After graduating from college, most people try to find a job in their field. Furnituremaker Philip Culbertson took a different route. “I got a degree in behavioral zoology at the University of Michigan in the 1970s,” he says, “but I was tired of using my brain, so I got a job in a cabinet shop outside Washington, D.C., and I stayed there for six years.”
While he was working as a cabinetmaker, Culbertson became interested in design, and he returned to school to study industrial design at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, R.I., which led to a contractor job with NASA. “I worked in the space design lab at the NASA Research Center in California for 11 years,” he says. “We designed parts and got to test them. Short of being an astronaut, it was probably one of the best jobs I could’ve had there.”
When the funding for his projects at NASA ran out, Culbertson returned to woodworking and eventually moved to Oregon City, Ore., where he specializes in custom pieces from tables to coat racks to mantels. “I love to use traditional techniques such as mortise-and-tenon and doweling,” he says.
The 5-foot-diameter dining table (below) has an oak top with a walnut base. “I made it out of salvaged wood, which I really enjoy working with,” says Culbertson. “The walnut is from a storm-damaged tree and the oak is from a downed
red oak. I like mixing wood because it makes pieces so much more interesting-looking.”
Once a piece is finished, Culbertson gives it a hand-rubbed finish to let the natural color of the wood shine through. “That’s one of my main attractions to making furniture,” he says. “Wood has so much character to it, especially when you work with ‘defects’ such as knots. I love the challenge of working with knots and wormholes, and showing that imperfect things can be beautiful.”
The salvaged oak-and-walnut dining table sells for $6,000.
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