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Fred: A Joint by Hank Gilpin

comments (6) July 22nd, 2009 in blogs, videos

MKenney Matthew Kenney, special projects editor
thumbs up 29 users recommend

Video Length: 1:20
Produced by: Matt Berger

Not too long ago, I traveled to Rhode Island to visit furniture maker Hank Gilpin. I was joined by Matt Berger, or Matt 2 as Hank called him that day (I was Matt 1). Matt and I went there to get some video of Hank explaining his take on the design and engineering of outdoor furniture. That will show up in episode 1 of my video workshop, which launched on July 30.

I'd spoken to Hank on the phone many times before making the trip, but meeting him in person was a treat. Hank is, well, Hank is Hank. He is an extremely talented designer and furniture maker, a great story-teller, a good cook (he made us a tasty lunch that day), and an all-around enjoyable person. And he is a bit quirky (he never answers the phone with a simple, "Hi, this is Hank." More than once when I've asked for Hank, he has responded, "Let me check to see if I'm here." He then waits silently for about 10 seconds and says, "I'm here."). And don't ever call him during his nap, as Matt Berger learned the hard way! Needless to say we had a great time at his place that day. I'll share a few hightlights.

Hank lives in an old church that he has converted to a house with an attached shop. He showed us around his home, which is filled with amazing furniture. There is a large dining table surrounded by some spectacular chairs. There are a few made by Brian Boggs, a few made by Hank, and one by Bill Walker. I'd never been around so much truly brilliant furniture. It was quite a joy.

But that wasn't the last stop on the furniture tour. At the back of the room there was a lot of furniture covered with moving blankets. We asked Hank about it, and it turns out that he had been making pieces for an upcoming show. There were some truly amazing pieces, and, as if to put to rest any doubt about his abilities, there were two pieces made from poplar (yes, poplar) that were more elegant than most of the custom furniture that I've seen in my life. And it wasn't finished with paint, stain, or anything like that. I think it's safe to say that if you can make an elegant piece of furniture from poplar that isn't stained or colored in anyway, then you have arrived as a furniture designer.

Then Hank took us outside. Among the many things we saw was the table we would eat lunch at. It has a clean design, with trestle legs and a unique stretcher running between them. Matt filmed Hank explaining the joint that holds the stretcher to the legs, which you can watch up top. And Hank being Hank, when asked if he had named the joint, he responded, "Fred."

If you want to learn more about Hank, check out this blog I did a while ago about a tunnel he designed. Or take a look at this profile that Fine Woodworking did a few years ago. Or do a quick search of the site using his name (several of his pieces have been featured in the gallery and on the back cover).

Oh, and don't forget to watch the video workshop series. I'm building a garden bench.

posted in: blogs, videos, joinery, hank gilpin, wedge

Comments (6)

DDaDD DDaDD writes: Hmmm...

Thought this was a woodworking blog? I really enjoyed the video clip, "Fred". Matt, thanks so much for introducing me to Hank Gilpin. He is indeed an American Inspiration! Keep communicating in WoodWorking. That's where it's at. You do a great job.


Posted: 8:35 pm on October 28th

bobswood bobswood writes: Hank Gilpin is an American insperation. Hank leaves you knowing that there is no bad wood,thanks
Posted: 10:17 am on January 25th

BowAndFiddle BowAndFiddle writes: I saw the video a short while before my wife asked me to make decent leg for the outdoor kitchen table at the beach house. Even with my limited wood working skills it turned out real nice. So now Fred is at work both in the US and in Denmark.
Posted: 5:55 pm on October 25th

Rhysling Rhysling writes: Mr. Palatucci,

As you must know, the word "English" is always capitalized. I'm sure this was a momentary lapse and does not really reflect on your command of the English language.

Personally, I rather like being a curmudgeon.


Chuck Schilling
Posted: 12:22 am on October 14th

MKenney MKenney writes: Ted,

I always appreciate the truly charitable assumptions readers and posters make about my intelligence and their efforts to educate me. But I should point out that it was just a mistake, a momentary lapse, and not a error due to complete ignorance of a rule of grammar.

Posted: 11:00 am on August 7th

tooch tooch writes: Mr. Kenney,

If you're going to be a professional writer and editor, you need to learn and understand the correct placement of "I" and "me", please. Hank Gilpin didn't show Matt and I around, sir. It should have been "Matt and me".

I hate to be a curmudgeon but it's just bad english and it bugs me, coming from someone who should know better.


Ted Palatucci
Posted: 11:12 pm on August 6th

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