Shop Tour: A Joint Effort
Tucked away in the basement of the Gardeners and Ranchers Building in industrial SE Portland is the shop of one of our favorite craftsmen, Josh Aguiar, the owner of A Joint Effort. The building itself is filled with creatives and makers of all kinds, and the place is buzzing with the sounds of machinery and the smell of sawdust. I meandered through the dimly lit hallway to find his space with a Sasquatch sticker plastered on the door, a clear sign that this was going to be fun.
Peeking inside, the space is filled to overflowing with stacks of wood, tools, piles of cutting boards in various stages, finished projects and some in mid-stream. The room feels alive with activity. I am greeted by Maxwell, Josh’s helper that has been a family friend he was a little kid and joined the team in 2017. Josh welcomes me with a warm smile behind a dusty beard. He is somewhat shy, openly regretful about the condition of his shop and wishing out loud that he’d cleaned up a little more for me. I grew up under the feet of a carpenter, and the sight, sound and smell of his shop flood me with fond memories. I assure him it’s perfect just like it is.
I’ve only been with Sustainable Northwest Wood about 8 months, so I’m curious about our customers, what they do, and how they work. This is my first shop visit and I’m like a kid in a candy store taking it all in. I start asking a flurry of questions that are burning my curiosity. Josh is humble and thoughtful with his answers, and at moments beaming with pride.
Josh got his start in woodworking at 18 in a cabinet shop in his tiny home town of Tonganoxie, Kansas. He moved to Portland at 21 and never looked back. In his mid-twenties, he was fortunate enough to land an apprenticeship with the legendary wood sculptor, Leroy Setziol, who was one of the Northwest’s most accomplished wood artists. Leroy gave him a piece of Western Red Cedar to work with as his first project. Apparently, it was good enough for the work to continue, and Josh spent the next two years learning from the master. He left a lifelong impression on Josh’s work and instilled in him the philosophy of “Do your own thing. Be your own man.” He shows me a stunning piece made of myrtle, beautifully chip carved into a table. It takes my breath away and I can see that he is proud of it. His soul is hungry for more commissioned work like this, but his bread and butter are the cutting boards he sells at Portland Saturday Market. When compared to his passion for carving, he’s somewhat dismissive of the stacks of cutting boards gracing his shop. These are amazing little pieces of art made from local walnut that he helps mill from salvaged trees, combined with myrtle, madrone and maple that he hand-selects from our lumberyard. Every piece is unique, one of a kind and finished to a buttery surface that I can’t help but touch. He uses a blend of walnut oil and beeswax to seal each piece, sometimes enlisting his kids to help with this part of the process. It’s an all hands on deck family business, especially around the holidays when they are cranking out hundreds of beautiful cutting boards.
I asked Josh what’s the hardest thing he’s had to learn. He thought for just a moment, chuckled and said “Sales.” I can see him squirm just a little, unsure of his own charm, and can imagine the introvert in front of me struggling to put on that sales hat. He tells me his son, Cypress, (yes, the woodworker named his kid after a tree) is a natural, so he puts him in charge of running his booth at the Market while he cranks out more product at the shop.
When I stop by his booth at Portland Saturday Market the next day, it is bustling with activity. He’s right – Cypress is a natural salesperson, charismatic, knowledgeable and pretty dang adorable. I spend some time browsing the amazing selection of one of a kind pieces on display before making the agonizing decision of which one is coming home with me. As it turns out, it’s impossible to buy just ONE.