Joshua Johansen is an award winning woodworker, who ran a successful logging business in his native Hawaii. He now has his roots firmly planted in our beautiful corner of East Devon, less than a mile from our Axminster store. Here we meet him at his busy workshop.
What brought you to the UK and why Devon?
My wife is from the UK. We met when she went to a remote Fijian island to do some volunteering. I was currently on the island spearfishing. The fishing was pretty bad, but we hit it off and one year later we were married. A year after that we had a beautiful daughter!
We decided a move to England would be a great opportunity for our little girl and for me as a woodworker. We moved to this area as Elaine has family here and it’s just such a beautiful and inspiring place.
There is such a rich history of woodworking in England, you are surrounded by incredible craftsmanship that is hundreds of years old! There are so many talented makers, it has enabled me to learn a lot of new techniques and grow as a craftsman
I researched and found my workshop at Hunthay Farm while still in Hawaii (the wonders of the internet). It was great to learn that Axminster Tools was literally down the road from the shop. I’m there far too much!
How did you start out in woodwork?
My grandfather owned and ran a sawmill and logging company which I helped out at when I was a boy. It was then that I started making little items from wood scraps and it led to my passion for furniture making. I eventually took over the company.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am making a 20ft shepherd hut that has a bedroom area, a kitchen and a compact bathroom. I appreciate the history and beauty of the old huts and thought that I’d love the opportunity to craft really beautiful, well made shepherd huts, staying true to their original form while bringing them up to date with modern day living. Two years on, I’m working on my fifth hut build and have a furniture commission after this.
What part of the making process do you most enjoy and why?
I really enjoy the process of hearing a client’s ideas, drafting some sketches and making it into a reality. When making furniture I like using traditional techniques, such as hand cutting the dovetail joints in a contrasting wood colour, it finishes a piece off beautifully.
It’s such a compliment when you see an original piece being loved and used in the client’s home and they come back to commission a second piece
When it comes to our shepherd huts I love shaping and crafting the Oak axel and making the wooden doors, windows and cabinetry. We get a lot of compliments about the chassis. People say it’s the quality of the joinery that sets our huts apart. It’s really gratifying to hear as I get so much pleasure from creating them. We take our time handcrafting almost every piece of the hut, so each one is really individual and well made, by the end of the process I get somewhat attached to the hut!
Do you prefer using machines or hand tools? Which ones are your favourite?
It really depends on what the job is. There is something really gratifying about using a plane or chisel to do fine handwork. But when you have to do fast precision cutting, I really appreciate my Festool Tracksaw from Axminster.
What, or who, has inspired you?
I’m inspired by the craftsmanship of Sam Maloof and Henry Weeks. Living in Europe has given me a totally different perspective and aesthetic, I’m surrounded by inspirational work.
One thing that really stands out is the Bishop’s Throne at Exeter Cathedral. It’s 60ft tall and handcrafted from English Oak. It is made entirely without nails, with every piece fitted together with wooden dowels. It is exquisitely carved.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
If you are really passionate about what you want to do, use every opportunity possible to increase your knowledge and fine tune your skills. Be prepared to put in the hours and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions.
What are your plans for the future?
Keep on learning, honing my craft and making beautiful bespoke shepherd huts and furniture. I built our house in Hawaii and I’d really like to develop the idea of the shepherd hut and look at crafting really space efficient, beautifully made, timber framed, semi-portable outdoor living spaces.