Masters of the Craft

Masters of the Craft

Hank Gilpin: Exploring the American Forest

comments (20) February 10th, 2010 in blogs, videos

JonBinzen Jon Binzen, senior editor
thumbs up 187 users recommend

Video Length: 5:26
Produced by: Jon Binzen

Hank Gilpin’s adventures with wood began one morning in 1971 in Providence, Rhode Island. Just back from a tour in Vietnam, where he had served as a photojournalist in the Army, he was enrolled to study photography at Rhode Island School of Design. Needing an elective to fill out his course schedule, he blindly chose one in wood. The teacher turned out to be the charismatic Tage Frid (whose own experiences with wood began at age 13 with an apprenticeship in his native Denmark), and by the end of the first class Gilpin had decided to switch majors.

After a couple of years at RISD and then a stint working in Frid’s own workshop, Gilpin opened his own shop. He renovated a small former church just north of Providence, and he’s been living and working there since.

Gilpin’s furniture, always made in solid wood with traditional joinery and a heavy dose of hand tools, is remarkable for its unusual mixture of practicality and playfulness—and for the fluency and pure delight of its design. The work is also marked by Gilpin’s passionate exploration of the American forest. As he describes in this slide show, he’s been working almost exclusively with domestic woods throughout his career, and each season seems to find him discovering another unexpected species that suits his purposes precisely.

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posted in: blogs, videos, hank gilpin, domestic woods

Comments (20)

Doug_Roger Doug_Roger writes: Last week my electric utility cut down several oaks and maples that have been growing in my front yard to make room Power pole relocation in connection with street widening on two sides of my corner lot. I had the timberjacks save the larger logs to be sawn into useful limber. Custom sawmill is being scheduled in the near future.
This article give me a lot of exciting ideas that will be explored as the logs are split and/or sawn. Thanks for making this article available online.
Posted: 7:46 pm on March 3rd

phreek phreek writes: OUCH!!! Gilpin's discussion of using wood with defects as a focal point reminds me of what I take now to be a huge mistake: a couple of decades ago I was tasked at work with removing a small-to-medium sized persimmon tree that had died from a severe borer attack. In the process of sawing it up I realized that it was intensely figured. My reaction?? "too bad it's trashed by those bug holes...". You may pin the "kick me" sign to my butt now.
Posted: 10:46 am on February 9th

DaveBishop DaveBishop writes: While watching the slide show and listening to Hank stress that he works exclusively with domestic woods, there appeared a photo of two pieces made of cherry and wenge, the latter native to central Africa. Oops!
Posted: 8:52 pm on February 14th

Charcoal Charcoal writes: It is interesting as a new woodworker, I take a piece of what I think is a perfect piece of wood and what I make is imperfect. And yet Gilpin takes a piece of "imperfect" wood and makes it perfect.
Posted: 9:50 am on March 8th

RonKnutson RonKnutson writes: I sincerely feel these are great words all woodworkers should hear and chew on. I think all woodworkers upon entering this arena either as a hobby or a profession fall deep into the romance and quest for wood of which is worthy or our projects, there in developing a level of snobbery within our acumen and view as to what is acceptable lumber and what is essentially Firewood. I love how Hank words point our that ALL lumber/wood, while relaxing our quest for exotic or select grades, is capable of producing great pieces.
Posted: 3:47 pm on March 7th

ted ted writes: Great body of work. I really appreciate his ability to read into ever board and pull out its essence in his designs.
Posted: 3:11 pm on March 6th

sans sans writes: Great piece and what beautiful design!
Posted: 8:19 pm on March 5th

sans sans writes: Great piece and what beautiful design!
Posted: 8:19 pm on March 5th

intothelens intothelens writes: Wow.

This addict demands more photos -- can't find many on-line, or even a Hank website. Please provide links, editors.
Posted: 11:27 am on March 1st

BrianG BrianG writes: Absolutely awe inspiring. I agree completely. If you are tempted to call something "bad wood" it just means you are too lazy to find a way to use that wood.

Now I just have to improve my skills so I can live up to that ideal...
Posted: 1:12 am on February 25th

zapdog zapdog writes: I believe we are that lumber store that Tom77 refers to above. We mill salvaged logs cut down due to disease or construction and give the tree a chance at a new life in furniture projects. Visit us at and if you are in the Boulder-Denver area stop by.
Posted: 2:45 pm on February 24th

lauritzlarsen lauritzlarsen writes: Hank Gilpin is a remarkable resource of inspiration and vernacular. One must remember, though, that he is first and foremost a consumate woodworker. It would not really matter if his pieces were not made from figured or other unique woods because he begins by looking and 'listening' to the woods he employs. That his work is both deliberate and expressive is what makes him an American treasure. Thank you for sharing your philosophy.
Posted: 2:02 pm on February 24th

franco88 franco88 writes: Thanks Hank for sharing your experience. We understand that where we are and what we find interesting are forces that prompt us to do our work in a particular way. It is hard to see those forces looking forward at them but easy looking back.
I appreciate you perspective, it helps me with mine.
Posted: 10:44 am on February 24th

robertrhault robertrhault writes: I am building a fireplace mantel and wouldlove to use the quartersawn sycamore that bubbainar writes about. Is it available for purchase? Please contact me at 508-341-2508.My name is Bob.
Posted: 10:08 am on February 24th

thunderworks thunderworks writes: Five or six years ago I had the opportunity to visit Gilpin's shop. He very graciously showed me around. It was clear that he had some really incredible wood - not only the range of species he had, but the examples of common stuff was incredible. He had a bench made from figured red oak (which I normally find uninteresting)that was beyond incredible. Halfway through this video a poplar cabinet is shown. I saw this piece during my visit and I remember thinking it was one of the most perfect pieces I have seen. Really stunning. Gilpin is a truly creative, skilled furniture maker. I'm find his work, and his attitude inspirational.
Posted: 9:38 am on February 24th

woodtiger woodtiger writes: No bad no bad fishing!

Great approach to creativity and the Arts !
Posted: 8:52 am on February 24th

bubbainar bubbainar writes: Last week a friend and I spent six frigid days milling a couple thousand board feet of local timber from the Ozark hills. Much of it is from a freeway right-of-way clearance; some is off of my own property. Bottom line is I have a lifetime supply of quartersawn Sycamore -- not a common thing, even in these parts. I have Oak, Walnut, stuff I can't identify and the satisfaction of knowing every piece since it was a tree.

Gilpin has it right. There is magic in the things around us, especially the trees, but there is magic in Hank's hands and mind as well.
Posted: 11:51 am on February 23rd

dandegennaro dandegennaro writes: What an inspirational video. As a former producer myself, I have to say you are on to something here. Now, I want to take that walk through the woods and hear what Gilpin has to say about those big old trees. I want to see the process of his in action.
Great job of editing the interview into a coherent and well styled piece. MORE!

Dan DeGennaro
Posted: 1:28 pm on February 14th

Tom77 Tom77 writes: Wow! I find Hank's comments and photos quite inspirational. This motivates me to search through the lumber at a local company that removes trees and mills them into usable planks. I recently saw some spalted apple there that was beautiful, and want to search for more.
Posted: 9:32 am on February 12th

Woodsmithy Woodsmithy writes: I totally agree with Hank. The natural beauty of wood includes what many woodworkers consider defects or junk wood. The trick is figuring out how to incorporate those features into the furniture which reveals the beauty and diversity of nature.
Posted: 5:06 pm on February 10th

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