Subscribe now and save up to 56%
Fine Woodworking published a conversation with Krenov, who called himself a "stubborn, old enthusiast," in 2003 after retiring from the College of the Redwoods Fine Furniture program. He reflected on his life of teaching and woodworking.
James Krenov, a legendary woodworker, author, and founder of the College of the Redwoods Fine Furniture Program, died yesterday at 88, according to colleague and family friend David Welter.
Through his school and his furniture, Krenov inspired a generation of furniture makers with a high regard for both materials and craftsmanship and design with an aesthetic informed by organic, subtle details.
James KrenovFine Woodworking interviews and articles
• NEW: Tea with James Krenov by Michael Pekovich• NEW ONLINE: James Krenov profile from Home Furniture• NEW: Preview of Krenov-inspired articles in our next issue• A Conversation with James Krenov by Anatole Burkin• Audio Slide Show: James Krenov: Virtuoso in Words and Wood• VIDEO: James Krenov on the Record • Cabinetmaker’s Notebook by James Krenov (excerpt from the book) • Making Music with a Plane by James Krenov • Showcase Cabinets by James Krenov • Doweling by James Krenov (excerpt from The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking)
The son of Russian aristocrats, Krenov was born in Siberia in 1920. His family eventually settled in Seattle, then Krenov moved to Sweden in his mid-twenties. He began his career in woodworking there, studying with famed furniture designer Carl Malmsten. Until his work began to take off, his wife Britta kept the family afloat on an economics teacher salary.
After 30 years in Sweden, Krenov returned to the United States and published his first book, A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook, in 1976. It articulated a new way of woodworking, one that intimately involved the maker with the material.
In 1981, he founded the influential College of the Redwoods furniture program in Fort Bragg, Calif. Krenov speculated on the influence he has had on woodworkers throughout his career in a March 2003 interview with Fine Woodworking, “It’s not that I had a message that was outstanding or unique or anything like that. I just expressed the feelings that a great number of people had … ‘Live the life that you want to live. Don’t be unhappy in your work.'”
His work is displayed in museums in Sweden, Norway, Japan, and the United States. Since his first book, he wrote four other books on woodworking: The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking, With Wakened Hands, Worker In Wood, and The Impractical Cabinetmaker.
He retired from the College of the Redwoods in 2002 after more than twenty years of instruction and inspiration. He continued to build custom cabinets from his home shop in Northern California until his failing eyesight prevented him. Since then, Krenov continued with his passion for wood building his classic wooden hand planes.
In the 2003, Fine Woodworking asked Krenov how he would like to be remembered… He responded, as a “stubborn, old enthusiast.”
The funeral services will be private and the family plans to spread his ashes at the ocean, likely along the route of his daily walk, according to Welter. Contributions in Krenov’s memory can be made to The James Krenov Scholarship Fund care of the College of the Redwoods.
Video: James Krenov on HandplanesA September 2007 interview with David Heim of FineWoodworking.com:
Produced by: Gary Junken and David HeimVideo Length: 2:46
James Krenov, a legendary woodworker, author, and founder of the College of the Redwoods Fine Furniture Program in Fort Bragg, Calif, died yesterday at the age of 88.
Krenov's passion was building his classic wooden hand planes. Read more in his article from FW #126, Making Music with a Plane.
James Krenov in an excerpt (FWW #4) from his 1976 book A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook.
Krenov was known for his elegant cabinets, like this one in Tasmanian blackwood from 1977. Read more in his article Showcase Cabinets from FW #18. To see more of his work, click on this link and scroll to the slideshow on the bottom of the page.
Get woodworking tips, expert advice and special offers in your inbox
Become a member today
Get instant access to all FineWoodworking.com content.
Subscribe to Fine Woodworking
Save up to 56%
I spent some time with Jim at the CRW little shop that used to be a school bus repair garage...Jim liked to talk about "things" once or twice a week...I took lots of notes. Here's some things I remember about him: (quotes are his words)
- he loved cats and use to feed them out back
-he loved tennis and played whenever he could
-he loved the symphony esp.Horowitz ( "his feelings of joy and sorrow were also shared by me")
-"You will learn about woodworking here and along the way you will learn things about yourself"
-he loved fish and ate mackerel and cod and other fish every day for lunch
-"we don't have to be scientific here and go out and buy a computerized square that's capable of measuring infinitesimal of an inch...no,we're talking about feeling and quality...things that can't be measured"
But the thing I remember most was his conversations about those "things" when he walked around the shop and everybody was humming away on their projects.He was genuinely interested in you as a person....
JK had a huge influence on woodworking. It was he who allowed us to dig deeply into a "lost art"; going way beyond "stain grade".
HE REALLY HAD MUCH TO OFFER.
His first four books deserve a close look. A person might find the very soul of our craft in those pages.
I was one of his devotees. I was one of many students. And, I will take those experiences with me.
-Thank You Jim.
