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Featured Woodworker for March 2007
This months featured woodworker is Dan Land. Dan is a talented woodworker with interests in many aspects of the craft. This is easy to pick out from seeing all the different pieces that he has built around his house. One of the things that I liked most about talking to Dan was listening to him talk about what inspires him as a woodworker and his perspective on learning new skills. Dan is constantly on the look out for inspiration around him. If Dan finds something that he wants to make but it involves some skills he doesn't posses he doesn't just give up. He looks for ways to learn those skills either through classes or from fellow woodworkers that he knows. By not shying away from new and challenging projects you too can push your skills to new heights no matter how long you've been working wood. Keep reading to learn more about Dan's thoughts on woodworking.
When did you first become interested in woodworking?
Dan- Actually, what caused me to start thinking about needing a hobby was when my mom came to live with us. She was in her eighties when she was fired from her job because she had a stroke and couldn't do the work any longer. She was completely devastated. Her job was her life, she really didn't have anything else she wanted to do. At the time I was working at a job where it wasn't unheard for me to spend the night in the office because there was so much work to do at the time. All this made me stop and think: Hey wait a minute, I may be just like my mom! So I decided to pick up woodworking as a hobby. I had always had an interest in wooden things particularly clocks when I was younger. I was a member of the NAWCC (National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors). I also remember when I was in high school the aptitude tests that they give you said that I should either be a forest ranger or a lumber jack (laughs). So the interest has been there for a long time but it wasn't until all this happened to my mom did I pursue the interest I had in woodworking.
I remember seeing an ad in the paper for some classes being taught at Dollywood (a theme park in Pigeon Forge Tennessee) for woodworking. I ended up taking an intarsia class and really enjoyed it. That's been around 13 years ago and I've taken classes at several different places around the area whenever something catches my interest. We really live in a great place for learning woodworking with several places that offer classes: Arrowmont in Gatlinburg (TN), Appalachian Center for Crafts in Cookville (TN) and many others.
What areas of woodworking do you enjoy the most?
Dan- I worked on intarsia and fret work for years and then I became interested in carving. I'm building more furniture now. Who knows, hopefully eventually all these interests will gel together into something really unique (laughs).
What is it about wood that caused you to choose it over another medium to work with?
Dan- I think it's the variety of wood, all the beautiful things that people have made using wood in the past. I remember working on a merit badge for boy scouts where I needed to have a collection a different types of wood. My dad knew a cabinet maker that we went to where he gave different scraps of wood. I remember just being amazed at all the different looking types of wood that this cabinet maker had. When I got a little older I went to work for my older brother over the summer who had an antiques business. I learned a lot about antiques but what always got my attention was the beautiful wooden furniture pieces.
You've talked about taking a lot of woodworking classes over the years to learn new aspects of the craft, but what are some other ways that you've learned woodworking?
Dan- I love taking classes, but I'm also a real book person. If I see old magazines at garage sales I'll buy the whole box. I've got hundreds of magazines, probably thousands is more like it, (laughs). In fact one of my next projects is a bookcase for all the woodworking books that are just sitting on the floor because I outgrew the last bookcase.
I've bought a lot of magazines and books over the years and when you go through that stuff like the old design series from Fine Woodworking and a few others, it's really inspiring.
I've noticed this unusual table sitting over here (see picture), tell me about it.
Dan- I signed up for a table making class at Arrowmont one summer. We were suppose to come up with a design ahead of time but I hadn't really been able to. But before the class got started the instructor was showing some slides and one was of a one legged table. This caught my eye, so I decided to make my version of the one legged table.
The marquetry work was actually done by my daughter for an independent work study class at school. I showed her how and then she did the rest.
What do you do for a living?
Dan- I work for a large company called SAIC where I'm a data base developer. I also work on web pages, visual basic, really anything that interacts with data bases.
What style of furniture do you enjoy making?
Dan- Anything that I can make (laughs). I still haven't figured all this out. I feel like I'm in a long learning curve. I admire a lot of the earlier American furniture but at the same time that's not what I want to make myself. I have a lot of ideas of things that I would like to make eventually but none of them are any one style of furniture. For example I've got two projects that I would like to make this coming year: One is the bookcase we talked about earlier, the other one is a blanket chest. I found an interesting French bookcase from the eighteen hundreds with a lot of carvings on the sides which I liked, so I want the side panels to be carved with carved drawer pulls for two drawers at the bottom and doors to enclose the bookcase. Then the blanket chest I have in mind is a little different. Have you ever looked at quarter sawn sycamore? To me every time I look at it it reminds me of reptile skin. So I decided I wanted to build something that builds on that idea of reptile skin. What I want to do is make a dragon chest. I'll cooper the top, and make the sides out of quarter sawn sycamore, but I'll still carve scales all over it add to the reptilian look of the piece. The corner posts of the chest will be the dragon legs with one of the sides being a breast plate. So I definitely don't have one particular style that I lean toward.
What's your favorite woods to work with?
Dan- I work mostly with locals hardwoods, primarily because I'm cheap (laughs). I love walnut and I can get it fairly cheap and it just looks great so that's probably number one.
Do you have a tool that you just really enjoy using or that has some sentimental value to you?
Dan- I love sanders (laughs). Let me explain. I've built a Maloof style rocker and the one legged table that required a lot a sculpting. You really get into a rhythm when you're doing that and it can become very soothing.
When you were first setting up shop how did you go about setting up shop?
Dan- My first purchase was actually a radial arm saw that I used to make breeding cages for birds that I used to sell. Then my wife bought me a router, I bought a scroll saw when I started doing intarsia. I would just buy things as I needed them and would wait for stuff to go on sale or buy it used. My most resent purchase was a 12 inch jointer from Grizzly that I got at an introductory price. So I'm always on the look out for a bargain.
Who are some of the woodworkers that have had the biggest influence on you?
Dan- It's probably been from the instructors that I've taken classes from. I've taken marquetry classes from Silas Kopf who is one of the best in the United States. Craig Nutt who uses fruit and vegetables in a lot of his work is another person that I admire. In fact if you've been to the Atlanta airport he has a giant jet that looks like a corn cob hanging in one of the terminals. I've also taken a box making class with Doug Stowe who has several books out on the subject. It's really incredible to see something in a book or magazine that really captures your imagination and then find out that their teaching a class on it. How can you not go and learn how they do it? These are the people that spark my interest in learning new things. I mentioned early about wanting to make a dragon chest. Well, those kind of ideas have come from taking classes from people who make interesting stuff that has caused me to want to make interesting stuff as well. Locally Rick Popp has been a tremendous person to know and work with on projects like the Maloof rocker that he helped several of us make over the course of a year. Also, Larry Nowell the person that I'm taking carving classes from right now has got me interested in learning to carve faces that actually look like a particular person not just a generic face. Alf Sharp is another amazing woodworker that I admire greatly because he turns out amazing reproductions. But the thing that's most incredible about Alf is that he's basically self taught.
What are you're favorite books and magazines on woodworking?
Dan- For magazines I really like Woodwork because they have a lot interested stuff. There used to be a magazine out there called Fine Furniture which was incredible. (Fine Furniture magazine wasn't a how-to magazine but rather a publication that simply showed off incredible furniture and the people that made them.) Popular Woodworking is another magazine that I enjoy a lot. I think that they have a good combination of reviews and projects to build. As far as books go, I have a lot of books on boxes. I love to make boxes and enjoy looking at books on how other people make their own boxes. To me any book on woodworking that has something of interest, even if it's only a few pages out of the book, is worth buying for me.
What are some of the finishes that you use on your projects?
Dan- I like a simple oil finish for walnut, it just looks great. I also like to use Formby's Tung Oil. In reality it's probably closer to a varnish, but it leaves a good finish. I use shellac also, very thin coats that I put on with either a paper towel or a cloth. Over top of an oil finish shellac does a nice job. One of the things to keep in mind with finish is the tactile feeling that it will give the piece of wood. I love the feel of a piece done with shellac and wax. It still feels like wood. The first thing that you want to do when you see a nice piece of furniture is feel it. I use polyurethane on pieces that are likely to come in contact with water but it does change the whole feeling of the piece when you go to touch it.
Any last bit of advice for our readers on woodworking?
Dan- Have fun. If you're doing this for a hobby then do the things that interest you. A hobby is meant to be fun and relaxing. That's why I do so many different things with woodworking. I like to do it all. I haven't found that one thing that I just want to do all the time. But that's one of the great things about woodworking is that there are so many things you can do with it.
Here are some more pictures of Dan's work:
Antique oak cabinet that Dan refinished
An oak table that Dan's son made to give to Operation Safe House. This is an organization that offers a safe place for abused children to go to.
Some pictures of Dan's shop:
One of the many sanders that Dan owns
Having high ceilings is a big asset to have for storing lumber