Men and women have been woodworking for ages, but over the years a number of woodworkers have distinguished themselves from the rest.
In this article, I’m going to highlight 17 famous woodworkers, focusing on their contributions to the woodworking world, how they came to be experts, and their unique woodworking techniques and philosophies. Let’s dig in!
1. Sam Maloof
Born in 1934, Californian Sam Maloof would eventually become the nation’s preeminent manufacturer of handcrafted furniture, winning more awards than any of his contemporaries.
His pieces were sought-after for decades, and eventually his furniture would even make it to the White House; one of his rocking chairs was brought here in 1982.
Part of what makes his story so special is that he taught himself woodworking. He discovered a love for this in adulthood and was encouraged by his wife to pursue it.
Sam Maloof’s walnut furniture was popular throughout the 1950s, especially on the West Coast. This makes sense since he was a leader in the Los Angeles modern design movement.
He was also a big proponent of the moral and spiritual values that underpinned hand craftsmanship, and once said it was a “gift” to be able to “work with materials without destroying their natural beauty and warmth.”
A lot of modern furniture manufacturers include elements of Sam Maloof’s designs in their pieces, which speaks to the great impact he had on the world of woodworking.
2. Wharton Esherick
Wharton Esherick is another famous woodworker and furniture maker of the 20th century. Born in 1887, Esherick would grow up in Paoli, Pennsylvania, where he’d eventually begin his lifelong journey in the woodworking business.
He didn’t just create furniture but woodblocks and sculptures too.
A proponent of handwork, he didn’t start using power tools until the 1960s. However, before this he did use a bandsaw that was constructed out of bicycle wheels. His most famous woodworking projects were created by hand.
His style and methods were greatly influenced by the Shaker settlers of Pennsylvania, whose woodworking skills are still regarded as some of the finest ever.
Many woodworkers and furniture makers who came after him would incorporate elements of his work in theirs, which means it’s reasonable to call him one of the most famous woodworkers.
After his death, Esherick’s studio would become the Wharton Esherick Museum. If you’d like to see classic wood furniture and art, this is a place worth visiting.
3. Matthias Wandel
Matthias Wandel is a 21st-century woodworker who has millions of views and subscribers on YouTube. A native of Canada, Wandel is a former engineer who makes incredible, intricate machines out of wood.
His videos are must-watch content for lovers of woodworking and engineering. This video where he makes a wooden combination lock is particularly interesting, as is this one where he makes an elaborate wooden marble machine.
Wandel has said that he prefers working with wood over metal because you can cut it quick and it’s easy to alter. Wandel’s love for woodworking came from a desire to simplify his life with custom-made machines.
And these days Wandel isn’t just doing woodworking as a hobby; he also sells his machines through his site.
He takes orders every now and then, but he only manufactures complex mechanisms and machines. Once he was asked if he’d build a simple wooden clock for someone; he brushed off the question, replying: “Why would I build a wooden clock? That’s been done before.”
4. Christopher Kurtz
Recipient of the Louis Comfort Tiffany and New York Foundation For the Arts Awards, Christopher Kurtz is a wood sculptor and furniture maker.
A student of Martin Puryear, he’s affiliated with some of the most respected gallerists in the world, and he’s been featured in numerous publications.
For over 15 years, he’s been dazzling and inspiring audiences around the world with his spectacular woodworking projects, and he’s won numerous awards.
A Lily Auchincloss fellow and a woodworking modernist, he does include traditional elements in many of his exhibits, providing balance and demonstrating that old and new can coexist.
His woodworking exhibits also show how wood can be carved and shaped into spectacular sculptures and used to express commentary about the world in which we live.
5. Julian Watts
Julian Watts is an American woodworker who specializes in wood sculpting. He creates sculptures that resemble the human body, different facets of landscapes, and the objects we use every day.
He uses mostly traditional woodworking methods but incorporates his modern, unique style.
According to his official website, through his art Watts strives to show how essential items and furniture made with wood—one of the world’s most abundant resources—demonstrate that we as humans are more connected and reliant on our environment than we realize.
Exhibiting on a global scale, Watts has had the opportunity to exhibit at both the London Design Museum and the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art.
He’s also been featured in numerous publications, such as the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, Architectural Digest, and the New Yorker.
