In this video & article, Don Williams shares a tour of his timber frame barn woodworking workshop in the mountains of Highland County, Virginia. And yes, he bought his 4 story timber frame barn on eBay…I’ll explain in more detail below.
I first met Don Williams several years ago at Highland County’s Maple Sugar Festival. Don was known to me, as I had seen some of his Popular Woodworking Magazine DVDs (see them all here) and read some of his articles on finishing. So an already-fun-filled day with my family was instantly punctuated by our conversation about traditional woodworking. He showed me a panel door that he was working on building in his friend’s antique store-front, that had been converted into a traditional workshop on Monterey’s main street.
I was instantly impressed by how friendly and soft-spoken Don was. He warmly invited me to come visit him at his workshop, which he affectionately refers to as “Don’s Barn” (officially it’s called The Barn on White Run). It’s only a couple hours from my home, so I thought I’d make the visit after a month or two. As is usually the case for me, it turned into about three years.
But our schedules finally cooperated and I was able to head up into the mountains, along with my woodworker friends George Lott and David Ray Pine (yes, I think this is one of the last remaining telephone booths left in the world…you younger people may need to do a Wikipedia search for “phone booth”):
When I arrived at Don’s Barn, I quickly realized that his workshop was much larger than how it appeared in the photos on his website. I was even more flabbergasted when he told us the story about how he purchased his barn on eBay. Not a handplane or a saw…a barn. Was he pulling my leg? Nope, I searched and found huge timber frame barns on eBay (see some here)…but there’s a catch. The postal service doesn’t deliver barns. But hey, there is “Free local pickup”!
Don’s 36′ x 40′ antique barn was disassembled in Quincy, Illinois (parts were carefully numbered) and shipped to the mountains of Virginia where a contractor reassembled the timber frame barn. After a few years of work Don was finally up and running with the off-grid workshop of his dreams.
Don’s workshop is fully powered by a hydro-generator that is energized by a small stream that runs across his property. He also gets some extra electricity from solar panels on the roof of his antique log home.
After finishing his workshop, and after almost three decades as Senior Furniture Conservator at the Smithsonian Institution, Don was able to retire and settle into the life of his dreams with his wife. In addition to teaching classes in his barn, he spends his days, “writing about my interests, researching historical craft and artifacts, constructing and conserving furniture and decorative arts, making tools, homesteading, and sometimes just admiring the mountains outside across the valley while contemplating my mission in the cosmos and the demise of Western Civilization.”
Don has also spent much of his time working on some very well-known projects in the traditional woodworking community, including editing and leading the translation of Andre Roubo’s historical books, “To Make as Perfectly as Possible : Roubo on Marquetry” (see it here) and “With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture” (see it here). Both were published by Christopher Schwarz’s Lost Art Press.
He also spearheaded the monumental task of setting up the first public display of the world-famous Studley Tool Cabinet. You can purchase Don’s book, DVD, and wall poster here at Highland Woodworking.
This tour of Don’s workshop will continue in three following videos and articles. Don will show how he refines raw beeswax for his historical finishes (part 2), he will show the workbench and hand tool area of his workshop (part 3), and finally he will show how to apply a historical beeswax/shellac finish using his historical handmade pollisoirs (part 4)! Click here to be notified when these videos and articles are released.