Correction: Updated Krenov's age... 88 not 89. He was born October 30, 1920. Thanks to Jon Binzen for doing a better job of adding up the years. Sorry for the error.
I read all that Krenov wrote. The philosophy he developed that supported woodworking imporoved not only my woodworking, but my work as a University Professor: care about what you produce, pay attention to detail, use simple and straightforward reasoning, enjoy the process.
James Krenov improved my woodworking and my research. He was a great spirit and will have a lasting influence.
Winter of 1975.... I clearly remember the feeling of excitement when I discovered the Fine Woodworking magazine. Finally, like souls were putting to paper their inspirations of the craft that had driven me since childhood. That wonderful find was eclipsed by The Cabinetmakers Notebook. To pare down the words that could so easily flow, I thank you James Krenov... now, and for the rest of my days, for the for the gifts you so unselfishly gave. Your skill, so dandy and fine as it was, played second fiddle to the guidance of your perspective. Your love of the craft, filtered through a very fine you, has smacked a generation or so in a way unlike any other. You leave this earth with your gentle mark planted firmly. I thank you, thank you, thank you... (echoed I'm sure by thousands) thank you, and farewell.
A friend you never met,
I was another of those who attended the 1983 workshop in Wellington, New Zealand and was inspired by Krenov's gentle presence, skills and attitudes. He signed a poster for me, which I still have. It says:
"It's about a lot of little things. They do matter. Enjoy them!"
It has become a mantra for me, transferable to many other activities in my life. A memorable time; a memorable man!
Its spring, the prunus outside my window is in full blossom.
Krenov came here to New Zealand to run a few workshops in 1983.
There was a bunch of young woodworkers, unaware of each others existence or that you could make your living this way.
Jim was not much help with how we might earn a living.
Otherwise, he was deeply inspiring.
My thanks to his family for sharing him with us.
Peter Maclean, woodworker.
I recall the time I spent with JK in his basement shop in Bromma, outside of Stockholm in 1980. I called him up from Gothenberg, on the other side of the country, during a visit to my folks who were living there. I was then and still am building furniture in Burlington, Vermont and was captivated by his unique approach to furniture making. A pilgrimage of sorts, the overnight train ride to accommodate his schedule to meet me in the morning for a few hours, the trolley ride to his house and descending the stairs into his immaculate two room shop. There in front of me were six or seven pieces that he was preparing to bring to an exhibition in, I believe, Copenhagen. The diminutive scale of those pieces struck me in a way I was not prepared for, but quickly understood upon seeing him next to them. They were pieces represented in The Cabinetmakers Notebook and that was a magical experience for me. After a tour of the modest shop we spent a few hours at the kitchen table having coffee and baked goods and talking about our respective lives. He spoke about meeting Britta, sailing, his daughters and his unanticipated growing popularity. He was gracious and generous, with a wry sense of humor, and was interested in my path to furniture making. The lesson I learned from JK, in those hours, and try to adhere to, was to be true to your own sense of design and style and to be honest about your work and faithful to your craft. I will be forever grateful for that opportunity and offer my condolences to his family, colleagues and friends.
The family of James Krenov wishes to express sincere thanks and appreciation for all the good stories and kind words you are all sharing. Thanks also to finewoodworking.com for the articles, videos, and forums provided to honor Jim. We hope the books will continue to guide and inspire others to carry on the idea of good, simple,and sincere work. More than anything, we hope you will "Love what you do."
My father inadvertently instilled some of Krenov's values in me through projects and discussions. Years later in college I read A Cabinetmaker's Notebook and it altered the course of my studies. It is because of James Krenov that I saw the nobility of the craftman as mentioned above, in any profession. His words and images still push me to strive for enlightenment in my work. His values will serve as an inspiration for generations to come in this age of technological advances with little intrinsic value. Best wishes to the family of James Krenov.
James Krenov's books have had a considerable influence on the way I view woodworking as a craft, on the way I design and build projects, and on the way I make and use tools. As the statements on this page show, I am by no means alone in these things. In his own work, in the craftspeople he so ably taught, and in the thoughts and practices of the rest of us, Jim Krenov's presence remains very much alive. My respects and condolences to his family and friends.
First it was the passing of Sam, and now James? How we shall miss them both!
Try as I might, I couldn't approach his level of mastery at design and execution. But by God, I tried, and I'm still trying.
He inspired me with great love and respect of the craft, of wood, finish, design, writing, and above all, 'attitude'.
A sad day. I'll always remember him with tremendous respect and love.
A truely inspirational woodworker who will be sadly missed. Thank goodness we still have his books to inspire future generations.
I too picked up a James Krenov book one day while I was a production cabinetmaker and it changed my life. He was a poet who worked as well with wood or words and his words flowed into me like cool water into a dry lake. It changed the way I looked at, felt, smelled and worked with wood. I never met him, but drove by the College many times when I was living on the West Coast.
He inspired this:
"So few of us can say
we have obtained
the blood that runs
in a craftsman's vein."
