Jason Harris laid a hunk of unfinished maple on the table in his Langhorne workshop. Usually, he paces around for a while before he lays a finger on it, looking at it from every angle. Maybe a few hours pass before he lands on an idea. Last week, he was just talking through the process.
“I let the wood kind of decide what it wants to be, in a way,” Harris said. “You’ve got to consider every possibility.”
Harris, 33, started his own company, Harris By Hand, in 2014. Based out of the workshop next to his childhood home, he creates what he calls “useful, beautiful artwork” from wood.
If you’ve ever been to Philadelphia’s Bourbon & Branch restaurant or Yardley’s Vault Brewing Company, you may have seen, or heard, his work. For Vault, he made flight boards for beer and other items. At Bourbon & Branch, he’s done a lot more.
There’s simpler things, like menu boards. Then there’s more intricate projects in the upstairs bar and live music venue, like the walnut extension for the bar and a wooden chandelier that hangs from the ceiling.
He even helped make the stage and some of the surrounding structures that lend to the venue’s top-notch acoustics. Harris has a relevant background in that as a graduate from Phoenix, Arizona’s Conservatory Recording Arts and Sciences, where he studied sound engineering.
The acoustics benefit from a wood diffuser that faces the PA system and recycled cedar pallets that distribute the sound overhead.
Harris knows the benefits this has for live bands and audiences. He’s played in several bands through the years, previously as a member of The Grand National. Now he plays bass with The End of America, a folk rock band in Philadelphia.
Both of those pursuits, music and woodworking, come from the same creative drive, but there’s a distinction for Harris.
In playing music, you’re part of a team, collaborating with bandmates to build songs. You collaborate with studio engineers to capture them on record, with live engineers to get the mix right for audiences.
Woodworking is more individual. Harris guides the whole process independently.
“I feel like it’s mine,” he said. “And I feel a little more pride when I’m done.”
It’s a skill he learned from his father, Gordon Harris, around the age of 10. Harris’ father owns a construction company, and Harris “inherited” some of those skills working alongside him.
There’s a room in the Harris home filled with inventory Gordon made over the years — jewelry boxes, cigar boxes, game boards, bird houses, butcher blocks, animal figurines. Every room has a piece of handmade wooden furniture.
“You name it, he’s made it,” Harris said, eying the piles of finished projects.
This was not always Harris’ ambition, starting his own woodworking company. It was the process of making a live-edge table two years ago that reinvigorated his passion for it.
“I started doing things I didn’t usually do and they came out well,” he said.
He posted a photo of the finished product on social media, and friends and family started raving about the work. Since then, he’s been cultivating his own style and ethic, influenced by Japanese carpentry.
Part of that is an aversion to screws and nails. Harris tries to use joinery to assemble his pieces. The connections fit together like puzzle pieces and are glued to stay in place.
That’s something he hopes to carry into his own line of furniture, or possibly storefront business.
He envisions designing items that are replicable, defining a process and making it repeatable. He thinks about one day having a live workshop, where clients and customers can see the products being made.
Tables, chairs, benches, countertops — these ideas circle as he paces around the workshop. ••
For information on Harris By Hand, visit harrisbyhand.wixsite.com. To view or purchase items made in the workshop, visit etsy.com/shop/HarrisbyHand. You can also follow the company’s Facebook and Instagram profiles.