W. Patrick Edwards only started woodworking as a means to pay for his college but now has been in the industry for 47 years.
He is the proud owner of Antique Refinishers, a restoration, and furniture company which has been in business since 1969.
We came across his blog and found his story quite fascinating. Here’s what he has to say about his switch from nuclear physics to woodworking.
Enter W. Patrick Edwards
What determined your passion for Woodworking? Tell us about the moment when you decided this is the way to go.
My chosen career was in nuclear physics. I never took a wood shop class. However, to pay for college I opened a small business restoring antique furniture.
After I graduated with a degree in Applied Physics from UCSD and secured a position in that field, I was told by the company that I had to choose between my “career” and my “hobby.”
I quit physics and devoted my life to working as a furniture conservator in private practice. I have been in this business 48 years now.
Can you remember your first woodworking project? Describe it a bit, whether it is a gizmo you worked at as a little kid or something that was sold at a large scale.
I have conserved or restored tens of thousands of pieces of furniture. One of my first jobs was restoring a pump organ which was in terrible condition.
After I was done the dealer who sold it to me bought it back at a nice profit for me. That gave me the idea that this might be a way to make money. And it was fun. I started making copies of antiques early on in the business.
I thought: “If I can make a replacement leg or a replacement arm, why can’t I just make the entire chair?” Then I started making exact copies of famous pieces I had seen in museums.
Over the years all my work has sold. In 2014 I was awarded the “Cartouche” award by the Society of American Period Furniture Makers.
What is your greatest strength? How does it help you as a Woodworker?
My career has been focused on using pre-industrial methods and materials. I am a noted authority in the process of working by hand exclusively. I follow David Pye’s philosophy of the “workmanship of risk.”
I have completely abandoned the modern technology of my earlier physics career to research and adopt traditional methods used in previous centuries.
Chronologically describe what you are going through (feeling and thoughts) on your way to work.
For nearly 50 years I have walked 6 blocks to work from my house, in a quiet residential neighborhood. During my walks, I think about the activities for the day but am constantly distracted by dogs, birds, trees and the environment.
It gives me 15 minutes twice a day to reflect on the process of living your dream.
What is your favorite book/magazine on woodworking? How about your favorite site?
I started to learn about antiques from the “Furniture Treasury” by Wallace Nutting. However, my favorite book is “Marquetry” by Pierre Ramond, who was my teacher for many years at Ecole Boulle, in Paris.
Also, another mentor, Charles Montgomery, wrote: “American Federal Furniture” and that book inspired me deeply. I have published in several of the current woodworking magazines over the years.
What is the most frustrating aspect of your job as a woodworker? And the most rewarding one?
When someone tries to repair the damage themselves. Using synthetic glues, modern materials, nails and sheetrock screws to fix antique furniture makes my job more difficult and damages the value in many cases. Please use the services of a knowledgeable professional for this.
From your point of view, is woodworking an art or a science?
I was trained as a scientist. I understand chemistry and mechanics and material properties, all of which are necessary for my field.
At the same time, it is essential to be able to produce a proper aesthetic in the end result. That requires experience in recognizing patina, color, shine and knowing which evidence of normal age to leave alone and which evidence of abuse or neglect to correct.
Tell us something unusual that happened in your career.
I was asked to restore furniture on the “Golden Odyssey” yacht, which was birthed in San Diego many years ago. I told them I did not work on boats, but they said that they only wanted me to do the work. At that time I took a little help from my friend Steve Branam who is software engineer by profession but inspired many to hold on to your hobby and things you love in your free time.
At the time this boat was the personal yacht of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, but I had no idea of the significance. I worked for a week onboard, thinking I was done with the job. At the end of the week, the captain invited me into his room and said,
“When we find a professional who knows what he is doing, we like to get everything done. Would you consider working for the rest of the month?” At the price they were paying me, I didn’t have to think for very long. I still do not like to work on boats.
Tell us about how you deal with safety issues in your job
I do not work with hazardous chemicals or power machinery. I use cutting tools so there is no dust, only shavings. On occasion, I have cut myself with sharp chisels or a hand saw, but that is normal. I might drop a hand plane on my foot…
If you had no limits (money, resources), what would you create?
My life and business would not change significantly if I had unlimited resources. I have everything I need now. It would be nice to get the McArthur Genius award, at least for the fame.
Share something you would like the world to know about you or your ideas.
Enjoy life. Take risks, within your abilities to control. Enjoy the process. Teach the children. Pass it on.
What advice do you have for young woodworkers reading this interview?
Get basic hand tools. Buy or build a good quality workbench, some hand planes, saws, and chisels. Read traditional books and avoid the temptation to spend money on power tools. Spend money on materials instead.
If our readers had to follow you on or wanted to reach out, what would be the best way to go about it?
I have many websites. However, my blog is the epicenter of my life.