6. Arthur Esperet Carpenter
Arthur Esperet Carpenter, another California product, was an expert furniture maker and woodworker. His wishbone chair and desk with scalloped seashell sides earned him international acclaim.
He joined the Baulines Craft Guild in the 1970s, and while there he inspired the next generation of woodworkers and furniture makers.
After his death, many of his pieces ended up in museums, including the Smithsonian Institution, the Oakland Museum, LACMA in Los Angeles, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.
He received numerous awards during his woodworking career, wrote a book that was published posthumously by his wife and son, and was even declared a “California living treasure” in 1984.
In short, Arthur Esperet Carpenter was a staple of the American woodworking world in the 20th century, and the exquisite pieces he crafted show how an expert woodworker’s love for fine furniture can lead to some truly incredible creations.
7. James Krenov
James Krenov is another one of the famous woodworkers. Author of four time-tested books on woodworking, James Krenov was a master cabinet craftsman whose methods and philosophy are still adhered to in modern times.
During his life, he taught at several colleges and universities, received a number of awards, and was respected on an international level as a master woodworker.
Toward the middle of his woodworking career in the early 1980s, he moved to California, where he’d start the College of the Redwoods’ Fine Woodworking School.
Even when he could no longer see in his old age, he was still able to make planes just by touching the wood.
After his death, his work was scooped up by numerous museums, and today he’s represented not only in Sweden (his home country) but in Norway, Japan, and the U.S. as well.
8. Wendell Castle
Wendell Castle was a American woodworker and furniture maker, one who specialized in American craft. He’s part of the “Big Four” in the woodworking community, along with George Nakashima, Wharton Esherick, and Sam Maloof.
Some have even gone as far as to call him the “father of the art furniture movement.”
Inventor of the “stack lamination” woodworking technique, which was originally developed to make duck decoys, Castle boasted that this technique provided “infinite flexibility” and allowed the woodworker to control the shape and form of the piece like never before.
And unlike many of the other famous woodworkers on this list, Wendell Castle wasn’t only a woodworking master but also an expert with metal and plastic.
During his life, he won numerous awards, including the Golden Plate Award and the Visionaries of the American Craft Movement Award.
After his death, his works would end up in museums around the world, though most of his famous pieces can be found in American museums.
9. Jory Brigham
Jory Brigham is a present day woodworker and furniture maker who’s known for using hand-operated woodworking tools and natural materials over power tools and other aspects of mechanized woodworking.
He embraces classic woodworking methods and philosophy, but he incorporates his modern ideas and interpretations flawlessly. Brigham is a strong proponent of the idea that no two pieces are identical.
Brigham is also an advocate of the philosophy that good woodworking is born of patience and restraint, and it often takes him weeks to determine what he wants to do with a specific piece of wood.
And when he’s crafting, he allows the wood to guide him, as he doesn’t want to impose his will on the wood and destroy its natural uniqueness.
Jory Brigham crafts tables, storage solutions, seating, a range of entertainment furniture, and beds. He’s also a wood sculptor, one who’s exhibited internationally and sold numerous pieces to both private and corporate collectors.
10. Brandon Walker
Brandon Walker is a woodworker who makes woodworking content for his popular social media channels. He’s big on Youtube, Instagram, and TikTok.
He takes you along for the ride as he undertakes a woodworking project, and he not only covers the actual woodworking but the design and prep stages too.
Walker also hosts a podcast that’s dedicated to woodworking, and on his official site he lists all the woodworking tools in his wood shop.
Watching his content and reading his blog posts are both recommended if you want to get started in the world of woodworking.
You can learn the basic skills from Walker before you start studying from the best woodworkers, many of whom are no longer around to teach their methods to modern audiences.
Back in the day, if you wanted to take up woodworking professionally, you had to study under a renowned woodworker or attend an art institute. Nowadays, however, you can follow a Youtube channel like Brandon Walker’s and learn how to create beautiful pieces from the comfort of your home woodworking shop.
11. Ben Butler
Ben Butler Co. is a company that specializes in manufacturing wooden dining room tables and decorative wooden wall art. Based in Boise, Idaho, this company was founded by Ben Butler, an American woodworker who’s been in the business for decades.
Ben studied woodworking at the Art Institute of Chicago, and these days—in addition to running a successful business, he maintains a solid social media presence (mainly on Youtube) where he discusses his methods and philosophy and provides tips and tricks to aspiring woodworkers.
