Mokuchi Woodworking

Yann Giguere is a fascinating man. Born in French-speaking Canada, he came to the US to go to college in Nebraska, where he began training as a woodworker. Through that program, he met a local furniture maker who was enamored of Japanese woodworking. Almost immediately, he says, he was hooked. That was twenty-nine years ago. In those intervening years, he has apprenticed with a number of highly skilled craftsmen trained in Japanese techniques from Vermont to Seattle and has had his own architectural woodworking business for the last several years in North Carolina. Now he has opened up shop here in Brooklyn where, in addition to his timber-framing, furniture and shoji-making, he has started teaching classes to introduce the beauty and precision of traditional Japanese woodworking to a new audience.

When we initially reached out to him, he responded immediately that he would love to do something with the group; perhaps an overview of tools and joinery. What we received was no less than a three-hour interactive class on not just the craft of woodworking in the Japanese style, but the history, tradition, and philosophy behind it. We discussed blade and plane construction and how to set them up properly, sharpening techniques, wood selection and grain orientation, some basic joints frequently employed in furniture and architecture, and how in real Japanese woodworking, one never uses sandpaper.

It’s difficult to summarize accurately all the points of such an extensive tour the world of Japanese woodcraft in a few short paragraphs. Perhaps the most important lesson that I personally took from the evening, was that the result one achieves in one’s work isn’t merely a product of the tools you use. (Although, I admit that after spending time with Yann, I have a strong urge to make some changes in my shop.) Rather, it is the spirit with which you approach the work. True, Yann carries a deep honor and respect for the long tradition he preserves, but it is the dedication to excellence in every aspect of that work that makes it so special. At each turn, there is a consideration for what is most appropriate and best for that particular moment; and that is something that everyone should aspire to.

For more info about classes and Yann’s work, visit: Mokuchi Woodworking.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Re-Co Brooklyn Lumber

There are a few good places to find lumber in the city, but there is only one working sawmill in these five boroughs and it is Re-Co Brooklyn. Some of you may be wondering what the difference is between a sawmill and a regular lumber yard. In short, the difference is night and day. Luckily, we had founder Dan Richfield with us when we all met at the ReCo lumber yard to explain how it all works.

Unlike ninety percent of lumber yards, the first thing you notice when you set foot in ReCo’s yard is the stacks of huge tree trunks piled high in just about every available corner. Some were ripped from their roots by storms, others felled by homeowners or developers looking to utilize every square inch of their properties, but every single trunk in those massive piles came from within an hour or two’s drive of the yard in Brooklyn. Back in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on most of the city, ReCo started working with the co-ordinated clean up efforts. As a result, they gathered so many trees that they are still working their way through it all.

Once a tree is brought into the yard, the first step is to cut it into slabs. Again, unlike most lumber yards which trim off the rough tree edges turning the slabs into nice, clean, rectilinear boards, at ReCo they leave the edges rough or “live.” These live edge slabs are what furniture maker George Nakashima turned into his signature look.

The slabs are then stacked in order (called boules) and left to dry in open air. After a period of air drying (depending on the species and thickness), the boules are then moved to the kiln. By “kiln,” I mean that Dan and his partner Roger converted an old shipping container with a heating unity and ventilation fans to keep the air circulating. Inside they can stack several tons of lumber for drying, a process which takes up to six weeks.

Once the slabs are dry, they are either stored and ready to sell (you can peruse through their website or visit the yard and pick them out in person) or are brought into ReCo’s workshop for the other half of their enterprise. That’s right, ReCo also makes furniture. Most of their work, the tables and countertops at least, preserve the live-edge look of the lumber they create but they also do sleek, modern chairs as well.

Obviously, if you’re looking for some live edge slabs, ReCo is your best bet in the NYC area. But as a woodworker, it’s comforting to know that for those of us who are concerned about where our raw materials come from and how they are processed, there is a place so close to home where you can go for locally-sourced lumber that otherwise would have been tossed in a wood chipper and turned to mulch for some suburban garden center. And if you’re thinking about price, buying direct from a sawmill means that the price per board foot is competitive with dimensional lumber, but you get so much more in the bargain.

[Update: Since our visit in 2014, ReCo has moved their shop from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Ridgewood, (technically) Queens. But since they’re such nice guys, we won’t revoke their hipster card just yet.]

Festool Demo at Tools For Working Wood

It was a cold and rainy night, but our intrepid members braved the elements for love and glory (and cool toys). This week, we were lucky to have the super-knowledgeable tool-monger-in-chief of Tools For Working Wood, Joel Moskowitz, walk us through a selection of their Festool line.

As just about any woodworker in the NYC area knows, TFWW is THE place for fine hand tools in New York City, but they are also the only authorized Festool dealer in the area. For the uninitiated or unfamiliar, Festool is the counter-example to the phrase “they don’t make ’em like they used to.” In Festool’s case, they make them better. Few who take the plunge into the world of Festool it seems ever come back. Once you become accustomed to having a tool that is not only engineered with precision but anticipates your needs as a user, it can be very hard to get used to anything else.