It greatly saddens me to hear this. This is the second legend that has passed away this year. Sam Maloof being the first one. These two people were a great influence in my woodworking life and gave me great inspiration. Farewell, you will be missed.
I was at unh in 1986 when I came across his books his books were a great inspiration to me James will be missed.
I take comfort knowing he will always inspire through the legacy of his writings. He had an eloquent way of making me understand what is important in my work and my life. I thank you for that Mr. Krenov.
James will be greatly missed. He was a significant inspiration to me.
Farewell, Mr. Krenov.
I bet Jim and Sam are setting the best shop ever right know!!
My children's school requires all seniors to do a senior project that can entail almost anything. My son's buddy wants to make a dining room table and has asked me to be his advisor. He came over last evening to ask me and the first thing I gave him was A Cabinetmaker's Notebook. I told him it was probably one of the most important books he could read.
I am saddened to hear of James' death especially so close on the heels of Sam Maloof. Our woodworking world, nay, the world itself, is that much poorer.
He will be missed.
Mr. Krenov will be missed by the whole woodworking comunity.He leaves a legacy that not many can compare to with his many accomplishments. I and my family wish to express our thoughts and prayers to his family.
Back in the day when "Fine Woodworking" was an Artsy Phartsy
magazine I enjoyed the combination of "how to" and "why to" and the stories about JK were a pleasure to read. I understand the reasons why FW went to the "shop Class" style of magazine - gotta make money. I had every issue published until I passed the collection on to my son-in-law. I am still a "wood butcher" but I aspire to the level of JK and others.
Gotta have a goal to shoot for.
Best to everyone at FW.
I remember coming across his book at the library one day back in 1997. I was looking around for good hobby. I took the book home and thumbed trough it. I returned it to the library when it was due and then, after a couple weeks went back and checked it out again. It was the Fine Art of Woodworking, the hardcover edition. I would over the next couple of years check this book out off and on, thumb through it and think of how fun it would be to be able to do this kind of work. One day I stumbled across some information in a magazine about the College of the Redwoods and how Krenov taught there. I called the school and an older sounding man answered the phone and after I talked with him for a while I asked, "is this James Krenov". "Yes it is" was the reply. Wow! what an honor to speak with him. He told me that if I had the time that I should come on down to the school and have a look around. Two days later I drove there from Seattle. It is one of my most memorable trips and the conversation I had with Krenov is one that I will always charish.
JK's books were an inspiration for me, and a call to improve the quality of my work. I was lucky enough to sit down with JK in his home, have a beer, and chat about things a number of years ago.
I know that he had a difficult personality for lot's of people, but he was always nice to me, and willing to share, as many woodworkers do.
As we have read in his books, he was thinking about how much time he had left when he wrote those books. Luckily for us, it was a long time. Thanks JK for your contributions to excellence not only in your work, but in your writing as well. We will miss you.
Krenov changed my life. Reading his books provided the inspiration I needed to change my career when I was in my 40's. I had the opportunity to take a two week class from him at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine in the mid to late 1990's and I remember the experience as though it was yesterday. Thank you for the inspiration. Thank you for your open and sharing life that has inspired so many. Farewell.
Thirty years ago I came upon James Krenov's first book in a small bookstore in Wyoming. It launched me into the world of woodworking and, although my own efforts as an amateur have been fitful, I always knew that I could find the best description of a true craftsman's mindset in Krenov's books.
Others more knowledgeable than I will surely comment here and elsewhere about his influence upon the art and craft. I wish instead to highlight James Krenov's writing style. I've admired that as much as his work.
There was a refreshing enconomy of words in the way he wrote. He was a master at styling his sentences and paragraphs as sparsely as the lines on his cabinets. But the necessity of caring about what one does with wood and one's craft and one's life came through with incredible clarity.
I'm a lawyer. I've tried to emulate Krenov's philosophy, writing and speaking style in my work. This has served me well. Farewell, Jim.
I was cutting some dovetails recently. Here are the tools that I use when I cut them with hand tools.
Make something fun while learning new skills
Fast, fun approach to making a comfortable, casual seat
In this video Michael finishes the first of the three boxes. Gluing-up, planing, sanding and finishing bring a new piece of art to the world.
In this video Michael starts work on the second box, a carved and painted Saddle lid box.
Michael begins carving the saddle lid box with his ripple pattern along the top. Then turns to his 5/30 gouge to texture the sides of the box. This isn't work…
Become a member today and get instant access to all FineWoodworking.com content!
Plus tips, advice, and special offers from Fine Woodworking.
Our biweekly podcast allows editors, authors, and special guests to answer your woodworking questions and connect with the online woodworking community.
Browse our collection of hundreds of quality plans including Shaker furniture, Arts and Crafts pieces, beds, diy plans, chairs, workbenches, tool storage, and more.
© 2016 The Taunton Press, Inc. All rights reserved.
Become a member and get instant access to thousands of videos, how-tos, tool reviews, and design features.
Start your subscription today and save up to 56%