Measure Twice, Cut Once A Woodworkers Take on Engineering

Introduced to woodworking at an early age through a class in high school, Eric Hansen has cultured and developed the skill over the years as a complement to the work he does at NCI. An avid outdoors-man, he combines his passion for nature and hiking, with his love for DIY jobs around the house and crafting beautiful gifts for his loved ones.

Read on below to find out more about woodworking, Eric, his life and job as an engineer, and how he has incorporated his passion for the great outdoors into a lucrative career and fulfilling life.

A Brief History of Woodworking

Can you design a table? Do you know how to build a home, craft a comfy chair to sit on, or carve a figurine out of wood?

“Chop your own wood, and it will warm you twice,” Henry Ford is quoted as saying, yet very few of us do, so to speak, build the tables, homes and chairs we use on an everyday basis.

While we live in a world surrounded with the products of woodworking endeavors, the art of carving and forming wood has been largely lost. Along with many other products, most of the furniture and other wood objects in our lives are made by machines (a process ironically popularized and made accessible through Henry Ford’s assembly line production of Model Ts).

However, this has not always been the case. Because it is soft and more easily manipulated than metal and other materials, wood was one of the first materials utilized by humans to bring order and sense to their world. In addition to hunting spears and bows and arrows, Native Americans and other Meso-American cultures used wood to make boats, canoes, and shelters, as well as household items such as bowls and ladles (1).

Researchers have also found artifacts suggesting early Egyptian, Roman and Chinese civilizations not only knew how to carve wood, but had developed the skills to masterfully craft tools, weapons and artwork well before the advent of Western Civilization.

In Ancient Rome, woodworking was used to provide pipes, materials for buildings, transportation, tools and other household items (2), and in Egypt, researchers have found evidence of advanced carving techniques (3) depicted in many ancient Egyptian Drawings, and evidenced in a large amount of well-preserved wood furniture such as chairs, stools, tables, beds and chests that still exist today (4).

In China, Lu Ban and his wife Lady Yun are said to have introduced the plane, chalk-line and other woodworking tools to China during the Spring and Autumn Period (771 to 476 BC). Lu Ban is known for inventing a large number of carpentry and woodworking tools, as well as weapons, to help the state battle their enemies. These techniques are recorded in “The Treatise of Lu Ban,” a book still read by carpenters today (6).

In our modern world, however, the skill to handcraft items is a thing of the past, with the majority of our products, including woodwork, created by Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC) machines which can mass produce items with reduced labor and material costs.

Nevertheless, among  those who see woodworking as an art to be preserved and cherished, a small but passionate community exists of those dedicated to preserving the skills and knowledge needed to handcraft unique and delicate items.

While many are aware of Jesus’s early work as a carpenter, other notable and famous figures have also had a passion for wood. Nick Offerman, known for his role as Ron Swanson on the TV Show “Parks and Rec” owns his own woodworking company, Offerman Woodshop, where he loves to spend a large majority of his free time (6).Ty Pennington, who got his break on the 90’s TV show, Trading Spaces, and later Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, brought the role of carpentry to the forefront of the public eye as the handsome, compassionate and charming woodworker on the shows (7).

One of our own engineers, Brett Merillat, even hails from a local woodworking dynasty, Merillat Cabinets, which you can still purchase today!

As illustrated in his popular woodworking blog, An Engineer’s Approach to Woodworking, many engineers, like Matthias Wandel, are drawn to the craft as a hobby due to its similarities with their full time careers. Eric Hansen is one of those outstanding few who not only excel in the field of engineering, but have mastered the intricate art of woodworking.

References
  1. Mc’Clean, D. (2015, October 23). Ancient Woodworking Techniques of the Native Americans. Retrieved from http://www.intothewildwest.com/ancient-woodworking-techniques-of-the-native-americans/
  2. Ulrich, R. B. (2013). Roman woodworking. Place of publication not identified, CT: Yale University Press.
  3. Killen, G. (1994). Egyptian woodworking and furniture. Princes Risborough, UK: Shire.
  4. Leospo, E. (2001). Woodworking in Ancient Egypt. In The Art of Woodworking (p. 20). Turin, Italy: Museo Egizio.
  5. Ciyun, Z. (2011, March 27). Lu Ban (circa BC 507-444): Legendary master carpenter. Shanghai Daily [Shanghai, China]. Retrieved from https://www.shine.cn/archive/sunday/now-and-then/%E9%B2%81%E7%8F%AD-Lu-Ban-circa-BC-507444-Legendary-master-carpenter/shdaily.shtml
  6. Cecil, J. (2016, January 25). Three celebrities who are also woodworkers. Retrieved from https://www.axs.com/three-celebrities-who-are-also-woodworkers-74691

Crafting a Life Worth Living

“Fill your life with experiences, not things,” is the motto Eric and his wife live by. Learn more about their amazing lives in the photos and Q & A session below!

