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The Joiner and the Cabinetmaker

Sep 21, 2012

by Chappell Ellison

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Rob Campbell can’t stop talking about the feel of wood. “It is almost impossible not to touch a polished wooden surface once seen,” says Campbell. “Try walking past a wooden kayak or perfectly balanced rocking chair without at least wanting to feel it — it is impossible for me!” Campbell, an IT consultant and dedicated dad, spends his extra time trying to master hand-tool woodworking. “It is nothing short of amazing to transform a chunk of recently-living tree into a piece of furniture using just some steel edges and wedges,” he says. “I feel deep peace and joy when working with hand tools. And the smell is great.”

Campbell’s interest in the craft was piqued when he discovered The Joiner and the Cabinetmaker, an illustrated book written in 1839 that details the experience of Thomas, a fictional cabinetmaker’s apprentice. Campbell had fiddled around with hand tools in the past, but reading Thomas’ story changed his life. Campbell decided to follow in the footsteps of Thomas, building the three projects featured in the book: a packing box, a chest of drawers and a school box (see image above). With Thomas’s 19th century limitations in mind, Campbell decided to use local wood whenever possible, no electricity (save for a few lights if he worked late), and a bench grinder to adjust his tools.

Campbell devised his own creative approach to learning woodworking since the apprenticeship he craved was just not available. “Where Thomas and his parents could walk down to the local cabinetmaker’s shop, that was not possible for me. I thought for a while about how to bootstrap a virtual apprenticeship, and my Kickstarter campaign was born.”

Rob Campbell on Flickr

Rob Campbell’s replication of Thomas’s packing box.

Campbell successfully raised nearly $7,000 for his endeavors, promising to give some of his wood pieces to supporters who gave the highest pledges. “The biggest challenge was living up to the expectations of my supporters,” says Campbell. “I’ve had a great reception but it is honestly a little harrowing to ask for funding and then hope that the result is pleasing to the supporters.” The Kickstarter campaign was a learning experience, and kept Campbell from taking out a line of credit. He has few regrets. “The only thing I would’ve done differently? I would’ve been more accurate in estimating shipping costs for my rewards,” he adds.

Now, a year since his Kickstarter campaign, Campbell has developed an even stronger understanding of woodworking by following Thomas’s project. “I almost think traditional woodworkers need the same type of concern and support as endangered animal species,” says Campbell. “Wood is a precious resource and needs to be put into the hands of those skilled in the craft of building enduring items. My perhaps radical take is that our society has developed a deeply unhealthy attraction towards cheap disposable furniture.” While he’s not totally comfortable assuming the reasons people chose to back his Kickstarter campaign, Campbell hopes that it was a sign that people want to move away from the mass-produced, and maybe even live vicariously through a craftsman. “I have received many messages thanking me for doing this, so that they may follow along, when it is my sponsors who really deserve the thanks. I suspect most of us have a deep sense of longing for parts of our heritage that are disappearing, and the need to protect this knowledge is intuitive.”

Campbell has now made woodworking a pillar in his life, and will soon spend three months doing full-time study at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking, where hand tools and traditional methods are emphasized. “A goal of mine is to become involved in spreading this information, through a combination of writing and teaching. I have already received orders for commissions once my Kickstarter obligations are fulfilled, and I have had to even turn some down!”

For those who share his aspirations, Campbell advises starting with the basics, like whittling sticks with a pocketknife to learn about the way wood behaves. “Cuts will be much cleaner in one direction than the other — try to understand why.” If nothing else, strike up a conversation with a woodworker to demystify the craft and become more comfortable with the tools and effort involved. “Woodworking is not easy, but talking to woodworkers is,” remarks Campbell. “I get the sense most of them are dying to help someone else get started  or at least to talk about it. Our friends and spouses have heard enough!”

Follow Rob Campbell’s journeys in woodworking on his blog, The Joiner’s Apprentice.

Woodworking Category

3 Featured Comments

  • slathered

    Sharon Moores from slathered said 5 years ago Featured

    Props to you, Rob, for finding a way to learn something you were interested in. Your pieces are lovely. Kickstarter is an amazing tool for artists; I see new success stories constantly where a dream was made possible thanks to it. We may not live in a time where you can pop round the corner and learn cabinetmaking, but modern tools are available instead.

