Building a life as a craftsman is not always easy. Sometimes it has it’s challenges and hurdles to overcome. This was the case for Canterbury, New Hampshire’s custom fine furniture maker, Tom McLaughlin.
Tom’s parents were both educators with expectations of college for all 7 of their children. But Tom, not being one for an office job, knew he was destined for other things. He was just not sure what that would be! To his parent’s surprise, at 13 years old, Tom broke with tradition, and enrolled in a vocational school carpentry program for his first two years of high school. Finding the academic side of the vocational program too simple, and mundane, Tom switched back to the high school college prep program for his junior and senior years. Moving on to college, he majored in mathematics, and graduated from the University of Massachusetts Lowell. During his college years, he also enjoyed working with his church, and youth group. At this point he decided in Seminary School, but felt after a while that he was not geared for that vocation either.
Shortly after that, Tom picked up a woodworking magazine, and noticed there were guys making a living out of the education he had originally started to acquire. He enjoyed working with his hands more than anything, and figured if they could do it, so could he! Realizing that woodworking was where his heart really lied, he visited his local Woodcraft store in Woburn, Massachusetts, and bought some woodworking tools and videos. Coming full circle, Tom began doing what he originally started to do, and began his career path into the depths of woodworking. The puzzle pieces of his life started coming together, then his fate fortuitously fell into the hands of Pug Moore.
Pug was 73, and had 60 years of furniture building experience learned from his father at the time that he was introduced to Tom through a seminary school friend. Tom would stop by the shop frequently to get ideas, and watch Pug in his craft. Moore was quietly well known, and regarded as the highest quality furniture craftsman up, and down the east coast. Pug’s work spoke for itself, and traveled through word of mouth, without any marketing efforts, yet he was behind in fulfilling 3 years’ worth of furniture orders, when he decided to have Tom be his apprentice. Tom learned everything he possibly could under Pug’s tutelage. Pug not only taught him the nuances of building 18th century custom fine furniture, but the respect for it, and how to run a business. Most of all the relationship grew with respect as well, like a grandfather, and grandson that neither one previously knew in their lives. Tom commented, “I held Pug in high regard, and always called Pug, Mr. Moore.”
Tom worked for Pug for 3 years, and they remained friends for a total of seven years. Pug finally retired, and Tom went on, renting woodshop space from a stone architect shop that had a woodshop, building furniture for the next 4 years, acquiring Pug’s customers, and new customers as time went on. Two more hurdles lurked ahead, unbeknownst to Tom. He began breaking ground for his new shop location on September 10th, 2001. We all remember the next day, September 11th, 2001, with the worst attack on American soil ever. This day was the same day Tom actually started clearing the land for the Canterbury woodshop, what is now known as McLaughlin Woods.
When I asked Tom what it was like starting his shop on that day, his first response was,“Now what do I do”, followed by, “I’ll just stick to my vision, and keep my focus.” I also asked him what he thought made it successful today, in lieu of the following business downside times of 9-11; he responded, “I have good clients, and plenty of work, so I never gave it a second thought, and kept busy.” Two years went by as Tom continued building custom furniture, and growing his new shop.
In 2003, Tom lost Pug, and he reaffirmed Pug’s teachings by passing on his skills to new, up and coming craftsman in the ways, and in the honor of Pug Moore. Tom stated, “This was a God ordained appointment between Pug and me, being at the right place at the right time in my life.” Tom thought the world of Pug, and reflects often in his shop of the acquired memories of the days in which he was learning in Pug’s shop. The sun coming through the windows at just the right angle on Pug’s pattern posts (photo below) that Pug passed on to Tom, now hanging in memory of Pug, and the aroma of the wood takes Tom back to those reminiscent days as well. Pug was 43 years Tom’s elder, as Tom’s protégé, Levi, is 25 years his younger student. Tom now teaches in the same mannerisms of Pug, with patients, respect, and the love of fine woodworking.
The Taunton Press cover photo on the book “The Workshop” written by Scott Gibson, is of Pug’s sunlit pattern posts in Tom’s shop, with the book featuring over 30 woodworkers including Pug and Tom, “celebrating the place where craftsmanship begins.” This book came out shortly after Pug’s passing, and Tom mentioned, “It was an ironic timely tribute to the man that inspired me.”
Tom is currently a member of the New Hampshire Furniture Masters Association (NHFMA), and has served as the former chairman. For the past 10 years, Tom and other members of the NHFMA have been providing woodworking seminars, each month to the New Hampshire State Prison inmates in a special section of the institution. The inmates learn woodworking, and make wood products in the hobby craft program, which are sold at the NHDOC Hobby Craft & Retail Store to the public. All inmates must qualify for this woodworking privileged program by waiting 1 year to get into it, and maintain clean records free from bad marks or disciplinary issues. The Furniture Masters Auction allows entries from the inmates, as some have won best in show awards. Some inmates that have served their time, are now woodworking, making a better life for themselves.
We met Tom in the Wood Expo 2011 at the New England Home Show, this past February. In sitting down and talking with him, I knew there was something special about him, his outlook, and his woodworking abilities. He unfolded his story to me during the following months, and as we continued our phone interviews, Tom put together two videos for us on the design, and build creation of his cuban mahogany, amboyna burl with ebony veneer lined Easy Chair No. 1, in which he won the Best in Show Award.
Here is the combined video…
…followed by a step by step pictorial build with captions video…
Tom teaches interactive, present day craftsmanship woodworking classes at McLaughlin Woods, and considers his well-suited attributes for the possibilities of teaching on a PBS television show of his own one day.
I’ll bet there will be an Easy Chair No. 2, somewhere in Tom’s woodworking future. We’ll look forward to seeing more good stuff from Tom!More information about Tom and McLaughlin Woods can be found at www.experiencewoodworking.com, www.mclaughlinwoods.com, and www.customfurnituremaster.com.
You may also pick up one of Tom’s brochures at the Woburn, MA Woodcraft store.