Helen Hanssen is a maker and craft person interested in hand-tool woodworking. Influenced by the work she did working in historic preservation and graphic design, Ms. Hanssen became enamored of traditional joinery methods and 18th century hand tools. Shaping wood with antique hand tools allows for her to bring all her passions together, including her background in Japanese art and design. Through the use of hand tools, she embraces the physical demands of ripping, crosscutting, and re-sawing timber after the furniture parts have been carefully laid out.
Ms. Hanssen finds using antique hand-tools in her workshop a satisfying experience and enjoys restoring vintage tools— many of which started out as rusted metal or dried up wood. A number of her hand planes date from the early1800s to 1960s and required some degree of tuning and refining. She believes working with hand tools isn’t all about creating an end product but rather the pleasure in the journey such as feeling the bite of a sharp chisel or driving a tenon home with one final tap.
Wanting to set up a small apartment workshop, many of Ms. Hanssen’s early projects were “shop furniture” designed by Christopher Schwarz at the Lost Art Press, such as the Dutch tool chest, a Japanese tool box, a saw bench, and a Roubo-tyle workbench. For a beginner, these projects act as a deep learning primer for hand-tool woodworking. From this hand-tool foundation, Ms. Hanssen started attending multiple woodworking classes taught by Aspen Golann (Bench brush, Windsor Chair, and pencil-making) at the Florida School of Woodworking in Tampa, Florida.
Recently retired from her position with the federal government, Ms. Hanssen is now embarking on her hand-tool woodworking adventure full-time.
Helen Hanssen grew up in Maryland and received her BA in East Asian Studies with an emphasis on Japanese art history from the University of Maryland, College Park. She later studied graphic and web design at the Corcoran College of Art + Design and fine art B&W photography at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Ms. Hanssen had a gratifying 39-year career working for the federal government in Washington, DC as a web and graphic designer.