Brattleboro shared woodworking shop is 'the antidote to an ugly world'
Woodworkers form HatchSpace, a community for craftsmen
BRATTLEBORO — For many woodworkers, their craft is a solitary venture.
They're content to labor for days or even weeks in a quiet home workshop or a space filled with hand tools and small power tools, creating a beautiful piece of furniture that can be handed down from generation to generation.
Greg Goodman and Tom Bodett are exemplars of that model, and for years they worked on their projects, Goodman to earn his daily bread and Bodett as a hobbyist, making objects to give to family and friends.
But both men, quietly carving and shaping, cutting and joining, felt something was missing.
"I like talking about this with other woodworkers," said Bodett. "I like showing it off to people and sharing my knowledge."
But how to do that without traveling around the county and just dropping in on a fellow woodworker in his or her home shop? Thus was born the idea behind HatchSpace, a member-supported makerspace in a former warehouse on Frost Street in downtown Brattleboro.
"The idea originally started as a gallery and it's evolved into quite a bit more," said Goodman.
Bodett said as he developed HatchSpace with Goodman, they learned that many craftspeople were eager to join a community of like-minded people to share what they've learned or just to have a chance to shoot the breeze.
HatchSpace will still have dedicated gallery, but the majority of its footprint will be dedicated to a work area filled with tools large and small.
A fabulous resource
"Having a high-tech shop is something I've always wanted," said Rick Contino, who's an attorney and has been a builder for the past 10 years. "It's what I need to do to stay sane."
Contino, who works as a contractor renovating spaces and building furniture, said he does most of his work at his project sites. In the past, when he needed a shop, he was lucky enough to have the ability to use the equipment at Mathes Hulme Builders in Brattleboro.
"But doing a big project like what I am doing here is sort of an imposition," said Contino. When it comes to building furniture, or something with more detail, builders have to either make do on site or they have a shop at home, he said. But not everyone has or can afford the equipment that is being made available at HatchSpace. "This is a fabulous resource for other builders who might not have all the tools and money to invest in a shop at home. And it will be fun to work with people and collaborate on projects."
On the hunt for the right tools
Goodman, who is the executive director, and Bodett scoured the region to outfit the HatchSpace. They even purchased surplus tools — a lathe and a pair of sanding stations — from Brattleboro Area Middle School.
"Some of the larger industrial tools we've been able to find on the auction market at great rates," said Bodett. "The 20-inch planer we bought from a company going out of business." With the planer, said Bodet, "You can run two halves of a slab through there, join them and run it through and you have a tabletop. It takes hours and hours of hand work out of the equation."
He said HatchSpace has also received tools from some of its founding members. "Tom Franks essentially gave us his entire shop. Bruce Berg, a fine woodworker, is downsizing his shop and donated his tools to us. He knows he can come down and use them here. And Greg [Goodman] has brought all his tools here, too."
In addition, member Jim Mahoney donated a CNC router, which is a computer-operated wood cutter.
One of the pieces Bodett is most proud of is a 44-inch belt sander.
"Somebody doing a live-edge slab table could run a 40-inch tabletop through that," he said. Live edge is a style of carpentry where a craftsperson incorporates the natural edge of the wood into the finished product. "To do it without a sander is a lot of handwork. The sander we have is not the kind of thing most woodworkers would have but something they might use every once in a while."
HatchSpace also has available many of the tools you would see on a job site or in a home shop, including table saws, band saws, drill presses and joiners.
"We also have a panel saw for running plywood sheets through," said Bodett. "It's very accurate. Somebody who might want to build their own kitchen, they can come here and get these carcasses built and done with. It's the kind of thing that saves a lot of time and you end up with a much nicer job than throwing s skill saw around the garage."
A "carcass" in carpentry talk is an unfinished framework of a furniture piece designed for storage, such as a chest of drawers or wardrobe, without the drawers, doors, hardware, etc.
Lumber will be locally sourced through Kerber Farms Lumber Co. in Guilford and will be offered at HatchSpace for members to use for their projects.
It wasn't all smooth sanding
Goodman, who has been a woodworker in Brattleboro for 16 years and before that, worked on second homes in New York, said getting the space up and running has met some challenges.
"When you are building and trying to lay things out, nothing ever goes smoothly," said Goodman. "You throw out your plans pretty quickly."
First and foremost was getting the building wired with three-phase electricity to power the equipment.
"This was a 19,000-square-foot warehouse with just enough electricity to power a regular house," said Goodman. "We were also moving slower ourselves and it's better to move carefully rather than quickly."
"Upfitting the building was more than we anticipated," said Bodett. "Green Mountain Power had to set a new pole and they hit ledge. Now, finally, we have the tools in and we are getting them ready."
