Ben Napier is a lucky man. Not only does he run a successful woodworking shop (Scotsman Co), but he also gets to work side by side with his wife, Erin. Together, they create and sell some of the coolest products in woodworking, stationary, and really all things vintage on their website, ErinandBen.co. On top of that, they were just picked up by HGTV to host a show called Home Town where they help people buy and renovate houses in their town of Laurel, MS…which sounds like an awesome place to live! Oh, and he also has one sweet truck.
I was fortunate to ask Ben a couple questions about how he works and what he likes best. I hope you enjoy!
Name – Ben Napier
What Is in Your Workspace/Shop?
How Did You Get Started?
How did the idea of a TV Show come about?
Ha! Well, I really don’t know. Lindsey Weidhorn, an executive from HGTV, discovered my wife’s instagram, @ernapier. She fell in love with our town, our work, and our story and felt like there was a show idea in there somewhere. Erin and I have made it our mission to make people understand that you don’t have to leave your small town to follow your big dreams. After a couple months of Skype interviews, we made a sizzle, which is just a short 3-5 minute introduction video. The network watched it, liked it, and ordered a pilot. We filmed for 2 months in 2015. Our producers and editors put together the love story of a couple and their small town. We love our town so much that we want everyone to see it the way we do. So, I guess you could say that Home Town coming to fruition occurred in reverse?
The dinner table we built for the Tews on the show is, to date, my favorite piece. From beginning to end, there was a great story. My best friends and I salvaged lumber from Ross’s family cabin, Erin helped me come up with the square design. I had never built something that heavy. The sheer size of the table dominates your attention in their dining room. We forty-fived the corners, allowing up to 12 adults to sit comfortably around it. It’s a full 2″ top that is 5.5 feet by 5.5 feet. The wood is quarter sawn red oak that was originally milled over 100 years ago. It was rough cut back then, and required a lot of work to get it to the shape it was in on TV. I used a Roman bit on the router to shape the edge a little. This, along with turned legs, gave the hulking oak table top a little delicacy.
I’ve grown to love oak and mahogany. These really dense hardwoods require careful work. You have to be intentional when working with these woods, whereas when working with pine or maple, you can slip up and really maim a piece without even trying. I guess that makes me less of a woodworker, but I’m getting better.
What Is Your First Step To Any Project?
Man, that’s tough. I love this work so much. There is the obvious pleasure we all get from creating something from a pile of wood. Even if it’s ugly, there there isn’t much more satisfying as a man than saying, “look at what I have made.” This is very therapeutic work. You can really get lost in a project and at the end of a day feel like you haven’t gotten much done until you step back and look. We think, “I spent too much time on that joint,” or “I should have cross planed this panel first,” but then you see that you’ve spent a day making something. It is actually looking like something. For me, though, the best part is the learning. The more I learn about woodworking, the more I want to learn. I read books, I talk to furniture makers, I tour sawmills and cabinet factories, I ask questions of cabinet makers. I am becoming obsessed. The beautiful thing, though, is that I am able to pass some of that knowledge on. I have a teenager helping me around my shop. I figured he was bored most days, but his parents tell me that he loves it, being in the sawdust and the wood piles. I get it! What’s not to love?
What is it Like to Work Side By Side with your wife?
Erin and I have a relationship that’s apparently pretty odd for outsiders looking in. She really is my best friend, the love of my life, and she’s the best business partner I could have. Furniture building is, in my opinion, a left brain form of art. I totally understand it and love it. It’s just creative enough to challenge the right side of my brain, but at its core, furniture is about function, geometry, stability. Erin, on the other hand, is very right brained. She’s left brained enough to run a business, but she’s better at making things pretty. I’m always there to clean up what her right brain has done with our books, and she’s always there to make my left brained table a little more delicate.
Man, it changes from day to day. For the most part, I listen to old blues music. I like the really rough, scratchy stuff where you can barely understand what the guy is saying. I had a senior seminar at Ole Miss called the History of Southern Music. One of my favorite teachers led it, and it really gave me a deeper appreciation of that music. Next on the list is classic rock. My brothers and I grew up riding in trucks with my dad listening to the Eagles, Elvis, the Animals, CCR, Chicago, Hendrix, and anything else that came on the classic rock stations. My brother, Jesse, recently said, “I thought the Guess Who was a new band until I was about 14.” On other days, I’ll put on classic country. Nothing newer than the early 90s. The kid that helps me in the shop likes the classic country days, cause thats what his grandaddy listens to. Erin’s family are big classic country fans. Conway is king at the Rasberry house.
You know what’s funny about this? I had never heard of this “Maker Movement” until I read your question. However, since reading this, I’ve heard mention of this movement, and even have been referred to as a part of it at least 5 times. There’s really nothing bad you can say about something like this. If you want to get patriotic, American made means American paid. If you want to talk about customer service, I can walk around the corner to my local butcher, Chad Knight, and he will let me know if he’s got my favorite bacon or tell me that he’s got some end cuts of filet that he knows I like or let me sample a new jerky or tell me about a new cut of meat he is offering. If you want to get into finances, yeah, you may spend a few cents more, but it’s going into your neighbor’s pocket, who is then gonna spend it with your other neighbor. I think that I had never heard of the “Maker Movement” because it’s not a movement around here. It’s just the way it is in a small town.
Be patient. I mean patient in the moment and in life. If you get in a hurry while mitering some oak in the shop, you could lose a finger. If you get in a hurry with your woodworking in general, you’ll get discouraged. You’ll build a bunch of stuff that doesn’t turn out the way it looked in your head, but that’s okay. Ask the pros. There are men and women in every community who have been makers for a long time. You can learn more from them than any book or website. Own it. Come up with your own stuff and promote yourself. Nobody knows your story like you do. Tell your story.