John Henry Souza came to woodworking through food. Slow food, thoughtfully and meticulously prepared. "In many ways cooking and woodworking are similar and I think the same principles and values translate from one to the other. I believe in using local products produced by people who care about material and the craft. The same attention to detail applies to both professions and honor the connection between your mind and your hands."
How did you come to be a woodworker? I was 15 when I started working in professional kitchens. I was enamored by food and cooking––there are few things in this life that ask you to use your five senses simultaneously. I studied at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY, and the lessons I learned there, which at the time seemed so specific to cooking, were in fact values that are applicable to so many different professions and crafts.
CIA hammered into me the importance of organization, planning, a sense of urgency, and attention to detail. The experience was intense. After graduation I dove into cooking with an earnestness, seeking out the best restaurants and the hardest stations to work at. As it dawned on me that success and "moving up" in the culinary world actually meant less time cooking, I began practicing other skills with my hands: gardening (which I enjoy but am not very good at!) and helping friends with small carpentry projects.
When the moment came that I was thinking about wood more than food, I knew it was time to make the switch. Most of my projects are commissions for furniture, but I always make time to stay close to food with serving trays, cutting boards, spoons, and saya––the traditional Japanese sleeve that covers a knife when it is not in use.
What is your favorite tool? My favorite tool is the chisel. Much like in cooking, a freshly sharpened knife is satisfying to use. Tools themselves are fascinating––it's interesting to have and use an object that allows you to do so much. I collect tools, old and new, although I may use some daily and others only rarely. I also enjoy maintaining and sharpening my tools. There are few things more satisfying then using a high quality tool for its intended purpose.
Tell us about a person or situation that inspires you. My father is an architect and since I was young I've been building things and working with my hands––but I took for granted how important those skills are. I grew up with a shop in my house and didn't realize until I was much older how extraordinary that was.
There is just too much stuff in our world. Everything has been commoditized, and people are trained to buy on sale. People are not trained to understand how much time and talent goes into choosing a wood, milling and shaping it, and finishing it. Into knowing what's right for a piece of wood or a process. I believe that if more of us understand craft, if more of us made things with our own hands, and we learned the stories behind who someone is, what they make, and why, we would have more influence over what people want to buy and how they want to buy. People want to belong somewhere and feel useful.
A lot of the things that I make and do now I have tried to figure out on my own and teach myself. Future goals? I would love to apprentice and open myself to new skills and new perspectives, but have not found the right opportunity yet. I am looking forward to exploring my craft further and pushing myself to create objects that test my abilities and patience.