We’re pleased to announce Eric Diven of Long Walk Woodworking has joined the guild as a master furniture maker. To get to know him, we were able to sit down with him for a little Q&A. Read on to learn more about Eric and how Long Walk came to be; check out some of his amazing pieces.
Q: What was your journey to become a furniture maker?
A: I started my career in software, but struggled with it. The requirements are constantly changing, which means the code is constantly changing, too. On the one hand, this makes the work fun and dynamic; on the other, nothing is ever completed, and very little is everlasting. Companies vary greatly in balancing the need for quality with the need to get stuff done. I’ve spent a lot of time writing software that doesn’t meet my standards for quality because it needs to be done and because it’s doomed to be changed in a few months. This isn’t an indictment of anywhere I’ve worked; it’s just how the industry works. After about a decade, I got worn down. I appreciate things built to a standard that ensures they’ll be valued for the long haul and robust enough to last.
My partner suggested exploring new career options aligned with those values. I was at a complete loss for what that might even be. With characteristic patience, she suggested I pick a project and take some classes to help me build my skills. I have a quilt that my great-grandmother made for my grandfather. After storing it for years in a couple of plastic bags with some mothballs, I decided I needed a cedar-lined blanket chest. My partner signed me up for a hand-tool woodworking class at the Furniture Institute of Massachusetts. One class led to another and another and started the full-time program in February 2017. I finished two years later and started Long Walk Woodworking in the basement of my Somerville, MA apartment.
Along the way, I built the blanket chest outside of school. I milled the rough lumber and cut the joinery entirely by hand. The typical paying project doesn’t afford me the opportunity to work like that, but I wanted to experience that on the project. I wanted to honor the handwork that went into making that quilt that has come down to me through the generations. I hope that the chest becomes part of the quilt’s story, that they stay together long after I’m gone, and that somebody in the future finds my work worthy of the quilt that started this journey for me.
Q: What inspired you to join the guild?
A: About a year or so after I started Long Walk Woodworking, my partner and I moved to Vermont in January 2020. Just in time for the whole world to go to where it was going: a standstill due to Covid-19. Having a one-person company can be lonely at best, and it was anything but that.
One of the things I miss from working in software is the opportunity to collaborate and learn from others. Online communities are great, but furniture is an inherently physical, tangible medium that we use with our bodies. I wanted to join the Guild to join a community and to experience some collaboration and inspiration from other craftspeople and their work.
Q: The question we ask all of our Guild members…what is your favorite type of wood to use?
A: Hickory. No doubt about it. Cherry and walnut are classic North American species for furniture making, but hickory is a whole family of trees harvested commercially. Within the family, you get a rich and varied palette of wood in colors that go handsomely together. Some species have great contrast between pale sapwood and really colorful heartwood. The grain is also nice. The pores are open enough to lend some texture but not huge.
White ash is probably a close second; it doesn’t have the color variations that the hickories do, but it again has great grain, and I’ve had luck bending it when I want to play with something more sculptural. The smell, when I work, is great, too. Something about it brings to mind dark chocolate or red wine for me. I get a little sad every time I use ash; it’s such a great wood, and emerald ash borer is just doing a number on it.
Q: What was challenging and surprising about furniture making?
A: Being a one-person business, I wear a lot of hats. I love how every day is a new problem to solve; I love problem-solving. Sometimes it’s figuring out something new in the woodworking, sometimes it’s refreshing a skill I haven’t used in a while, and sometimes it’s the motor on my bandsaw isn’t running properly, and I guess I’m going to take it apart and see if I can’t figure out why that is. I never did figure out just what was wrong, but after taking it apart and putting it back together a couple of times, it resumed working. I guess you could say I’m surprised by just how broad-reaching the set of challenges I run across is.
Q: What is your first step in a custom furniture project?
A: I try to get a sense of what the customer’s goals, intended look, and needs are. If I can get those and get some inspiration from either period or contemporary furniture, I can start designing. I find that being able to get a rough 3D model in front of a customer for feedback and then iterating can be really productive. Sometimes through that process, you uncover other requirements to consider in the design.
I like having customers that have a strong sense of what they’re looking for, not in the sense of “make exactly this,” but in the sense of “I want it to fit in this part of this room, look good with this other piece of furniture, and hold 4-6 bottles of various spirits”. I started designing, and we thought that maybe some storage for glassware would fit nicely into the design too. Projects like those are great.
Q: Potential customers want to know, how do you price a project?
A: I try to price projects fairly and honestly and be open about what people are getting for the price I ask. I’m open to working to various budgets, but my prices reflect the piece’s value over time. I build to last, and I build furniture to age gracefully over many years.
Not everybody looks at the value that far down the road, and that’s OK. My partner and I still own some IKEA furniture, and I don’t look down on anybody for owning furniture that works for their budget, needs, and values.
Q: How does scheduling a new piece of furniture work for you?
A: Scheduling depends a little bit on how busy I am and a little bit on how urgent the project is. I try to work to hit the client’s deadlines. If I can’t make that happen, I do my best to help the client understand why not. Many people are pretty removed from craft, and part of my role is educating people about the time that goes into creating something custom.
Q: Do you ship furniture? If so, how is a custom furniture order shipped?
A: Shipping always depends on both the piece and the destination. If I can hand-deliver a piece cost-effectively, I’m always happy to see the owner’s first reaction and see the piece in its intended place.
Stuff that’s traveling farther afield is a little tricker. Besides furniture, I do smaller-sized pieces. If I can do an absolutely bulletproof job of packing something and keeping the shipping reasonable, I’ll send it via UPS or USPS. For things that need more careful handling, I can work with various services specializing in shipping furniture or doing LTL freight.
Q: Lastly, and maybe most importantly, what makes Vermont such a great place for a furniture maker?
A: I’ve been really impressed by the support from the state. My partner and I got married in a Vermont state park well before I went back to school to learn how to build furniture, and we happened to be scouting locations on one of the open studio weekends. The breadth of art and craft produced in the state is impressive, and the quality is also there. Being in a place with an awareness of craft and a craft community makes life a little easier. I only need to sell my furniture; I don’t have to sell the very idea and existence of furniture made by a single person.
Plus, let’s be honest, Vermont has a pretty robust wood products industry. I’ve worked with sawyers and foresters to source wood for specific projects. I’ve landed a couple of projects work because I could source wood directly from the person who sawed it from the log.
Cabinet on Stand, $5,600
Hayrake Coffee Table, Pricing available upon request