfect material. Wood’s imperfect nature is both a constraint and a challenge; the design is incredibly important and must take things like shrinking, swelling, and grain direction. There is always more to learn, new challenges to be faced, and I enjoy that.
4. What was the first thing you made from wood? I’m not sure its the first thing I made, but I still have a wooden ladder I made in first grade. It’s only about 5′ tall and pretty narrow but for all the nails in it only just two that are bent over—one where I tried to pound through a knot. There was a good lesson there.
Ladder Bill made in 1st grade
5. What does being creative meant to you? I think that one of the most important ways of being creative is being able to take lessons learned in different places and being able to put them together in new ways.
6. Do you have any rituals? Not that I can think of.
7. What is your favorite piece? I have a short bench I made during my junior year of high school. It’s made of just three pieces of wood, cut from the same board—a display at the old OMSI from when it was next to the zoo. It’s very tight, straight grained fir, and the pieces are arranged so the grain is continuous up one leg, across the top and down the other leg. The corners are joined with what is called a twisted dovetail. Its a traditional Japanese joint that is very rarely used and for good reason. Instead of having pins and tails where one piece fits into the other, sliding at a 90-degree angle, this joint has a series of fins which are compound angles, with each one alternating which was it is angled. The two pieces have to slide together at a 45-degree angle. Its hard to describe and probably harder to make, but it turned out quite well. It sits in the corner of my bedroom.
Bench from 11th Grade with Japanese twisted dovetail joints.
8. Who inspires you? My love of the outdoors and of the material. I think all my designs are influenced by me feeling that while wood is a renewable resource, it is also often over-harvested, and even where it isn’t necessarily over harvested it will tend to have negative consequences for the environment. That sense inspires me to create designs that will honor the material while building pieces that are light without being delicate.
9. If you weren’t doing this what would you be doing? If I’d known about it in college I probably would have studied industrial design, and I could see moving in that direction in the future. I love thinking about the place where the design of an object and how we experience those pieces as people meet.
10. The ultimate piece you want to create? Hans Wegner talked early in his prolific career about designing “just one good chair.” I think he came to recognize that such a chair didn’t really exist, but there is still something there about trying to design and build a chair that looks good, is comfortable, lightweight and durable. Something that instantly feels like a classic. There is something elusive and seductive there.
11. What’s your favorite thing about PDX? People are interested in applying their creativity towards improving so many things, I like that.
13. Favorite bridge? I enjoy biking across the lower deck of the steel bridge, and I enjoy kayaking under Tilikum Crossing.
14. Favorite neighborhood? A couple years ago I lived walking distance from that stretch of Stark between about 76th and 82nd with the Academy theater and all the different restaurants and pubs and such. If I could own my ideal home in any neighborhood that might be where I would want to be. Preferably just high enough to see Mt Hood on a clear day.
15. What’s your favorite tool? Probably the chisel. It requires a lot of attention to the grain of the wood, how the tool feels and how it sounds as you are using it, and they must be kept sharp, but when those things line up the results can be so precise and so rewarding.
Bill holds the prototype for the chair he is making for Design Week Portland.
Jordan graduated from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn with a degree in fine art with a special affinity for woodworking and welding. He spent some time in Atlanta, creating works out of reclaimed plywood and then bounced back to a NY community of craftsman, further honing his woodworking skills. In 2013 he made the move to Portland, discovering his Tiny Shed workspace at Green Anchors right next to Cathedral Park in North Portland. There, with his workmate Dane of Two Ravens Forge, they practice their crafts to the sounds of the Misfits.
1. How would you refer to yourself? Woodworker? Artisan? Craftsman? Woodworker, sculptor
2. How did you get started? Building reclaimed structures with my step-dad
3. Why wood? It smells good and I love trees
4. What was the first thing you made from wood? Tiny planter seed box that worked like a jack-in-the-box
5. What does being creative meant to you? Happiness and freedom
6. Do you have any rituals? Firing up the wood stove, coffee
7. What is your favorite piece? Strange burled drops I keep on my desk
Joel & Alyse Knudson opened Branches Furniture in 2013. Together with their three children (and Buster the dog), they have found their place in Canby, Oregon. Going outside the metro area allowed them to nestle in an acre getaway with all the space they needed to thrust Branches Furniture off the ground.
We spent some time talking with Joel at Branches’ Canby escape; here’s what he had to say about Lynard Skynard, the Corvallis bridge, and the muse of his wife.
1. How would you refer to yourself? Woodworker? Artisan? Craftsman? Creator and builder.
2. How did you get started? Building things as a kid. I remember whittling a marshmallow roasting stick, but the first real project was a cutting board in junior high shop class.
3. Why wood? It’s beautiful, it’s organic, and has personality and warmth. It has a history—I like that it tells a story.
4. What does being creative meant to you? It allows me to go where my mind takes me. It’s about going places where other people have not gone before—finding new ways to build.
5. Do you have any rituals? Not really, but I do drink a lot of coffee and listen to music while I work.
6. So what’s playing in the shop then? Right now it’s Simple Man, by Lynyrd Skynyrd
7. What is your favorite piece? Whatever I’m currently working on. And I’m proud of the Sampele dining table that built for our home. Really, I’m proud of most of the pieces I’ve built.
Sampele dining table
8. Who inspires you? Alyse doesn’t want me to say this, but she inspires me. I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for her encouragement. But if I had to pick one person who isn’t my wife, I would pick Jory Brigham. He does beautiful, unique work. He’s also created a successful business; his success is an inspiration.
9. What do you hope to communicate through your work? I don’t know about communicating. I just want to create pieces that last generations. I want them to be unique, affordable, and accessible for most people. I want them to be functional works of art.
10. If you weren’t doing this what would you be doing? I don’t know. It took me 40 years to find this.
11. What is the ultimate piece you want to create? I’d like to build a whole house from scratch. It would be everything I want, exactly how I want.
12. What’s your favorite thing about PDX? The creativeness and entrepreneurial spirit of the area. How everyone respects the environment, it’s inspiring. I don’t think you’ll find such creative environments in other parts of the country; I probably wouldn’t be doing this if I were in Ohio.
Project for Design Week Portland – Bench will have a lounge feature and book storage
13. Favorite bridge? The covered bridge in Corvallis.
14. Favorite neighborhood? No favorite, but I love my shop.
15. What’s your favorite tool? My hands.
Join Joel and Alyse from Branches Furniture at read:grain, works with reclaimed wood on Friday, April 28th from 4-7pm during Design Week Portland. For more information, go here.