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We’re interviewing makers from across the country. Today we’re featuring Sammy D, a woodworker and entrepreneur owner from Connecticut.
How did you get started woodworking?
I began about eight or nine years ago when my (now)ex-husband bought a fixer-upper and, oh man, did we learn just how much of a fixer-upper it was! We laugh about it now but I’m telling you, there wasn’t an inch of that house that was plumb, flush, or square. I was a biology teacher at the time and didn’t have the slightest clue what I was doing, BUT 1) I still have all my fingers, 2)I still have all my toes, and 3) I actually ended up being pretty good at it! We didn’t have a lot of money but really wanted nice things (‘champagne taste on a beer budget’, as they say) so I began salvaging whatever quality scraps I could get my hands on. I’d come home with reclaimed wood or historical machinery, watch a couple YouTube videos, and try to build something beautiful. We started with small projects like coffee tables and barn doors and then tried more ambitious things like an outdoor cabana, a concrete countertop, and a retaining wall overlooking patio. It definitely didn’t always go well (my eye still twitches a bit if anyone mentions concrete countertops). But it didn’t matter if the final result was perfect or not; we were having fun, we were learning a lot, and we were using our hands to build things we were really proud of. Compared to the chaos of the classroom, woodworking was so calming and filled me with peace. It was maybe just a year later when I decided to leave education and try to make a livelihood out of building furniture.
Who were your mentors?
I’m not sure it qualifies as a mentor relationship, but my life was completely changed forever after I attended an event called Babes Ride Out in the woods of New York. It’s a gathering of 600 motorcycle enthusiasts (all female riders) and I went a day early to deliver a six foot live edge sign that I had hand-routed to donate to the event. I had an incredibly impactful conversation with one of the women that helped create this amazing community out in California. She was shocked when I told her that I hid my identity as a woman in all of my marketing and advertising jargon, even on my website. I admitted that I was scared no one would buy custom made furniture from a woman. She assured me that being female and doing what I do is something I should be very proud of. I felt so inspired. Late that night in my tent in the middle of a rainstorm, I went on Instagram and created @pigtailsandpowertools and I’ve never looked back. Owning my identity was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself and my brand.
What do you think is your best or favorite work? What kind of work do you do the most?
Oh man, HANDS DOWN, I am so in love with the event table I just made for a beer and cider tasting event. I absolutely come alive when someone grants me creative freedom on their project! For this I took two live edge cherry slabs that were milled right on the farm where I work and framed them with the straight edges on the outside and the live edges forming a river up the middle of the table. Rather than do the typical epoxy pour or glass for the river, we suspended a shelf a few inches below the open space and filled it with all different types of vines and succulents. It looked like they were growing right up from within the table and spilled beautifully out over the edges. I nestled a circular transparent epoxy plaque in the middle of the plants as the centerpiece of the table, floating over the empty space of the river and underlit with remote-controlled LED lights. I secured the large checks in the epoxy slabs with inlaid walnut keys and popped some vibrant turquoise epoxy into the knots and small imperfections. I finished it with three coats of water based poly and we set it upon an absolute stunning pair of 22” wide ash stumps. The final result was stunning! I really hope to make this table again soon and turn the center plaque into a charcuterie board and the river into a drink basin for beers on ice! Cheers!
What advice would you give to someone that wants to start woodworking or pursue it as a profession?
Do it! Do not be deterred. Life is meant to be lived, and lived fully. You can do it.
And if it fails miserably forget I said that.
What’s your best hands-on tip or woodworking technique?
Truthfully? Do the opposite of whatever I do hahaha. I’ve learned everything the hard way and all my mistakes are written in blood. My motto could be- ‘For more woodworking tips, follow LITERALLY anybody else!’.
I mean, if I really had to attempt to impart something meaningful, it would definitely be some finishing techniques. Artfully distressing wood to look weathered is my bread-and-butter. A few time-tested tricks:
- Shaving the corners with a razor is a must
- Dragging the wood through gravel is better than any fancy complicated technique
- I typically layer four different stains to achieve a realistic depth of character
- I always start by rubbing in the darkest stain, preferably something close to espresso or true black, then wiping away the rest. It leaves dark scratches and speckles everywhere that makes the wood seem rich with history.
Is there anyone you’d like to shout-out or recommend we follow? Who inspires you? (Doesn’t have to be woodworking related, either.)
Jessi Combs! My journey as a woodworker has definitely not been easy; it’s actually been incredibly challenging. There have been many moments in my shop where I just felt utterly humbled and foolish. But when I need a little reminder that I AM strong and I CAN do this, I draw a lot of inspiration from Jessi Combs. She was such a beacon for us adventure-seeking, two-wheeling women. Her fortitude, her spirit, her courage- these are things I try to carry with me on this woodworking adventure. And appreciation for every day I get to wake up and continue doing it.
This interview was lightly edited for clarity.
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