What didn’t fit : Jeff JohnsonPosted: 11/28/2012 | |
This month, I’m introducing you to my dad, Jeff Johnson. He makes my State Icon frames, builds the boxes that make my found frames into shadowboxes, and constructs many of my displays for my art-show table. He’s passionate about woodworking, and it shows in his work! Read on for more on the talented dude I am lucky to call my dad.
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Hey dad! Er, I mean, Jeff. Tell us about you.
I’m married to my wife Kathy, and we will be celebrating my 40th wedding anniversary in January 2013. I also have two beautiful twin daughters. I grew up in southern Minnesota and moved to the St. Paul area 32 years ago. My education is in Electronics Technology, and I have worked mostly in the Customer Service field. In my early years, I move around the industry, and tried different fields, from medical to research to design, but for the last 28 years I have been in one company. I have spent about 20 years of that time building and developing the customer service reputation for my present company in the Asia Pacific, and have made numerous trips to that region.
How and when did you start to become interested in woodworking?
I’ve always been interested in woodworking, but when I was younger I didn’t have the money to really get into it, and while I was in Asia for weeks on end, I didn’t have the time. I quit traveling to Asia about three years ago, and rediscovered weekends—and my love for woodworking.
It really started one day when my wife and I were looking at new bedroom furniture. The furniture that we had was hand-me-down from my mother and father, and it was very ornate with many places for dust to settle. My wife wanted a clean design, without all the carving and dust-collecting areas. She really liked a Mission Style set that we saw at the furniture store, but neither of us liked the $3,000 price tag. I did not know it at the time, but my woodworking really started with the words, “I can build that cheaper,” and my wife replying with, “OK, build that set.” After the sawdust settled, I think the total cost of the set was more than $3,000 just in tools, but I now have some wonderful new tools, with which I have built lots of furniture, cabinets, shadowboxes, and many, many State Icon frames since then. [For more info on this frame-making process, read my blog post, Behind the art : The making of a State Icon.]
What is your specialty?
My favorite pieces are those with straight lines. I don’t have a lathe (yet) so I stay away from projects with round pieces. I enjoy fitting mortise and tenon joinery. There is something very satisfying in fitting the pieces together after using that technique. I’m also getting much better at dovetail joinery. I do have to admit I make all my dovetails using power equipment.
Tell us about some jobs you’ve done recently.
Besides my own projects, I have taken on some very small to very big projects for others. The largest project that I have undertaken was to build a front desk area for Strike 3 Pitcher & Player Development in Bloomington. It consisted of about eight oak base cabinets topped with a Formica counter top. To save time and money, I purchased the base cabinets and hand made the selves, panels, and trim, and did the installation of the unit on site. I could dry fit and finish all all of the cabinets and panels in my shop, but the counter top had to be fit on the job site. My helper (wife) and I spent about eight hours putting the unit together on site. The biggest challenge to that project was to fit the counter top around a large square pole that was in one corner of the unit.
Another job was for clients that needed a single kitchen base cabinet made to fit a non-standard space. They purchased granite counter top, but needed a permanent cabinet addition to match the 1050s-style cabinets in their kitchen. They tried to find a contractor who would build them this three-drawer unit to match, but no one wanted to take on such a small job. They were talking to someone who knew of my work, and then contacted me. I fabricated and installed the cabinet, and the clients painted it to match their existing units. It looks like it has been there for years, but if you open the drawers, you will find that they are on heavy-duty, smooth-rolling, ball-bearing slides.
I have matched drawer fronts for another client, to replace the drawer fronts on a kitchen island he purchased. I have made coffee tables, children’s chairs, plant stands, benches, holiday decorations, and many custom wood-cutting jobs for almost every neighbor on my block. I open my shop door (garage door) when the weather is nice, and almost every day someone walks in holding either a piece of paper with a pencil drawing, or a piece of wood for me to cut, trim, or notch for them. I don’t mind the interruptions at all, and enjoy helping out the neighbors. Sometime they even come with a six-pack….
Tell us about the work you do for redshoes26 design.
Kathy and I work together on the State Icon frames that redshoes26 design sells. We got into this work because the company that supplied her frames could not supply the quantity that she needed in a timely way. Once again my statement, “I can build them for you” got me into a large project. My wife and I enjoy making the frames when we can do it on our own schedule, but sometimes Christy’s sales rocket, and we have to pull double duty to get the frames ready. We like to make them in lots of 25, but have been thinking of changing that to 26….
I do the wood cutting and shaping, and I cut the glass and backs. My wife glues the frames together and hand-paints them. They have a smoother look when they are hand painted, so it’s worth the effort. We have made more than 1,000 frames in the past two years, and have the jigs and technique down, so the whole job is fairly flawless.
