Woodworking, alongside many other crafts, has been enjoying a revival in recent years. Part of it is because more people are looking into unique hobbies or pastimes, thanks to the Maker Movement. For some, however, it’s their livelihood. Johnathan Moran of Johnathan Moran Woodworks is one of the latter. Founded in 1999, Moran specializes in cabinets, slab top tables, and working with reclaimed wood. With the help of his wife and three sons, he’s provided the Pittsburgh area with plenty of stellar woodwork- and Inventionland with a few answers to our questions.
Inventionland (IL): What inspired you to get into woodworking?
Jonathan Moran (JM): My father. He was a woodworker and had a business. From a young age, I helped him rebuild furniture. That’s when my interest started.
IL: How do you study woodworking? IE, were you privately trained or self-taught, etc.
JM: I’m completely self-taught: trial and error.
IL: What are some of the challenges you commonly face as a woodworker?
JM: Probably the biggest challenge- and it’s why I love woodworking- is when customers want something custom and I need to think of a way to meet their needs and requirements. I like being challenged and I’ve always been the type to get bored easily. Woodworking is a profession that constantly lets me think outside of the box, create something functional but aesthetically pleasing. Especially if they’re paying me lots of money (laughs).
IL: Why do you think there’s such a large revival for crafts like wood and metalworking?
JM: I think it’s because people (especially the younger generation) are starting to appreciate unique pieces that only custom work can provide. They’re also looking for things they can make themselves, which is leading to the revival of crafts like woodworking and pottery. It’s particularly big in Pittsburgh.
IL: What is the most ambitious project you’ve worked on?
JM: Probably our retail store, where we had to outfit the entire store with work I’ve made. I make a lot of custom pieces but making a large number of similar projects for our retail store was probably the most ambitious undertaking.
IL: Any advice for amateur woodworkers reading this?
JM: I would say “Do not give up or do not get angry when you make a mistake.” Mistakes are learning lessons and you’ll learn not to make them again. Over my 30-40 year career, I’ve made more mistakes than I can count. Try to be creative, but don’t give up. Things will usually work out.
IL: You tend to work with reclaimed wood. Does this pose any unique challenges? (Note: reclaimed wood refers to wood previously used in another project as a form of recycling.)
JM: I like reclaimed wood because of the age of it. There’s a history to it, coming from old buildings and barns and the like. The challenge is they’re never dimensionally the same, so getting it to fit together can be difficult. Even acquiring it can be difficult, since you need to find it or get it in some other fashion.
Retrieving usually involves ripping down some sort of old structure, such as a barn or old house or building. Then the cleaning and de-nailing is also lots more work. Most of the wood I use is over 100 years old. It’s challenging, but that’s the appeal.
IL: Just for fun- what kind of wood, besides reclaimed, is your favorite to work with?
JM: Walnut! It’s a very easy wood to work with and has a beautiful grain.
The maker movement shows no signs of slowing down, and neither does Moran. With a pile of reclaimed wood and a bit of time and patience, he’s able to create a masterpiece of a centerpiece table. With the same materials, practice, and patience, you could, too.
Johnathan Moran Woodworks can be found on Facebook, Instagram, or their website at https://www.jthn-moran.com. Their retail store is located on 19th Street in Pittsburgh, PA.