Photo: Robert Rausch
For home design enthusiasts, wood furniture built by true craftsmen is coveted for its uniqueness, its durability, and its timeless design. But there’s yet more to love about handcrafted furniture—it’s all within its essence. A single chair, for instance, reflects more than the maker’s structural intentions; it tells the story of a region.
To sustainable maker Scott McGlasson of St. Paul-based Woodsport, community is part and parcel of his furniture. He sources his materials from the “urban forest” of the Upper Midwest and partners with local foundries to make metal bases for his work. Then, when the work is done, he gives back to the region that keeps him abundantly supplied, sending wood chips from his shop floor to local chicken coops and the like. All this thought, care, and sense of place can be seen in McGlasson’s sleek and elegant designs. We caught up with him to discover more about his work and motivation.
How did you get into this line of work?
I’ve always had an interest in design: architectural, interior, furniture. Years ago, I figured I could learn how to make some furniture pieces that I wanted but couldn’t afford, and I took an evening cabinetmaking class at a local technical college. The classes were offered as a fringe benefit of my job with the Minneapolis Public Schools—I was on track to become a teacher at the time.
Have you always been interested in woodworking?
Not at all. I was about 30, so I came to it pretty late. I sometimes compare that with one of my teenage sons who has been following me around my shop, putting things together, since he was 3.
Do you have a favorite tool?
I love Lie-Nielsen planes, Starrett squares, good chisels—pretty typical woodworking accoutrements. But my fave would be a machine: my Powermatic lathe. It has opened up so much for me by way of design.
Where do you source your materials?
It’s quite simple. Someone calls me about a tree that they are removing or has fallen, and I go check it out. I’m specific in what I want: It has to be a big walnut or cherry tree and accessible. I have a sawyer that I work with, and we mill it to my specifications, usually on-site, and he dries it for me. It’s usually slabbed up for my Peasant Benches or tabletops.
I don’t spend that much time sourcing urban lumber; I’ll get one or two logs a year, and that keeps me supplied. I also have relationships with some other small sawmills that get me slabs too. I go to the lumberyard for everything else—we have some great hardwood suppliers in the Upper Midwest.
It sounds like you’re really connected to the community. Are there other ways those connections play out?
You bet; I source out all my metalwork. A friend does my bronze fabrication, I use a couple of foundries for iron and bronze, and a metal fabricator makes my steel bases. I used to do some metalwork, but now I concentrate on the woodworking.
I also source the pelts for my Finny stools from a farm just west of Minneapolis that has the largest herd of pasture-raised Icelandic sheep in the country.
How much time do you typically spend designing a single piece?
It depends. Some designs come quickly, and I nail them right away. Others need to rest, be put out of mind for a while. Challenging pieces like chairs need a long time, even years. I go through a process where I draw it up in full scale, then mock it up, then actually build a usable prototype. The prototype might sit around for a while—my house is littered with them. I’ll make adjustments, and, if the piece seems viable, it will go into my line. I used to do a lot of one-off pieces for people, but because the design process can be onerous, I don’t anymore.
What’s the response been like to your work? Any surprises?
When I first started selling pieces on a retail basis, I was amazed at the positive response. These days I sell the majority of my work all over the country, often via email, and I never actually meet the person. It’s fun doing shows—like the Architectural Digest Home Design Show in New York—and seeing the response. Sometimes people are blown away by the work; they can’t believe that I actually design and make everything. And nothing is more gratifying than when someone whom you’ve never met comes along and pays a good chunk of money for a piece.
What’s your favorite part of the process of furniture making?
I enjoy the entire process, but it would have to be finishing up a piece. For about five seconds, I’ll step back and admire it… and then it’s on to the next one. It’s especially satisfying when new designs work—where once this was just an idea, and now it’s an actual thing that is part of the world. My goal is that the magic and excitement that I felt when it was only an idea gets manifested in the actual piece. It’s not always there, but nothing is better than when it is. I’m addicted to it.
What would you say is the most challenging part of what you do?
Maybe some of the business aspects of it. I’ve always let things develop pretty organically, and I’ve been at a good spot for the past few years. Direct demand for my pieces has been good, and we can keep up with orders. Everyone is happy. But I’m always turning away wholesale requests, and I sometimes wonder if Woodsport could be bigger and better. But then I just shrug my shoulders and get back to work.
To see more of Scott’s collection, visit Woodsport’s website.