Developing a Wood Thumb in San Francisco

Cozily located between Folsom and Harrison, only a few blocks away from the hustle and bustle of Market Street, is the sign for Wood Thumb, a large, hands-on space ready to release the craftsman in all of us. Wood Thumb, technically housed at 354 5th Street, was the creation of brothers Christopher and David Steinrueck only seven years ago, who aimed to take (mostly) ordinary, salvage wood and create something extraordinary with it.

Although they teach classes for the everyday individual who has never touched a power tool in their twenty/thirty-some-odd years of life, the studio space is actually a working facility for small batch production furniture you’ve drooled over in Anthropologie, Restoration Hardware, and Urban Outfitters.

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So, are you ready to jump into an assembly line and start producing 3,000 shelves?! Probably not, so it’s a good thing you actually get to work step-by-step and create your own Wood Thumb designed piece that you’ll treasure forever and ever.

Welcome to Class

I attended Wood Thumb’s Wedge Table class through Verlocal and was more than excited to put the finished product to immediate use in my NOPA living room. To start off the class, Christopher went through the history behind Wood Thumb – how Wood Thumb got its start, the creation and production of small batch furniture, and a bit about the artisans that work there. He also had some words of wisdom for those in class, saying that it all comes down to the journey:

“My main goal is to show people how
easy it is to make stuff.”

Coming from a family centered around woodworking and genuine craftsmanship, this was all music to my ears. It’s worth noting, however, that when asking the group of around 10 who had previously worked with wood before, I was the only hand raised. The majority of the group was doing this for the very first time and that made documenting the instruction and process even more incredible.

⚠️ Spoiler alert: every single person made a seriously beautiful piece of custom furniture that could have easily been sold in a magazine.

Introduction to Wood 101

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We had the opportunity to learn about wood, specifically wood grains and how the grain can dictate weakness or strength, all the way down to a cellular level. This makes a huge difference when choosing how to saw into the wood as well – knowing whether it will be an easy cut with the wood cells, or more difficult and working against them.

The Exciting World of Power Tools

Although some of the pieces had been pre-cut at precise angles to ensure everything fit together, the class had an opportunity to learn more about safely using the electric saw and making some measured cuts into the wood.

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Setting down our freshly cut sides and taking the tops of our tables with us, we moved over to a room with three routers, a tool I was unfamiliar with. This tool makes an exact cut in the edge of the wood to give you that rounded edge look. We learned that slow and steady is best when using the router, as going too fast could create uneven bumps in your table’s edge.

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From here, we received direction on assembling the puzzle-like wedge table with glue and a nail gun, along with wood-burning, sanding, and the final step of staining. Chris definitely made operation of the nail gun look like a cakewalk, but we all quickly learned (or at least I quickly learned) how difficult it is to use, specifically at an angle. I had quite a few nails decide to come out the other end since I couldn’t approximate the angle the gun needed to be at. Of course, I was pretty much done assembling my table once I finally got the hang of the nail length, but thankfully, Chris was able to either hammer them out or chop them off so they didn’t show on my finished table.

The Finishing Touches

According to Chris, putting your touch on the finished table was essential, acknowledging the work you put into the piece from start to finish. My past experience with wood burning tools is that they are pretty much impossible to use, so I stuck to a basic design and created letters out of dots. Others opted to burn initials, names or other creative designs into their own tables.

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After extensive hand sanding at our own pace – “you’ll know you’re done when you can’t physically sand any longer!” – I dusted off my table and joined the group at the staining area. Wood Thumb provided a bunch of different colors, dark and light, to stain the tables. Since the stain is absorbed quickly and dry to the touch after wiping it down, we were able to wrap them in some paper and immediately take them home with us. I’ll probably go out and pick up some clear coat for the table, just to ensure it doesn’t get harmed by accidental spills and moisture.

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Schoooool’s Out For Soma

Wood Thumb is really doing something incredible for San Francisco. As my spoiler alert stated above, every single participant took home something exquisite, and that really speaks volumes to both the instruction and the way the class unfolded.

They take the time to create and design not only the furniture and the process in which it's assembled for production at scale, but the way they teach others, most of whom have never worked with wood before, on how to build it and build it well.

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Many people can feel defeated when it comes to DIY projects – working tirelessly to make something just like the picture and, at completion, feel turned off by the entire experience. Wood Thumb debunks this. Walk in with all the experience, or none at all – creative juices flowing, or maybe a bit parched in that area – and I promise you will leave not only surprised, but also pretty proud of yourself.

A huge thank you to Wood Thumb and all of my classmates for allowing me to document the class!

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