The Coolest Woodworkers In S.F. Show Us Around Their Creative Spaces

[UPDATE: This story was originally published on December 13.]
You can't turn a cheek in S.F. without stumbling upon a gorgeous reclaimed-wood something. From buzzy coffee shops to restaurants du jour, the handiwork of S.F. woodworkers is literally laid out right in front of you. Those benches you're perched on, the art you're admiring — okay, we get it — locals go gaga for this stuff!
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So, to get a peek at what's beyond the sawdust, we invited ourselves into the workspaces of nine S.F.-based craftsmen (and women!) to see what all the fuss is about. Lo and behold, we found that these tree-loving laborers are just as cool and stylish as the pieces they're pumping out…read on for what makes their "material" world go 'round.
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Name: Kristin Grant
Gig: Owner, Dust to Dust Furniture

How did you get into woodworking and how long have you been doing it?
"I wanted to be an architect but realized I don't have the starch to sit behind a computer all day. I'd rather be pushing boards over a set of blades rotating at 900 rpms and steam bending wood. I did my formal woodworking training in wooden-boat building, and I have been working on furniture and boats in San Francisco for the past two years."

What are some recent projects you've done?
"I have been building a lot of benches. I made a couple of outdoor benches for Mission boutiques. I built a flowerpot bench for Mira Mira and one for my friends at Taylor Stitch."

Is there a specific project that you'd consider a favorite?
"The favorite project is always the one in my mind that I am about to build."

It's pretty badass to be a tool-toting lady, especially in a male-dominated industry. Do you anything to feel a little bit girlier on the job?
"It's definitely tough when you are covered in dust, wearing shop clothes, safety glasses, and a dust mask, so my femininity gets limited to perfume and nail polish. The nail polish is mostly to keep from biting my nails."

How does the city inspire or influence your work?
"The most inspiring part of the city to me is the demand for independent craftspeople. That's a really special part of San Francisco. Bespoke makes sense when you can't find what you are looking for in a store or on a shelf. But the driving force for independent furniture designers here is deeper than that, San Franciscans care about design, enjoy being part of the design process, and genuinely want something well made and unique."
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Why do you think there is such a reclaimed-wood boom in S.F.? Where do you think it started?
"There is a definite devotion to the ethical sourcing of materials here. There's also such a wealth of sources in the Bay Area for reclaimed wood that does not exist everywhere in this country. It's the way people should think. The 'flat pack' furniture culture definitely provides a quick fix but enables a disposable furniture culture, which is quite a wasteful consumer practice. San Francisco has a pretty DIY inclination and I think that people see a pallet in the alley and immediately dream up their new coffee table."

Who are your style icons?
"New York is my roots and my style icon. No one does it better."

Where do you shop?
"Mira Mira in the Mission, Nida in Hayes valley, Metier downtown before it closed, and eBay."

What are your wardrobe staples?
"Good jeans, white T-shirts, and my mother's vintage blazers. Maybe too much black? I gravitate toward variations on the same few themes."

Where do you live and what do you love about it?
"I live on Valencia Street in the Mission. It's sunny and there is a great energy coming from all the independently owned businesses. There is no shortage of excellent burritos and I get to walk to my shop in Bernal Heights."
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Name: Jeremiah Nielson
Gig: Owner of Jeremiah Collection

How did you get into woodworking and how long have you been doing it?
"I guess you can trace it back to my obsession with Legos. I was always creating my own versions with the gears, pneumatic, and electric motors. So, when I got my first job building furniture 20 years ago, I felt very at home figuring out how things go together."

What are some recent projects you've done?
"Right now we're furnishing our first tech office! Seventy desks are really putting all of our systems to the test!"

What has been your proudest moment?
"When my furniture line started to sell. I've been at this for a long time and to finally get some traction makes me unbelievably proud. I love being able to finally pay bills and start really building a company."

What are the hardest aspects of working with wood?
"The dust. It will kill you! It’s a never-ending battle. We have cyclones for our cyclones. I'm crazy about dust control."

