If you've visited our retail shop, you've seen the beautiful Edison bulb lamps in our store window that draw so many shoppers in from the street. These lamps are the handiwork of master woodworker Jeffrey P. Bengston, who also makes lovingly crafted cheese boards and kitchen utensils available online and in the shop. We had a fascinating convo about functional design, the beauty of old abandoned spaces, and the uniqueness inherent to each piece of wood.
Queen Bee: Tell us a little about yourself. What do you get up to when you're not in the shop?
Usually when I'm in the shop I'm thinking about what I want to do outside of the shop, and when I'm out of the shop, I am thinking about what I want to do in the shop. It's a bit of a vicious cycle, but I wouldn't want to do it any differently. I love to travel to off the beaten path places. I have a dream of aimlessly travelling around the US by car using a coin flip to decide which way I go. I love taking my kids out into nature to see its oddities and beauties. I have an interest in abandoned places and old stuff in general. Old farmsteads, factories, barns, old industrial devices, old wood, etc. They all have stories that can be told just by looking at them or exploring them.
QB: What is your history with woodworking? How did you learn it?
Completely self taught with a hefty dose of trial and error. Wood has been with me most of my life. Through schooling in forestry, time in the woods with a chainsaw, and running a portable sawmill that ran on a pullstart Volkswagen engine, I was able to learn how a tree lives and how the boards come out of it. Then, after my grandfather died I inherited his lifetime collection of tools, which included some woodworking tools that were his father's. I started reading LOTS of books and magazines on woodworking and initiating that trial and error process. I learned that you can't do everything with power tools and you can't do it all with hand tools. You need a balance between the two. Studying old techniques helped me understand how wood works within a completed piece.
The color that wood naturally develops over 100 years as a beam holding up a barn is unmistakable, and cannot be replicated.
It's warm and cozy.
QB: It's clear from looking at your products that you have a real appreciation for the beauty and complexity of wood. How do you choose the pieces of wood that end up as lamps, utensils and boards?
When selecting wood for my pieces, I look for a few things. Interesting grain, unique color, and tight growth rings. I call my work functional art and I want the end product to be unique. I always try to highlight uncommonalities of nature that I find in wood in my work. When using salvaged wood, such as wood from old buildings, I always run into things that show that it used to be a structural member. Little notches here and there, square nails, general wear and tear. I love the history that salvaged wood can tell. Plus, a lot of the salvaged wood I get is from old growth forests as that was all there was when the trees were cut and milled 100+ years ago. The grain is tighter, and the growth is consistently even which gives you better quality wood. The color that wood naturally develops over 100 years as a beam holding up a barn or house is unmistakable as a truly old piece of wood and cannot be replicated with stains. It's warm and cozy.
QB: How do you find your reclaimed wood? Any memorable scores or times you were able to rescue something special?
I buy my salvaged wood from a place that sells all ilks of reclaimed wood. There's always something new from some building that's recently been dismantled. It's always exciting.
One time, I bought a van from a man who bought and sold estates. I mentioned that I was a woodworker, and he said he had some wood from a builder of luxury yacht interiors. He had a piece of curly redwood with growth rings so close together that I couldn't tell one from the other. Truly a one-of-a-kind find. It was as dense as a brick and I didn't hesitate to buy it.
Another time, I had bought some beams that were once part of a grain barn in Forest Grove. As I was cutting one beam up, I noticed metallic shavings coming out of a cut. Usually this means I've hit a nail, but I found that I'd hit a bullet embedded in the wood. Fortunately, the soft lead didn't ruin my sawblade and I was left with a perfectly bisected bullet and entrance hole that I was able to incorporate into one of my lamps. A hunter bought that lamp for his cabin near Mt. Hood.
QB: What do you love about working with wood as a medium?
Every single board, even out of the same tree, is one-of-a-kind. Each board is a fingerprint of the tree. The random beauty of nature locked into each board. One of my favorite things is selecting wood to buy. Seeing all the tree guts laid out for me to sort through. I can see the life the tree lived in each board. As I cut each board apart, even more stories are revealed. It never gets old.
QB: Tell us about your inspiration for your current line of products. We love the sauté tool! Where did the idea for that tool come from?
I am a huge fan of functional art. Aesthetic is important to me. I need things that serve a purpose and look good also.
We offer Bengston Woodworks products for sale online or in the shop. For more info, check out the Bengston Woodworks website and Instagram.
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