a woodworker's story

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Blog entry by rusticderek posted 01-19-2014 12:01 PM 1688 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Today at the age of 32, I am a well-established furniture maker, small business owner, and woodworking instructor. At the age of 7 my Father John Skapars introduced me to the fine art of woodworking. I can remember helping him install our homes living room floor in the suburban Boston, Massachusetts town of Dover. An interest was sparked, and a true passion was discovered. Being an excellent student, knowing what I want, and not being afraid of failure all contribute to my current success in this field today.
When I saw my Father use the chop saw for the first time spit out saw dust along with the smell of fresh cut, oak, I knew that when I got older, I wanted to become a woodworker. I was his helper on that project and must have made 100 trips from the living room to the garage that weekend in 1988. I was a very curious kid and always asked a ton of questions about everything. When the floor was complete, I felt good about it. I wanted to make more and more woodworking projects. The years went on and I played soccer, baseball, practiced Tae-Kwon Do, and continued to tinker with woodworking. I always was the helper and my Dad was the carpenter. We built decks, tool boxes, stained furniture, and many more little weekend projects together. I guess I can say he showed me the ropes.
Things changed dramatically for me when I was entering 7th grade. Woodworking became a mandatory class for the entire grade to take and I was ready for it. Mr. Nordstrom was my instructor and he taught me so much. I made all kinds of beginner projects and learned how to use the machines properly and safely. Then one day I came home from school and my Mother sat me down and said, “Derek, one of your teachers called me today”. I thought I was in trouble as I was a handful growing up. But it was Mr. Nordstrom who called and said I was an A+ student and that my advanced bird house style clock was very impressive. I got the award that year for excellence in woodworking.
When 9th grade came along, I won the High School shop award for a chair I built. I knew I was in my element when it came to woodshop. It felt good. I had a good understanding of all the machines and hand tools by then. I never got a big head though. I was always learning and soaked up new skills like a sponge. I developed a way of thinking when it came to failure. Instead of being bummed out and down in the dumps when something didn’t go my way, I saw failure as nothing but feedback, and viewed all feedback as beneficial. That way, I could thrive at life, especially woodworking. When I felt comfortable making a chair out of pine, I would make my next one out of walnut, then, maple, etc. Each wood cut differently on the table saw and with the many different tools I would use. I got comfortable with being uncomfortable and adopted that train of thought with other things in life.
After 6 straight years of woodworking instruction at Dover-Sherborn Public Schools, I graduated with 2 awards and a high school diploma. I then took the next 6 years off from working with wood to pursue a college degree. I studied Psychology at Arizona State University and received my B.A. in 2005. After I graduated my family and friends gave me cash gifts for obtaining my degree and with-in minutes, I was ordering my very own Band saw. I decided it was time for me to get back into woodworking full speed ahead. In 2006 I started Rustic New England Furniture Company and began selling my furniture. I dabbled in fine furniture, rustic furniture, table making, woodcarving, etc. Whenever I got a little cash, I would buy a new tool or machine. Business wasn’t booming, but I was happy.
2007 came along and I studied furniture making at the well know North Bennet Street School, in Boston, Massachusetts. I learned how to hand cut dove tail joints, sharpen tools, design my own projects, and just about everything I needed to know to succeed in this world as a woodworker. I then came across an ad on Craigslist in 2008 that said: SUMMER WOODWORKING INSTRUCTOR. So I applied and began my career as an instructor. I was very nervous, and didn’t know what to expect. But I went for it. I now dedicate every summer to being a woodworking instructor to children and make a good income doing so. I have been instructing for 7 years now and don’t intend to stop.
Running my small business, instructing, and making personal pieces of furniture have me busier than ever. I love this niche I have created for myself and am currently flirting with becoming a High-School Woodworking Teacher in Houston, Texas. I also am teaching a class called “Adirondack Chair Building” for Leisure Learning Unlimited in Houston in February 2014.
I have so many avenues I want to go down with this craft and am sure, if I keep this attitude up, I will explore every one of them. Some ideas I have is, running my own camp called “woodworking warrior camp”, Introducing “woodworking Therapy” as a way to recover from addictions, and opening up my very own woodworking school. I am a student always learning, I know where I want to take this, and am not afraid of failing because I see failure as feedback and view all feedback as beneficial. Find out what you’re passionate about, learn everything you can about it, and don’t be afraid of failure. Pitch your ideas, utilize your contacts, learn about sales and marketing, and just have a good time with whatever it is. That’s my story.
Derek Skapars
Derek began working with wood at the age of 7. Now he is in his 30’s and is still at it. Teaching, running Rustic New England Furniture Company, and producing custom furniture keep him busy most days. When Derek is not working he enjoys playing golf, kayaking, watching movies, and visiting his home in Massachusetts.
You will get a real one-on-one relationship with Derek when ordering a piece from him. He will custom make the piece you desire and help you to get exactly what you want. Derek is also an excellent contact and will always refer you, promote you, and market you to his network. Derek is the kind of professional you need to know.

-- derek, texas

3 comments so far

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 2700 days

#1 posted 01-19-2014 01:27 PM

Welcome to LJ, Derek from Houston!

I like your story. It sounds like you’ve got a good thing going. Not many woodworkers can say that these days.

You will like it here on LJ. There are a lot of woodworkers that have that same passion and a skill set that will amaze and humble you and make you want to learn more….it’s never enough! So many projects to master!

this is my Sunday morning ramble,

32 is such a cool age. I’m 57 now but I remember it’s like, You’re on top of the world and you own it….Finally. It’s your prime time to make something big, leave your mark and make a difference in other people’s lives. Your body is built like a brick shit house and there’s nothing you can’t physically handle for 12 hours straight. The money is starting to come in but it it’s going out just as fast…so many tools and toys to buy! no time to save now.

I was a student shop teacher for a few years and remember how fun it was to teach the younger ones. I went on to become a teacher, sort of, on my remodeling jobsites and in my shop. I can proudly say I’ve mentored several hard cases, some with alcohol abuse issues, some just needed a listening ear and some good advice.

It made me feel great but it also left me open to being taken advantage of and I’ve been bit hard several times because of it. I guess what I’m trying to say is: I hope you never lose that passion to help others but I hope you keep your guard up and realize, you can’t help some people, they will never change and they see good hearted people like us as prey.

Most dog bites occur from an extended hand….never saw it coming.

I look forward to reading your future posts, glad you’re here!

View NormG's profile


6137 posts in 3028 days

#2 posted 01-21-2014 04:35 AM

Wow, now that is a story of commitment. Keep moving forward

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View nayo's profile


294 posts in 1917 days

#3 posted 01-22-2014 03:37 AM

liked so much i wanted to read some more when i finished it. Glad you love what you do, and make money out of it.
all the best!

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