Any advice for those just starting out?
"Buy factory equipment. Don't take tool advice from fine woodworking. If you’re serious about making it, buy real machines, not hobby, garage-shop tools. The best machines are the ones that you look at and say, 'What does that do?'"
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How does the city inspire or influence your work?
"All of my furniture is designed with small-living spaces in mind. That's why we make our 'box'-style desks and coffee table. You can store and display things underneath while keeping the top clear for every day use. Also, we try to help S.F. customers by offering free delivery because we know a lot of people don't have cars. We're always looking for the win-win!"

How would you describe your style?
"Functional, well-fitting work clothes. I won't wear something if it shows too much dirt. Good boots are a must. And not the fancy work boots. Imagine walking around on concrete all day in dress shoes — not going to happen. Red Wings are the best!"

Who is your style icon?
"Morrissey."

What are your wardrobe staples?
"Red Wings, jeans, button-downs with collars, and Ray-Bans."

Where do you live and what do you love about it?
"Alamo Square. My dog loves the dog park and I love my apartment. Two words: 'working fireplace.' Oh, and the Full House houses! Ha!"
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Name: Sean Newport
Gig: Creative Designer, Carpenter, and Artist

How did you get into woodworking and how long have you been doing it?
"I moved into a warehouse seven years ago and wanted to add onto my existing room, so I found some wood and made a two-story addition. It was surprisingly sturdy, but completely wrong on all levels of building. Each project after that one thankfully got a little better. It’s a constant learning experience."

What do you really love about it?
"I love creating, and the satisfaction of a well-built finished product. Spending countless hours on a project and to stand back when it’s all finished with a huge smile and a cold beer. It's beyond rewarding."

What are some recent projects you've done?
"I've been helping Kelly Malone and Nick Sass at Speakeasy Brewery build a tasting room. I've also been helping friends expand their studio space by building three additional studios."

Anything coming up that you're excited about?
"My new gallery artwork has made me more excited than most anything recently. I've been cutting up tons of geometric shapes out of wood and arranging them together creating a textile/optical illusion sculpture."

What has been your proudest moment?
"Being co-founder of Engine Works. A handful of rad kids and I have spent the last couple years building out a warehouse in S.F. We have a gallery and wood and metal shop. Our space is constantly flowing with creative energy; you can't help but be inspired. I love it and am so proud to be a part of it all.
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What are the hardest aspects of working with wood?
"The constant splinters."

What inspires you to create?
"The challenge."

Who are your style icons?
"Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."

Where do you shop?
"Building REsources for supplies. And local thrift stores, like Wasteland and Held Over, for clothes."

What are your wardrobe staples?
"Black pants, no shirt."
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Name: Katie Gong
Gig: Owner of RDesign, Builder, Designer, and Artist

How did you get into woodworking and how long have you been doing it?
"I grew up running around my pop’s shop — taking bits and scraps of wood for my own projects, often in OshKosh B'gosh overalls and a felt Robin Hood hat. Since then, not much has changed, except maybe the hat."

What do you really love about it?
"I love that there are infinite possibilities with what you can do with wood. This material allows me to be extremely creative, while at the same time practical, since there are some rules and limitations that you have to acknowledge and pay homage to, in terms of having the right wood/tools for the specific jobs."

Anything coming up that you’re excited about?
"In the next couple of weeks we are going to be working with Bar Crudo at its space on Divisadero, as well as at its new space in Guerneville."

Is there a specific project that you’d consider a favorite?
"A spinning stool that looks like a stump of a tree. It is made out of a solid piece of Olive that we got from a friend's farm in my hometown."

What has been your proudest moment?
"Recently realizing that taking the plunge and going for your dreams can be frightening, but actually pays off."
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It's pretty badass to be a tool-toting lady, especially in a male-dominated industry. Do you anything to feel a little bit girlier on the job?
"I like to always have my nails painted and wear lipstick. It’s a badass job and why not look cute while doing it?"

What inspires you to create?
"I find inspiration in my everyday life. Everything from nature to the concrete jungle."

What other woodworkers or artists do you look up to?
"My business partner and carpenter extraordinaire, Will Pro. Phoebe Washburn is also an amazing wood installation artist that I love. Lastly, have to say it because they changed the furniture game, Ray and Charles Eames."

