Wood if he could: Local furniture builder takes on challenging projects

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John Foster had been taking things apart and putting them back together ever since he was a little boy, but it wasn’t until he stepped inside a woodworking shop at Boston University’s Program in Artisanry that he actually saw the real craft. This emerged a feeling in him, one of knowing and calling.

“It was like a switch flipped, and I knew this is what I wanted to do,” said Foster, now 62.

Foster’s career spans over 30 years, dating back to 1987 when the Indiana native moved to a home in Hopkinton with a barn in the back and dedicated his career to building a business in town.

Through his business, Foster Custom Furniture (fostercustomfurniture.com), he has created pieces of furniture for members of the community as well as institutions that keep Hopkinton vibrant. Among his notable pieces are an altar and pulpit for Saint John the Evangelist parish, a display cabinet and time capsule bench for the Hopkinton Public Library, and a roll-top bench located at the Hopkinton Center for the Arts (HCA).

“The bench was just such an amazing addition to the HCA, and I am just so happy that a small business from Hopkinton could complete it,” HCA executive director Kelly Grill said.

Said Foster: “I am just so humbled and honored that I was able to do it.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Foster has seen a downturn, primarily due to safety precautions. However, because he has minimal overhead — he operates out of a barn behind his home on Pleasant Street and works independently — he’s been able to stay afloat during trying times for small businesses.

Helping to keep Foster’s passion for woodwork and joinery alive is tackling new challenges that come with producing pieces for each client.

“People will come to me with projects that don’t exist, and so you are solving a whole new set of problems,” he said. This includes his latest endeavor, an expandable 12-foot dining table.

Foster also introduces ways of incorporating scientific methods of problem-solving and creative methods of design when working on his projects. Using his method of presentation drawings by hand, he is able to capture the elements of detailed joinery, which helps him create on an even more meaningful level.

“If I can draw it, and I can solve the problems on paper, I am pretty sure that I can build it in real life — the process of going from two-dimensional to three,” he said.

Using this process, he is confident he can complete any project, no matter how big or small, while always striving for his best work.

In addition to his craftsmanship, Foster takes equal pride in treating customers fairly.

“I aim for 100 percent satisfaction,” he said. “If I give people a price, I stick to the price, and that is just good morals on my part.”

Foster said anyone considering whether to establish their own business would be wise to heed one key principle: Always be honest.

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