I posted this on one of the forum questions by ToolCribEditor. I thought it was such a good insight into my own life that it should qualify as a blog entry.
I wonder how many people would put “famous” woodworkers on their list as opposed to people they know in their personal lives. Maybe it all comes down to their definition of “influential”.
#1 – My mentor, Vic, is probably the most influential woodworker on my list. He puts a lot of time and effort into each and every piece he does. He is also a small project woodworker, for the most part, so he’s already worked through a lot of the problems and challenges I find and I can either get a really good answer from him or he will point me in the right direction. He gives me free reign to use his shop tools when I need them and he trusts me enough to let me help him with his projects (his livelyhood and income).
#2 – Even though he died when I was two and I never really got to know him, my grandfather has been very influential in my woodworking life. In the upstairs living room of my parents’ house, you can still see the small child-sized, but fully detailed, workbench he made for me and my older brother. My niece and nephews still play with the 6” cubic blocks he made (six-sided, hollow in the middle, with fully mitered corners on all edges) for me and my brother, as well. Every day, my mom uses a cutting board he made almost 40 years ago. His butcher block counter top is still in the kitchen of our old farm house (where my little brother now lives). He was a hobbiest woodworker for much of his life and he was taken from us way too early. I wish I could have had the opportunity to study under him. On a side note, he is also influential in my personal life in that I watch what I eat and how much I exercise, because I’d like to be around to teach my grandchildren and not die at an early age (56?) because of an unhealthy lifestyle.
#3 – I suppose every list should have at least one “famous” person on it. If I had to pick one, I’d probably go with David Marks. I’m really not a huge fan of a lot of his designs – he tends to be a bit too modern for my tastes. But his attention to detail and the skill levels of his designs are definitely admirable. He can turn even the simplist-appearing foot stool into a challenging task with the angles and joinery he picks. He sets a skill-level bar I can actually see; one I feel I can reach. He also does a great job of incorporating power tools and hand tools into each project and throughout his various episodes he does a great job of showing you more than one way to do things like cut dovetails.
#4 – My little brother is influential in that he might not be making a ton of money, but he’s working in a cabinet shop as a full-time woodworker and he makes a living and enjoys what he does. I hope some day I have the courage to take the leap of faith and leave the safety of corporate life to try my hand at making a living doing what I truly love.
#5 – This last one isn’t going to sound too great, but… nobody has ever accused me of being less than honest. There is a guy in the local woodworking guild to which I am a member, and he is a woodworker who greatly influences my woodworking, but not like one might expect… I learn from him what kind of woodworker I do NOT want to be. Whenever he passes around some of the projects he’s recently completed, it makes me more determined than ever to constantly focus on the quality of my work and make sure my joinery is tight and my sanding is completed through the steps and that I spend just as much time and effort in project design as I do in actually making the project.
There are a few woodworkers who would make it really close to the top of the list, including George Nakashima and James Krenov. They both have books out that show woodworking from an internal artistic perspective – the insight they provide me is priceless.
-- Ethan, http://thekiltedwoodworker.com