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Working With Wood

The Laker - April 17, 2017





By Kathi Caldwell-Hopper

(Photos courtesy Eisenmann Woodworking)

When you talk with master woodworker Phil Eisenmann, the word “custom” comes up a lot. Once you see a few of the pieces Phil creates at his studio in Gilmanton, NH, you can understand why the word “custom” is used with such frequency.

The furniture and other items Phil creates are true pieces of art, and they mix function and form incredibly well. Each piece is a labor of love for Phil, and he says taking his time and doing it right are very important.

“I came to be a woodworker in a round-about way,” Phil explains. “I am originally from the Cincinnati area, and I went to the University of NH (in Durham) for college. That is where I met my wife, Danielle. I thought I wanted to be a doctor and I was pre-med, getting a bachelor of science in biology.”

After getting his bachelor’s degree, Phil knew medical school would not be his chosen path. “I come from an engineering family and we think logically. But I knew I just wasn’t passionate about being a doctor.”

After moving back to the Midwest, Phil worked started working in construction and realized he enjoyed the sense of completion he got when making things.

After Phil and Danielle married, they decided to settle in New England. The Brick House in Gilmanton was opening, with an emphasis on country décor items. Phil and Danielle managed the store for the owners with the idea that Phil would make furniture to sell via the business. But the store took up a lot of their time and Phil, who knew he wanted to pursue woodworking, was time strapped.

By 1999, he took the plunge and went out on his own. Certainly it was a brave and some might say, risky move. However, the customers that commissioned pieces made by Phil knew quality when they saw it; by the year 2000 Phil was working full-time as a craftsman at his shop.

“There are ups and downs of running your own business,” he reflects. “But I value relationships with my clients and it has worked out well.”

Phil’s commute is very short – from his kitchen, it is a few steps to the barn studio where his woodworking is done. (The couple reside in a circa 1813 home in Gilmanton’s historic district.)

“We are a custom shop and we specialize in Early American Country formal furniture. Some pieces are Shaker inspired, and we create primitive pieces and contemporary as well,” he says. (According to www.eisenmannwoodworking.com, “Eisenmann Woodworking is dedicated to creating the highest quality furniture and cabinetry, possible. We build our furniture and cabinetry by using traditional joinery with mortise and tenon frames and doors, dovetailed drawers, hand-selected hardwoods to match patterns, and color. We also hand-apply our finishes.”

With the changing times of Millennials moving out of parent’s homes and renting or buying their own homes or condos, tastes have changed. No longer as popular with younger buyers are the Early American pieces Phil might create for a Baby Boomer-aged client. Instead, with an intuition that he would need to create new styles for changing tastes, Phil also does modern handmade wooden pieces and things in the Arts and Crafts style for younger clients.

Changing technology has also meant the things Phil designs have changed as well. “I used to make a lot of computer desks, but these days laptop computers are more portable and not as many people need a big desk with lots of spaces for hard drive towers and paper files.”

Phil still does entertainment centers and wet bars and kitchens, all custom pieces. He loves many kinds of wood and says recycling old wood into new pieces is a popular option for those who like the upcycled look.

“Today many of my customers are looking for functionality,” Phil adds. “They want things that are custom and well made, but can serve more than one purpose.”

That is good news for Phil, someone who thinks logically and enjoys the challenge of creating unique, multi-functional wooden pieces.

“I also want to build things to last for many generations that can be passed down through the years. These days I am also getting calls from clients asking me to create hidden rooms and secret drawers to hide things in, which is interesting,” he says.

Phil says he personally likes “figured woods” when asked what his favorite type of wood might be. He runs his hands over a long wooden table runner that has a smooth finish showings the darks and lights and the pattern of the wood, while retaining its rough bark edges. “I like to see the patterns and the activity in the burling of wood.”

He names walnut and cherry as among favorite woods to work with in the creation of anything from a table to a night stand to kitchen cabinets.

Caring for wood, once someone orders a custom piece, is not difficult. “It depends on the wood,” Phil says. “I use a lacquer finish which makes it easy to clean. I get wood from a number of sources, some local and some from other states.

With two teenage children, and a busy schedule, Phil has no immediate plans to move into a bigger shop. His studio suits his needs and keeps him close to home for all the commitments that raising children requires.

Danielle has stepped in to help Phil with marketing, which he says is not his strong suit. He knows aspects of marketing, such as social media, are very important, but with Danielle to help with that end of things, Phil is freed up to meet with clients and to work out and create custom pieces that can range from an entire kitchen to a simple night stand or a Shaker inspired chair.

Customers learn about Phil’s shop usually by word-of-mouth or a potential client will see something Phil made in a friend’s home. His clients are people who appreciate finely crafted furnishings and understand that it will take time to create the piece they want.

From smaller wooden pieces to full-scale kitchen cabinetry or a dining room table and chairs, Phil loves the challenge of making custom pieces.

Those who want to talk with Phil and see his work, plan to visit his studio, located near Gilmanton Four Corners. The wooden sign by the driveway alerts the traveler they have arrived. (Phil says it is best to call ahead to make an appointment.) Call 603-267-7912 or visit www.eisenmannwoodworking.com.

 

 

 

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