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Scott Nehring: A Well-Honed Life

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There are a lot of talented woodworkers in Vermont and New Hampshire, but I doubt that anybody takes it quite as far as Scott Nehring. He makes furniture -- but let me tell you about his furniture. He starts every piece with the wood of a single tree. He'll spend three months or more on a single piece. He uses no glue or metal joinery; all the wood is cut to fit together perfectly. His goal is to develop his woodworking skills to the utmost -- a goal that, he realizes, he can never fully attain. And he does all the work with the finest hand tools you can find. 

 

 

 

Nehring's tools are handmade by Japanese master craftsmen. "The best toolmakers are living national treasures in Japan," he explains. The craft dates back to samurai days, when a warrior's sword was his life. "The subtleties and nuances of forging a blade, they cannot be believed. And that's what makes them so awesome as tools." 

 

Awesome -- and expensive. He motions toward a wall. "Every plane on that rack over there is a minimum of $500. They go from $500 to almost $3,000." There are 35 planes on that rack.  Add it up. Around the room, all sorts of planes, chisels, saws, and other hand tools from Japan. "It's an expensive business to run." 

 

But you don't get these tools simply by waving a platinum card. "He's very, very particular about who gets his work," says Nehring, of one Japanese blacksmith. "Ten years ago, he told me 'no.' I tried to get a set. Flat out 'no.' Now I have one of his planes, with two more coming. 

 

"He wants to see them used, and used well. It's the greatest respect you can pay; great tools are meant to do great work." 

 

Then there's the sharpening stones -- also imported from Japan. "Those little rocks, thousands of dollars," he says. "It's a cross between limestone and sandstone, unique to Japan. And different blades require different stones." 

 

The payoff: unmatched precision. "It's pretty neat when you saw by hand, and instead of dust on the floor there are little strings, because every tooth is at the perfect height. Instead of grinding away, it's scooping it out. It's a feeling like nothing else. It's awesome." 

Read the rest of the story in my book, including his rebellious youth and his sideline: handmade violins. 
 
Read excerpts from my interview with Nehring, including a look at the intricacies hidden inside his furniture, and the accident that prompted him to eschew power tools.  

Contact me by e-mail at john (at) johnswalters (dot) com