Most teachers hope their students will go on to succeed in the field and make them proud. Alan Lazarus has been woodworking for 40 years and teaching woodworking for 27 years at William Patterson University in New Jersey, and he’s got a special relationship with his students. Many of them have gone on to become successful woodworkers, but two of his students returned to actually buy Alan’s old woodworking business from him It’s a huge 25-person shop and Alan works with them from time to time on special projects.
Right now, Alan has started a new business, a partnership with another student, Jerry Williamson. The tangle gets even stranger when you learn that Jerry’s high school shop teacher, who advised him to take classes from Alan, is now working for the two students who bought Alan’s old business. Got that?
Alan says the New Jersey woodworking community is a pretty tight-knit group and they help each other out a lot. That’s been a real boon to him, because it gives him access to tools like veneer presses and CNC routers that he ordinarily wouldn’t have in his own shop. The diverse technology available allows him to do just about anything he can imagine, and that’s quite a bit.
For Alan, everything starts with design. Designing projects is his constant challenge because he really wants his pieces to be both elegant and unusual. He wants them to be interactive, so many of his design elements will be integrated with drawers and parts that people touch all the time. Finally, he wants his designs to be luxurious and, at the same time, lyrical enough to bring a smile to an onlooker’s face. His grandmother clock is a very good example of that principle.
Once Alan has the design set, he starts looking for the right wood to bring thecorrect colors to the piece. Again, his network of woodworkers can sometimes be helpful because he can browse among the lumber stacks of other pros to find just the right wood or veneer. “We don’t have to be afraid to tackle different kinds of jobs, and we can go with some really unusual woods if we want to,” he says.
When the piece calls for it, Alan really enjoys using contrasting woods like bloodwood and holly with some sycamore. He also likes to play with grains. In one very large project, he did a whole office and desk in vacuum laminated veneer over a Baltic birch plywood substrate. Its unique feature is, as you look at it, all of the grain in the entire project runs the same direction, giving a real sweeping feel to the project.
– Bob Filipczak