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Furniture maker Tarik Yousef (TARik youSEF) is a traditionalist. His shop in Raymond, Ohio, includes a generous assortment of the kinds of woodworking machinery found in nearly every American cabinetmaking shop in the last century: a Grizzly 10" table saw, 6" jointer and 2-hp shaper, and a Cummins 14" band saw. He also makes use of traditional joinery — often leaving it exposed in the fashion of many late 20th century makers — and he works in the context of traditional forms: beds with frame-and-panel head and foot boards, round dining tables on tripod bases, and side tables with cabriole legs.
Owner of: Tarik Yousef Fine Furniture, Ltd.
Location: Raymond, Ohio
Product: Custom furniture
Shop size: 3,200 sq. ft.
Employees: One contract worker
Quotable: “I find that customers don’t necessarily know what they want. Sometimes the best way to give them ideas is to build stuff, to give them ideas, to give them something to think about.”

But he is also a citizen of the 21st century. His tool collection includes a CNC machine he designed and built himself. He evaluates joinery using Finite Element Analysis software, and he works out design problems using 3-D software. At 25, Yousef — and others of his generation — represent the future of American cabinetmaking, a future that will blend traditional forms and techniques with the promise of digital technology.

Learning the craft
Yousef’s father, a professor at Ohio State University, wasn’t a woodworking hobbyist, but in both middle school and at Upper Arlingon High School (Yousef’s instructor there was Dana Schoenlab), Yousef was enrolled in strong woodshop programs that piqued his interest and equipped him with a solid foundation of skills. Since then his technical instruction has consisted only of what he has been able to teach himself by reading books and magazines and, more importantly, by experimenting in the shop.

In fact, Yousef has consciously chosen to learn woodworking in his own way.

“I could imagine myself disliking woodworking if I had gone to a school,” he explains. “I would much rather learn things on my own. It gives you an outside perspective.”

In Yousef’s mind, the trade school approach to a woodworking education has consequences beyond technique. It can also interfere with an artisan’s approach to design aesthetics. “The instructor’s style tends to work its way into the student’s work,” he says. “But I have guys as assistants who came from woodworking schools. It’s each person’s personal decision.”

Yousef believes his decision to eschew woodworking instruction at any of the schools now offering such a curriculum leaves him in good company. At a recent Furniture Society conference, Yousef noted a philosophical dichotomy separating those furniture makers who have chosen to be self-taught and those who have chosen a formal education. “There was a panel composed mostly of people who were teaching at schools, and they were talking about how you should do this and how you shouldn’t do that. Most of the self-taught woodworkers took offense to that.”

A new career brews
While studying mechanical engineering at Ohio State, Yousef took a job as a manager at a campus-area coffee shop called the Shisha Lounge. This shop needed furniture — display cases, tables, and several large couches — and Yousef offered to build this furniture. Then, after his work had been installed in the coffee shop, customers who saw and admired it began to approach Yousef about making furniture for their homes.