Simple, yet soulful: Woodsport

Woodsport's Scott McGlasson works on the lathe // Photo by Wing Ta

Woodsport’s Scott McGlasson works on the lathe // Photo by Wing Ta

Wood chips fly as Scott McGlasson presses the tip of a sharp metal gouge against a wooden form mounted to a lathe. While the piece spins, bits of white ash shower onto his clothes like confetti and rain down onto the floor in mounds. As the piles of shavings grow, a shape begins to emerge.

What once looked like a tower of roughly cut wood discs glued together now resembles a tapered cylinder—the base of a small table Scott designed for his studio, Woodsport. He powers up the lathe again, this time running sandpaper over the base of the table until it’s smooth.

“I try to get the sweet spot of comfort and style,” says Scott, 51, who works out of his studio in a renovated can factory in St. Paul. “I’m such a minimalist. I don’t like things that have a lot of extraneous stuff on them. If it doesn’t have to be there, then don’t put it on there.”

The woodworker does allow himself a few signature indulgences that aren’t purely utilitarian: Shallow, hand cut grooves that circle around the length of the pieces he turns on the lathe; and lacquer-painted wood in black, white, or pops of bright colors like red and blue.

The design-obsessed craftsman eased into woodworking around the time he turned 30 years old. At the time, Scott wanted to fill his home with nice, quality furniture. When he couldn’t afford it, he took the DIY route and learned to make it instead. He picked up a woodworking class at a local college and fell in love. Scott quit his day job and launched his studio, Woodsport, in 2000. However, it wasn’t until the economy plummeted that he began developing a voice and a furniture collection all his own. Modern hardwood designs—flawless in execution and enduring in style—became his hallmark.

“It’s got to have a purpose to exist for me. Most of these things I make for myself. I make them for my house,” he says. “That’s my muse.”

The rise of a woodworker

Some of McGlasson's products available at his shop // Photo by Wing Ta

Some of McGlasson’s products available at his shop // Photo by Wing Ta

Growing up on a hobby farm outside of Philadelphia, Scott watched his mom—an interior designer and artist—continually reinvent the walls and spaces in his family’s large, colonial-style home. She was a natural Martha Stewart type, always sewing, painting, or collecting and refurbishing interesting objects.

“That made a big impression on me when I was young,” says Scott, who took to repositioning the chairs and couches as a kid. “It was important to be in spaces that were well-arranged and curated.”

Even though he worked part time as a carpenter and decorator in college, Scott ended up getting an English degree from the University of Minnesota. For the next eight years he taught and worked with kids as a childhood specialist technician before realizing the path didn’t feel right. He enrolled at a woodworking class at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, and was hooked the first time he watched someone use a wide belt sander. The machine, which looks like a short conveyor belt, sands off the extra glue and uneven surfaces that develop when attaching multiple pieces of wood together. The grit of the sander shaves down the imperfections until the board is perfectly flat, creating a surface large enough to construct more substantial pieces of furniture, like the flat top of a dining room table.

“That was the magic, when I realized how furniture is glued and how planks are made. It seems elementary when you think about it, but I don’t think it dawns on people how simple and amazing that process is,” says Scott. “It was love at first sight.”

In class, Scott talked about making furniture for a living, but his professor told him to get in line—that kind of thinking was a pipe dream. When Scott first opened up Woodsport, he operated it as a “job shop,” taking on any general contracting, remodeling, or carpentry gigs that came his way.  When the economy tanked around 2007, Scott’s phone stopped ringing and the work dried up. So he shifted Woodsport’s direction and decided to do exactly what his professor warned few could do: make a living off his own designs.

“It was an act of desperation,” says Scott. “I had nothing going on.”

He started small, crafting easy-to-carry objects like wooden vases, plates, salt wells, and cutting boards that he sold at the farmers market, as well as some stools, benches, and side tables. From there, he moved onto bigger pieces of furniture like credenzas, coffee tables, chairs, and chaise lounges. His eye for aesthetics and detailed craftsmanship won him fans from the start. His work nabbed top honors at the first high-end craft show he exhibited at in 2009, and at four more shows since.

The design world took note of his handcrafted collection, too. Mark Zeff, an international architecture and design firm based out of New York City, used Scott’s credenzas in several of its hotel projects after seeing his work at an Architectural Digest Design show, including a remodel of The Marquette Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. Local Minneapolis architecture firm, HGA, asked the woodworker to fashion a dozen coffee tables and side tables for its addition to Temple Israel in Uptown, the city’s oldest synagogue.

Soulful creations

Woodsport credenza // Photo by Wing Ta

Woodsport credenza // Photo by Wing Ta

Looking at a pile of wood stacked up at a local lumber yard in Northeast Minneapolis, Scott pours over each piece of walnut in search of irregularities or knots—places where two branches come together or where a limb extends from the main trunk. There, in the curl or the burl of the wood, the grain swirls and ripples in unique patterns.

“There’s tension there. The cells might get twisted and show up as prisms that reflect light at different angles when the lumber is milled and finished,” says Scott. “That’s the soul of the wood.”

It’s like a puzzle matching the different configurations of walnut together to make up the front of one of his credenzas. There’s an art to getting the composition right. You’ve got to design the right side of the piece in concert with the left, ensuring the variation in color and character of the wood feels balanced, but not overly symmetrical. It’s not a prescribed recipe, but an intuition the 51-year-old has developed over 20 years of experience.

Thanks to his minimalistic aesthetic, the look of the hardwoods Scott employs—like walnut, ash, maple and cherry—often take center stage in his work. So much so that he’s even turned a seeming flaw in the wood into a signature design choice people seek out.

Whereas other craftsman depend on making traditional handles to attach to the front of a drawer, Scott relies on the wane: a part of the wood along the edge or end of the board where the lumber thins out due to the curve of the original log. The subtle downward angle in the wood creates a gap big enough to stick your fingers in and pull open the drawer with ease, no knob needed. The detail adds a distinctive dichotomy to an otherwise clean-lined design like Woodsport’s credenza.

“They’re super minimal. They’re super modern. But then they just have that little touch of wildness and nature in them,” says Scott, who hasn’t added a physical handle or knob to one of his pieces in nearly 10 years.

For Scott, the joy in the furniture-making process comes in the execution: seeing a design exit his imagination and take shape in the real world. He’s the kind of person who will drop everything for a new idea he is obsessed about. That happened when Scott built his first chaise lounge eight years ago. The ergonomics and angles of the piece are inspired by one of Scott’s favorite, cheap beach accessories: a foldable, jelly lounger.

Instead of plastic straps, Scott cuts small bricks of walnut to make up the backrest and seat. It takes up to eight hours to string up the more than 200 wood tiles necessary to fill out the space between the two sides of the chair. The result is a grid work of subtle pattern and detail that allows the wood to do what it typically can’t: flex. The body of the chaise lounge gently melds to the sitter; other wood chairs simply can’t compete. The first time Scott laid back in it, he knew he nailed it.

“That’s everything for me,” says Scott. “It’s an addiction. I love that feeling. I’m always after that.”