Ed Neu: A Shaker Stylist Who Learns Through Show Entries

Ed Neu: A Shaker Stylist Who Learns Through Show Entries

As a member of the Minnesota Woodworkers Guild, Ed Neu finds their annual show, the Northern Woods Exhibtion, to be an inspiration to keep learning and improving his woodworking skills.

“I reflect on ‘What did I learn to this point? What did I learn from my cohorts, from talking to them at the show?,’” Ed said.

His entry into the most recent show, held in late April, was a Shaker Sister’s Sewing Cabinet. Although the piece was a reproduction, one of the main critiques it received from judges was that the knobs seemed oversized. “Next year’s project will have appropriately sized knobs,” Ed said.

Ed has only been a show entrant and member of the Minnesota Woodworkers Guild for a few years – he joined in 2010, submitting a set of toolboxes for the show “because it had free entry from anyone who had never entered before” – but “one of my regrets in life is that I didn’t join it 20 years ago,” he said. “I’ve met lots of people with skill and knowledge to tap into.”


He has been a woodworker, however, for a long time: “I started out with projects as a Cub Scout, learning how to use a coping saw.” Most memorably, he said, “One day, as I was walking home from school, I found a sheet of discarded quarter-inch plywood along the side of the road.” From that, he made two hand-painted cutouts of Santa Claus with a bag of toys slung over his back. “My mother still puts them up every Christmas,” Ed said.

Self-taught from books, audios and interaction with other woodworkers, Ed took up woodworking as a second career (his first was as an engineer) about 12 years ago. The first case piece he built was a two-door kitchen cabinet, made out of dimensioned lumber, that he painted red and hung inside his horse barn for storage.


Then he got a thickness planer, so he could dimension his own lumber. Shortly thereafter, he received a commission from a family who wanted him to build them a new dining room table. They wanted a larger, pedestal style table so they could fit more people around it. Ed has referred to the resulting table, on his website, as a “Monster Table”: it had five, 21-inch leaves in it and, when fully extended, measured 15 feet long.

Part of the challenge of that table was creating the structural support for the legs, which Ed welcomed as a learning opportunity.


“I’ve always been a jack-of-all-trades,” he said. “I like a variety.” That shows up in his use of various techniques – the Shaker Sister’s Sewing Cabinet had a lot of turnings on it, because he likes turning – and in different tools. While Ed says, “Power tools were invented to make life easier,” it’s still the case that, “For about the past five years, I’ve been cutting all my dovetails by hand.” He employs a broad selection of tools and techniques.

When it comes to style, however, “I’ve zeroed in on Shaker furniture,” Ed said. “It suits me really well. I like to build it, and I like the way it looks when it’s done.”

Last year’s Northern Woods Show entry was also a set of three Shaker reproduction rocking chairs. Those chairs, Ed said, demonstrate part of what he finds so appealing about the Shaker style. “The stretchers on the rockers have a slight taper; it’s almost imperceptible when you look at it, but over time, you realize the appeal. The detail combined with form allowed their pieces to be so elegant, and appreciated over time.”


In the future, however, he plans to move away from straight reproductions and more toward items inspired by the Shaker design. “Any Shaker piece is going to be a reproduction of the concepts of the Shakers over the 100 years they built furniture, but the cabinet I’m working on, I’m putting a lot of my own design thoughts into it,” Ed said.

That would be a cherry casework piece that he’s thinking about entering into the 2016 Northern Woods show. Ed noted that he’s also thinking about moving away from staining his pieces, and toward a natural finish. To do so, “I’ll have to broaden my selection of lumber,” he said.


Currently, Ed occasionally uses some small pieces of exotics as accents in marquetry, such as the padauk and mahogany found in his sunflower jewelry box, but for the most part, “I like cherry, maple, walnut,” he said. “Pine has its place, and poplar is good for a painted project. I’m going to learn to like ash, because I have an ash tree that’s dying.”

As he works to refine his work with his own interpretations, Ed continues to use the Minnesota Woodworkers Guild’s Northern Woods Show as inspiration. While his first few entries were projects he happened to have on hand at the time of entry, lately, he has been preparing pieces specifically for the show. “I use the show every year to improve my skills and knowledge,” Ed said.

Posted in: