Benchmarks, Mentors, and Friends

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by Todd A. Clippinger posted 07-02-2008 04:23 PM 1558 reads 2 times favorited 23 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Like most individuals, I consider myself to be self-taught. I have no formal training as a woodworker, I did not apprentice under anyone, nor do I possess any formal education in design or art. But it would be dishonest to say that I have not had any teachers. Like anyone else, I read everything that I can get my hands on and I have inflicted myself on many a hapless professional craftsmen.

I want to introduce the LJ community to one of my mentors. His name is Mike Blatnick and he lives in Billings, Montana. He is an extremely talented designer and craftsman that can fluently speak in all the design vernaculars from Rococo to Modern. His work is absolutely impeccable and has been a benchmark that I have been chasing from the day that I met him.

A few years ago I hired Mike to build a mahogany door with a full view glass for one of my remodel projects. When I was in his shop, he was working on a table that had some swayed legs. I thought the design was the neatest thing that I ever saw and I obsessed over the shape of the legs. This obsession expressed itself in what I consider my breakout piece, the Mahogany Sofa Table.

When you know someone of this caliber, you can’t help but get excited about furniture making and design. The company a person keeps has an amazing influence on creativity. By sharing this I am really paying homage to someone that I consider a mentor and friend. (I am not sure, but he may just consider me a hemorrhoid for hanging around his shop too much.)

I stopped by Mike’s shop a few days ago and saw his latest work. It is a modern desk designed for an office here in Billings. This was just too good not to share, so he is allowing me to post this for the LJ community.

The desk is a modern design made with a solid beech top and beech veneers for the curved work. The finish is catalyzed acrylic from Sherwin Williams. This is a very durable finish for the writing surface and will withstand the abuse.



The drawers do not have surface mounted handles, they are opened by a recessed pull on the side. Just above the drawers, on both sides, are pull-outs to increase the desk area when the client has papers spread out.


The modern style of furniture looks simple but it is incredibly difficult and technical to build. There is very little margin for error in the finished product because all of the reveals have to remain constant. To achieve this level of excellence, Mike took the design to a larger shop that has a CNC machine and contracted out all the curved cutting. The story is that the CNC ran for an hour just to carve out the solid top with the bevel profile. He conceded that all the templates and patterns that he could have made would never have resulted in the same level of accuracy as what the CNC can produce.

Adding to the level of difficulty is the curved work. The accuracy of the work has to go from the top to the bottom over a curved surface. This is incredibly technical.


Mike’s knowledge of woodworking and furniture history is extensive and he can do everything from design to finish. I have used him as a benchmark for all aspects of the craft. Mike is certainly one of the individuals that I owe much thanks to for my growth.

Mike does not have a website and he is currently looking into this. When he gets one going I will be sure to let you know so that you may see more of his work.

Share the Love~Share the Knowledge

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

23 comments so far

View Greg Wurst's profile

Greg Wurst

794 posts in 3831 days

#1 posted 07-02-2008 04:35 PM

That is certainly an impressive table with very tight tolerances. Seeing work like that inspires you to improve your own work.

-- You're a unique and special person, just like everyone else.

View Damian Penney's profile

Damian Penney

1141 posts in 3990 days

#2 posted 07-02-2008 04:38 PM

CNC. Cheater ;-) Great looking desk Todd, thanks for sharing.

-- I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it. - Pablo Picasso

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4098 days

#3 posted 07-02-2008 04:43 PM

It is energizing to know someone of Mike’s caliber and witness their work first-hand.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View VTWoody's profile


95 posts in 4056 days

#4 posted 07-02-2008 05:04 PM

That is an awesome piece, and I use that word only with its original meaning, that the object inspires awe. I could very easily see holding Mike up as the benchmark and never really making it there, but enjoying the journey nonetheless.

Kudos to Mike, and thank you for sharing his work with us.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4098 days

#5 posted 07-02-2008 05:06 PM


I am most certainly enjoying the journey.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile (online now)

Lee A. Jesberger

6855 posts in 3978 days

#6 posted 07-02-2008 06:07 PM


That’s a fantastic piece alright.

Gee no wonder your so good, being able to hang out with a guy like that.

I have to either read it, or just make it up myself!

Great post.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 4245 days

#7 posted 07-02-2008 06:08 PM

Very inspiring Todd, I think, if I could, I’d hang with Mike too.

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4313 days

#8 posted 07-02-2008 07:22 PM

Heck Todd…Did you have to share this? I’ve been fighting white conversion varnish all morning and am about ready to go drive a manure truck…then I see this. Just about enough to ruin my self esteem…

View Brad_Nailor's profile


2539 posts in 3956 days

#9 posted 07-02-2008 07:25 PM

That is a beautiful piece! I love the color and the edge on the top. CNCs’ are a great thing to have available to you…just another weapon in your creative arsenal. The shop I worked in, the owner bought his CNC specifically to do curved and complex excels at that. But it’s also great for turning out a kitchen full of cabinet parts, accurate down to 3 decimal places in about a third of the time it would take to hand cut them, with all the rabbits and dado’s cut, and it would even put “peck” holes where the screws would go for the draw slides!


View Grumpy's profile


23917 posts in 3849 days

#10 posted 07-03-2008 12:55 AM

Todd, your friend has great talent & I think a lot rubbed off on you.

-- Grumpy - "Always look on the bright side of life"- Monty Python

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3894 days

#11 posted 07-03-2008 01:51 AM

Wow—- it’s nice to have a “mentor” like that. I highly doubt he considers you a hemorrhoid – but if you are a hemorrhoid with your talent I’m—- well, I’m not sure what I’d be. It’s great that you can hang out at his shop and that you can still get excited about such a neat woodworker. Your excitement about the craft is probably what makes you so good.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4098 days

#12 posted 07-03-2008 04:45 AM

I have run into a few stonewalls during my journey and I decided that I would never treat others that way. It was the people that were kind to me that helped define the way that I wanted to be towards others that are on their quest for woodworking knowledge and skills.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 3873 days

#13 posted 07-03-2008 07:27 PM

Todd, the desk is superb! Words don’t do enough to describe it. I see now where hour very high standard comes from.

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3671 days

#14 posted 07-03-2008 09:53 PM

Thats a nice desk. I am have way self taught and the other half I am learning at school.

View Billp's profile


804 posts in 4198 days

#15 posted 07-04-2008 12:05 AM

Todd guys like you and Lee are our insperation. I just learn from books and this web sight. The kindness of the skilled craftsmen on this sight means so much to us rookies. Thanks

-- Billp

showing 1 through 15 of 23 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics