Woman carves out woodworking career

posted Aug 15, 2011, 1:05 PM by John Traynor   [ updated Sep 30, 2011, 10:34 AM ]
Canton resident Sharon Newton bought her first table saw 25 years ago. 

The rest is furniture-making history.

“I had always wanted to do woodworking,” she said. “I love wood. I love the way it looks, and I like making things.”

She has made Queen Anne jelly cabinets, a Shaker 10-drawer chest, Chippendale footstools, Ethan Allen night stands, portable church communion boxes, a bed for her brothers wedding gift, coffee tables and the cherry dining room set that she, husband Steve and sons Aaron, 21, and Charlie, 18, use at home.

Even as a youngster, Newton took toys apart, put them back together, made model cars and took a shop class in junior high school.

Newton, 52, grew up in Ann Arbor, attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids and earned her masters degree in industrial and operations engineering from the University of Michigan. She worked for the U.S. Department of Defense and had private-sector jobs with Vector Research and General Dynamics before she quit to raise her two sons.

Dabbling at first

Along the way, Newton dabbled in woodworking, and she still has toys such as a Volvo bus and a semi-trailer she made for her sons when they were young. She made everything from race cars to a xylophone for them.

She's good, son Charlie said.

Newton and husband Steve, a General Motors Corp. engineer-turned-pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Canton, made their home here three years ago. They have lived in places such as St. Louis, where he attended Concordia Seminary, and Nebraska, where he had his internship.

Newton works out of her basement, and her woodworking talents are apparent throughout her home. Her attention to detail is eye-catching, such as a Chippendale footstool with shaped world of  cabriole legs complete with Philadelphia-style foot. She sells her work and said she can design furniture to accommodate most budgets.

Other than her engineering background, Newton said she gained confidence in woodworking by attending classes in the late 1990s taught by noted woodworker Joe Trippi of Livonia, who helped Newton hone her skills using hand tools and building period-piece furniture.

She uses a variety of wood, cherry, quarter-sawn white oak and red oak, poplar Appearance, ambrosia maple and Hawaii koa, among others. Every piece she creates is perfectly finished using just the right shellac, stain, top coat, whatever best suits a given project.

No rushing

Newton never rushes her woodworking.

I get a lot of personal satisfaction from it, she said. Its good to see a piece come together.

It all happens in her basement, stocked with wood, a table saw, a band saw, a scroll saw, hand saws, chisels, screwdrivers, a router, hand planes and other tools.

I built my own work bench, she said, smiling.

Newton buys her wood mostly from area retailers and she estimated she works some 20 hours a week in her basement, which she fondly calls the shop. She doesnt keep furniture in stock. Rather, she makes it as she receives orders.

To see her work, go to She also may be reached by e-mail atsl@newtonwoodwork.com or by phone at (314) 267-1125.

Although she no longer works in the engineering industry, she certainly uses those skills for what she says is her true calling. Her background in engineering has served her well.

"I still like numbers and math," she said, "but woodworking is my passion."