  • MWTArtJewelryDesigns

    MWTArtJewelryDesigns from MWTArtJewelryDesigns said 5 years ago Featured

    Although I work primarily with silver and melted glass, wood has always been a favorite medium. A good block plane and a good set of sharp chisels and a nicely grained piece of wood are delightful company. It's good to know how to make things from all manner of materials. Thank you for the fine article in praise of woodcraftsmanship. It is certainly dear to my heart. -

  • ThePattypanShop

    ThePattypanShop from ThePattypanShop said 5 years ago Featured

    My fondest memory of my dad is his love for woodworking. He loved to build things that we used around the house. I can still remember the bench he built for my two younger siblings and me for the dinner table. We all loved it! He also designed and built my mom's dream house. Thanks for this article!!!

56 comments

  • StringBeardCraftery

    Stephanie from StringBeardCraftery said 5 years ago

    I totally agree with Rob about the irresistible urge to touch gorgeous works of wood. I think I have the same problem.

  • LivingVintage

    LivingVintage from LivingVintage said 5 years ago

    Great story!

  • OuterKnits

    OuterKnits from OuterKnits said 5 years ago

    Kudos for doing beautiful things with wood! Congrats.

  • volkerwandering

    Jess from volkerwandering said 5 years ago

    Great article, keep up the fantastic work!

  • slathered

    Sharon Moores from slathered said 5 years ago Featured

    Props to you, Rob, for finding a way to learn something you were interested in. Your pieces are lovely. Kickstarter is an amazing tool for artists; I see new success stories constantly where a dream was made possible thanks to it. We may not live in a time where you can pop round the corner and learn cabinetmaking, but modern tools are available instead.

  • bedouin

    Nicole from Crackerjackarma said 5 years ago

    Love this ~ it speaks to following a passion worth preserving . I have an old house where the floors,. walls and hardware were covered up with yuk and muk for nearly a hundred years I'm now stripping, staining and showing off its beautiful old wood. Cheers to future endeavors and your up and coming studies.

  • solocosmo

    Jessica Grundy from solocosmo said 5 years ago

    I really loved this article! I am wishing you continued success! My grandfather is/was a woodworker. He did woodworking all his life and when he 'retired' he found that he still wanted to be a woodworker and set out to learn all over again, but this time for himself. I have lots of fond memories of playing in his shop and he would set up little projects for me ahead of me visiting that only included wood glues and joints (since I was little no cutting). Then we could work side by side. Aw. Thank you for bringing back this memory!

  • PinwheelStudio

    Whitney from PinwheelStudio said 5 years ago

    A wonderful story, so glad to see it shared here! So amazing and inspirational to read about your following your passion and learning a craft you love.

  • ginasart8

    Gina Hammond from McGillhandmade said 5 years ago

    My uncle did woodworking for years and was accidentally discovered by his boss. What happened was he remade a stand in a store that he was the manager of. Then when the owner of the store saw his work he asked him about it. My uncle explained he did it at no extra charge. He then was put in charge of making wood displays for the owner's other stores. He ( my Uncle who is now deceased )loved what he did. This story brings back lovely memories. Thank you. gina

  • amayakind

    Holly Amaya from amayakind said 5 years ago

    I feel the same way! I can't walk past finished wood with out wanting to touch it. Or look at a piece of wood and imagine what it could become. It's a cool journey following the steps of a fictional story and making it a reality.... and those shipping cost... they are a doozy! What a wonderful passion, though.

  • furniply

    Ingus Jākobsons from Furniply said 5 years ago

    Nice read, I'm happy for your passion for woodworking! Love woodworking too!

  • ChristineShmistine

    Christine from FineArtWithaTwist said 5 years ago

    I wish I could do this.

  • droptheweasel

    Lizzie Powell from DropTheWeasel said 5 years ago

    I did woodwork at school and I can say that non of my boxes ever looked like these! Lovely works to be cherished for ever.

  • SciarrettaFarms

    Birgitte Sciarretta from SciarrettaFarms said 5 years ago

    You should interview Ana White of anawhite.com Not only does she build ALL of her own furniture, she and her husband also built their house and are now building their mothers house (a duplex with one mom in each half) with their own two hands. And they didn't need a Kickstarter project... :)

  • EmiliaFaith

    Edie Ann from OhHoneyHush said 5 years ago

    Very nice!

  • thelittlemarket

    Debbie from thelittlemarket said 5 years ago

    great story! and love the box in the first picture!

