Name: Jeff Spugnardi
Where you live: Arlington
What is the one piece of equipment you use that you can’t live without?:
“A Lie-Nielsen low-angle jack plane to make boards perfectly flat.”
“When I’m not making stuff, I’m . . .”: “Sailing, or messing about in board sports, or thinking about design for the next pieces.”
Jeff Spugnardi doesn’t want you to look at his rocking chairs. He wants you to sit in them.
“When I go to shows, it’s the opposite of snobby places that say, ‘Don’t touch, just look and buy,’ ” the Arlington-based woodworker said. “I tell customers to have a seat. You see their face go from skeptical to having the biggest smile.”
That rocking chair is Spugnardi’s (self-described) signature piece out of his collection of handmade wood furniture. The 45-year-old crafts chairs, tables, desks, cutting boards and more in his basement wood shop, and also gets commissions to make custom, built-in cabinetry.
Spugnardi’s career has included stints as a Marine at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and as an e-commerce specialist in San Francisco. Although he’s been working with wood for much of his life, it was only about 10 years ago that he turned it into his full-time job.
“I’ve always been doing woodworking on the side,” Spugnardi said. “Even in the Marines, I was lucky enough to be near woodshops.”
You’ll find evidence of the skills and interests of his varied career in his woodwork. Take, for instance, a walnut and carbon fiber dining table he recently built. The table’s eye-catching element — a “check,” or crack, in the wood that he filled with solidified carbon fiber — was inspired by a lifelong passion for boating, from his time as a Marine to sailing in the 2000 Olympic trials. Carbon fiber is used to make high-performance sails, Spugnardi said.
“I love the fusion of exotic with traditional wood,” Spugnardi explained. “I’m using materials like carbon fiber and metals where it doesn’t dominate the piece, but it’s a clean accent. I’m always asking, ‘What can be done?’”
When it comes to marketing and sales, Spugnardi’s varied background also comes in handy. While sailing in San Francisco with Olympic ambitions (ambitions that were never realized; he admits he never stood a chance), Spugnardi founded an e-commerce Web site for companies just beginning to sell products online. Now, he said, he knows the importance of social media and online branding. You’ll find his work on CustomMade, his own personal Web site, Facebook, Instagram and more.
“I love using technology,” Spugnardi said. “You get random people commenting on your wood. It’s community-building.”
Spugnardi said he enjoys visiting exhibits and talks around D.C., drawing inspiration from the likes of furniture makers Sam Maloof and James Krenov — Spugnardi said he has fond memories of hearing Maloof speak at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery before his death in 2009.
In his own workshop, Spugnardi uses as few power tools as possible and incorporates live edges in his work when he can.
“Nature can dictate what something can look like, which is sometimes the best driver for the end result,” he said.
Spugnardi said he sources wood from all around the Washington area and has used reclaimed wood, though sparingly.
He said his rocking chair is the most complicated piece he makes, with more than 100 pieces of wood that need to fit together correctly and no straight lines to work with.
But, Spugnardi said, it’s the most comfortable chair you’ll ever find: “It’s impossible not to sit in the chair.”