How Fine Furniture Maker Dan Faia Makes it work

A few weeks ago I talked with Dan Faia who’s work was featured in they then most recent issue of Taunton Press’ Fine Woodworking. Dan is a furniture maker and a teacher at North Bennett Street School in Boston. He made a stunning Bombe dresser and the article was more about method and technique than a how-to. The article at the time was I felt inspirational if not even aspirational for some. More than that though, Dan seemed to me a modern day pilot for others to follow in the sense that many people want to become woodworkers of every type, not only furniture makers, and he’s gone through the school, taken the hard path and now lives as a furniture maker in his own right.
One common question I am asked is can you be a furniture maker and make a living from it. In a few weeks I will have pulled together a more conclusive plan of action for others to follow who might want to become a real woodworker, a furniture maker and so on, in today’s world. Most of those involved in teaching woodworking today actually don’t have any background in actually working as an artisan. I can in fact name dozens who give the impression that they have traveled the harder road of mastering skill but stopped at plane sharpening and squaring a piece of wood. I advise people now who are looking for a course to indeed not be afraid to dig around a little and ask the right questions. S many became teachers because they couldn’t actually make it as working artisans. But there are many genuine articles out there to glean from. I can think of a few and so I will be digging around myself to talk to some of my friends who do actually make woodworking and furniture for a living, be that full time or part time.

Here is my interview with Dan Faia

Q1:
New woodworkers are always hoping they might one day become furniture makers and earn their living from working with wood. You went against the flow and did that and now you teach from that experience. What advice would you give to those who want to follow the same path and become full time woodworkers?
A:
Keep an open mind there is something to learn from everyone in this trade.

Q2:
Expectations vary from person to person in my experience and so my advise has been to try to work two jobs until one takes over from the other. Would you agree with this or would you jump in and go the whole way straight from the start?

A:
I would recommend to keep money flowing as long as you can to help get established. If possible work part time within the field would be the best experience for both skills and business.

Q3:
Do you recommend competitions to gain a name?
A:
This wasn’t a path I chose, but it works for some. Try not to be discourage when you aren’t always on top.

Q4: How can they gain increased exposure?

A:
Public demonstrations are great ways to get out there. Local historical societys, art fairs, etc. We all have the responsibility to educate the public and pass on the appreciation of craft.

Q5:
Your work is exemplary of fine craftsmanship as well as perseverance and endurance through the process from design to masterpiece. No doubt the school you now teach at paved a real and tangible part in your education. Is this the path you would take again?

A:
I know many successful self taught woodworkers that have told me their stories of getting to where they are now. Only having this comparison to my own makes me really appreciate my education and the foundation it provided me. In a short time I was able to accomplish so much more than on my own. It also becomes the beginning of your woodworking network which will become very important in business.

Q6:
Are there other paths you might suggest too? Not everyone can take the time or pay the money for such long courses. Some have existing commitments, what do you suggest for those?

A:
Any time working with a professional will be invaluable. Either in the shop environment as an apprentice or in short courses taught at a local school or shop.

Q7:
Personally, my own life as a woodworker has been very rewarding, I considered it from the start to be lifestyle woodworking and not as career as others might consider it. Hard times came and I was able to weather them. Considering how people measure success by economic standards, how would you measure success and even your own success?

A:
What I do for a living is not work in the conventional sense. My “job” is also my hobby and my passion. I am always looking to try new forms of craft, especially woodworking, and get others excited about it too. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to do what I love every day. The work has no time parameters. There are not too many days that I’m not in a woodshop. I watch it on tv and read about it in the books and magazines. There is always the curiosity for new ideas.

Q8:
To conclude; what would you do differently assuming you would continue as a woodworker?

A:
I wouldn’t change a thing even if I could. All my experiences the good and the bad have shaped who I am and that is a reflection of my work.

Note: I hope everyone will follow their dream in some form if it makes them happy. Best of Luck!

8 Comments

  1. S.Graham on 24 July 2013 at 4:09 pm

    Why put down or diminish anyone willing to pass on basic woodworking knowledge? Even if its just plane sharpening and squaring wood. There are far too few master sensai woodworkers willing and able to teach (a skill unto intself). Let the blue, brown and new black belt woodworkers teach beginners so there is a larger populous of woodworkers capable of exploiting the full knowledge of masters. Having a PhD in mathematics is just not needed to teach elementary school math and while this is stereotypingthat PhD likely would not have the skill or temperment to teach such a basic class. But a class of college students who already have a solid foundation…

    • Paul Sellers on 24 July 2013 at 6:11 pm

      I agree, that’s what we need!

    • Andy Cleland on 24 July 2013 at 6:25 pm

      I think the point Paul was trying to make is that it is doubtful that teachers without experience as someone who has made his living with the skill are more likely to teach inefficient methods based on theory rather than experience.

    • DM on 25 July 2013 at 12:14 am

      Indeed a PhD isn’t needed to teach elementary math. Something greater than elementary math is pretty important when trying to teach high school math.

      I didn’t take Paul’s statement as putting down newbies helping newbies. I did, however, read it as something like “one ought not call one’s self a master when one has two whole years of experience”. There are more than a few out there claiming to offer higher learning woodworking skills when they’ve only got an elementary education themselves.

  2. Erik on 25 July 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Thanks for this Paul. Some solid advice, and answers to some questions I have been wondering since my graduation from CFC!

  3. hyotoko25 on 13 June 2014 at 6:48 am

    Dear Paul,

    I have not had the pleasure of meeting you but I think I have a sense of what your are speaking of, and that is that our field is saturated with people teaching courses they are not qualified to teach! There is a lot of money to be made in the teaching industry and I think that is the problem! Not saying teachers are over paid I’m talking about the institutes that hire the instructors! I took a two year course in cabinet and carpentry and having an old school teacher the first thing we were taught was how to sharpen a plane and square up lumber! Most of the students hated this part of the course how ever that reaffirmed my desire to be an artisan! Not because sharpening is fun or squaring up wood, but because I felt connected and that is the foundation I think some are missing! I find the true artisans I have met are the most giving and passionate to teach this skill, while those who are not willing to share is because a lack of skill or true compassion for wood working! I don’t believe school is good for everyone but I think it can be a great learning tool if properly managed and I would be very pleased to know who or what institutes you would recommend a begginer in this field! Thank you very much Paul and I truly enjoyed reading this article on what it takes to become an accomplish artisan!

    Very Respectfully,

    David Haff

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