  • MWTArtJewelryDesigns

    MWTArtJewelryDesigns from MWTArtJewelryDesigns said 5 years ago Featured

    Although I work primarily with silver and melted glass, wood has always been a favorite medium. A good block plane and a good set of sharp chisels and a nicely grained piece of wood are delightful company. It's good to know how to make things from all manner of materials. Thank you for the fine article in praise of woodcraftsmanship. It is certainly dear to my heart. -

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie said 5 years ago

    I love woodworking! I took woodshop in high school and enjoyed it so much! Even the smell is heavenly to me. Your works are so beautiful!

  • AntiquesAsh

    Ashley from AntiquesAsh said 5 years ago

    Beautiful work! I my self have wanted to get into wood working. It is such a fabulous craft.

  • ambernurture

    Sarah Steed from ambernurture said 5 years ago

    beautiful, says it all really eh

  • bosquecarpentry

    Gabriel Montes from bosquecarpentry said 5 years ago

    Great work.

  • fbstudiovt

    Laura Hale from FoundBeautyStudioArt said 5 years ago

    My partner taught himself, via books and the internet, how to build the most incredible furniture with hand tools he found and restored. I'm in awe of him :) He's building a beautiful hanging cabinet with intricate storage for his most used tools in his tiny shop in our tiny spare bedroom as I write this. It's an amazing craft and I'm thrilled to read about someone else who has followed the same path!

  • ThePattypanShop

    ThePattypanShop from ThePattypanShop said 5 years ago Featured

    My fondest memory of my dad is his love for woodworking. He loved to build things that we used around the house. I can still remember the bench he built for my two younger siblings and me for the dinner table. We all loved it! He also designed and built my mom's dream house. Thanks for this article!!!

  • reflectionsjewelry

    Emily Delfin from reflectionsjewelry said 5 years ago

    Wonderful story! I wish you much success!

  • KnottyNotions

    Debbie from KnottyNotions said 5 years ago

    Love this story!!

  • kgpaintings

    Kirsten Gilmore from PaintingsByKEGilmore said 5 years ago

    Each piece of wood has it's own, unique character, when you look close enough. Painting on wood, I notice this too. :)

  • inrpower

    Danny Stevens from Inrpower said 5 years ago

    My Uncle also loved to work with wood! Best to you! WIsh he could have seen your work!

  • HandmadeIsAllAround

    HandmadeIsAllAround from iammieOWLshop said 5 years ago

    Love this!

  • dizhasneatstuff

    deb fearon from dizhasneatstuff said 5 years ago

    Congratulations on following your heart and desire. it must have taken a leap of faith to ask others to support your future craft. You are making beautiful items and I hope you will continue to listen to what the wood whispers to you.

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat from mazedasastoat said 5 years ago

    It's so refreshing to read of someone who's as obsessed about wood as I am! The feel, the smell... working with hand tools on wood is a very sensual experience. I wish you everything you wish for yourself.

  • ElChocolatin

    Elena Petryanina from ElChocolatin said 5 years ago

    tree always adds comfort in the house. Great job, good luck to you!

  • BambuEarth

    Amber from BambuEarth said 5 years ago

    Inspiring! I love that you were successful on Kickstarter. We will be launching a campaign next month and so we love to heart stories like yours to inspire and draw knowledge from. Thanks! ♥♥♥

  • JennasRedRhino

    Jennifer Boaro from TheCatBall said 5 years ago

    Oh, what a fascinating project! There would be so much to learn from that book. Many hand tools are wonderful to work with and give fabulous results, but I cannot IMAGINE giving up my table saw!

  • madebymum1

    madebymum1 from madebymum1 said 5 years ago

    Wonderful, the passion for your craft is inspirational.

  • coalchild

    coalchild from coalchild said 5 years ago

    awesome work...something that can be passed down to generations...i really admire people who are a credit to their craft..lots of down the road luck...

  • BrendaWattsWoodwork

    Brenda Watts from CattailsWoodwork said 5 years ago

    Wishing you much success Rob, your love of wood and the whole process will serve you well. I loved your comment “Woodworking is not easy, but talking to woodworkers is,” I enjoy so many visits in my studio from fellow woodworkers and folks who share my passion.

  • leeannasjewerybox

    Leeanna from LeeannasJewelryBox said 5 years ago

    I've always admired woodwork. This article reminded me how much I too love wood. I'm pleased to read how much Rob Campbell wants to encourage others to learn this craft as well. We need to learn from each other and keep crafting alive and thriving.

  • nicolanis

    Michelle from FoamyFactory said 5 years ago

    Love seeing pics of your shop! great items!

  • Feille

    sharon from EmbellishedLife2 said 5 years ago

    Love this article! I love wood items, especially plain wood items that can be stained, burnished, painted, etc.

