By Natalie Mourton
For Nic James, attending the Fine Woodworking Program of the College of the Redwoods was a turning point. He clearly remembers being at a crossroads in his life when he first considered applying. He had recently experienced a failed business venture and had just started his own business, then Beech Tree Building Company, a year-and-a-half earlier. The majority of his work up to this point was as a carpenter, building houses and decks, and he had never attempted furniture. He considered joining the Peace Corps, but was also interested in learning a new level of woodworking.
James became acquainted with a woodworker in town, J.T. Scott, who had attended the program at College of the Redwoods. He was invited to Scott’s shop to visit and talk about the program and it made a great impression on him. James recalls having never really been in a woodworking shop prior to his visit with Scott and he was intrigued by the pieces Scott made during his training. He described his year in the program as being such a unique and special time in his life that James decided to apply.
“I distinctly remember sitting at my desk with two applications–one for College of the Redwoods and one for the Peace Corps, and I thought whichever one accepts me, I’ll do.”
Although James was accepted to both programs, he was more thrilled and surprised that he was accepted by the Fine Woodworking Program than by the Peace Corps. According to Laura Mays, at the time James applied in 2002, the school had around three-to-four applicants for each of the 23 spots. Students come from across the country and around the world and with a wide variety in their woodworking knowledge and skill level. When he applied, he worried that perhaps he did not have enough qualifying work in his portfolio.
“My portfolio mainly had pictures of work done on houses and no furniture. I didn’t really think I had a shot.”
In the fall of 2003, James moved to California and began the intensive nine months program. His experience and the knowledge he gained during that time has had a profound effect upon him personally and in the direction of his company.
“For me, the thing I came out the most with was the exposure to that world–the exposure to fine woodworking. There are levels to this world, and I figured out where I fit in and how to make a living out of it. I’m really grateful I saw the view from the top because it has helped me and we’re always striving to get better.”
When James returned to Olympia, Wash. after school he found green cabinetry as a niche market. He never looked back from there and did not do any more remodels, framing or decks. His company, now Beech Tree Woodworks, specializes in FSC® Certified custom cabinetry and custom furniture. Their work is reflective of James’ experience in the program–high quality with great attention to detail. The recent name change was made in order to reflect their focus on fine, quality craftsmanship of cabinets and other built-ins.