A quintessential American craftsman

david-stine-furniture

Every once in a while I meet an American craftsman whose story I just feel compelled to tell.  David Stine is one of those craftsman.  A couple of years ago I was honored to be invited to appear on a panel about American made furniture at the Dwell on Design conference in Los Angeles.  After the panel discussion was over, I wandered around the conference center looking at the myriad of products on display.  I turned a corner and saw a fella standing next to one of the most beautiful dining room tables I had ever seen in my life.  I introduced myself to David Stine, and then proceeded to blather on for a minute or two about my passion for products made by members of our extended American family.  After I was done blathering, David told me that he happened to be an American and he had made the table I was admiring.  I told him how much I liked it and David said he was glad I appreciated his work.

Since then David and I have had a couple of chats, and I told him how I have become very interested in storytelling as the medium for promoting American made products.  I asked David if he might be willing to share his story with me and my readers.  He agreed and with the help of David’s amazing partner in furniture Stephanie Abbajay, I can share it with you today.  I hope you enjoy it.

David Stine, David Stine Woodworking

I’m a craftsman.  A furniture maker. I craft one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture using wood that I harvest and saw myself from my family’s 500 acres in Illinois.  I am the fourth generation to steward my family’s land. The woods are both the source of my lumber and the source of my design inspiration. Being so close to the wood—from growing it to harvesting it to milling it—informs my work in the most natural, harmonious way, and this is reflected in the natural designs of my work, where I let the wood speak for itself.  My furniture represents the finest in traditional American craftsmanship, sustainability, and integrity. That’s how I live my life, and that’s how I run my business.

~~~

I was born and raised on the land from which I now harvest my timber. My grandfather and uncles were dairy farmers. We worked on the farm with our hands every day, doing whatever needed to be done: mending fences, harvesting corn, fixing tractors, chopping firewood, milking cows.

My grandfather and father taught me to work with wood. We repaired furniture and fences, and we built tables and cabinets, bookcases and beds. I fell in love with working with my hands and crafting with wood. I loved taking something so simple and commonplace—a piece of wood­—and crafting something beautiful and useful from it.

Woodworking gave me great joy as a child and as a young man. That joy never left me, even when I moved away from the farm to attend Penn State, where I majored in political science. After college, I moved to Washington, D.C. for law school at the George Washington University.

I missed creating things and working with my hands, so while I was a law student I started a little side company, David Stine Woodworking, in 1995. I went back to the farm and returned to D.C. with tools and some lumber. I worked out of a friend’s warehouse, crafting humidors, little tables, and small items. It was the perfect complement to the long hours I spent reading law and being in class. It grounded and nurtured me.

After I graduated from law school I worked as a trust and estates attorney, but woodworking kept calling to me. Every night after work and on weekends I would be in my wood shop.  After 18 months of practicing law, I realized that I was miserable, that working with wood was my passion and my calling. It was the only thing I wanted to do. So, in 1998, with $90,000 in law school debt and the blessing of my wife, I quit my law job and devoted myself full-time to woodworking. It was the greatest decision of my life.

~~~

Four or five times a year I would travel back to my family’s farm in Illinois to cut timber, mill boards, rotate my stock, and bring lumber back. This was a crucial part of my process. From the beginning I knew I wanted to use only native hardwoods in my work, and that I wanted to use only timber that I sustainably harvested myself from my own land. This was an essential component of my work, and my clients appreciated this. “Green” and “sustainability” weren’t buzzwords back then, but that is how I have always run my company. Word quickly spread that there was a custom woodworker who was dedicated to both the craft and to a different way of doing things. My roster of clients grew so much that I quickly outgrew my woodshop. I had gotten bigger, but my ethos never changed.

In 2002, my wife and I decided to leave DC and move back to Illinois, where we could be near family and the land that I love so much, land that I care about and cultivate, land that is the source of my lumber and the source of my inspiration.  We bought a 40-acre farm near my family’s farm. We renovated an 1871 farmhouse and installed a woodshop, kiln, sawmill, studio, and many seasoning sheds. We’ve been there ever since.

My business has grown tremendously over the years, and I have clients from the Hamptons to LA. But I’ve never changed the way I do things: by hand, one piece at a time, and with sustainability as the cornerstone of my work.  While others pay lip service to being green, I live it every day. That’s how I run my business. I steward my land. I sustainably harvest my materials or use sustainably sourced wood from local arborists. I heat my house and shop with wood scraps. We raise the feed on our farm for my uncles’ herds. I don’t use imported woods or veneers. I don’t use toxic chemicals. David Stine Woodworking has always been green.

~~~

And it all starts in the woods. I walk the land. I draw strength and inspiration from the trees, by how and where they grow. As I mill the logs, every cut is a revelation as I see the inner life and extraordinary beauty of the wood. Often, as I mill a board I see immediately what I will build, what the wood will become. I don’t try to bend the wood to my will. Rather, I let it be what it wants to be, and my designs maximize the raw, singular, natural beauty of the wood—graining, knots, live edges, and all.

I handcraft each piece myself, one at a time, using traditional methods of joinery and construction. Many of my tools and equipment are from the 19th century (when I say I’m old fashioned I mean it!). Every piece I craft is the articulation of the natural beauty of that tree, which lives on as a beautiful and useful object, one that can grace a home for a lifetime and beyond.

Mine is a different sort of craftsmanship, one that’s infused with tradition, sustainability, integrity, and history. It’s about taking my spirit and passion and putting it into something, something bigger and more important than the bottom line. It’s not just craftsmanship; it’s a way of life. That’s the story of David Stine Woodworking.

If you would like to speak with David about having him build you a piece of furniture, give him a call at 618-954-8636.  You can also email David at dave@stinewoodworking.com.  I urge you to visit his website, it’s amazing.

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