Interview with Todd Clippinger

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Blog entry by Troy posted 04-04-2010 10:56 PM 1238 reads 1 time favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Meet Todd

Several months ago, I emailed a guy asking him about a piece of equipment I saw in his shop online. We have the same mortising machine and I was having trouble setting mine up, mostly cause I didn’t read the manual fully. He tried his best to understand and help me, but I was a bit hopeless at the time. Eventually, I figured out the machine, but what developed after was a solid friendship.

Todd with one of his many works
Todd with one of his many works

Fortunate at that time also, Todd Clippinger took an initial interest in our situation. He understood quickly our dilemmas and difficulties and freely offered sympathy and wisdom. His depth of knowledge and experience with our current endeavors was a godsend. He helped validate and focus our efforts during very challenging aspects of woodworking and starting a small business. Todd knew what we were going through and offered tons of great advice.

After some time, I had a chance to repay his generosity and assist him with some of his digital developments. He was eager to learn some of the latest web applications in order to develop his online work and I was pretty familiar with much of his emerging interests. Soon it all became manageable and we found ourselves keeping in touch regularly.

Todd and his wife Rita live in Billings, Montana, near the Yellowstone River. His back yard is a wondrous, open range leading to awesome landscapes and scenery. When he’s able to pull himself away from the upper-mountain region beauty, he works to develop his professional life as owner and operator of the American Craftsman Workshop. He maintains a dynamic website as his primary venue to provide inspiration and knowledge-sharing. Like many, Todd believes in growing the woodworking community and certainly has much to offer. He has a strong sense of quality and reputation towards his work, esp. for clients. Each project for a customer is his sole focus at that particular time and his results speak volumes about customer service and product delivery. He is certainly a friend to the fine woodworking community as well as a credit to the professional trade.

Custom Prairie Chandeliers
Custom Prairie Chandeliers

Recently, Todd agreed to offer insight into his background and professional life in this written interview. Hope you enjoy.

The Interview

BHW: Your background in woodworking has strong ties to remodeling work with your brother. This could have been a time that you were influenced by both general construction and finish/fine construction. What made you decide to pursue fine woodworking?

ACW: We grew up together in Ohio, but my brother and I took separate paths that converged on the Cooper House project (link) in 2004. He took carpentry/construction at a high school vo-tech in the late 80’s and remained active in the field ever since. At this time actually, this is his second year as a teacher at that same vo-tech program where he was once a student.

I started in ’97 as a handyman with no tools, skills, or knowledge of the trades. But I had a voracious appetite for learning and read everything that I could get my hands on.

As my skills grew I found that I liked to do remodel more than new construction. The hook for me getting interested in woodworking was replicating old trim and built-ins for the early 1900 homes that I worked on.

To understand the architecture and the style of the times, I started doing research. I found out about the Arts & Crafts movement, Art Nuoveau, Art Deco and how they were all related. I was fascinated by the designs and then absolutely captivated when I found out that there were modern day craftsmen building interpretations of the furniture and furnishings in those styles. Further research showed me that there is a whole world of custom furniture makers.

As a creative person always looking to challenge myself, I entered the world of fine woodworking. It was also a business decision to separate my work from everybody else in town. Instead of making myself competitive by being cheaper, I made myself competitive by developing my services as a designer & craftsman instead of just a handyman or contractor. I found that there are very few contractors that can design.

Through this journey, fine woodworking became my passion above all.

BHW: You have a pretty wide range of experiences that covers both woodworking and small business. In my short time of knowing you, I’ve noticed how you will try out many things and quickly figure out what is effective for your needs. What is your thought process when continuously choosing to work outside your normal comfort zone of familiarity?

Gathering unconventional material
Gathering unconventional material

  ACW: I am always pushing the limits of my comfort zone. As I look back, I realize that my behavior constantly reveals that I am a bit of a risk taker. I used to be a real adrenaline junkie (when my body was younger and invincible) and I can see how the excitement in the adventure activities compares to the excitement of pushing your business or skills to the next level.

I am not afraid to fail but I hate it, so I am willing to take risks and I do everything that I can to avoid failure. It is the risk of failing and losing that creates the excitement. It’s the realization of success that creates the adrenaline high. I guess I am still a bit of an adrenaline junkie through another activity.

