Sunday, December 4, 2022

This modern community workshop is all about a timeless craft

Sean and Dana Whitaker of Hampton begin selecting their woods during a recent cutting board class. Alison Johnson/HNNDaily
Sean and Dana Whitaker of Hampton begin selecting their woods during a recent cutting board class. (Alison Johnson/HNNDaily)

NEWPORT NEWS — The Burled & Knotted Community Woodshop is a crafter’s dream: stacks and piles of wood, in a huge variety of sizes, shades and grains.

Walls and tables full of tools, from simple screwdrivers, chisels and routers to table saws, a 20-inch planer and a high-tech three-dimensional printer.

Plus, a business owner who is passionate about teaching old-school craftsmanship to anyone ready to learn.

“I want more people to feel the satisfaction of making something 100 percent unique,” says Jeremy Knight, himself an artist since childhood. “No two wood pieces will be exactly the same. There’s nothing like being able to touch and feel everything in your own hands as you build.”

Jeremy Knight, owner of Burled & Knotted Community Woodshop, displays the many choices for a cutting board project. Alison Johnson/HNNDaily
Jeremy Knight, owner of Burled & Knotted Community Woodshop, displays the many choices for a cutting board project. (Alison Johnson/HNNDaily)

In an often rushed, mass-produced world, Burled & Knotted is what’s known as a “makerspace” – an oasis where creative types can gather to share ideas, knowledge and equipment.

Like a growing number of such ventures around the country, the business offers classes for beginning to advanced artists, expert presentations and memberships for customers who want to tackle short- and long-term projects.

Knight’s 2-year-old venture recently reopened in a new location in Newport News, a 5,600-square-foot setup with instructional and craft rooms, spaces for artists to rent and a retail store selling lumber pieces and handmade items.

“You let me know what you need, and I will be sure it’s here,” Knight says. “You don’t have to go buy thousands of dollars-worth of tools for that cool project you saw online. You don’t have to go to Lowe’s and figure out what kind of wood to buy.”

A lifelong love

Knight, a slim and soft-spoken 36-year-old Newport News native, originally discovered woodworking from his grandfather and also grew up with a mother who taught him to sew, mold clay and generally dive into all types of art projects. His father, meanwhile, was an engineer at NASA.

For 14 years, Knight worked as a graphic artist on government contracts before deciding to change course and open his own business.

He launched Burled & Knotted in 2016 on Canon Boulevard and this October relocated to a small white building not far from the intersection of Jefferson Avenue and J. Clyde Morris Boulevard.

The shop also shares the site with a local youth robotics team.

One of the walls of tools available to customers at Burled & Knotted. Alison Johnson/HNNDaily
One of the walls of tools available to customers at Burled & Knotted. (Alison Johnson/HNNDaily)

Customers can buy individual sessions with Knight or monthly, six-month or annual memberships.

Those plans are priced at $85, $400 and $800, respectively, and include unlimited access to the shop and all of its equipment, with up to three guests at a time. Everyone is required to take a safety class, no matter what their prior experience.

Crafty local residents say they’re thrilled to have a makerspace to spread out and create.

Sean Whitaker of Hampton, who enjoys building furniture, is limited by the size of his one-car garage; his wife, Dana, who frequently gifts loved ones with hand-crocheted blankets and hats, admits they’ve gotten stuck on more complex projects. They recently signed up for a cutting board class together.

“Sure, you can always go someplace like IKEA and buy things,” Sean Whitaker says. “Or you can make something yourself, high-quality, that you can be really proud of, and that won’t fall apart.” Adds Dana: “We’re amateurs. We know we have a long way to go.”

Teaching and growing

During the Whitakers’ class, Knight began by showing the couple 22 types of wood they could choose from for their boards, including strips of bamboo, cherry mahogany, maple, red oak, teak and walnut.

“You can combine anything, any colors and grains,” Knight told them. “Anything you think would look good. There are no rules.”

Future class offerings could range from furniture building to tool sharpening. Burled & Knotted also hosts monthly “Workshop Wednesdays” where artists might discuss different skills such as blacksmithing, leatherwork or origami, or give demonstrations on the computerized machines that allow for increasingly detailed wood shaping and engraving.

Burled & Knotted is full of past work by Knight and his customers: heart-shaped boxes, patterned cutting boards, a model airplane, award plaques, a circular cross for a church entrance and animal figurines, including an intricate carving of a lion’s head.

Items in the retail shop, including a lion head carving done by owner Jeremy Knight. Alison Johnson/HNNDaily
Items in the retail shop, including a lion head carving done by owner Jeremy Knight. (Alison Johnson/HNNDaily)

Business likely will pick up as the holidays approach and people look to make one-of-a-kind gifts, notes Knight, who is still busy transferring over stacks of wood he had stored in his dining room, attic and garage. While he will craft special orders himself, he perhaps most enjoys gently pushing novices to embrace the challenge themselves.

“It’s OK to make mistakes,” he says. “I’ve gotten good by making a ton of mistakes. When people get frustrated and want to give up, I’m here to pick them up and keep them moving forward.”

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