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ARTIST PROFILE: Wayne Ignatuk, an old-school furniture maker

February 2, 2018
By STEVE LESTER - Correspondent ( , Lake Placid News

UPPER JAY-When it comes to making furniture, there is old school, and then there is Wayne Ignatuk.

Enter a furniture shop and you are liable to hear the roar of a table saw while the artisan wears safety glasses and hearing protection.

Table saw?

Article Photos

Wayne Ignatuk in his workshop
(Photo provided — Steve Lester)

"I don't even know how to run one," Ignatuk said.

At his Swallowtail Studio near Upper Jay, he relies more on precise shaping tools so that all the joints fit snugly like pieces to a jigsaw puzzle without relying on power tools. While displaying a cabinet, he described the wood used (curly walnut), and added, "No nails, no screws, and maybe a teaspoon of glue."

His pieces, whether they be large armoires or small bathroom cabinets, all have a secret compartment just big enough to store a wad of cash. Getting to them can take a little practice, even if you know their exact location.

Ignatuk doesn't exactly whip these products out on a daily basis. He said for a basic bedroom dresser, you can expect to pay in the neighborhood of $10,000. A tall, thin armoire he had on display carries a price tag of $18,000.

His attention to detail earns him high praise from his colleagues at L Post Rustics in AuSable Forks.

"His stuff is incredible," said Larry Post after shutting down a roaring power tool and taking off his hearing protection. "He uses no power tools at all. He is seriously old school."

Post's son and fellow furniture maker, Ryan, spoke of Ignatuk with equal reverence, saying, "That guy is an inspiration."

Such old-world skills did not come quickly or easily to Ignatuk. His father sparked his interest while growing up in Morristown, New Jersey when they would ride around town on garbage day and pick up discarded furniture along the street. His father would pay special attention to the loose joints usually found on these pieces, tighten them up to good-as-new status and then re-sell them.

Although Ignatuk said he enjoyed this activity with his father, he never pursued the craft seriously until after he earned an engineering degree at Clemson University. He soon became a part owner of a company in Florida with 75 employees that made laser crystals and optics.

Ignatuk also had a summer home in the Adirondacks that his family was always reluctant to leave at the end of the season. As his children approached school age, he and his wife decided to put them in schools in the North Country rather than Florida.

"We had friends in the area and just loved it," Ignatuk said. "Our kids were just starting school, and we already had a house here which made it kind of easy."

Ignatuk sold his share of the company in 1996, fulfilled a two-year contract with them, and then made the move.

His first venture into furniture making involved a high chair for his daughter, before he realized how difficult it is to build chairs.

"I learned late that starting off building a chair like that was probably not the smartest thing," Ignatuk said.

Aside from what he learned from his father, Ignatuk said he is "entirely self-taught" through books, magazine articles and a lot of trial and error.

"It's so much easier to learn now through YouTube," he said.

Ignatuk seeks the finest materials after decades of nurturing relationships with lumber dealers. Whenever they come across something like a large piece of curly walnut 27 inches wide, they call him up. The finished products that result from these rare pieces seldom if ever need to be brought back for defective workmanship.

"I jokingly tell people they have a 400-year warranty," Ignatuk said. "In 20 years, nobody has asked for a repair, but they've asked me to fix other people's stuff."

Most of his business comes from repeat customers.

"If I get one new client a year I feel good," he said.

Ignatuk's one-man operation is small in size and very quiet. His products may not be for those struggling to pay the rent, but they could be something to aspire to over time as long as you're not in too much of a hurry for him to get it done.

As William A. Foster wrote, "Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives."

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