Trying new things and making a decision about what to keep or get rid of ends up being a function of survival. Something works, ensures survival – keep it. Something doesn’t work, leads to failure – get rid of it.

But during the decision process, I am willing to really give things an opportunity to work.

BHW: Starting and maintaining a small business, or “going pro” in the woodworking trade is something many people often think about seriously. But those that do it know it’s more than just having some tools and skills. What were some challenges that weighed on you initially?

ACW: It was difficult for me to convince the local community that I was more than a handyman because that is what I started out as. It takes constant work to shape your image and sell it to the public.

Starting up is difficult. But it is important for others to realize that I took my business of remodeling, that was closely related, and sort of morphed it more into the custom woodworking business. I have been building business contacts, relationships, and reputation since ’97 and that all has been valuable as I changed the level of service and product that I provide.

I’ve also been building a shop, gathering tools, and honing skills that directly supported my fine woodworking. So overall, I did not stop what I was doing and completely change direction. The shop and tools were not acquired to feed my woodworking needs, they supported my requirements to provide custom fabrication and repairs for my remodeling business. It was because of this that I developed the skills and a love for the fine woodworking.

BHW: Living and working in your local community, what approaches did you find most effective when establishing awareness of what The American Craftsman Workshop can provide? What demographic were you focused on and how did you reach them?

ACW: Identifying your target customer or demographic is one of the most basic and critical acts in business. Your entire strategy is then formulated to capture the business from that group.

As a handyman, there is a certain demographic that hires you and a certain level of guys that you are competing against. As my skills and talent grew, and I recognized my business self-worth, I started saying “No” to a lot of jobs that did not fit what I wanted to be or do.

I happened to get sub-contract projects from a couple of other contractors and found myself working on higher-end homes. I made good connections with the homeowners and they called me for future work. Then they started passing me around like a piece of candy, all of a sudden I am working for a different demographic that has more money and is interested in paying for the type of projects that I like and excel at.

Most all of my work in the past has come by word-of-mouth and it continues to do so today. The difference is that most of my clients today are business people and have a higher level of income that allows them to pay for the projects that I do.

A great way to gain exposure is to donate some work to charity. Rita and I both make donations that bring in more money than we could write a check for, and our actions support charities that we really believe in. Charity fundraisers are a great place to have people see your work and connect you to it.

BHW: At the same time, you still manage to find time to share knowledge with fellow woodworkers. Strictly speaking, that is not a normal, maximum profit use of time. Why do you do it so often?

ACW: You are right, it is a not a profitable use of my time, especially when I have so much work to get out the door. But not everything is about the money. Sharing is about the passion and it satisfies a piece of me that money cannot.

As a woodworker, I am amazed at what I have learned and am excited about what I do in the shop. I just want to share that experience with others so they can do it too.

Even though I am self-taught, I did have help from other craftsmen that were generous with their knowledge when I asked for it. They are not famous but they are great craftsmen. I feel a responsibility to share with others as freely as they shared with me. Sharing with others pays homage to those guys that helped me. That is why I came up with the motto “Share the Love~Share the Knowledge.”

I have also discovered something about sharing; helping other woodworkers has really challenged my knowledge (or what I thought I knew) and has taken me to the next level. So by giving, I have continued to grow.

BHW: I can’t help but think that we are not the age group most associated with savvy web development and social networking skills. What made you decide to take on this significant, digital-age commitment? How long until the wife becomes producer and executive director of your videos?

ACW: The last time I had used a computer was in the late 80’s and I was using dBase III and WordStar. Fast-forward to just 3 years ago and I bought my first computer.

It has been a bit of a climb up the learning curve and very frustrating at times, but overall I have enjoyed the challenge. I think the challenge is the attraction for me.

Working on the videos is just another way to be creative and to share the knowledge, and I love doing that. There is so much information transferred visually when it comes to woodworking, that is the value of video.

The computer seems to provide me with a good mix of the technical and creative aspects. We had a chimney fire a few weeks ago, and I told my wife the only things that mattered were the dogs and the computer, just be sure to get those things out of the house.

