PORT TOWNSEND — From his two-story workshop, Matthew Straughn-Morse softly used a small hammer to remove the main piece from a secretary desk made of black walnut.
He was down to the small details Tuesday morning, drilling small holes in the top and showing a metal mechanism inside the desk that allows a drawer to sit on a foundation which protrudes as the drawer is pulled out.
Straughn-Morse, 37, a former instructor at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking at Fort Worden, will be one of several exhibitors this weekend at the Port Townsend Woodworkers Show.
The two-day event will be at the American Legion Hall, 209 Monroe St. The show will be open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free.
Carvers, instrument makers, sculptors and furniture makers also will have pieces to show, event organizer Tim Lawson said. Both Port Townsend and Chimacum high schools will have booths, too.
Straughn-Morse’s secretary desk will be for sale in addition to a few three-legged stools with wicker on the seating area. He hadn’t set prices as of Tuesday.
As he used a flathead screwdriver to tighten up the hinges, Straughn-Morse talked about his woodworking background, which began in earnest in a church in Appelton, Wisc.
Even though he’d had access to tools as long as he could remember, it was the mechanisms through which pipe organs were built that laid the path toward handtools.
That was in 2006, about a year and a half after Straughn-Morse finished college at Lawrence University, a liberal arts school in Appleton.
“After high school and college, I did some home remodeling,” he said, “but I was definitely not a carpenter yet.”
Straughn-Morse met a man whose father owned the pipe organ shop. It happened to be in an old church with architecture Straughn-Morse adored.
While he’d played piano and the cello as he grew up, Straughn-Morse said music wasn’t a critical part of the job. He worked as part of the three-man team and estimated he built 13 different pipe organs in four-and-a-half years.
“There were all sorts of mechanical interactions,” Straughn-Morse said. “A rough estimate would be 10,000 parts.”
One of the organs took about two-and-a-half years with all three working on it nearly full-time, he said.
“I learned most of what I know from working there,” he said.
Originally from Madison, Wisc., Straughn-Morse viewed it as an apprenticeship. He was interested in traditional woodworking and was thankful for the father-and-son team that gave him an opportunity.
“I had a very vague sense that this was where I wanted to go eventually, although I wouldn’t have been able to put it into words,” he said.
Straughn-Morse learned about the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Hadlock after one of the school’s graduates went to Appleton and made canoes and kayaks for use on the Fox River.
In 2011, he moved to Jefferson County to enroll at the school. Soon afterward, he was hired at the Northwest Maritime Center, where he worked in the boatshop.
“At that time, they were just maintaining their own fleet of boats, and I was doing basic repair, painting and varnishing,” he said. “I got to do a little bit of teaching when some of the school groups would come through.”
Lawson, who founded the school of woodworking with Jim Tolpin and John Marckworth, invited Straughn-Morse to be a teaching assistant at the Fort Worden campus about five years ago.
Eventually, Straughn-Morse led handtool and woodworking classes, including some courses he designed on his own.
One of them was a three-month class that taught the foundation of woodworking. Those classes were 40 hours per week, although many students spent up to 60 hours per week in the classroom, he said.
“It was really what an apprentice might have learned over a couple of years, and we would do it in a three-month class,” Straughn-Morse said.
In the past 18 months, he’s been able to step away to start his own company, Straughn-Morse Woodworks, with hopes that he can grow it into a self-sustaining business.
He prefers solid woods such as black walnut, cherry, maple, poplar and ash, and he wants to focus on furniture.
“I’d really like to be at a point where I’m earning a living but not asking for an unreasonable amount for things,” Straughn-Morse said.
Eventually, he’d like his own storefront and to be able to support two or three employees.
Straughn-Morse hopes this weekend’s show will be the perfect time to launch a business-related website and Instagram social media page.
Just like the scale drawing on an easel that showed how the mechanics would work inside the secretary desk, Straughn-Morse is approaching his next step with precision rather than accuracy.
“I’m blown away that it works,” he said.
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].