Member oriented and driven
The goal for the first year of HatchSpace is 50 members. So far, 25 woodworkers have signed member agreements. A number of those members have expressed interest in teaching, said Goodman. "People can start enrolling in beginner and intermediate classes pretty soon."
"We want to show people the basics, people who are just finding their way into the craft," said Bodett. "They'll learn by watching other people and from the classes we'll be offering. How wood works, how you work with wood, the different kinds of wood. Why you would use this wood over another in a certain situation."
Advisory board member and master craftsman Doug Cox said while he probably won't be teaching people how to make fine violins, he hopes to teach them how to use fine hand tools.
"My No. 1 interest is for people doing woodworking to get to know each other, to build community," said Cox, adding that he is impressed by the quantity and quality of equipment Bodett and Goodman have acquired.
"But part of me says don't use the machinery until you know how to build something by hand," he said. "But maybe that's just me being ornery."
Cox received his early training at the State Violin Making School in Mittenwald, Germany in the late 1960s.
"I've offered to do a workshop at HatchSpace on sharpening hand tools," said Cox. "That was basically the first thing I learned in violin school. There were other things I learned, of course, but the most valuable thing was sharpening tools."
"There are 100 ways to do something right," said Bodett. "We are not going to stand on ceremony here. But some of our master craftspeople, they earned the right to show you how they've been doing something for 40 years. Don't argue with them. Over the course of doing something 20 or 30 times, you may find a way that is more comfortable for you."
In addition to learning the basics, such as safety, finishing and joinery, said Bodett, HatchSpace will offer private instruction and one-on-one classes.
Member fees are $180 a quarter, with one month free to those who sign up for a year. Those who volunteer for two hours a week will get a 50-percent discount, said Bodett. HatchSpace will also be offering family memberships, but there will be some restrictions on what age children need to be to use certain equipment.
Bodett said folks won't need to be members to take workshops, but members will get discounts, and once HatchSpace really gets rolling, he and Goodman hope to expand into related areas, such as iron work and upholstery.
Bodett and Goodman are also applying for grants so he can offer tuition assistance for certain workshops and so he can subsidize classes for kids and teenagers.
With a little help from their friends
Bodett and Goodman have received assistance from Dyllan Nguyen, special projects and summer program coordinator at the Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts in Boston.
"He's given us some teacher training so we know how to teach woodworking," said Bodett.
Nguyen met Goodman at a craft show in 2017. "We chatted and swapped business cards," he said. "Since then I've been working with them on developing ideas on what it looks like to teach, especially for people who don't have a formal background in teaching."
Bodett said he and Goodman received invaluable help from the Richards Group, which helped them navigate issues related to insurance, liability and safety. They also received a low-interest line of credit from Brattleboro Savings & Loan and seed money from Dave Snyder and Sara Coffey, of Guilford Sound.
Snyder, who is not a woodworker, said he and Coffey donated seed money because they believe any organization that focuses on the best a community has to offer is good for the region's culture and its economy.
"We like the idea of craftspeople having access to machinery they would not have access to use or own at a reasonable price," said Snyder.
With that access will come some obligations as well, said Bodett.
"You understand when you are coming to HatchSpace, people are going to ask you questions and you will have to have patience for that," said Bodett. "At the same time, we expect you to have questions. Ask them but don't be a pest. There's a fine balance. If people want to come in and work and not be bothered, we'll have hours for that too. As we expand our hours we will be open later nights and early mornings."
The right time, the right place
Bodett said HatchSpace comes at the right moment for him, as he is winding down his professional career as an author, voice actor and a regular on NPR's "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!" For 30 years, Bodett has also been the spokesman for the motel chain Motel 6, ending commercials with the phrase, "I'm Tom Bodett for Motel 6, and we'll leave the light on for you."
"I've done a lot of cool things in my life and career, but nothing gives me the kind of joy that I get from woodworking," said Bodett. "I thought it was just something that I did and loved to do, but as I get older I realize it means a lot more to me than I thought it did. I want other people to get into woodworking, to share the joy and the calm it brings. It's the antidote to an ugly world, bringing something beautiful into the world."
For Bodett and other woodworkers, much of the joy attributed to woodworking is because it's a tactile experience — the feel, smell and sound of wood as you are working with it.
"Woodworking is beautiful and cantankerous and it will defy you. You can be so close to being there and then it blows up in your face," he said. "The one thing it really teaches is patience. You can get faster at woodworking, but if you are going to get better, you have to have patience. If you decide you are going to do the best possible work, it doesn't matter how long it takes you to do it."
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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