I don’t see Rita getting involved with my video productions, she still rolls her eyes when I make a video. I believe she thinks that her husband is some sort of man-child playing around with video cameras.

BHW: I heard you like hiking, lattes, and Dairy Queen. What else do you enjoy for relaxation?

ACW: Well, thankfully Rita makes me mochas every morning and I do cherish them.

The afternoon DQ Mocha Moolatte’s are getting crossed of the pleasure list as she says I need to cut back, and I must agree that I should drop a few pounds.

With the warmer weather we will be able to get out more for some of our great mountain biking, hiking, climbing, and rappelling.

One of my greatest pleasures in life is simply walking with Rita and the dogs. It might sound sappy, but I can’t fully express what a great time I have just by walking and talking with my wife and watching the dogs run around doing their joyous dog exploration.

BHW: Seems you get some visiting, miniature shop workers on Sundays. After a period of adjustment, the grandkid’s woodworking adventures look like a popular regularity. What are you plans to foster this new-found quality time with the youngsters?

Grandson Cole with his latest project
Grandson Cole with his latest project

  ACW: You know, I came to the realization that I had this great shop that the grandkids saw as the ultimate activity room. Instead of running them out and treating it as off limits, I embraced it as an opportunity to teach them how to behave in the shop and it’s worked well.

Kids are naturally creative. Instead of structuring all the activity, I just provide them with scraps of wood and supplies to let them figure it out. Since they are kids, I think that the freedom of expression is most important right now in their projects.

During their project construction, there is ample opportunity to teach them safety and how to handle tools. They are also exercising creativity and problem solving skills during this time.

To me, I don’t care if they end up liking woodworking or not, but I often wonder how their time in the shop will come to fruition in the future. Many of my own projects were obtained because I could think “outside the box.” This was my competitive advantage and it is a skill that applies to more than just woodworking or remodeling.

BHW: Anything else you’d like to add?

ACW: Yep, I am going to share the secrets to woodworking right here. The secret to woodworking is spending more time in the shop.

I developed my skills because of my trade. I get paid to work with my hands all day so that is to my advantage.

But the message here for everyone is to read the information whether it’s online, in a book, or magazine and then spend time in the shop DOING. That’s when it will all come together for you.

That is the secret to woodworking and it’s really that simple.

Well, that’s all for now. I was a pleasure putting this piece together and we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. Take care.

Thanks for reading!

Your Arctic Woodworking Friend,

-- Troy Bouffard || Master Sergeant, US Army (Retired) ||

12 comments so far

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13347 posts in 3094 days

#1 posted 04-04-2010 10:59 PM

Thats a great interview, Troy.

View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

3945 posts in 2585 days

#2 posted 04-05-2010 01:48 AM

Right on! Todd is an LJ institution and everytime I think of scrapers, I think of him, and his great scraper video. This was an insightful interview, even for a hobbyist like me. Partly because I hire people to work on my house, in A&E style.

Great interview, touching on things that interest me as a businessman, and interest me as a woodworker. There was a lot of work that went into this interview, and it was well done.

Really can’t say enough to thank you for this, and I think you know what I mean.

Winding down on the weekend. Started making the miter arms for my sled, ran into minor technical issues with the router, easy to solve. But discovered that the router was making way too much noise for my ears. So down to Lowes or HD and get some ear protectors tomorrow. The simple things we hobbyists have to learn…....

Have a good Easter, my remote oven thermometer is in use, straight out of its box I made a few months ago thermometer box stuck in an uncooked ham and doing its job. So more during the week, as I hopefully get a few things done.


-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

View JimF's profile


143 posts in 2714 days

#3 posted 04-05-2010 03:17 AM

This is great! One of the really fantastic thing about Lumberjocks is the really knowledgable people like Todd who take time to share the techniques they have learned with those of us who need the help. Todd, and the others, make this the great place it is. Thanks Todd, and thanks Troy.

-- Insert clever tag line here

View degoose's profile


7193 posts in 2775 days

#4 posted 04-05-2010 03:36 AM

Very insightful.

-- Drink twice... and don't bother to cut... @ For lovers of all things timber...

