Ben's Workshop: Behind the Scenes with Josh Nowell

The art of woodworking is not an easy craft to master. Shaping rough wood into smooth furniture can be difficult and frustrating. When the building gets tough, it's always good to remember the why behind the build. For Josh, Ben’s old friend and wood-shop sidekick, the answer is simple. The why is not for fame, applause, or notoriety. Instead, Josh's work is about creating a lasting legacy, namely for his four young children.

“My first solo build was our 12 ft dining room table. When we bought our old house, we needed to fill the large dinning room. I decided to build a table because I loved the idea of our children growing up around one their daddy built. It was an 80-hour labor of love. When I finished it, Emily was pregnant with our first child. We wondered if we would ever need seating for so many! Then, we were surprised to find out we were pregnant with our second child only six months later. Now, six years later, we have four children, two dogs and hardly enough room for the entire family.”

When Josh started woodworking, the process was trying to his patience. As it turns out, turning wood into furniture is easy compared to building children into adults. He wittily compares his experience with different wood species to the demeanor of his kids.

“Cedar is a lot like my oldest son, Sam. Cedar is soft, forgiving, and smells good. He was our first and hardest baby; it felt like he didn’t sleep the first seven months of his life, but he has grown to be pliable and quick to listen when you correct him.

My youngest child, Nora, is just 10 months old. She’s a happy baby and pleasant to work with— kind of like high-grade oak. Oak cuts smooth with no issues.

Teddy, my second son, was born only fifteen months after Sam. It turned out to be a huge blessing because they’re best friends. Teddy is like pine. It’s soft and behaves well. You hit a knot every now and again, but it's pretty easy to get back on track.

I skipped my three-year-old little girl on purpose," Josh laughs.

"Irene is like an exotic hardwood. Maybe Ipe. No, she's much harder than that. She is more like petrified wood. You try to put a blade on it, and it just grinds it out. You need a cutting torch to get through it, but man, it’s beautiful when you finally get it to work with you. She’s very spirited.”

Josh has worked on Ben's builds for Home Town since the beginning when their woodshop was in the back of an old drugstore building in downtown Laurel. He recalls his favorite build from Season 5 is the cedar shelves for the Moffett House.   

"We had planned to use invisible supports, but we had to modify our plan since the supports were on backorder. We ended up working on those shelves until 3am the night before the reveal. When we went to install them, we came up with an idea to make it visually attractive. The shortest shelf would be on the bottom and aligned to the right. It was a lot of work, but it ended up looking intentional like some tree spreading upward on the wall. That’s kind of the joy of woodworking. You work towards a plan in your mind, but the wood may inspire you to go in a different direction.”

Josh admits that his time in the woodshop is limited due to the responsibilities of raising four children and operating multiple businesses.

“Ben is usually filming 12 hours a day, and I’m generally working on business operations with our partner Jim Rasberry. Neither of us can be in the woodshop as much as we’d like. We both have wood stacked in various corners, and we tell Randy to keep it because it will be something beautiful one day very soon. Randy likes to remind us of the age of each stack like some forester counting ancient tree rings. Some have been there for two or three years if that tells you anything.

Ben designs each piece, and Randy preps the wood and gets everything ready for filming. We’re super appreciative of his craftsmanship. In fact, I think Randy is a better woodworker than me. He is usually the one who finds the flaw in our designs. That’s what’s fun about working with reclaimed wood. You may be working in one direction, but the wood stubbornly refuses to go that way.”

When Josh finds time to get in the woodshop for fun, he sees this craft as a mystery at times. The rhythms of woodworking never change, but ironically, the woodworker does.

“It is tough to woodwork. You have to work and sweat and give up something else to do it well. It’s frustrating when you mis-cut and must cut again. You are trying to bend this hard substance to your will. You’re trying to turn it into the image you see in your head, and the process changes you. You think you’re shaping wood, but then you realize, it's actually shaping you into a more patient person, a more gracious neighbor, and a better parent. And all of this because you were sweating over that pine joist that just wouldn’t bend."

"You set out to build an heirloom piece of furniture thinking that it will be your legacy. But, you find out the wood marked you as much as you marked the wood and that ends up being a longer-lasting legacy."

Shop Josh's Woodshop Collection here!