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After years working in garage, woodworker breaks out

Furniture maker Josh Jackson in his Pasadena, Calif., wood shop, Arbor Exchange, on Oct. 11. Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Time

Although he studied religion and philosophy in college, woodworker Josh Jackson found his calling eight years ago after reading Matthew Crawford's book "Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work."

"That book changed my life," said the 39-year-old father of three. "I read it and thought 'That's it. I'm out.'"

Like Crawford, who left his job at a think tank and found joy working with his hands as a motorcycle mechanic, Jackson left his desk job selling computers and started making furniture in his garage, using the basic carpentry skills he learned from his grandfather.

He started with reclaimed wood, which he describes as "forgiving," and moved on to a Midcentury Modern-style collection made from sustainable hardwoods such as black walnut, white oak, hard maple, walnut and reclaimed Douglas fir.

His clean-lined minimalist pieces — headboards, dining room tables, bedside tables, shelving and credenzas — are made to order. Lately, in an effort to use fallen trees, he has been crafting elegant tables from massive live-edge wood slabs that he dries in a solar kiln in Altadena.

"It's such a shame to see downed trees," he said. "Why not re-purpose the wood slabs?"

It took two years working out of his garage before he established himself as a woodworker.

In the last couple of years, his workload has expanded to include roughly 70 percent custom work for homeowners and businesses — on a recent studio visit, Jackson was building 25 tables and benches for Tastea Tea House — and 30 percent made-to-order pieces from his minimalist collection.

Last year, he opened Arbor Exchange next to Lincoln in a former L.A. Steelcraft building in Pasadena, Calif. In June, he realized a dream when he opened a small retail space next to the wood shop featuring handmade goods by local artists and friends: shop assistant John Chao, artist Noah Smith, Humble Ceramics, Meredith Metcalf Ceramics and Dave O'Brien of Hawk and Stone Furniture.

After years spent sitting behind a computer, Jackson appreciates the intellectual benefits of manual work and the joys of working with his hands.

"It's so fun to be a part of a community," he said. "As a furniture maker, there is so much energy and careful attention to detail that goes into each and every piece we make. The beauty in all of the effort is that one day soon, a family will be gathered around it to share a meal together, to have a glass of wine, to discuss the day's activities.

"And this table will be with this family for years and years to come, through all of the changes and ups and downs and kids getting older," he said. "As a maker, this process of making something by hand for a family is what makes my job so meaningful."


Learn more about Arbor Exchange at