We recently did another Katz Roadshow Finish Carpentry event at Jay-K Independent Lumber, in New Hartford, NY. This yard is one of our favorite Katz Roadshow hosts—these folks really get it; they want to help their customers by providing quality educational events. During one of the breaks, Jonas Kelly, the current President of the yard, suggested that before leaving town, we stop by their Woodshop. He said their shop foreman might surprise me. Boy, was he right. But first, some background.
Jay-K Independent Lumber is a family-owned lumberyard, and dates back to 1937, when Joseph Kelley and Thomas Jones expanded their existing partnership (street cleaning and garbage collection) into the lumber business. They opened at their current location in 1938—on the grounds of what had been the Seneca Springs swimming pool.
Shortly afterward, supporting defense work during World War II, the lumberyard’s millwork shops produced wooden boxes for rifles made by Savage Arms Company and Remington Arms Company. And then, after the war, the building boom began.
Jay-K expanded. In the early 1970s, Joseph Kelly’s three sons—Kevin, Stephen, and Christopher—took the helm and expanded the company. Today the business is managed by two of their sons, Jonas and Dean.
For the last 37 years, Monica Brien has worked in the Jay-K Woodshop. Monica was kind enough to carve out a few minutes from her busy day to meet with our team. Since her first day on the job, Monica has never slowed down. Today she not only manages the woodshop—she’s also the sole employee, and has no plans to retire: “Our lumberyard has always had a good reputation, and I’ve always wanted to contribute and support Jay-K [Independent] Lumber, too, especially ‘cause they truly care about their customers.”
Like a lot of woodworkers and carpenters, Monica has a lot of stories to tell, stories that should be heard: “One of my first jobs was re-glazing windows at the train station! It was freezing cold! I froze my ass off. But I was lucky they hired me when they did because the big recession of ‘80-82 hit right after they hired me and lots of guys would have loved the job I landed.”
While many students today are focused on finding a single life-long career, and the security of a long-term job, Monica exemplifies an alternative approach, one familiar to many carpenters: “I started as an art major and spent four years on that degree before going back for a graduate degree in psychology. But after teaching for several years, I decided it wasn’t the type of career I wanted. I hated that students were sitting in my lectures just so they could fulfill a credit requirement! So I went into woodworking. And there I found that if I visualized something, I could draw it, and if can draw it, I could make it.”
And OMG that stroke sander at 9:15!!! Her chuckle at Gary’s question about a hand sander is priceless.
Thank you. I haven’t smiled through a video like I have through this one in a long time. A true craftsman. No show required.
Thanks Gary, great video !!! What an awesome lady and I loved that giant belt sander.
Nice job. It’s great to see others love what they do. Very inspiring.
Thanks for sharing
Loved this story. Short, very sweet about how wood working impacted someone’s life. Great example to the younger folks Gary. Might we see a possible series in the making of interviewing and archiving not only the work but the craftsman’s stories about themselves? Well done. Thanks
That was a great interview. Brings back memories for me, I had a belt sander like hers but mine only had two wheels, and I agree with her, you could clean up anything, BUT even with a good dust collection I’m sure I sucked up about 5 lbs of dust. I also had a be cast jointer like hers, Galt Wood tools. That all seems like a life time ago now.
Great interview. Did she say why they didn’t have more workers in the shop? Not enough business for it?
What fun! Monica is so matter-of-fact about the work she does and how she is basically self-taught. She is amazing. Glad Jonas suggested you stop in the shop. Curious – did you speak with any contractor customers of Jay-K about what Monica and the wood shop mean for their businesses? I can only imagine the thousands of projects that would have been hard to accomplish without Monica’s expertise and ability to solve problems.
“So I went into woodworking. And there I found that if I visualized something, I could draw it, and if can draw it, I could make it.” “in terms of skill, I wasn’t skilled in a lot of areas” and Pretty well sums up my journey too.
Great interview, thank you.
Nice interview Gary. I hope she can inspire some young
people to get into the trades. The mill that I used to do business
with when I started out 40 years ago had the same sander.
They dwindled down to one man in the shop at the end too,
and when he retired, the owners decided to retire too. No one
else knew how to tweak all those old machines. I hope she can find someone to pass it on to.
I really enjoyed this segment. It’s so wonderful to see someone who has made a lifetime out of pursuing their passion. Excited to go to work each morning and before you know it, it’s time to go home. Thanks for sharing!
Come June, our WTS class of 6W8 will be celebrating our 50th!
This last video of a woman woodworker was absolutely remarkable! I hope other women see it.
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