It has been a long road to making furniture for Steve Robinson. He has always worked with wood, but his journey to find his passion took him through many different jobs before he became the craftsman he is today. Steve will tell you he wishes he had figured out right away he wanted to be a furniture maker, but his path gave him an unparalleled education in the field.
Steve grew up in Vermont, and was raised to appreciate the outdoors and providing for himself from the land. He got a job at a lumber mill, driving a fork lift to be closer to what he loved. But, when he realized he wanted to do more than just move the wood around, he went to school to become a lumber grader, something he did for 12 years. The experience was invaluable, but it still wasn’t enough. So, he went back to school and earned a degree as a forest technician. Even then, Steve knew he wanted to work with the wood and make art with it. He then attended the Vermont Woodworking School to learn furniture-making. It was here that he finally found his passion.
Steve practicing his felling skils
Though it took him some time to get there, Steve can still tell you the nuances of tree biology. He can tell you everything about a plank of wood. He even has a collection of all the hardwoods in the Northeast stored in his barn from his 12 years as a grader, which he ages to perfection, allowing him to choose just the right wood for the job. When you work with Steve, and see his furniture, you know it was all worthwhile. “Everything about that experience I will keep and use forever.”
Traditional White Oak Writing Desk
These days, Steve describes his furniture in the style of “…Arts and Craft. I like to build pieces that may look like they are from earlier generations, but will have more complex joinery than traditional mortise and tenon. I just love traditional furniture, with crazy joinery, extremely pleasant to look at, but totally functional.” Steve, who contributed heavily to our blog series on grain and figure, adds that he loves to make figured furniture that is as beautiful as it is functional.
Steve thinks that furniture should be made right, and that means not shying away from hard work and painstaking detail. Whenever possible he does the work with his hands, something he says adds an indefinable value to the furniture.
The finer things…
“Emphasizing hand work is important to me and my work,” Steve said, “whether it be hand cut dovetails in drawers or putting a carving somewhere on the piece. Placing a carving of a leaf that represents the species in which it was made from is very special to me. I like to be able to tell a story to the client and let them know how much respect and passion I have towards wood and what I build.”
Through proud dovetail detail
His dedication to his craft isn’t missed by his peers. Only a year after graduating from the Vermont Woodworking School, he won honors on their “Wall of Fame” — only the fourth student to achieve the honor. Less than two years later he became a master furniture maker with the Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers.
“I presented myself to the Guild as more than just a woodworker. [I am] an outdoorsman, forester, logger, wood specialist, and furniture maker. I wanted to be part of a specialized group that would set me apart from others, and – just as important – learn from some of the best craftspeople in the state of Vermont. It feels really good to say I am a member of a group where the talent is just so very impressive.”
An example of the type of work he gets recognized for is his recent custom black walnut table. With a 2-inch thick and 13-foot long top that seats 14 people, the shear size of the job alone was daunting. To make matters even more complicated, the table top was butterfly-key shaped, similar to the joinery with which Steve often works. But, the top wasn’t even the difficult part! The leg system was more complex than a typical table, with six legs and angled compound joints. The table was a tall order and Steve relished the opportunity to make such a beauty. Oh, and by the way, he had to make the legs to order based on nothing but a picture of another table.
Black Walnut Table. Notice the angles of the table top and legs.
So what drives the dedication of a decades long search for his passion? “I think what inspires me the most is knowing I can be better at my craft, with patience and hard work. There is always room to progress further… I just love to build things… that’s my inspiration”
When he’s not working with wood, he’s most likely to be found out living in it. Steve has plans to build a camp in Lil Orchard, a special place in Fairlee, Vermont, originally built by his stepfather in 1963. When he’s out there in the woods, he likes to plant new apple trees to contribute to the ones he found there when he first arrived. Steve is also passionate about hunting.
Steve between the two old apple trees in Lil Orchard
View from Lil Orchard
In addition to furniture, Steve builds all kinds of things, including buildings, bowls, and even crafted the stock on his own hunting rifle.
“The piece of wood I used was curly soft maple, something I picked out from lumber grading that was kiln dried to 8-10% moisture content. Than I stored in my barn for at least five years. This allows that wood to experience multiple seasons seasoning the piece of wood. This will help the finished rifle to have as little movement as possible keeping the rifle as accurate as possible.”
“I adjusted the butt by angling about 5 degrees which would be more parallel to the intersection to my shoulder and chest. This will make the rifle fit more solid, more comfortable, and have a steadier aim. I centered the barrel in the stock but you could also offset the barral ltoward your shooting eye so as you shoot your head can stay more perpendicular rather than tilting the head towards the barrel.”
“There are many ways to customize a rifle stock, with a sweet piece of wood just makes it look like none other.”
We agree, and think it looks more than just a little bit like a Stradivarius of rifles!
Great work Steve, we can’t wait to see your future projects.