LEAVENWORTH — Fine art that comes with drawers? Dave Cleveland’s hand-crafted storage chest is, literally, just such a case.
The 49-year-old woodworker originally designed his three-drawer, award-winning cabinet as a high-class toolbox. but now, he humbly admits, the intricate piece marks a culmination of skills learned from a life in woodcraft.
“A lot of what I know how to do is right here,” he said, running a hand over the polished wood’s flowing grain.
Two weeks ago, Cleveland’s Craftsman-styled, Asian-accented storage chest was named overall winner in an annual woodworking contest sponsored by Lombard’s Hardwood Supply of Wenatchee. The contest drew 15 entries in three categories — high school, amateur and professional — for an exclusive display of furniture and art pieces by some of the Wenatchee Valley’s top woodworkers.
Pieces were judged by professionals from four local cabinet shops on each work’s style, creativity, finish and joinery, said the supply house’s owner Mark Lombard. “But (Cleveland’s) stood out above the rest because of his attention to detail and precision woodworking. everything about it is near perfect.”
Made of mahogany and curly maple with drawer pulls and accents of hand-shaped African ebony, Cleveland’s cabinet measures 24 inches wide, 16 high and 14 deep. It weighs 20 pounds and took 100 to 120 hours to design and build. It’s one of a trio he made simultaneously. The other two were gifts for his wife and boss.
The cabinet is the kind of project favored by woodworking schools to teach novice builders how to choose woods, use hand tools and make the different kinds of joints, said Cleveland. “I started with something simple like that, and the design grew from there.”
Before beginning, Cleveland sketched the box’s front view so he’d know, roughly, the piece’s style and proportions. “But the rest of it … well, it just emerged as I went along,” he said. “Grew organically. took shape kind of on its own.”
The cabinet’s larger pieces were initially cut with a power saw, said the woodworker. but a nearby spread of hand tools — chisels, mallet, saw, plane, marking knives, compass and square — were used to make most of the mortises, tenons, dovetails and pegs holes that hold the cabinet together.
Plus, he said, working with hand tools has its own rewards. “This kind of work can be exacting and challenging,” said Cleveland. “But there’s also a meditative quality that allows me to shove aside all the mental clutter and” — he laughed, a little embarrassed — “find a kind of clarity.”
Cleveland, of East Wenatchee, began woodworking in high school and, after college, went on to build houses in southern California. He’s worked in Leavenworth for 18 years as a cabinet and furniture maker at Traditional Woodcraft, a supplier of kitchens, entryways and wall-sized display fixtures for high-end homes in the area.
Cleveland uses Traditional Woodcraft’s shop after hours to build two to three personal pieces a year. next project, he said, could be a full-sized desk.
Company owner Jay Acheson said Cleveland’s wood skills cross over to his day job, too. “Dave brings a real artisan’s touch to the job that you don’t see in many cabinet shops,” he said, using an iPad to show photos of Cleveland’s hand-crafted tables, bathroom vanities, and elaborate doors. “Some of his work is pretty amazing.”
Cleveland picked up his favorite dovetail saw. “The more you use these hand tools — whether it’s a big commercial project or a smaller personal one — the more you learn how the process works. The cutting edge, how it acts on wood, how the wood reacts, how it all fits together.”
He smiled. “And the more you learn, the more satisfying the process becomes.”
Woodworker’s art and day job dovetail into lifelong craft