Let us introduce you to the rhythmic and meditative skill of fine woodworking. Ted Harlan has been using hand tools to fashion pieces for almost 30 years. His student Louie Prestigiacomo, is new to the craft and enjoys creating useful items by hand.
Louie Prestigiacomo is no stranger to power tools and sawdust, but his connection to those came through remodeling projects and carpentry, not the fine woodworking skills that he has learned from taking classes from Ted Harlan.
“I own a Shopsmith tool, which doubles as a lathe, table saw, sander, and drill press and used it to work on some of my own projects. In the back of my mind I thought I wanted to learn how to build furniture. I was introduced to Ted Harlan and his woodworking classes by my cousin.
“I signed up for the basic class. It was intense and I learned about the grain and how when you cut a piece of wood you have to be aware of how the wood is going to change. The first project started with a chunk of wood that was maybe 20x4x12 inches. We cut it into slices, which then became the top and the legs of an occasional table.” The artistic part Louie says comes with creating patterns by the way you lay out the pieces and position the grain.
Louie, who retired from a career in information technology from AT&T, says that it helped that before taking the class he was familiar with some of the tools and terms.
“I learned a lot from Ted about the hand tools you use and how to sharpen them. In that first class I made a table out of cherry wood. In the second class, which covers dovetailing, I made a jewelry box. There were five or six students in each class. The classes are a lot of fun. Everyone is focused on their project. There are men and women of all ages. The occasional table is in our meditation room, and my wife uses the wooden box to store her essential oils.”
For each finished product, the first thing to do is pick the type of wood — cherry, poplar, or mahogany. “Each has different characteristics. I just kind of went with my gut,” Louie says. “I like the way cherry wood looks so for the first project that’s what I chose.”
Louie volunteers with Habitat for Humanity and is working on his 12th house for the organization. “I had a mentor at Habitat who was really good and taught me a lot. I take my own tools to use on the Habitat houses. I always had a workshop. Now it’s in the basement so I get to have some place for my tools and to work on personal projects. I don’t have the tools to do the fine woodworking, but Ted supplies those in his classes.”
Louie says fine woodworking takes a lot of patience. “I have patience but still need to fine-tune my hand-eye coordination and my fine motor skills. For instance, when planing wood, you can go too deep. If you cut too far into the wood you can’t put those bits back.”
Louie’s cousin Amanda Wilder works with Ted and has her own woodworking company and also offers classes. She works with a lathe literally ‘turning’ a piece of wood into a decorative or utilitarian piece. Louie says he has learned from her as well.
“The first thing I created in Amanda’s class was a wood mallet. The head and the handle were fashioned out of one piece of wood. I’ve also made six or seven decorative bowls. This was the first time I had used a lathe.
“I would definitely take any of the classes again,” Louie says. “I can only learn more. Plus, I end with something I can keep that I made with my own hands. Working with the wood and hand tools is a meditation of sorts — concentrating on one particular thing for a while. It forces me to focus.”
P.S. Read about Louie’s mentor, Ted Harlan.
BY LUCY M. PRITCHETT | PHOTOS BY MARGE ROYSTON