Walking into the Spencer Peterman workshop in Turners Falls, I am struck by a few things: the morning light streaming through the windows, motes of illuminated dust from a newly sanded board hanging in the air, and the easy workplace camaraderie between the two men inside. Spencer is working on a large slab of wood that will become a table, and Stu is bustling about, organizing future projects.
Stu Doogan is the newest member of the Peterman team, and heads the Turners Falls workshop where he creates cutting boards and salad tossers. Stu took over the workshop after Mike Langknecht, who previously ran the Turners Falls location, passed away unexpectedly in January.
Mike was a longtime member of the Peterman’s team, a talented, meticulous Master Woodworker, and a friend. After this devastating loss, finding the right person for the shop wasn’t easy. Fortunately Stu, who had recently moved back to Massachusetts, was the right fit. Stu is carrying on the work that Mike once did, while putting his own mark on the shop and the beautiful pieces that are made here.
Like everything in the Spencer Peterman line of products, Stu’s boards and tossers are made from locally sourced, upcycled wood. Local tree services provide Peterman’s with logs that would otherwise be burned, chipped, or tossed. Instead, they are turned into one-of-a-kind pieces of durable, functional art at the company’s workshops in Turners Falls and Gill.
As I get my first tour of the workshop, I’m impressed by how nothing goes to waste here. Even though Stu begins each project with upcycled wood, a sustainable act in itself, the scraps of those projects are also set aside to become other projects. Stu shows me an area where tiny wood scraps are collected for a local spoonmaker. In another corner, roughly carved bowls that aren’t suitable for finishing are turned into salad tossers. Even the sawdust is swept up and used for mulch at a local farm.
After I greet Spencer and Stu, Spencer heads back to the Gill workshop, and Stu and I sit outside to chat. Let’s get to know to Stu a bit.
Hi Stu! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today. First, could you share a bit about the work you do for Spencer Peterman?
I make the cutting boards, and I’ve also started doing the tossers. For now though, I’m mainly working on boards. I take the big slabs of trees that they bring over–mostly spalted maple–and cut them down into the various size boards that we need, the rectangular ones and the ovals and the rounds.
Soon I’ll be making the handled boards as well. My buddy Josh has been figuring out how to do the handled boards. He knew how to do the tossers, so he’s been training me on everything. But we’re kind of helping each other figure out the handle boards because unfortunately, we didn’t really have an opportunity to train. We’re figuring it out on our own, with some help from Spencer and another person who has the front shop in this building, Brian, who also owns an ice cream shop, Ice Cream Alley.
What’s your previous woodworking experience?
Originally, I did some construction work when I first left the nest for a little while. After that, I bumped around and was a baker for a while, then I ran a cafe. I always loved woodshop stuff. At one point I met a woman who was a piano tuner, and she needed an apprentice. I joined forces with her for many years as a piano technician. And I really loved the shop work, but I was not a good piano tuner. But I was really good in the shop and I’m good at rebuilding pianos. But it’s a sad story that it’s a dying trade. And if you’re not a good tuner, you’re pretty much not going to make a living. So the writing’s on the wall that I wasn’t going to be able to really make that my career.
I had to open the newspaper and look in the classifieds, and that’s when I found my job in wood stove sales which I had for 21 years. I ended up having a great career in wood stoves, but I always wanted get back into the shop. I would take night classes at my local community college to do shop stuff, because I didn’t have a garage in my house in Santa Cruz and I had a very small studio, but I mostly used it for music.
When I found out about this position at Spencer Peterman, I jumped, because it was getting back into a woodshop. And I like to eat so cooking and cutting boards is kind of cool. And I liked the fact that it’s rustic. And I really liked the fact that it’s completely unusual and recycled. That checks all the boxes, and the Petermans are great to work with.
What’s your favorite part of the day-to-day work in the shop?
Well, I’m excited to come to work every day, and I’m excited that it’s always something a little different at Spencer Peterman. I don’t do the same thing every single day. Some days I’m cutting up the slabs and other days, I’m planing them down, and other days I’m sanding and then finishing them. Every day of the week has its own specific kind of job.
What I think I like the most is the transformation. I joke that I like messy to pretty or clutter to tidy, or ugly to nice. I like that feeling of accomplishment of taking something totally thrashed out and making it beautiful. The wood itself is not very thrashed, but it’s an old tree. It’s rough, and it gets slowly honed down to something really soft and pretty and useful.
That is a really fun process, and it’s simple. There’s no bells and whistles, and it’s very honest. I like that.
You recently moved here from Santa Cruz, CA. What brought you back to the area?
I came back to the area to take care of my ailing father, and to help him transition to the afterlife. We’d always planned on coming back. We had it in our five year plan, but COVID and dad’s cancer diagnosis made us change plans very quickly. So we suddenly packed up and left and came sooner than we expected. But regardless, we are here.
We knew that we wanted to be in Greenfield to be close to our other chosen family and friends, and we have just recently bought a house in Turners Falls. We’re settling in and going to become locals here.
So now that you’re a local, what are some of your favorite Valley places to visit, things to do in the area?
Oh, Hope and Olive for sure. Absolutely. Number one. And Magpie and the Wagon Wheel. Those are definitely my faves. And the Ice Cream Alley, Brian’s little ice cream shop. But because of COVID I haven’t really hung out, honestly.
My wife Rae and I go hiking. That’s our thing. We’ve discovered so many trails, and we try to hike every weekend. Before I got a job here, I was hiking every day and we will be again after we move into our house and settle down.
So I’ve been discovering the nature part of the area, which is actually my preference and getting reacquainted with the woods of New England, because I grew up in New England and haven’t been here for 33 years. I’ve forgotten what the trees are. I’ve forgotten what the plants are. I want to know those things again. I used to know them and I just don’t remember.
I’m excited to have a garden. I haven’t had a garden since COVID. I’m really excited to just plant some flowers and get some, you know, ornamental trees and shrubs, and I like to prune so I’m excited to get that going.
Stu, thank you so much for chatting with me and giving the Spencer Peterman community a chance to get to know you.