Tools of the Trade: Jared Rusten

A top Bay Area woodworker names his 7 workshop essentials

June 26, 2018 9:00 am

If you know the name of one Bay Area woodworker, it’s probably Jared Rusten. The San Jose native’s early designs for skateboarding ramps have evolved into legitimately iconic pieces, like his famous California coffee table. Or maybe you’ve seen his commissioned work for clients like Levi’s, Google, Vans and Etsy.

(And if you aren’t acquainted, do check out his work. For the latest pieces, you’ll want to follow that Instagram.)

Today, we’re tapping Rusten — who recently moved his J. Rusten Furniture Studio from the Mission to Stockton — for the seven essential tools of his trade, from denim to wood to keeping his hair in place while “ripping on the tablesaw.”

Consider this a seriously next-level DIY shopping list.

The Wood
About half of the wood I use comes from local trees that were pulled up from fallow orchards or milled after coming down in a storm. But the other half comes from my buddies at MacBeath Hardwoods. Before we bought our building and moved the studio to Stockton, MacBeath’s San Francisco location was the place I probably spent the most time outside of my studio, picking out eastern walnut, maple, white oak and all of the plywood I needed for templates, jigs and workbenches. You can imagine the intense fist-pumping I did when they opened a gigantic distribution hub in Stockton last fall, complete with a huge retail showroom. Now I can pick up all of the standard hardwoods alongside any Festool products, adhesives and random pro-grade supplies you can’t find at the big-box stores.

The Finish
Many woodworkers focus on cutting intricate joints or tuning up their handplane to sing a perfect note, but the sanding and finishing part of a project usually take the same amount of time as all of the other steps beforehand combined — and a poorly finished piece will be an insult to all of that careful joinery. In recent years, I’ve become dependent on some great European finishes initially formulated for floors that are just now finding U.S. distribution. Osmo has a variety of oil/wax solutions that are easy to apply, easy to maintain, and offer a beautiful, hand-rubbed luster. My favorite finish though, is Pallmann Magic Oil2k. It’s a two-part system that requires a scale for measuring ratios, and a few more specialty accessories for application, but it has almost zero VOCs, no annoying solvent smell, and it dries hard in 12 hours. Three coats of this stuff leaves a beautiful sheen and a surface that is much more protective than traditional Danish oils. 

The Sandpaper
People often remark on the silky smooth arms and seats of my chairs. My secret is sanding with Norton Black Ice 1500 grit sandpaper in between coats. It knocks down the tooth of any raised wood grain and leaves the touchable parts of my furniture like “buttah.”

The Connections
Imagine me trying to deliver fully assembled dining tables all over San Francisco … lugging behemoth slabs up steps and around corners. Frustrated, I drop the end of the table I’m carrying, turn to camera, and dramatically whine, “There’s got to be a better way!” Enter Rampa wood inserts. I’ve been using these for years to assemble various parts of my furniture — specifically joining table tops to table bases and any other connections that might need to come apart and be put back together again. You drive in the insert and then you use a machine screw to attach the part. There are a bunch of hardware store versions out there that will almost guarantee frustration, so I only trust Rampa. Even though they currently only ship from Canada, they’re worth it.

The Denim
Except for my wedding suit and swimming suit, I’ve only worn one brand around my waist for the last five years: Gustin. They have a unique business model that delivers high-quality selvedge denim at an incredible price — as long as you know your size and don’t mind waiting a month or two to get your jeans. Once I figured out my ideal size, I could order any style among their selection of interesting denim weights and finishes with confidence — I have almost a dozen pairs of their jeans and pants at this point. Pro tip: you can often find barely used pairs on eBay for even cheaper to audition their cut and sizing before backing one of their campaigns.

The Wheels
Almost everything in my studio is mobile thanks to the folks at California Caster. You tell them what you want to roll and how, and if they don’t have the perfect casters in stock, they’ll custom assemble the ideal mix of wheels and bases for whatever surface and use you have. I must have 20,000 pounds on wheels at this point.

The Hair Product
I hate having my hair fall into my face, especially while I’m ripping wood on the tablesaw. On a lark, I used the coconut oil my wife had stashed in the bathroom cabinet to keep my hair in place. It’s proved to be a natural, inoffensive and inexpensive hair product that keeps locks in place without being too greasy or crunchy.

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