Cape Island Woodworks
The official first greeting when we visited the sylvan Fishing Creek location of Cape Island Woodworks came not from owner John Hassay, but from shop dog Gracie. We heard her excited bark before we saw her, then spotted her wagging tail as she bounded through the grass, John behind her.
Our visit began right where the magic happens: around back in the workshop, a sprawling, wood shaving-scented epicenter of creation, dotted with artful found objects, Grateful Dead music drifting through the air in synchronicity with the low whine of a buzzsaw.
John started Cape Island Woodworks in 1994 and it has become a go-to for residents and business owners for woodworking projects large and small. He and his two-man crew, Brian Lee (yes, the local musician) and Kip Waide (yes, of Stumble Meadow Farm), turn out some of the most delicate and beautiful wood pieces imaginable. Brian was working on brackets that will top the pillars at Congress Hall when we arrived, and John pointed out some intricate gingerbread pieces in a corner bound for Mickey Chew’s new project on the site of the former Irish Shop at the corner of Jackson and Lafayette. The crew’s days are spent mostly in the shop. “We do get out of here occasionally,” John said. “Deliveries are like a little field trip for us.”
“I’ve been at this a long time,” John said. “I started out working for different characters around town, then I just slowly whittled down what I don’t want to do.” Working for himself and Cape Island Woodworks was the result.
Brian is stationed at the CNC, a computer that automates some of their work and which John bought without even knowing how to operate. “It’s the opposite of a 3-D printer,” Brian says. “Did you even know I was coming here to work and operate this thing?” Brian teases. “Most expensive thing I’ve ever bought, but I am a bit of a Luddite,” John confessed. “For the first six months it was a $28,000 table.” On Brian’s watch, it’s become an invaluable part of the operation.
It’s quite the operation. When asked how many projects go on here at one time, the response by all three in unison: “Many.” John added “You have to learn how to prioritize and switch gears real fast. Kip knows about that,” as Kip laughed from the table where he’s meticulously painting.
The trio does a mix of residential and commercial work, with lots of Victorian renovations and restorations. “We also do a lot of work for contractors in town, which is nice, because they handle the people and paperwork end of it and can tell us exactly what they want,” John said.
John says his biggest local project was probably working on the Southern Mansion restoration; the smallest was fixing a tray held by a wooden frog statue for an elderly local. “Cape May Lumber sends people over who just need something cut,” John said. “It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s free advertising because they’ll think of us down the road. And it just makes people happy.”