Astoria Characters: The Coffee-Table Carpenter

The idea came to Chris Lynn –bam! just like that — as he was looking for a coffee table for his new apartment.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Chris is a carpenter.

While he was browsing in a salvage/second-hand store, a 9-foot plank of wood caught his eye.

“I looked at it – it was a slab of sweetgum – and thought, ‘I’m a carpenter, I can make something out of it,’” he says.

So he moved his car out of his garage, built a workbench that has a table saw and a miter saw and worked on the table every second he could spare from his full-time job.

“It’s not an easy wood to work with because it has an interlocking grain,” he says as he moves his hand appreciatively over its smooth, buttery surface. “A chunk on the end actually fell off while I was working on it because of this, but it actually made the shape better.”

With the completion of this initial project, Chris’ interest grew, and the coffee table led him to create several others, which he has been selling in local markets.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The coffee table that started everything.

Although Chris never intended to be a cabinetmaker, he is ideally suited to the pursuit.

He was born and raised in Rockland County, in a place called Pearl River, whose name, Chris says, reflects its serene, suburban atmosphere.

“It’s known as the town of friendly people, he says wistfully and smiles.

Chris, whose hair and beard are the color of cinnamon, loves hands-on work, and he grew up helping his father, a general contractor and police officer, on construction jobs.

When it came time for college, Chris enrolled at Binghamton University, with the goal of earning a degree in engineering.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Chris converted his garage into a woodworking shop.

He wasn’t terribly enthused by the major; it was his father, after all, who thought it would be a good profession for him.

So when he was forced to stop his studies for two years while grappling with a medical issue that defied swift diagnosis, he changed course and applied to join New York City’s carpentry union.

“They only take applications once a year,” he says. “I got there at 3 a.m. – the line wrapped around four buildings.”

After a four-year apprenticeship, which included on-site work, Chris got a full-time job with a private company in the city.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
A detail of one of Chris’ pieces.

He loved the work, but the commute was a time killer.

“It was one and a half hours in the morning and two hours coming home,” he says. “I decided to move to Astoria a year and a half ago because it was closer and had a more neighborly feel than Manhattan.”

Which is when and why he needed that coffee table.

He leads the way down to the garage, where he reveals a custom coffee table made of black walnut with full-moon-shaped curly maple inlays.

As he rubs his hand over the top, he says, “I like to turn a piece of wood into a functional, aesthetically pleasing piece of furniture; it’s very satisfying.”

Although Chris, who is 30, sometimes sketches his ideas, more often than not he lets the wood shape his artistic vision.

Each piece typically takes 20 to 30 hours to complete.

“I’m still learning as I go,” he says, adding that he devotes nights and weekends to these projects.

Right now, C26 Woodworks, which is what Chris calls his nascent company, is a hobby that has the potential to become something steady.

“If it does take off,” he says, “I’d love to do it full time. But it will be difficult to make this happen because it’s hard to compete with the IKEAs of the world because everybody wants cheaper furniture – and I’m only one person. I’m limited as to the amount I can create.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
A custom coffee table ready for delivery to a client.

Right now, he’s thinking of his next projects.

He talks about a table made of exotic hardwoods that has hexagonal inlays.

As he looks around the living room of his apartment, his eyes stop on the large flat-screen TV.

“I might do a console for it,” he says as he appraises the space.

Copyright 2022 by Nancy A. Ruhling