As we approach our best-loved holiday, Thanksgiving, it seems appropriate to write a little something about giving, as in giving back. As kids we were involved in scouts and in our faith communities. As adults, we’ve served with a variety of organizations from the Red Cross to Touch of Relief and more faith communities. Over the years, we’ve also been fortunate to create links between woodworking and giving back.
In the early 2000s, Sean received an opportunity to volunteer with an organization in India. The Apne Aap Women’s Collective helps trafficked girls, women and their children transition out of the red-light district. One pathway out of that life is education. Sean was invited to the organization’s Calcutta school to teach woodworking skills to children.
With a bare-bones budget, he formed a classroom, designed a teaching program, sourced materials and tools, and taught foundational math and design skills to more than 20 boys and girls. They learned how to use hand tools to saw, plane, shape, carve, and more over the course of six months. After completing their studies, four of the boys successfully formed their own furniture-making business!
The Apne Aap program was so well-received that Sean was invited back to India for another three months. The second trip was to the Himalayas to aid the Society for Integrated Development of the Himalayas in establishing a trade school in Kempty. Sean assisted in physically building the school as well as setting up another foundational course in woodworking.
Here in the Shenandoah Valley, we are enjoying new volunteer opportunities with the Staunton Makerspace. Being next-door neighbors (literally) makes it an obvious partnership. We’ve been helping the Makerspace team set up shop in their new-to-them space—building walls, setting up woodworking equipment, prepping the pottery space, and more. We’re really looking forward to teaching classes once they’re fully up and running.
We’re also extremely excited about the chance to offer apprenticeships now that we have a big enough space of our own. We are exploring the possibility of a partnership with Valley Career and Technical Center. More to follow as that vision unfolds!
Giving back is such a wonderful way to connect with people in our communities. It’s also a blessing to be able to pay it forward. Our families are big on service—teachers, public servants, providers of medical care, and volunteers. If you’ve never had the chance to volunteer in the long-term, we highly recommend it. Studies show that volunteering is good for your health! Even if you only volunteer a handful of times each year, have some fun with it. Your future self will thank you for it!
We’re not against technology—we love our Festools, too. Carving every piece without the aid of power tools (saws, joiners, sanders) would take ages. But when it comes to the artistry of a piece—those subtle touches that make it closer to sculpture than furniture—the human eye and hand create something so much more enriching to your home than a piece derived from even the most carefully crafted, creative design sifted through code and into the wood.
There’s a subtlety of character that comes with the use of hand tools. Using a planer and chisels, hand cutting veneer and hand sanding the fiddly bits, brings something uniquely personal to each and every piece we make. The invisible marks of the artisan remain in every fitted joint, every sculpted angle, every hand-carved pattern.
This is what it means to celebrate craftsmanship in furniture. This is how we deliver heirloom-worthy products to our clients. This is why we love what we do.
Sustainability is a core business tenet at Lambkin Studios. One dictionary definition of sustainability is: the rate of renewable resource harvest, pollution creation, and non-renewable resource depletion that can be continued indefinitely. We are very aware that building furniture consumes natural resources. Working in a manner that ensures minimal consumption as well as minimal pollution creation is part of the environmental stewardship ethic we practice. We believe it’s the right way to do business.
Wood materials that we use in our furniture are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or other like-minded organizations to ensure they’ve been sustainably harvested. FSC’s certification program follows the chain of custody from the land to the lumber yard. To establish this chain of custody, FSC has partnered with organizations around the globe to verify that all wood products bearing an FSC label are harvested from forests and woodlands that are managed in an environmentally sound way. The certification process also ensures that the forests provide benefits to their local communities. The process offers a way for local communities to have a say in how their resources are managed.
Environmentally friendly products are not only beneficial for the planet, they’re often beneficial for humans as well. For example, we use water-based finishes, not just because they’re more environmentally friendly than oil-based finishes from a disposal standpoint but, because water-based finishes also have lower volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than oil-based finishes.
Have you ever realized that you just walked into a freshly painted room based solely on the fact that you can still smell the paint fumes in the air? Part of what you’re smelling are the VOCs. They act as irritants to sensitive organs such as eyes and noses. Long-term exposure in confined spaces (e.g., indoors) can result in adverse health consequences. Low VOC content means that the product off-gasses (i.e., completes the process of releasing VOCs into the air) within a matter of days vs. months. This is why we used water-based finishes on our furniture and cabinets.
Do water-based finishes cost more? Yes, they do. Do environmentally sustainable wood products cost more? Often, they do. But, we believe the investment is worthwhile for the long-term health of our clients and our earthly home. To learn more about the importance of forest sustainability, visit the FSC’s page on Why Forests Matter.
We all love objects that have stories to tell. One of our favorite projects to date was for a client in DC. Let’s call her Mary. She and her family reside in a more-than-a-century old home, the front porch of which needed to be completely replaced. Rather than remove the porch and scrap all the wood, Mary saved much of the wood in the hopes that it could be reused. She contacted us to see whether we could recycle any of the reclaimed material into furniture for her family home.
When she said the porch had been made of pine, we were a bit skeptical about what could be done with it until she mentioned the age of the home. We decided that if the porch were original, the joists might be as well. We were not disappointed. The timbers were, indeed, old growth southern yellow pine. As supports for the porch, the wood was perfectly air dried, not a drop of residual pine sap.
We assessed the volume of usable wood and spent a few hours with Mary discussing what she’d like to see made from the reclaimed timbers. We exchanged design ideas, finding just the right size and shape for each custom piece to suit her family’s needs. In the end, we made a round kitchen table, several small tables, and, the pièce de résistance, a coffee table for the front porch itself. The wood that made this new furniture had given shelter, strength, play space, and a welcoming entry to a home for more than 100 years as a porch—this wood that would otherwise be destined for the trash heap after such long service—it was reclaimed and woven back in to the story of this home and its family.
We loved the chance to make cherished objects to honor these beautiful former trees and the families that have loved this home. This wood now offers a casual, warm setting for passing the time with friends in the neighborhood, several serviceable workspaces from which new ideas will flow, and a gathering place for family meals for many years to come. We hope that these handcrafted tables will become new family heirlooms, reminding this family of its own history in our nation’s capital.
Laura Lambkin is co-owner and assistant maker at Lambkin Studios.