12. Aron Demetz
Aron Demetz is an Italian wood sculptor, one who specializes in crafting standing naked figures (men and women).
What’s fascinating about Aron Demetz’s sculptures is they seem incredibly lifelike; they have delicate, smooth skin and their facial expressions are as real as it gets.
He’s also made similar sculptures using warped wood, and these resemble injured or horribly disfigured individuals.
Demetz, like some of the other wood artists discussed already, strives to show the relationships humans have with nature through his works.
He also likes to show the vulnerability of wood in his pieces, for he believes humans are equally vulnerable. That’s why he includes burned wood and warped wood in his sculptures.
Demetz has exhibited not just in his native Italy but throughout Europe, the US, and elsewhere.
13. Frank Howarth
Frank Howarth is another American woodworker who’s made a name for himself on the internet using stop-motion videos to teach his woodworking methods.
Although he’s based in Portland, Oregon now, he studied architecture on the East Coast, earning degrees from both Cornell and Harvard.
Howarth was woodworking long before he discovered his passion for filmmaking, but now he records his work and runs a Youtube channel that millions visit for woodworking tips, tricks, and knowledge.
Like many other woodworkers, Howarth includes all the tools he uses on his official website. And he doesn’t just do woodworking but home remodeling projects as well.
So if you want to make your own cabinets, chairs, or tables, check out this content creator.
14. George Nakashima
George Nakashima was a famous furniture maker and woodworker, one who’s often considered to be the leader of the American craft movement in the 20th century. He won many awards throughout his lifetime, and the Emperor of Japan bestowed upon in the Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1983.
George Nakashima started woodworking and furniture making in Seattle in the early 1940s, but because of his Japanese heritage he was sent to an interment camp during WWII. It was here that Nakashima learned to master Japanese handtools and joinery techniques, and he also learned the value of patience and discipline while imprisoned.
After he was released, he was able to start his own studio and workshop. Eventually he’d become known for his furniture making, and at one point Nelson Rockefeller commissioned him to make 200 pieces for his home in Pocantico Hills, New York.
Today, George Nakashima’s home and studio in New Hope, Pennsylvania is designated a National Historic Landmark, and one of his workshops in Japan has been transformed into a museum that’s full of his work.
Nakashima was not only an expert woodworker but a deep thinker too, one who believed the individual could reach spiritual enlightenment and achieve peace of mind through woodworking.
After his death, George Nakashima’s business was inherited by his daughter, and to this day she runs it and keeps his legacy alive.
15. Jimmy DiResta
Jimmy DiResta is a sculptor, woodworker, video producer, and artist. He works with a range of materials—not just wood.
DiResta has been featured in several television series, in movies, and he’s also written several articles on building, visual art, and home design. He is a favorite personality among DIY remodelers and is known for being one of those people who can find beauty even in the most basic household items.
16. Mario Dilitz
Mario Dilitz is a woodworker and sculptor who uses traditional techniques and philosophy to create sculptures that speak to contemporary issues.
Some of his pieces are polarizing, and many of them force observers to confront ugly truths about the human existence.
He creates life-size sculptures using high-quality laminated wood, and he follows a destruction-construction process to create his work. He also uses special red glue to distinguish his wood.
Dilitz is a native of Austria, though these days he’s living in Munich.
He’s put on exhibitions around the world and has been featured in numerous publications. He’s also won several awards for his unique wooden sculptures.
17. Sergei Bobkov
Sergei Bobkov is a Russian wood sculptor who uses Siberian Cedar wood chips to make his sculptures. Most of his pieces are animal sculptures, and it takes Bobkov close to a year to complete just one of these.
There’s a special process Bobkov follows to make his wood chips malleable, and part of it involves soaking the wood chips in water for hours. Many have compared his work to taxidermy because his sculptures look so real.
Final Thoughts on the Most Famous Woodworkers
As you can see, woodworking is a centuries-old art form, one that has been mastered by many. What’s also observable is that many of the best woodworkers came from the West Coast, which makes sense considering this area is home to thousands of tree species.
In the end, the list of famous woodworkers continues to grow, as these days the internet has given rise to a new breed of woodworkers—individuals who care about teaching just as much as they care about doing.