Two years ago, David Anderson was working in the local food and beverage industry and looking for a change.

“I had worked in restaurants and bars since I was 15,” says Anderson, now 30. “It was fun, but the hours and the lifestyle that came with it wasn’t on par with what I wanted to do with my life.”

After trying to repair a table for his grandmother, he discovered his calling, woodworking. The problem was that he had practically no experience. He recalls, “I knew how to swing a hammer and could barely read a tape measure. That was about it.”

But Anderson was in luck. The Charleston Woodworking School had just fledged in a 2,000-square-foot warehouse in a light industrial area off of Sam Rittenberg Boulevard. He enrolled.

Today, he works as a full-time woodworker, making almost as much money as he did in the hospitality industry, has no boss and enjoys what he’s doing.

“I make my own hours now and get to build what I want to build. It (woodworking) is the best thing that I’ve done in life so far.”

Building community

Local woodworker Sam Sprouse founded the Charleston Woodworking School in 2014 after injuring his back.

The Asheboro, North Carolina, native graduated from the University of South Carolina but was trained in woodworking at the Thomas Chippendale School of Furniture, located near Edinburgh, Scotland. He was enjoying working on boats in Charleston when he first ruptured a disc “moving some stuff around.”

He had surgery, and while recovering, thought about starting the school. He adds, “I always loved teaching. It’s something I always wanted to do.” But then he started a business restoring antiques and later the school, which offers a full-time curriculum and one-time workshops.

The full-time, professional program consists of 30 weeks of instruction, broken into three, 10-week semesters, that are held Monday through Friday. The cost is $19,500.

So far, six students have graduated from the program. 

Shorter-term, night and weekend intensive workshops often run two to four consecutive days and can run $200 to $500. So far, nearly 20 people have completed those courses.

Sprouse says that the school does not compete with the American College of Building Arts, which focuses more on carpentry and historic restoration. In a nutshell, the college focuses on "macro" training, while the school is geared more toward "micro" instruction.

Sprouse ended up being glad he started the school.

“Last January (2016), I picked up my (laptop) computer and coffee and was coming to school. I coughed real hard and ruptured the other side of the disc. Now, I can lift 30 pounds. That’s it. Most tables weigh a lot more than 30 pounds,” says Sprouse, who turned his focus to the school.

As part of that effort, Sprouse is preparing to move the school to a new site, where he plans build a new, 5,000-square-foot facility on S.C. Highway 61 and to expand offerings.

The expansion will allow him to go from handling a maximum of three students to up to 15 students.

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Creating a guild

Sprouse sees the school as another opportunity to build a woodworking community in Charleston, which has a legacy in furniture, in another, complementary way.

Last year, at the urging of Johns Island wood carver Mary May, Sprouse and fellow furniture maker Charlie Moore, owner of BrassApple Furniture, decided to start the Charleston Wood Guild. Despite living just miles from each other, Sprouse and Moore met for the first time in August 2016 at the Woodworking in America Conference in Covington, Kentucky.

They held their first Charleston Wood Guild meeting on Jan. 19, drawing 20 people, including beginners, hobbyists, an arborist, carvers, educators and others.

They hope to build a community similar to the Greenville Woodworkers Guild, a nonprofit started in 1981 with nearly 700 members and an education center with woodworking machines, tools, library, lathe training room and storage area with wood available for sale to members.

Moore says Charleston has an existing woodworking community in Charleston, but “nobody knows about us,” adding that a guild will help the range of woodworkers network with each other.

Like Moore, May describes many woodworkers as “hermits” who like to quietly work in their shops, but that a guild will encourage them to get together, be social and share techniques.

“It (forming a guild) is long overdue,” says May, who has been a woodcarver for 25 years, including the last 18 in Charleston. “We have tried to do something before, talked about doing it, but it’s an undertaking, so I’m thankful for them starting one.”

Contact David Quick at 843-937-5516. Follow him on Twitter @DavidQuick.

Contact David Quick at 843-937-5516. Follow him on Twitter @DavidQuick.