A “From the Road” Shop Tour
(With Keith Mathewson and Tom Brewer)
Last summer, while Tom Brewer and I were doing Roadshows in Washington state, we stopped by and visited with Keith Mathewson at his shop in Seattle. Keith specializes in custom woodworking, and he shares his shop with a few like-minded woodworkers. Everything that goes out the door of Seattle Fine Woodworking is a one-of-a-kind custom creation.
Keith says, “I wanted a big shop but I didn’t want to have employees—I’ve been that route and didn’t want to repeat the experience. So I built the shop, setting it up with workstations that I could lease out. Then I went looking for guys who had skill sets that were complementary to the work I do. We pool projects and we assist each other, which actually works out well in good times and in slow times.”
While Tom and I were at Keith’s shop, not only did we get the nickel tour and a peak at a custom spiral stair that Keith was in the middle of building—one piece at a time—but we were lucky to get a few more tips on using hand tools.
Like many readers on the JLC finish carpentry forum, I owe a debt of gratitude to Keith for teaching me about hand tools and how important they are—not to collect and hang on your wall, but to learn how to use. There are countless tasks that machine-oriented carpenters face on a daily basis that can be accomplished quicker, and sometimes better, with hand tools.
As Keith said in a recent TiC article: “I think it is a shame—actually, a detriment to the craft, and to craftsmen—that the occasional use of hand tools is not more common on jobsites. Unfortunately, all of us tend to use the tools and techniques we have been exposed to, and, over the last several decades, exposure to hand tools has been reduced to the point where they are all but on the endangered species list. But they shouldn’t be.”
In another article, Keith kept up the harangue: “I think carpenters are being shortchanged today. They’re losing out on learning solutions to common problems. They’re not learning simple, fundamental techniques. And all those solutions, all those techniques, share one thing in common: hand tools. If a power miter saw is the only tool you know how to use, then the solution to every problem is a miter!”
Watch this video, and step a little outside your current comfort zone. The video tour of Keith’s shop is less than fifteen minutes long, but I guarantee it will open your mind to new possibilities, which, in turn, will expand your understanding of wood. What could be better than that? (If you have a good internet connection, try the 720HD version.)