They say a man’s home is his castle but for most lobstermen, it’s his shop that’s the castle. Whether it’s a small shed with scarcely room to swing a cat or a good-sized garage with a concrete floor and heat, most lobstermen spend a lot of time in their shop. For Kurt Winter of South Thomaston, his expansive shop doubles as a wood studio, a place where he makes one-of-a-kind tables, benches and custom items.
Winter, 39, began lobstering when he was a boy, hauling four traps by hand on the Weskeag River in South Thomaston. He progressed to a skiff with a hauler in high school and, after graduation, enrolled at Plymouth College in New Hampshire to study graphic design. “It was not what I thought it would be,” Winter admitted. “Way too much time behind a computer.” He recognized that what he truly wanted to do was waiting for him back home in Maine and so, after two years, he returned and took up lobstering as his career. “My father and I got a 25-foot Blue Hill Marine and I did that for a few years. Then a 32-foot H&H which I fished for nine years. Now I have a 35-foot Maine Way, Osmond Beal design. I love lobstering. I think about being on the boat when I’m not on it,” he said, recounting his fishing life through his boats.
Winter is quite clear about his motivation to start making furniture. “My wife, Jen, wanted a dining room table. We were looking at one online last year and it was crazy expensive. I thought ‘I could make that,’” he said. So he did, creating a large dining room table of birch with a bench to match. “I thought I could probably sell it, so I put it up on Craig’s List. A summer person living on Sebago Lake saw it and bought it. Then she ordered an end table and a bathroom countertop!” Winter said with a big grin.
Since then Winter has put out his shingle – Day Off Designs – publicizing his creations via Instagram and Etsy. His shop is filled with huge slabs of drying ash, matched slabs of walnut, hunks of granite and other items he incorporates into his work. He readily admits that he is learning the fine points of furniture making as he goes along, pointing to his first set of bowties, also known as Dutchman joints, in a long table. “First time I’ve done those,” he said.
He doesn’t design his pieces on paper, rather thinking them through and then figuring out how to make his vision work. “Certain things look good together. I incorporate them, like these granite stones for a base,” Winter explained. He used Awlgrip as the finish for his first table. For a larger walnut dining table, he decided to fill a cavity between the two matched boards with tinted epoxy. “It has three-and-a-half gallons of epoxy there. It is so much epoxy I had to do it in two pours. Epoxy heats up as it dries and so it pulls away from the wood,” he explained, pointing to the lake-like shape of black epoxy running through the center of the table.
To date, Winter has produced dining room tables, benches, coffee tables, end tables and charcuterie boards for customers across the country. And he’s thoroughly enjoying learning the finer points of furniture making. “I have all these ideas in my head. Wood is forgiving and easy to work with,” he said. “Measuring is key. And it’s OK if it is not exactly how you picture it if it still looks pretty cool.” Winter has a few projects to finish up in the shop before he clears his woodworking tools away and sets up to repair traps and get ready for the fishing season. And as for that new dining room table his wife wanted last year? “She’s still waiting,” Winter admitted.