Who are your style icons?
"Paul Bunyan, and visually, Alexander McQueen."

Where do you shop?
"I try to support the little guys. Man, there are too many to choose from. I love Reliquary in Hayes Valley, Seedstore in the Inner Richmond, and jewelry and knickknacks from The Perish Trust."
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Name: Aleksandra Zee
Gig: Woodworker, Installation Artist

How did you get into woodworking and how long have you been doing it?
"I've been working with wood for about seven years. It began in college and became more refined while working as the display artist for Anthropologie for almost four years."

Anything coming up that you're excited about?
"Yes! I am currently building an online shop that I hope to open in a month, where I will sell my tabletops, wall hangings, and light fixtures."

Is there a specific project that you'd consider a favorite?
"The first table I ever built. It is 10" x 3' wide and it is my workbench in my room. It's made from reclaimed wood in a chevron pattern and rests on an old metal workmate. I love it and it keeps me inspired to continue to practice and become better with each piece I build."

It's pretty badass to be a tool-toting lady, what types of things do you do to feel feminine?
"Wearing red lipstick always does the trick on and off the job! Cruella by Nars is my staple."

What inspires you to create?
"Going to bed and waking up with ideas. I cannot rest until I work on that idea. If I miss a day in the studio, I feel antsy to get in there and build something. I have a 'never-stop-making' mentality that pushes my creativity to constantly come up with new ideas to try out."
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10 of 18
What other woodworkers or artists do you look up to?
"I love Henrique Oliveira. His wood installations blow my mind!"

Who are your style icons?
"Lisa from Tool Time on Home Improvement."

Where do you shop?
"I am a vintage shopper and San Francisco has so many great vintage stores. When I feel like splurging, I can't help myself from a little Free People."

What are your wardrobe staples?
"Currently, my Free People corduroy overalls, work boots, turquoise jewelry, cozy off-white sweater, red lips, and the bigger the hair, the better."

Where do you live and what do you love about it?
"I live in the Mission. My neighborhood has an appreciation for artists and artwork and has so much character. You cannot walk a block without seeing a beautiful mural or a fellow artist friend selling their beautiful handmades on the sidewalk. It is also always sunny in this part of the city."
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Name: Sergio Traverso
Gig: Manager at Building REsources, Part-Time Designer and Builder

How did you get into woodworking and how long have you been doing it?
"I studied industrial arts and product design in school, so some woodworking came a long with that, but I have definitely been working with wood a lot more over the past five years."

What are some recent projects you've done?
"I recently finished work on a shop in the Mission called Press: Works On Paper on 24th Street near Folsom Street. It's a very well-curated bookstore that also carries all the tools necessary for a literary life."

Anything coming up that you're excited about?
"I'm currently in the midst of gutting our showroom space at Building REsources and rebuilding a good portion of it. We're trying to incorporate a more contemporary design and come up with ways to better organize and display our constantly changing inventory. Simultaneously, we are trying to come up with new ways to work with local artists and builders, utilizing reclaimed materials, and be more involved with that community."
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What are the hardest aspects of working with wood?
"It can be a little unforgiving at times, once you cut it, there really is no going back."

Any advice for those just starting out?
"Buy quality tools and take care of them. If you're serious, it will pay off in the long run. A well-designed and functional workspace is equally important. Oh, and this may sound dorky, but definitely use proper safety gear, particularly for the eyes and ears when using power tools."

Can you tell us a little about your creative process?
"The availability of materials dictates the design. I work almost entirely with reclaimed materials — being that I work in a salvage yard — and it's a difficult thing to plan for ahead of time. Oftentimes things come together spontaneously, or even accidentally. It keeps me on my toes."

How does the city inspire or influence your work?
"Because the majority of the lumber I work with is salvaged from this city, I think a lot about the history. For instance, it's amazing to think about a 2' x 4' stud that has been in the wall of a San Francisco house for over a century; I imagine what it may have seen, or even the person who drove the nails that held it in place for so long. That's what gives reclaimed materials so much character, and I particularly like the idea of salvaging materials from San Francisco for San Francisco."