Your One-Stop Handyman

You name it, Eric can build it – and if he doesn’t know how, he’ll figure it out. A mostly self-taught carpenter, Eric has yet to come across a project he can’t tackle.

Creative Ideas

A lot of ideas come from flipping through Instagram or walking around an art fair and saying, “that looks cool, I could make that”…then I find what I need or buy it and get to work.

Simple Tools

Personally I have a couple of saws and a nail gun.  It depends what you’re making.  If you are making a dining room table or candle holders you’ll need different tools.

Easy Startup

Just start at home do stuff and if it turns out, cool! Then keep going.

Create New Treasure

It’s mainly the re-purposing side that I enjoy.  Take something that was used for a specific reason and make it practical in a different application.

A Meaningful Hobby

I probably could sell some of the things that I’ve made but I think it’s more of a hobby.  It’s fun for me right now, I enjoy doing it and I enjoy making different things.  I don’t want to be stuck making 200 coasters to fill online orders, that would take the fun out of it.

Fill Your Home

The first year I built an end table, then an amour, then a bed…along with other things. Now at my parents’ house I have a whole bedroom set that I made…it’s a cool talking point.

Featured Projects

Is there a connection between Engineering and Woodworking? Eric thinks so. “I think it’s the way my mind works…it lends itself to both engineering and woodworking. I have a vision and then figure out a way to execute it.”

We agree with his assessment, as evinced by some amazing examples of his work below!

Most recently I made my parents a mirror that has the Great Lakes cut out and the mirror shows through where the lakes are. They live on a lake in Northern Michigan so their home is somewhat “cottagey” so it fits perfect. That one turned out really cool and it was pretty hard to give it away!

We found an old door on the side of the road. We took it. It had nine window panes in the top half so we painted it and used markers to write the seating chart for our wedding in the windows. Then I took the same door, broke out some of the windows and built shadowboxes where the windows were and we’re using it as a bookshelf in Rowans room.

My grandmother gave me her old toddler bed and I cut it apart and used bungee cords to create a toy box for Rowan. It’s something that his great grandma slept in in the 1930’s…a cool toy box with some family history behind it.

Freequently Asked Questions

Where were you born/where did you grow up?

I was born in Petoskey, MI and grew up in East Jordan, MI, both of which are about four hours north of Detroit and an hour south of the Mackinaw Bridge.

When did you first get interested in engineering? Any mentors or “Ah ha!” moments?

In high school I took multiple drafting classes and really enjoyed them. Originally I was thinking architecture but that somehow lead me to Engineering.

What are some of the greatest adventures you have been on?

We enjoy hiking (no camping and no backpacking though, day hikes only). When Jacquline was pregnant with Rowan, we went to Utah and Colorado and hiked at Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and did a hike to Hanging Lake in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.  Last September we took Rowan with us to Banff, Alberta, in the Candian Rockies.  We explored Banff and Lake Louise doing hikes with him in the backpack, he loved it (and he slept a lot).  Almost all the lakes there are fed by glaciers so they are a color of blue that is hard to even describe.   We actually got “bluff charged” by an elk while we were there.  We were walking on a trail along a river and about 100 yards in front of us a female elk stepped onto the trail from the woods.  Immediately after that her baby stepped out.  At that point we were like, “oh no”…you always hear stories of mothers protecting their young.  So, we started walking backwards slowly and sure enough the elk started walking towards us…then they started jogging.  We turned around to move more quickly and when we looked back they were probably 20 yards away, then we started yelling and they turned into the woods.  It really raises your heart rate when you have a wild animal that’s bigger than a horse coming towards you.  Didn’t affect Rowan though, he slept through the whole thing in the stroller.  We found out later that it was actually called being “bluff charged” and it’s pretty rare…so that’s kind of cool, that we are still here to talk about it.

We really enjoy traveling. What’s the quote? “Fill your life with experiences, not things”…that’s what we try to do.  We enjoy going to different spots too, not going back to the same spot every year.  We went through a big “sunrise” kick for a while.  We would always say that anybody can watch the sun set but you have to really make an effort to watch it rise.  In Hawaii for our honeymoon we got up at 2:00 AM and drove two hours to a National Park to watch the sunrise.  It was unreal…one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced.  It’s a little harder now with Rowan but we were able to get a great picture of a sunrise in Banff over a mountain reflecting on a lake.

What do you like most about working for NCI? Least?

I like that I get to work on multiple different projects, I’m not just doing one thing all day everyday.  Least…nothing!

What drew you to work there/why did you choose NCI?

Its small, family like atmosphere.

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