In the fall of last year, as Hurricane Sandy pounded the coast, it stuck a paw of wind far enough inland to inflict significant blowdown damage here in the mountains of eastern Pennsylvania. Trees that have stood for a hundred years were pushed over like dominoes. Huge oaks, black cherry trees, locusts that were big when I was young now are laid down like corn stalks in the fall. Yet, even though it's a shame to see these long standing giants brought down, to this furniture maker it means raw materials within walking distance.
When I first got into woodworking, it was building ladderback chairs. My mother bought me The Foxfire Book, and in it was a chapter about an old mountain chairmaker which I thought was the greatest thing; with just a few simple tools, you could start with a tree and build a chair. As the years went on my skills increased, my furniture became fancier, Chippendale, Queen Anne, Federal, carving, fine finishes, curves, arches, all the bells and whistles. I spent gobs of money on tools to execute ever more complicated pieces. To sell the fancy expensive stuff, I built a website, established an online presence, researched marketing, all the things that you have to do to do business in the 21st century. Then one day while cutting firewood, I realized that all the stuff laying around that had been blown down in the storm was a gold mine to a chairmaker, which I am. I hacked a chunk off of a downed red oak, split it down into billets and started building some ladderback rocking chairs for the first time in ages. I dusted off my shaving horse, sharpened up my drawknife, honed my spokeshaves, and I felt like I was back home after being gone for far too long. Now, if someone calls up and wants a Chippendale chest on frame in mahogany, I'll surely build it, but I'm glad I stepped back and remembered why I call myself "Chairmaker" first and "Cabinetmaker" second.