Independent Woodworking Craftsmen
The small area of Gloucester is one of 8 rural waterfront communities located in Down East, North Carolina. Nestled here down a quaint dirt road you’ll find the residence of Duane Willis and his wife, both Carteret County natives who purchased the fixer upper years ago that they now reside in. Only steps away from his front door lies his workshop, where he spends most of his free time, creating various extraordinary woodworking pieces. We were excited at the opportunity to interview Duane in shop and hear his unique story of how he became the master craftsmen he is today.
Duane was born and raised on the narrowest part of Bogue Banks, in the community of Salter Path. He attended West Carteret High School and in his spare time enjoyed all the great things the beach had to offer. Upon graduating, Duane enrolled in Louisburg College where he got his bachelor’s degree in business, and from there went to Pitt to obtain a degree in architecture. In 1981 he landed a job at Cherry Point and spent the next 10 years utilizing his architectural design degree. But after a decade of doing the same thing, Duane found himself searching for his next adventure. His design background inspired him to invoke his own creativity, which led him to creating his own coastal-themed apparel line, Ocean Athlete.
For the next two years the brand flourished. It didn’t take long for Duane to be approached by an interested buyer of this enterprise, which he agreed too after some deep thought. The opportunity to choose a new career path in his 30’s was something he never thought was possible, but now was his reality. He set out to starting a new hobby. His background in architectural design gave him the capability to complete measurements and calculations on paper, yet he lacked the ability to build his designs himself. He never worked with wood medium much but was now interested in giving it a try. He got hired at Jarret Bay in Marshellberg at the time, a premier builder of custom sportfishing boats, and worked for 7 dollars an hour to build his knowledge and skillset of the craft. But you could hardly say it was work, Duane had found his passion and loved every minute of it. He used his newfound skillset to aid in his homes remodel, and all the while inched closer to branching out on his own to make his hobby a career. “If I knew were I’d be today 20 years ago, I’d pinch myself,” said Duane. “As cliché as it sounds, if you find something to love you’ll never work a day in your life”.
The tight knit boatbuilding industry in Carteret County made it easy for Duane to jump in with others who were in the business to further expand his knowledge. He worked with Jamie Chadwick, one of the best boatbuilders in the county, and became comfortable doing interior work. As time passed, he felt he was ready to branch off on his own, so he set out to create a workspace in his own backyard. The shop would include many necessary tools and equipment, but one of the most important would probably be his drawing board. From day one, Duane’s considered his drawing board one of the most essential pieces in constructing his projects. Because of his architectural background, Duane holds the ability to sketch amazingly precise models before building them. This allows him to receive accurate measurements, as well as allowing the customer to see a visual of what they’re requesting.
“The most important 4 letter word is to plan” Duane said. Although he has a design program inside his house, Duane prefers to do it everything by hand. Some might call it old fashioned, but he never misses in terms of precision. “I don’t have the patience to do things 2 or 3 times” Duane said. “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing the right way”. Duane’s unwavering dedication to his work’s allowed him to build quite the name for himself in town over the years, and he’s proud to have done interior work on some of the nicest vessels in the County, as well as some custom furniture here and there. The level of craftsmanship and dedication he presents is somewhat rare in today's time, and it surely sets him apart from the crowd. We look forward to documenting some of Duane’s next projects in the future and are eager to share them with you, too.