  • auntjanecan

    Jane Priser from JanePriserArts said 5 years ago

    It is great to read about something so real and important. Great craftmanship.

  • TreadleLady

    Donna Kohler from TreadleLady said 5 years ago

    Wonderful story! Building in wood is very satisfying, so related to sewing and pattern making. As a young stay at home mother I took a woodshop class and made frames then at home built a cabinet using hand tools and a quarter inch drill and jig saw. The piece is still used in my breakfast nook and I hope some day my grandsons will appreciate it. I was amazed at the similarities to making clothing but more satisfying. Rob, how nice that you will get to study full time for three months. I will be following your blog.

  • rossalynhoid

    RoZco Rossalyn from BedHeadBGone said 5 years ago

    I share your passion for working with wood. My avatar is one of my wood carvings I call her Cameo girl. Great story.

  • TheMillineryShop

    Marcia Lacher from TheMillineryShop said 5 years ago

    Every hat I make is formed on a wood hat block which has been carved into a fabulous hat shape. These blocks are amazing and intricate works of art in their own right, so much so that the blocks themselves are rare and much sought after by collectors. (Much to the milliners chagrin, loads of them end up this way, sitting on a shelf, sadly unused) Sometimes I want to alter the shape of the block and need to file off something or carve a new shape - very easy to screw up, so I really respect your talent and methods. And I totally covet your tools.

  • thevicagirl

    VaLon Frandsen from thevicagirl said 5 years ago

    I love the work of a woodworker on all accounts. Although I am not sure the value of handtools over powertools. Power makes things much faster, and can work just as great work. Good work, hope it all goes well.

  • LindenAvenueDesigns

    MaryAnn from LindenAvenueDesigns said 5 years ago

    Wonderful story! I can't pass by a piece of wood without touching it and feeling the grain. Somehow, my Mother managed to acquire 2 chairs that are supposed to be at least 200 years old. I marvel at their hand carved detail and the way they have been put together. I can't pass by them without feeling the smoothness of the wood. I am in awe of someone who wants to keep this wonderful craft alive!

  • MissHildebrandt

    Miss Hildebrandt from MissHildebrandt said 5 years ago

    I am in LOVE with a Woodworker, I was created by a Woodworker, Woodworkers are such wonderful human beings!

  • highlandstbizarre

    Denise and Ray from HighlandStBizarre said 5 years ago

    That is some fine craftsmanship I can really appreciate, especial doing it the old fashion way with all hand tools. I have to agree with the draw to touch the work, if I was to see that piece in person the first thing I would do is run my fingers over those beautiful joints.

  • RevelationHouse

    Brenna from RevelationHouse said 5 years ago

    Amazing! I too have started a home-based wood working business. I love wood and so does my husband. It seems like the best fit for us to start our own business. The learning process can be difficult but it is well worth the time.

  • VintageWoods

    Sarah Woods from VintageWoods said 5 years ago

    Love the story!!!!!! The woodwork is great too!!!

  • BourgeoisDesigns

    V Lynn from BourgeoisDesigns said 5 years ago

    Love the woodwork.

  • TheBeautyofBoredom

    Gracie from TheBeautyofBoredom said 5 years ago

    I've heard of kickstarter. It could be worth a shot for entrepreneurs and nonprofit projects. Maybe I should go see what all the buzz it about. Anyway, great feature, and the work. Thanks for sharing!

  • DewyMorningVintage

    DewyMorningVintage from DewyMorningVintage said 5 years ago

    You have amazing skill and beautiful work! Congrats on a great story !

  • alancondrey

    Alan Condrey from OMNIproject said 5 years ago

    Touch is so important! To actually reach out and connect with an object is such a powerful experience. Props to you for making the time and effort to reconnect yourself with the process of making something. Keep up the great work!

  • FreakyPeas

    FreakyPeas from FreakyPeas said 5 years ago

    One of the disadvantages of on-line shopping.....

  • theresamiles

    Theresa Garcia said 5 years ago

    My father was a carpenter and i've always loved the smell of fresh cedar and pine its nice to see old fashioned craftsmanship come to life through your work there is nothing like the real deal,good job.

  • verteramo7

    Marcus Verteramo from OneTwoTreeToys said 5 years ago

    GREAT BOOK! Its nice to see other young (in the woodworking field) people wanting to learn more about how things were done before hand tools. There is tons of information you can learn from reading how the craftsmen did things in the past. Working with the wood not just forcing it to do what you want it to do with power tools. Keep up the good work!!

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