What’s really behind door No. 1

“It’s not a beginner’s book, per se, but a beginner would get a lot out of it,” explains local woodworker Andy Rae, author of Building Doors & Drawers: A Complete Guide to Design and Construction (Taunton Press, 2007). “Probably the primary reader in terms of skill level would be an intermediate woodworker,” he continues. “There are all sorts of tips and tricks to doing things, so experts would get something out of it, too.”

Rae, who moved to Asheville nearly eight years ago, was drawn by the vibrant arts community as well as the convenient location: halfway between his wife’s family in Mississippi and his in New York and New Jersey. Rae is a bit of a coup for Western North Carolina. He studied with woodworking superstars George Nakashima and Frank Klausz before breaking out on his own. He was awarded a New Jersey Council of the Arts Fellowship for furniture design and served as senior editor at American Woodworker magazine for six years.

These days, the furniture maker is an in-demand instructor nationwide whose expertise is sought after (he published a regular woodworking blog at Taunton.com). His work is on exhibit locally at the Grovewood Gallery, and he plans to teach through the Asheville Hardware school this spring.

But for experienced and new woodworkers looking to gain from Rae’s expertise right now, his line of instructional books (including The Complete Illustrated Guide to Furniture & Cabinet Construction and Taunton’s Complete Illustrated Guide to Working with Wood, among others) is a good starting point.

“There’s just a lack of information about building high-end doors and drawers, and there wasn’t really anything on the market that served that,” the author notes. “It’s also the basis of fine furniture. You can’t get a piece of furniture made without dealing with doors and drawers, for the most part. It’s the first thing you see when you’re building or delivering something.” Since woodworkers know that, they’re continually seeking out new ways to up the doors-and-drawers ante.

Rae adds, “It’s 90 percent of what you see … so it pays to spend time learning to do that correctly, with a certain amount of style and panache.”

Unlike the high-concept, sculptural wood designs spotted at local galleries, Rae describes his work as “high-end furniture-related items, whether they’re built-ins or stand-alone pieces.” These are functional items, more about craftsmanship than handicraft.

But to read through Doors is not to stumble into a world of complex mysteries and uncrackable codes. Instead, the book—even to the reader who wouldn’t know a dovetail from a mortise and tenon—is immediately accessible, with exciting project ideas, straightforward text (“A sweet, smooth-acting door is directly related to its hinges, so it pays to get the best”) and plenty of photos.

“I’ve been shooting for almost 20 years now,” says Rae, who photographed the book’s images. He learned to parlay pretty pictures into a teaching tool while at American Woodworker. Rae points out that successful book images involve not simply the mechanics of shooting photographs, but understanding how to set up a woodworking shop so the pictures have informational impact.

The woodworker, who has a studio at the Phil Mechanic Building in the River Arts District, splits his time between furniture design, teaching and writing. “It’s still very difficult to make a living in Asheville, but I think that there’s more and more support for the arts,” he says. “This town is growing by leaps and bounds right now, so there is definitely support coming in to make it a go for all kinds of crafts and arts.”

who:Andy Rae
what:Slideshow about woodworking and talk about Building Doors & Drawers: A Complete Guide to Design and Construction
when:Saturday, Jan. 26 (7 p.m. Free. 254-6734)

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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