Monday, September 27, 2021

Alberton resident loves working with wood

Mineral Independent | September 8, 2021 12:00 AM

For most of Ron Mason’s life he has been involved with trees in some form or fashion.

The Alberton resident has a forestry degree and for several decades he worked at the Superior Ranger District as well as the Thompson Falls Ranger District.

Before that he was employed in the Mount Baker National Forest, and for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. At one point he was even hired by the Scott Paper Company.

“Most of my career has been in the woods,” he said.

It seemed only natural then, that Mason would one day stumble into crafting things out of the wood itself.

“I have always done woodworking as a hobby ever since I was a teenager. My Dad was pretty handy as was his father and there were plenty of tools around so I picked up a lot as a kid. I enjoy working with my hands,” Mason said.

His one work stint that didn’t find him in the forest, found Mason on the water. But even at that job there was some wood incorporated.

“Before I started working in the forest I went down to Southern California and worked at a couple of boat yards building yachts, they were fiberglass but they had a lot of teak trim, cabinets and hatches. I installed those. I didn't really care for California though, and moved to Washington and that is when I started working in the woods,” he said.

Over time Mason delved into the art of woodworking. He detailed, “I picked some of it up from my dad, and some at the boat yard. A lot of it I learned on my own through trial and error. I am an avid reader and I have a substantial library of woodworking books. I am always looking to glean techniques from others that have mastered the craft.”

After moving to Alberton in 1983, he finally completed his very own woodworking shop just five years ago.

“Before that I was working out of one stall of my two-car garage. It was pretty cramped. I had to step outside to change my mind.”

At one point he received a commission to create a large bookcase that would span an entire wall for a client. Mason said, “I built it in segments, but after each segment was done, I had no room for it. So, I had to carry it down into my basement and apply the finish down there, then haul it back up to take it to the client. That is when I decided I needed a larger shop.” As time passed his business grew exponentially, just through word of mouth. “Since I began, I have never run out of work,” stated Mason.

He can craft items like cutting boards, small boxes and clocks. All his larger work is custom and incredibly unique.

Mason said, “I like to make furniture, that is my favorite thing to build. Right now, most of my work is doing kitchen cabinets. That seems to be what most people need. I'm not sure how much longer I will be able to build those, I'm getting older and the work wears on me at times.”

When someone comes to Mason with a woodworking order there is a lengthy process that takes place. First, he’ll sit down and talk to the client about what they want. After a quick hand drawn sketch, he takes down numerous measurements to estimate the object's size.

“From that I will then use a CAD program to make a set of drawings that I need to construct the cabinets. Then I can start breaking down sheets of plywood into the sides and bottoms. I can then assemble the boxes and apply the face frames. Next step is the shelves and drawers. After that I make the doors and drawer fronts,” Mason said.

But he’s not done yet.

“Now I will apply finish to all of the visible parts of the cabinets, I use four coats of varnish, allowing 12 hours between each coat and sanding each coat with very fine sandpaper, until the final coat, that I rub out with a brown paper sack. Then I install the doors and drawers.”

The last set of cabinets that Mason built were started in April and completed in July. Woodworking can also be time consuming.

“I work slowly and methodically. Building the cabinets is only half the work, the other half is applying the finish. Everything I make has a hand rubbed finish,” he added.

In his home workshop Mason boasts a wide variety of machines to get his woodworking jobs done. Different steps in the course of building require things like a table saw, jointer, planer, band saw and much more. He noted, “I have a lot of tools. I use both hand tools and power tools. I still have a couple of hand planes that my dad gave me. I use them all of the time.”

To start on a new project Mason has to have a lumber supplier. He said, “I get my wood from a variety of sources, mostly from either Superior Hardwoods or Helena Hardwoods. I have a lot of requests for work in blue pine.” He acquires that unique wood from Joel Gordon of Logs to Living Room in Stevensville. And sometimes he’ll even purchase highly figured wood on eBay. “I'm always looking for something unusual, like olive wood or some of the Hawaiian woods,” stated Mason.

In all of his wood craftsmanship his favorite thing to construct might seem quite simple, book cases.

“There are so many different ways to make them, there is a lot of creative freedom in designing them.”

He likes making tables too, but kitchen cabinets are the most challenging, because in the end everything has to fit in a given space.

“I lose sleep over a sixteenth of an inch,” teased Mason. “Tolerances are tight on cabinetry.”

Working year round keeps him very busy.

Mason admitted, “I have never had a true slow time. I like to take a little break inbetween large jobs to make some of the smaller items that I like to have in stock.”

He’ll often have gift orders for things like cutting boards or tea boxes, so he keeps an extra supply of those for short notice. That way he explained, “I can just sell them one I have on hand without interrupting the flow on a larger project.”

Mason doesn’t intend on letting the dust settle in his woodshop anytime soon though. If business is steady, he figured, “I would like to keep it up for as long as I am able. I think soon I will give up the kitchen cabinet portion of my business, because it is hard for me to keep up with it physically.”

But one day when the sanding and sawing slows down a bit Mason has many other hobbies and interests, he can pursue. He declared, “I love to fly fish. I have been doing that since I was a college student. I love Montana's rivers and love my time outdoors on the water. Fly tying and photography are other hobbies.” And when he was a bit younger, he’d go hunting as much as life would allow. “I still hunt waterfowl occasionally, both myself and my dog are getting up in years so I don't do as much of that as I used to,” shared Mason.

For now, there’s measurements to be made, and cuts to make so that he can transform the wood into treasured pieces of work. That’s something that keeps Mason out in his shop for countless hours every single day. “I think it is enjoyable to make something useful and beautiful from a pile of lumber. To bring out the beauty that is in wood and shape it into something that is functional and will be appreciated every time someone uses it,” he shared.

To view some of his finished work or to contact Mason about a potential wood project you can go to his Facebook page, Ron Mason Woodworking.