A Young Man’s Enthusiasm
I had the good fortune to come across 21-year-old Curtis Carter from St. Catherine’s, Ontario, two years ago when I was researching workbench designs. A friend recommended to me some videos that Curtis had uploaded to the internet showing the new workbench he was building. The workbench was not only a custom design – a cross between Roubo and Scandinavian styles – but Curt had also made his own square pop-up bench dogs, his own wood screws and nuts for the shoulder vise, and he appeared to be working out of a small space with limited tools.
Comb Back Windsor Chair
Wanting a good challenge, Carter made this comb-back Windsor chair by hand.
Carter’s favourite project is his workbench, which is a cross between a traditional Scandinavian and Roubo-style bench.
Plug It In
This electric banjo is the first of many instruments Carter plans to build over the years.
I got in touch with him and started asking him an unending stream of questions. Not only were his woodworking skills impressive, but he was kind and generous with his knowledge.
So how does a young man like that acquire such skills? Curtis says that he took up “fine” woodworking at the age of 17. He worked for a short while at his uncle’s cabinet shop, but when I asked if he had a mentor, he said, “No, I taught myself through the internet and books”. It has been four years since Curt started woodworking and he has not only demonstrated a gift for flatwork, but he has also dabbled in wood burnings, turnings and carvings.
Curt clearly has an artist’s eye and sensibility. He told me that when he was younger he did a lot of pencil drawing, though he never had any lessons. He said he also liked building things out of anything he had to work with. While drawing he always pays exceptional attention to detail in order to capture everything, and he applies this same attention to detail in his woodworking.
When I asked him about his inspirations in woodworking, he mentioned Japanese woodworking, Western traditional cabinetmaking, and James Krenov’s work, in particular. The recent Windsor chairs he made by hand taught him about woodworking with curves. Now, he’s immersed in instrument making. While he’s currently working on a banjo and a ukulele, he hopes in the future to make a violin and a cello.
When asked what advice he would give to new woodworkers, he said he recommended saving to buy quality tools, even used ones, to avoid buying the same tools twice. He also suggested getting all the basic hand tools, which teach you how wood works and feels, and give you a better understanding and appreciation for the bigger machines.
Curt is apprenticing to be an auto mechanic and does his woodworking on the side. He prefers having a separate career so his woodworking can remain a pleasure for him and he doesn’t have to worry about earning a living from it.
Every time I see one of Curt’s new projects, I shake my head in disbelief. When a lot of young people I know are spending their free time playing with their smartphones and going to bars, here’s a young guy working with limited tools – many of which he made himself, like hand planes and marking gauges – out of his parents’ one-car garage. Curt may have some innate artistic talents, but he has also spent many hours, virtually all his free time for four years, honing his woodworking skills. There’s a lesson to be learned here, at least for me: I need to spend less time on Facebook and more time in my shop. A lot more time.