Apr 07 2016

Jonathan Nussbaum: Making Local Wood Work

By KC Eisenberg

The first thing you feel when entering Jonathan Nussbaum's woodshop is the palpable passion that fills the space: Jonathan's passion for craftsmanship and, above all, his passion for wood. Jonathan handcrafts bespoke pieces of heirloom-quality furniture using responsibly harvested lumber sourced from members of the Build Local Alliance, including Sustainable Northwest Wood.

Jonathan is an unlikely woodworker. He formerly worked as a rafting guide, floating boats down the rapids of the Rogue, Clackamas, and other landmark rivers of the Pacific Northwest. He found himself frustrated at the responses of paddlers when they passed one of the many clearcuts on the hillsides flanking the Rogue. If we can't get forestry right in Oregon, the land of trees, Jonathan mused, where can we? What we need is more businesses that demonstrate responsible forestry can work!

So a few years later he embarked on a woodworking career, committed to using local, responsibly harvested wood as the core of his work, not as an aftermarket add-on. Despite having no professional furniture-making experience, he pursued an apprenticeship with master furnituremaker Kai Fuhrmann until Kai relented and hired him. At the time, he was "so green it's almost embarrassing; you don't know what you don't know," he says, but he dedicated himself to learning the craft and, a few years later, established his own shop to focus exclusively on the local, beautiful woods that first ignited his passion for woodworking. 

On the day I visited, Jonathan was busy working on a custom madrone dining table with Dutch pull-out leaves that are concealed beneath the table top when not in use. He was also crafting a set of chairs and benches to match. Jonathan described his process of custom-fitting the chairs to his clients, who were almost resigned to having uncomfortable chairs as up to that point they had been unable to find something that suited both of them due to their different heights.

“Chairs are like blue jeans," Jonathan says. "There are a lot of points of contact and the fit is very personal. Once you’ve sat in a chair that truly fits, you never want to give it up.”

Jonathan used an adjustable prototype to find a height, width, depth, tilt and back support shape that will comfortably fit both of their frames. Jonathan uses traditional techniques like Mortise & Tenon joinery and bent laminations for curved parts like chair back slats and a sharp curve in the table legs connectors.

He and his clients visited our warehouse to hand-select the colorful pieces of madrone for the tabletop, benches, and chair backs, choosing pieces for their book-match patterns and for the sculptural quality of the mineral streaking in the wood. 

Jonathan has been a customer of Sustainable Northwest Wood since 2009. We're grateful to work with him as we pursue our shared goal of transforming the market for local wood products.

Click here to view more of Jonathan's work.

Photos above: Jonathan uses a prototype to demonstrate the frame-fitting design of the custom chairs; the unfinished madrone tabletop with its exquisite colors and patterns
Photos below: Jonathan's custom design for the madrone table and bench with the extension leaves concealed beneath the table top; the sheets of madrone waiting to be bent laminated into curved table and bench leg connectos. These were sliced from 4/4 and 8/4 lumber!