I also make and install the shadowboxes that hold Christy’s art. This is a project that I truly love. Since this is not a high-volume project, I do it when I feel like it, and always enjoy creating backs. Every frame that we use is different, and holds a unique challenge to fit and attach the box behind it. I don’t see the finished artwork installed in the frame until I go to one of the shows that redshoes26 design is involved in. Seeing one empty shadowbox at a time in my shop, and then seeing many of them hanging on the gallery wall…it’s a wonderful feeling. I go down the line looking at each one, and remember the time that I made and mounted the box behind the frame, and then I enjoy the artwork that Christy designed and installed into the simple box I made. That is very satisfying to me.
What have been some of your favorite jobs?
That is a difficult question because all of my jobs are great. I do only the work that I really want to tackle, and throw everything I have into each one. I try to pick jobs that are a challenge and contain something I’ve never done before, like cutting a unique pattern, or making intricate joints, or making a piece that fits into a unique opening. I also like to take on jobs that use wood like walnut or maple. Something other than pine. Pine is OK if you are going to paint or stain it, but I like the look of natural wood.
What has been one of your most challenging jobs?
The most challenging job was the desk unit for Strike 3. I had to trim a custom counter top to fit between a wall that was not square, and a post that was not square to the wall or truly square itself. I have never measured and remeasured so many times in my life. I had one chance to cut a $600 piece to fit. After marking the piece, I pulled out my trusty saw and make the cut. It fit, and you could hear the sigh all over town. The matching piece on the other side of the post did not join with a wall, so although that also was critical, it was not as painstaking as the first piece.
What makes you passionate about what you do?
I think because I do take on interesting and challenging jobs, it keeps every project fresh, interesting, and fun to complete. Another thing I thrive on is to take someone’s idea or dream and make it a reality. One of the biggest joys is to see the smile on a client’s face when I deliver the project and it’s exactly what they wanted made. It’s very satisfying.
What’s your favorite tool to use and why?
My largest investment and favorite tool is my new table saw. It is from a manufacturer called SawStop located in Oregon, and it has an extra safety device built in that protects the operator if a body part makes contact with the spinning blade. It’s also a highly accurate and wonderful-to-work-with cabinet saw. It replaced a good Craftsman contractor’s saw and is in a whole different league than that saw. The Craftsman served its purpose as a general saw, and actually has a new life with another young woodworker. But for me it was time to move up. I really like the saw and highly recommend it.
Tell us about how you’ve gotten creative in your shop to save space.
I say my wife parks her car in my shop, and she says I do woodworking in her garage. Fact is, we are both right. My truck has to live outside because my side of the attached garage is full of saws, router tables, and work benches of all kinds.
Everything in my shop is on wheels so I can back my wife’s car out and use the whole space for my shop. This works out well, and many of my work benches double as tool and equipment storage, or have rotating tops that hold multiple pieces of power equipment. It’s tight when it’s all put away, but can be set up to do work in minutes. It works well, but I do get a lecture whenever I drag sawdust into the kitchen. I keep forgetting to wipe my feet or take off my shop apron, which is always full of sawdust and wood shavings.
Would you say your background in engineering plays into your work? If so, how?
I think the math and electronics I studied in school help me. I use geometry and math almost every time I use the shop. Calculating angles, figuring dimensions, and also calculating space and space requirements [are all helpful]. I also think being in the field has made me more inquisitive about how things work and has given me the ability to fix things when they break. I’m a builder, an inventor, and a problem solver. I don’t know if that’s just in my character, but I would guess that studying engineering skills has complemented my own personality.
What aspirations do you have for your work?
Right now, I work a full time job that is very time consuming. Woodworking and my projects take a backseat in my busy life. I hope to retire from my job about 13 months from now, and that will give me the opportunity to work on projects full time if I decide that’s what I want to do. I really love woodworking, remodeling, and building, so I think I will ramp that up when I have the time to fully concentrate on the work. One thing I don’t think I’ll ever do is just rest. I have too many things that I want to do and build to just sit around.
What would a dream job be?
To own a large wood shop filled with others who enjoy woodworking as much as I do. It would be a place where people could go to have handcrafted pieces built, or maybe even use the equipment to build their project themselves. This is a big dream, and I have no idea if it’s even practical, but I’m a firm believer that if you dream something long and hard enough, you can make it happen.
What else would you like to add?
I want to thank you for the opportunity to be featured in redshoes news. I enjoy working on the projects you dream up, and manufacturing your frames. Actually, I have some boards in the shop to slice up for the next batch of 200, so I better stop writing and get to work.
For more information on Jeff or to simply “talk shop” with him, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.