Ian Kirby Turns 90

Ian Kirby Turns 90

Cutting the cake at his birthday celebration last summer, Ian demonstrated the hand-eye dexterity he developed through years of hand tool woodworking. Incidentally, he is also no slouch in the kitchen! Many happy returns on the day from those of us at the Journal.

I called Ian Kirby out of the blue in late 1999 after reading parts of his book The Accurate Router (Cambium Press). I found his direct language and instruction refreshing amid so much romanticized writing about the craft of woodworking. We chatted for a bit, and by the end of the conversation, Ian had agreed to try working with the Journal and me.

Table leg sketch

Twenty-plus years later, he is still putting up with me. (In fact, I may have found a kindred spirit.) But by the time Ian and I started working together, he was a well-established author, teacher and designer. Having worked in the earliest of days with Fine Woodworking and American Woodworker magazines, his reputation was well established. But what most periodical readers know of Ian’s work is the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

Final constructed living room table
December 2006 issue

Ian has degrees in furniture design, wood science and wood technology. His classical woodworking training was in the British Arts & Crafts tradition. He arrived from England where he was teaching at the university level in the early 1970s on a sabbatical year. Over the next few years he taught at various institutions stateside. In late November 1976, he opened his own studio teaching woodworking, focused on design. He is also an industrial designer and consultant. There is more to this tale than I have space to tell, so I will focus on his work with our magazine.

Emphasis on Design

Collection of small tables
December 2006 issue

Ian made it clear straight away that he would prefer to use our pages to focus on design and woodworking- related topics, not simply be building boxes (in his terms). That was wonderful for me, as I knew many folks who could build things but few who could teach the building blocks of woodworking mastery. Ian is at his heart a teacher. As a result, I am certain that Ian has produced more pages teaching design and proper technique in our magazine than has been published in any other consumer-focused magazine. We have covered drawing, designing with mock-ups, essays on seating and a host of other topics. It is something I am very proud of. At one point, we collaborated on a three-DVD set called The Way to Woodwork. In my (very biased) opinion, it’s some of the best woodworking video that has been produced.

Simple bookcase project
One of the projects used to teach frame-and-panel construction in his comprehensive three-DVD video series: The Way to Woodwork.

Even at 90, Ian is not one to let the grass grow under his feet. For example, his current endeavor is designing furniture to be built from a kit. His first piece is a small table that will be a joint project with Rockler. His design inspiration came from the proportions of the ash tables on the opposite page, lower left.

Different colors of tables made from a kit
Ian’s latest adventure. These tables are built from precut components comprising a kit that will soon be sold by Rockler Woodworking and Hardware.

As Ian continues to look to the future, I will keep working with him but also treasure these past many years of time spent with such a rare talent. Happy birthday, my friend, and continued good luck to you!

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