The Hall Tree and Bench (pictured below) is a real beauty. The two-part construct precluded a Road Trip, but that left more time for Marc and Tommy to explore more of the nuance — and to break down what might otherwise come across as too intimidating a project to bite into.
Despite the Holidays and a busy work schedule of his own Marc gave us some time to connect and talk a bit about the episode, his journey through woodworking and some of the exciting things that he has going on over at the Wood Whisperer.
The story of your deep dive into woodworking is pretty well told on your website, but what we want to know is what it was about woodworking that called to you? How did you know that this was your passion?
It was the fact that woodworking was distracting me from what I previously thought was my passion. I went to school for science. But when I got home from my job all I wanted to do was hit the shop. I was also newly married, too, so the fact that I wasn’t spending as much time with my wife as I should have been was also a sign that something was going on there.
Really it was just a matter of being obsessed with [woodworking]. All of my spare time was spent in the shop. And I was diving into woodworking books, DVDs, magazines. It quickly elevated from “hey, this is a fun hobby” to “wow, this is something I am passionate about. How to I make this my career?” And I feel like I am able to be more productive to the world doing what I’m doing.
When people take up hobbies there is often a “breakthrough” moment that really gets momentum going for them. It could be a new skill learned or a project completed. Was there such a moment for you?
I’d say that point happened when I made this chess board with storage. It was just a little game board with storage for the pieces and some nice molding. I had seen a picture of it but didn’t have plans for it. So I made my own plans and built it. It was really the reactions I got to the finished piece that opened my eyes. And not just reactions from family, because they always tend to support you no matter what. I mean reactions from strangers on woodworking forums who were saying “oh my gosh, that looks fantastic. How did you do this? How did you do that?” I think that’s when I realized that maybe I was slightly better than the average DIYer. That I made something better than you can get at WalMart.
This is actually generic advice. Don’t focus on the finished whole project. Tackle it based on one part at a time. This is why you have plans. If you focus too much on the complexity of the finished piece, if that’s all you think about at the beginning, it can be intimidating. You start thinking about the mistakes you might make on the part you’re not even close to working on.
Think of it as many projects within a project. Consider the base one finish line and a mini project. The back is another. When you’re working on the base, don’t think about the back.
The other advice I have is to create a schedule. Punch the project into a calendar so you know that today you’re working on the legs. Tomorrow, the mortises. If you don’t do that, you’ll get intimidated by all the steps and you’ll end up walking around the shop for an hour wiping dust off of surfaces. What’s today’s goal? And don’t bite off more than you can chew.
What’s your favorite part or detail of the Hall Tree and Bench project?
When you’re doing panels and mirrors, you can run the risk of over-complicating how the pieces have to be cut. Especially with a piece of glass. But when you can construct the project with glass in mind, you can make changes in the back joinery to accommodate square glass or at least simpler cuts. That’s what I like about this project. From the front it looks like we used some complicated curves and precise glass cuts, but really it was a bit of trickery to allow us to still use the simplest cuts possible.
How do you decide on a “next project”? Is it crowdsourcing from your online community?
It is to an extent. But there’s also the realistic practical needs that govern projects. What do I actually need? I’ll often as my wife. In fact, I’ll be making an Asian-inspired bed with storage underneath because it’s been requested many times — by my wife. So it’s a project that I’ll use in my home.
Give us your top Wood Whisperer Episodes. Why do these rise above the rest in your mind?
Things have evolved so much over the years. Those early episodes are not what I consider my best work, since I’ve gotten better at things like filming and editing. So really I’d say that my best work is always my most recent work. For example, we just recently did a fun like Salt Cellar project. It’s super simple, quick woodworking.
If you’re going by viewer favorites, you could go all the way back to Episode 07 (seen below), which was the butcher block cutting board. That episode really set the stage for what the show would become. It reinforced good milling and cutting and it was fun to watch. And that project became really popular. All of a sudden there were hundreds of these same style cutting boards being made and people thought I was the guy that made them. But in reality I only made one. And I still use it in my kitchen today!
Then there are the multi-part series. Episode 57 was the start of a 12-part series on making a gadget station. This is where doing it online is an advantage, because you can explain every step in the process and go for that niche, niche audience. That series was so popular that it became the core of our business: paid membership.
Speaking of, you have a good thing going with your Wood Whisperer Guild. Tell us about that and how it’s going:
We launched it in 2008 and it’s really the longest running thing of its kind. We took inspiration from trends going on online outside of woodworking. Lots of sites did paid membership, but not in woodworking. At the time we started it as a means to stay independent. We’re still very grateful to have sponsors for the free part of the site, but the 5500 members of the Guild are really the cornerstone of the business. In many ways they allow us to continue creating the free content, too.
Follow Marc’s work on his website.
Check for local broadcast of the Hall Tree and Bench project by searching our Station Finder.