What other woodworkers or artists do you look up to?
"I'm really inspired by the work of people like Bernard Ralph Maybeck, Frank O. Gehry, or Charles and Ray Eames — all for different reasons. I'm a fan of a lot of modern and mid-century designers. I love clean lines and simple aesthetics."

How would you describe your style?
"Functional, and getting scarily close to dressing like my dad."

Who are your style icons?
"I suppose my dad — I would not have said that 10 years ago — and working dudes that aren't too polished. I like a guy who looks like he does something."

Where do you shop?
"My girlfriend, Chelsea, works for Wasteland on Haight Street, so that's a big one. I also dig what the guys at Taylor Stitch and Farm Tactics are doing, and Arik's for work clothes."
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Name: Kelly Malone
Gig: Owner of Workshop, Workspace, Indie Mart, and Kelly Malone Design

How did you get into woodworking and how long have you been doing it?
"I had a vintage store on Divisadero four years ago that I built and it just turned something on in my head. Then, I started designing spaces out of wood in my head all the time. I helped build out the store Shotwell and there was no turning back."

What do you really love about it?
"I love walking around salvage yards, like Building REsources and Urban Ore. Something about recycled wood turns on all my creativity. You may see an old gross piece of wood on the side of the road, where as I flip a U-turn, grab it, and run home to make it into something."

What are some recent projects you've done?
"The Toad Hollow/Social Print office, Workspace, The Bold Italic, Workshop, Shotwell, and the Gangs of San Francisco store. The Camp DIY we built out at Treasure Island Music Festival was a collaboration with all my creative crushes, which was amazing being able to curate that and just get creative with materials."

Is there a specific project that you'd consider a favorite?
"I’m working on building and designing Speakeasy Brewery's taproom, which opens in January. It was months of brainstorming and is made of almost all recycled materials. It’s a fun theme to build a mock speakeasy. I just covered a wall with wood shipping pallets that I’m in love with."

Any advice for those just starting out?
"Take the time to learn safety and how to use saws. The scariest thing for me was learning to use a table saw and I get scared of my circular saw. It’s a lot easier if you have a pro show you until you’re comfortable. We started offering super-basic tool-shop classes at Workshop, and I’m really happy to launch more classes next year. Everyone should own hand tools, a drill, and a jigsaw."

It's pretty badass to be a tool-toting lady, especially in a male-dominated industry. Do you anything to feel a little bit girlier on the job?
"I work with mostly guys, drive a van, and spend most of my time in a denim work apron — it’s not the most feminine, but it does make me feel like a badass. I feel like a badass when I can make a guy I like a coffee table or show them how to build something. My favorite girl secret is if I leave work and go to a bar, I put sawdust in my hair to thicken it and then my hair smells like wood."
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Can you tell us a little about your creative process?
"I spend weeks brainstorming and then let the materials I find dictate what I make or create. It’s hard to have a mental vision and then just build it. Especially since I have an approach to interior design that is totally DIY-based. I make the furniture, the art, and everything, opposed to just popping in all store-bought furniture. I like locking myself in my studio or Workshop with some beer and a good record for hours on end."

Why do you think there is such a reclaimed wood boom in S.F.? Where do you think it started?
"I'm happy to see wood get so popular, it’s so organically beautiful as is. I think there are a lot of amazing spaces out there like Outerlands and Four Barrel that really put wood walls and recycled wood on the map. You can definitely see how popular it’s getting though, it’s hard to find reclaimed wood. I will catfight up in Building REsources for wood."

What other woodworkers or artists do you look up to?
"I really have been creatively crushing on Dave Huebner, who does welding and woodwork. He has done a lot of work around town at places like Four Barrel, Taylor Stitch, and done some cool work in Portland. He's one of those people that never toots his own horn or talks about his work, but you see genius in him. He makes very functional things with twists and just good craftsmanship. He's working with me on some pieces for Speakeasy and I’m really excited."

How would you describe your style?
"My style is pretty no-frills badass. By day, it's beat-up jeans, my denim apron, big Whitesnake hair, and always cowboy boots. By night, the cleavage and vintage dresses come out. I’m a thick lady, and in a town of so much style, so I just try to be very much myself and not be afraid to show some curves and big thighs."

