In a small garage studio behind an historic Winter Park bungalow, a centuries old practice is being revived with every pass of an antique planing tool. Using nothing more than traditional hand tools, furniture artist Canlin Frost carves his way back through time.
“I tend to gravitate to styles that were common in pre-industrial United States. Mostly William and Mary, Colonial and Shaker styles,” Frost said.
Frost grew up in Winter Park, working with his father in construction as he slowly developed a love for working with his hands.
After attending college in rural Vermont, Frost spent a year teaching English in China.
When he came back to live with his future wife’s family on their farm in Vermont, restlessness set in quickly. Needing a creative outlet while there, he decided to put the antique tools in the family’s old barn to good use, and began researching woodworking techniques that have been all-but-forgotten in this digital age of technology.
Between Google, YouTube, hours of reading, and conversations with woodworkers around the country, Frost taught himself how to approach woodworking from a completely new (to him) direction.
While putting his strength behind the planer to push against the grain of a rough-hewn length of black walnut he is working on for a client from Virginia, Frost explained why he chose the old-school way.
“Furniture built by hand just has so much more character than modern pieces,” he said. “The thought in the design and the hands on the wood make the wood speak. Each piece is thoughtfully crafted and every step is touched by the craftsman.”
He wanted to recreate the skill and craftsmanship that went into woodworking before power tools came along. In his work, he uses only tools, glues and techniques that would have been used in the Revolutionary period of America.
And he’s taken a step back in time too. Frost and his wife Stacy, who is also an artist, moved back to Winter Park, just a few minutes away from the home he grew up in.
In a few short years, he has gone from being an educator to working full time as a traditional woodworker and restorer, bringing back an ancient art.
Ever the teacher, Frost has spent time giving demonstrations at the Historic Waterhouse Carpentry Shop Museum in Maitland, giving a window into how woodworkers once employed their craft. He also made an appearance at the Orlando Science Center during the recent Maker Faire.
Someday he said he’d like to own a shop, open to the public, where he could work and teach people about what he does.
“I’d love the chance to share my passion,” Frost said. “I’m a big believer in education, and I believe if you have a special knowledge, you are almost obligated to share it. What I do is not a secret, it is a resource that I’d like to see shared.”
His work varies from small hand-turned candlesticks to large custom furniture pieces such as shelves and tables. In addition to building furniture, he also restores antique pieces in need of a little TLC.
He recently completed some restoration work on historic furniture for Casa Feliz.
“He is a true professional with attention to detail and dedication to his craft,” said Angela Roark, assistant director of the Friends of Casa Feliz.
Maybe that’s because Frost thinks of his work as a two-way street.
“I enjoy making things for people and seeing the looks on their faces when they receive them,” he said.
“One of my favorite pieces that gave me deep gratification was a cedar chuppah for a Jewish client’s wedding,” Frost said. “The couple were so pleased with the result, they told me they plan to pass it down in their family. It was very meaningful for me to craft something that represents their future together.”
“Some of the most meaningful things I make are gifts,” he said. “I spent a year working on a clock for my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. I designed and built it, and my wife hand-painted the face and added gold leaf. Working together on the project made it even more special.”
Despite the banging noises from the workshop and the constant research, not to mention the sawdust tracked all over the place, Frost said his wife has been a big supporter of his efforts to make his dream a full-time reality.
“Stacy is a great partner in all this, without her I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.”