Yes, their 45 degree tilt on their saws is actually 45 degrees and the finish of the cut barely requires sandpaper, but that’s just the beginning. It’s the little touches that make all the difference. All of their tools plug directly into the vacuum so that it automatically starts and stops with the tool. The boxes are all stackable, and interlock for easy transport. The jigsaw even features a tiny LED that flashes perfectly in time with the movement of the blade so that when you are cutting, the blade appears absolutely motionless allowing you to see your cut more clearly. The designers of these tools have clearly thought long and hard about every single detail of these tools.

At this point, the reader will be forgiven a certain amount of eye-rolling at the obsessive luxury afforded to something as banal as a jigsaw. However, for the working contractor, these things are no mere trifles. For those catering to a certain clientele (or hoping to), the ability to wheel in a neat stack of tools that work flawlessly and without spewing sawdust throughout the customer’s home is not a luxury, it is part of their brand identity. These are not the tools of the day laborer, they are the tools of a craftsperson who takes their work seriously. And, as Joel points out, while the initial cost of the tools may seem prohibitive, the up-keep is no more expensive that a Makita, Bosch, or DeWalt. Replacement blades, sandpaper, filters all cost about the same as they would for other brands. What you get though is a tool that works and is guaranteed to last.

For more about Festool, check out the TFWW website or stop by their store where you can check out these beauties in person.

French Polishing with Matt Rubendall



Matt Rubendall has been crafting fine hand-made classical guitars in his Red Hook workshop since 1998. As a form, the classical or nylon-string guitar is deeply steeped in tradition. Many makers spend their whole careers emulating long-dead masters of the craft without changing the form one jot. Matt is not one of those makers. While he draws inspiration from those great makers of years gone by, he also looks critically at the process of making. His years of experience have led him to make a number of innovations in his instruments, but they are all guided by the same principal: practicality. This month, Matt showed us his take on that most traditional of fine finishes: the French Polish.

For those who may not know, French Polish is at its heart a hand-rubbed shellac finish. The shellac is applied by using a cotton pad (called a fad, tampon, or muneca, depending on where you live) and is rubbed on in very thin coats building up to a glossy finish that is almost without equal for its clarity and depth. After hundreds of years and vast technological advantages, the French Polish is still one of the most desirable finishes available for fine furniture and musical instruments.

For the hardcore traditionalist, French Polishing may involve a long sequence of steps which starts by filling the pores of the wood with pumice. Rubendall takes a slightly different approach though. “When you think about who was doing this type of finishing years ago, they didn’t have time to worry over every step. They had to get it done and move on to the next piece.” The pumice, he says, does a fine job; but it takes a long time. So he’s found a commercial pore filler that makes the job easier. “It’s not the stuff you’ll find at Home Depot, I have to special order it, but it’s a similar idea and it works great.”


For shellac, he uses ultra blonde, dewaxed shellac that he mixes himself.  The shellac comes in flake form and is dissolved in alcohol. Matt’s solvent of choice is an obscure Polish liquor that is 96% pure grain alcohol. “You can drink it, but I wouldn’t recommend it,” he says. He warns against using the denatured alcohol you might find in your local hardware store as it contains all sorts of additives that can be bad for your health. To this basic mixture he will sometimes add small amounts of other ingredients such as sandarac, lavender, or myrrh. These serve to change the elasticity or toughness of the final finish.

To lubricate the pad and keep it from sticking while he applies the finish, he uses extra virgin olive oil. The rest, he says, is elbow grease. “Keep the pad moving. You can watch the alcohol flashing off  as you move. That’s how you know how fast or slow to go or how much pressure to apply. It’s really a feel thing.”


Matt will do four or five one-hour sessions on a given guitar, then let it sit for a couple of weeks. Once he’s sure the finish has hardened sufficiently, he’ll go back and do what’s called ‘spiriting off’ which just uses a small bit of alcohol to redissolve the outermost layers of shellac and make it really shine. Then he might give it a light touch on the buffing wheel and that’s basically it. “The finish is so thin and evenly worked that, unlike lacquer or other finishes, there’s not a lot of wet-sanding and buffing that needs to be done.”


Matt was kind enough to bring one of his guitars to show us the final result and it was simply beautiful. As woodworkers, there is often a tendency for us to blindly revere “the old ways” and slavishly dedicate our efforts to reproducing them. Listening to Matt’s demo though was a heartening reminder that if you peer behind all the mystique and romance of time-honored tradition, you’ll find that the people who do these things for a living don’t want to make things more complicated than they need to be. They find what works and keep it simple, and that’s what we should all strive for.


For more about Matt Rubendall’s guitars:


Musicwood Title Card

Coming to a theater near you: Musicwood

Starting tomorrow, a new documentary starts a week of screenings (11/1–11/7) in NYC that I highly recommend you go see.

Musicwood is a film about a collaborative effort between Greenpeace and three of the country’s largest guitar companies (Martin, Gibson, and Taylor Guitars). Together, they travel up to the Tongass National Forest to talk to the Native American-run corporation that manages the forest. The Tongass is home to the vast majority of Sitka Spruce trees in the world and they are rapidly disappearing, being harvested to supply the global lumber trade. Sitka Spruce is also one of the most desirable and widely used woods for making guitar tops. Together, these guitar makers and Greenpeace try to persuade the corporation to refrain from clear-cutting vast sections of the forest and adopt more sustainable practices so that they can continue to use these wonderful tress for years to come.

As an added bonus, on Monday, November 4th, I will be joining a panel discussion following the film to talk more about the issues.

For Tickets: click here