This Is Rutherford
This is Woodworker Matt Kuznia
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Photo credit: Matt Kuznia
Matt Kuznia has become a familiar name on This is Rutherford as a local hero, a generous community member who, along with his wife, created a Little Free Pantry during the most challenging months of the pandemic, and now as a woodworker who has found ways to repurpose wood from Rutherford, as well as many other areas. In addition to all of these altruistic ways Matt has assisted the residents of Rutherford, he is also a firefighter with the Rutherford Fire Department. This is Rutherford spoke with Matt about how the fallen trees in Rutherford will be used in future projects and his woodworking business.
TIR: Back on August 4th, Rutherford was hit hard by a storm that knocked down hundreds of trees. The trees caused a lot of serious damage to the homes in our town. You wanted to find a way to turn something sad and negative into something more positive. Can you tell us about your idea?
Matt Kuznia: Good hardwood species (oak, maple, sycamore, etc.) are much more expensive than most people think. When I started woodworking, I liked the idea of salvaging unusable furniture into something new. Unfortunately, because of how a lot of furniture is constructed it’s not always very efficient, and you don’t always yield a lot.
On August 4th, I spent the good part of the afternoon on Truck 1 (Rutherford FD) responding to all the calls we had that day. The sheer amount of downed trees was incredible. Sadly, I knew that we weren’t going to be swarmed by a lot of sawyers ready to slab up the boards and that almost all of them would end up as firewood or in the wood chippers. Though the speed of response is necessary in times like those, I was still bummed that so much beautiful wood would end up in a mulch pile. So as we were riding around in the truck, I thought it might be worth a shot to take some of the wood, saw it up into boards, and eventually turn it into something to keep the tree “alive” for another few generations.
TIR: You and your brother are woodworkers and have a small business (www.kuzniawoodworking.com). Tell us more about your business and the types of projects that you often work on together.
MK: My brother, Adam, and I started our business in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve done woodworking for a few years, but with families and full-time jobs, it’s not always easy to find the time. When we were stuck in quarantine, we figured that there was no better time than in 2020 to give it a go. Our business is just the two of us, and we build everything in my two-car garage, which we’ve converted to an exclusive woodworking shop. Much of what we’ve made is different furniture pieces; bookcases, wall shelves, a bathroom vanity, display cabinets, etc. We prefer to use traditional joinery techniques as much as possible; most of our pieces don’t include a single nail or screw, unless absolutely necessary to avoid cracking from wood movement. Mostly we just enjoy the process of turning a raw piece of sawn wood into something finished - there’s a lot that goes into it, and it’s quite enjoyable.
TIR: Is there a type of wood that you enjoy working with the most?
MK: Each different wood species has its own allure. Cherry ages beautifully (from yellowish to a dark red over a few years); walnut is just beautiful and easy to work with (smells like chocolate when milling too!); ash is hard as a rock but has really interesting grain patterns and color variations. Some of the sycamore logs I salvaged from the storm I cut into quarter-sawn boards, which brings out unbelievable grain patterns. I don’t think I’ve been doing this long enough to have a favorite, but I’m definitely enjoying discovering the differences and benefits of each.
TIR: How long is the process from start to end?
MK: The drying time is the longest part of the process. When a log is sawn into boards, it must dry to around 10% moisture content, which takes around one year per inch thickness. So none of the wood I salvaged in August will be near ready to work until August 2021 at the earliest. It requires a lot of patience; building something out of incompletely dry wood will inevitably lead to cracks in the final piece. Once the wood is dry, it generally takes a few months (we work nights and weekends and around our family schedules) from start to finish depending on the size and complexity. Finishing a piece takes a few weeks, depending on the type of finish. There’s nothing in this process that can be rushed. Big furniture makers have the benefit of endless dried wood, massive machines, and industrial finishing environments; we have a garage and two family-men. But I dare say you can absolutely tell the quality of a product that comes from a small workshop over one that comes from a massive manufacturer.
TIR: Is there a piece you have created that you are particularly proud of so far?
MK: My favorite piece is the shelving unit in my first floor half-bath. We renovated our bathroom from top to bottom during the pandemic, and my wife wanted a specific style. So aside from the entire renovation, I built a custom vanity and shelf, both from ash (both have pics on our website). I had everything done in the bathroom, including the vanity, and needed a shelving unit - but couldn’t figure out what we wanted. So, with a very near deadline looming (the next day), my brother, my friend Armando, and I got to work in the garage. I had a bunch of leftover ash, and within a few hours we had the shelving unit for the bathroom. Not only was it a perfect match because it was all the same wood species, but I just feel we nailed the style perfectly. It’s relatively simple - some clean curves, well-sized shelves, and a neat hanging system - but it fits the space perfectly, which is more important than anything else.
TIR: What has been some of the feedback you have received from those who asked you to create something from the trees that fell near their home during storm Isaias?
MK: To be honest, I had more people just volunteering wood they saw than anyone asking for a piece to be made from it. Thankfully, I grabbed enough logs so that next year, when the wood is dried and I figure out something to make, maybe it’ll find its way into a Rutherford home.
TIR: What do you enjoy most about working on these projects with your brother?
MK: My brother and I have been like best friends for the longest time. He moved to Rutherford around 2014, and my family moved here in 2017, specifically to be close to the only family we have in the northeast. The best part of doing this together is getting to hang out.
To read more about Matt Kuznia as a local hero, click here. To read about Matt and his wife Leyla's Little Free Pantry, click here.