Who are your style icons?
"Pat Benetar, Joan Jett, and Stevie Nicks — pretty much any woman who's a rock star is okay in my book."
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Name: Matthew Waldbillig
Gig: Woodworker

What do you love about working with wood?
"I love working with wood because of its accessibility both in its supply and adaptability as a material. You can find scraps discarded on the streets and you are only limited to your creativity for finding a use for them."

What are some recent projects you've done?
"Right now I'm working on resigning the office at F.S.C. Barber. It's really interesting to work within a design aesthetic that someone else has created."

Is there a specific project that you'd consider a favorite?
"I really enjoyed working on my solo show at RVCA Gallery on Haight Street. It was one of the first times that I was able to utilize the space with woodworking, sculpture, and installation."

What are the hardest aspects of working with wood?
"I have always feared dovetails, and being pinned into a certain aesthetic."

Any advice for those just starting out?
"Be safe with any tool you use. They can eat one of your hands if you treat it like a toy."
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Can you tell us a little about your creative process?
"I do a lot of planning with inspiration boards and sketches. Then move on to more complicated diagrams and mock-ups before I even make one cut. Planning and having all your measurements is a must if you don't want to waste a lot of your time."

What inspires you to create?
"Most of my work focuses on installations of environments that take you out of the bland world that surrounds you and invites you into a fantasy. I always reference Disneyland as one of my biggest inspirations. From the outside you are in the metropolis of Anaheim, but once you step inside the gates you totally believe that you are in another world. I use this idea as a visual and mental reference to whatever I create."

What other woodworkers or artists do you look up to?
"James Turrell has been one of the biggest influences on my work."

How would you describe your style?
"I've just given up trying to get intellectual about describing it and have accepted that I look like I'm Amish."

Where do you shop?
"Most of my wardrobe is from Freeman's Sporting Club and RVCA."

What are your wardrobe staples?
"I pretty much always wear a collared button-up, a vest, slacks, dress shoes, and a brimmed hat. My color palette is really minimal — a lot of blue, black, brown, and muted reds and yellow."
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Name: Mathew Sletten
Gig: Project Manager at RHDG and Woodworking Hobbyist

What do you really love about working with wood?
"The best thing about woodworking or building is having an idea in mind, but then looking for materials and letting what you can find reshape what you initially designed. Then of course, turning on some music and getting dusty as it all comes together...there is nothing like that."

What are some recent projects you've done?
"I built a record credenza for my girlfriend, which has an old window that flips into a record sleep holder using naturally pickled wood, some shelving, a picture frame/holder from an old wine crate, and a giant wooden letter cube that unfolds."

Anything coming up that you're excited about?
"I met a distiller from St. George this week that I'm going to connect with to make a diffused light lamp from a bourbon barrel. I'm also making a record cart with recycled casters and tipped shelving, an end table from a piece of burl and straight-grain reclaimed redwood, and some candle holders."

What are the hardest aspects of working with wood?
"Remembering to consider the grain when doing joints. Sometimes wood can be flaky, and with joints you only have one chance to get it right, especially angled joints."
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How does the city inspire or influence your work?
"Most people I meet have 50 hobbies that all seem to involve creating, whether it's cooking, printmaking, music, or building. I've always had that itch, and the city really fosters that sense of community, and it welcomes the idea of doing it yourself."

What other woodworkers or artists do you look up to?
"You'll laugh at this, but I worship at the feet of Norm Abram from New Yankee Workshop. In S.F., I'm very much in love with Jared Rusten's pieces, Reason furniture, and Woodshop."

How would you describe your style?
"I joke with my girlfriend about this, but we call it lumberjack chic or if you're into the whole brevity thing, Lumberchic. I like durable and practical items that will never look out of place."

Who are your style icons?
"The cast of Slapshot, Hank Williams, Gram Parsons, and Alain Delon."

Where do you shop?
"Levi's, Wasteland, Held Over, Welcome Stranger, Unionmade, Seedstore, Grayers, J.Crew, and L.L. Bean."
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