View lew's profile


11264 posts in 3176 days

#5 posted 04-05-2010 03:41 AM

Great Interview!!

Your really “fleshed out” Todd. Your questions provided him with the opportunity for the rest of us to get to know him and his thought processes much better.

When Todd posts something, I make sure I read it through thoroughly. He always has an interesting perspective on all aspects of woodworking. You provided him with a platform to expand on philosophies and insights.

Your writing style fits in very nicely here at LJ’s. After reading this, I went back and reread your blog on the Ottoman. Your explanations, photos and step by steps are really easy to follow. From a retired Vocational Teacher’s perspective, you make an excellent educator. I am looking forward to reading/seeing more of your work.

Thanks again.


-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View Troy's profile


186 posts in 2484 days

#6 posted 04-05-2010 06:41 AM

Thanks gang. Jim, appreciate the support. That thermometer box really surprised me. You’re creating things based on a need and that is one of the greatest parts of woodworking – solution.
Jim, you are right, Todd helps many people and I am glad he worked with me on this.
Larry…check your email soon.
Lew, that is one of the nicest things anyone ever told me. I don’t know what to say besides thank you.

I enjoy giving back from all the learning I’ve received. It’s especially interesting working with others.

-- Troy Bouffard || Master Sergeant, US Army (Retired) ||

View stefang's profile


15512 posts in 2755 days

#7 posted 04-05-2010 07:21 PM

Great interview Troy. Besides good tips to those thinking about establishing there own business, you also gave us some insight into Todd’s character. I do believe Todd embodies the LJ spirit. By this I mean that he loves what he is doing and despite his need to make a living at it, he still takes the time and effort to unselfishly share his knowledge with his fellow woodworkers, as do many other professional and highly skilled members do. This to me is what life should be all about. As some say, money can’t buy you respect, love and true friendship, but sharing can.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 3520 days

#8 posted 04-05-2010 09:34 PM

Thanks for the kind words guys. I just want others to share in the same excitement and success in the shop as I do.

Others have taken time out of their day to share with me, now I am just doing the same.

It’s just too good to keep it all to yourself!

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View NBeener's profile


4808 posts in 2595 days

#9 posted 04-07-2010 04:39 AM


I, rather famously, have some pretty banged-up eyes, so … usually … anything that’s more than a paragraph gets a “Bye” from me.

But … you started off this entry with a hook—Todd—somebody that most of us have come to know, enjoy, and respect.

So … I (literally) covered one eye, stuck a second pair of glasses on, and commenced reading.

A thoroughly enjoyable, well-rounded, comprehensive, and stimulating read.

In Costa Rica, once, I met a retired Cardiologist, at a beautiful little eco-resort. A few years prior, his daughter-in-law had been killed in a carjacking just outside of resort property. He was given a “key” to the resort. Dr. Cardozo told me that, “Everybody has a story in this life. You have a unique ability to get that story from them.”

People fascinate me. Fortunately, most of them enjoy talking about themselves, so … it works out well.

All of that is by way of saying that you asked pointed, interesting, smart, thoughtful, and provocative questions—questions that brought out the best of Todd, IMHO.

Thanks for sharing that. I don’t know if you write in other venues, but … I’d be grateful for the opportunity to read more of your work.

And … Todd? I already liked you ;-) Now I find yet a few more facets of your personality that resonate with me, and deepen my appreciation for you, as a person.

Cheers to you both !!

-- -- Neil

View Tim Dahn's profile

Tim Dahn

1511 posts in 2986 days

#10 posted 04-08-2010 02:15 AM

Great blog Troy, I’m not sure I can add anything here except to say I second the thoughts and words above. Thanks for posting, I look forward to more.

-- Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement.

View mtkate's profile


2049 posts in 2746 days

#11 posted 04-08-2010 02:21 AM

Wonderful interview… and there is nothing wrong with being sappy!!!

View Troy's profile


186 posts in 2484 days

#12 posted 04-08-2010 03:19 AM

Thanks all, really appreciate the encouraging feedback. There will be more interviews in the future for sure. There seems to be no shortage of interesting people to talk with, lucky for me.

-- Troy Bouffard || Master Sergeant, US Army (Retired) ||

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