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The Wood Whisperer of Coombsville

To say that Allan Frederick has an affinity for wood is an understatement. Frederick not only makes anything and everything imaginable out of wood — from furniture to toys — in his woodworking shop in Coombsville...

Allan Frederick’s extensive collection of hand tools include new and re-furbished antiques, including a plane that belonged to his grandfather. Photo by Marissa Carlisle.

To say that Allan Frederick has an affinity for wood is an understatement. Frederick not only makes anything and everything imaginable out of wood — from furniture to toys — in his woodworking shop in Coombsville area of Napa, but he also imparts his skills to other people.

Retired after 34 years of teaching industrial arts at middle school and night school, he continues teach woodworking to residents at the Meadows of Napa Valley.

Setting aside personalized wooden clipboards he was making, commissioned by grandparents as Christmas gifts for grandchildren, Frederick took the time recently to show visitors through his enormous shop and talk about the role working with wood has played in his life.

His first encounter with woodworking came at age 12 in a middle school class in Greely, Colorado, where he lived. Although he moved to California midway through high school, he continued taking every elective that allowed him to work with wood and other manual arts throughout his high school and college years.

After earning a B.S. degree in forestry and a master’s degree in education with an emphasis on industrial education at Humboldt State University, Frederick envisioned moving back to Colorado or further east to teach industrial education at a junior college, but fate had other plans.

“I met my wife at Humboldt when we were both students there,” Frederick said. “When Cindy was offered a job teaching in Vallejo, we moved to Napa.”

Frederick, who was “born into a family of educators,” took a teaching position at Benicia Middle School in 1989 where he taught sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders industrial education classes for 34 years. In addition to teaching middle schoolers, Frederick taught evening classes to young adults in drafting, surveying and materials at Solano Community College and other local colleges during those years. Somehow, despite the demands of teaching, from 1989 to the present Frederick has always found time to work in his own shop, Frederick & Co. Woodworks.

“I specialize in custom pieces out of wood, with a little steel thrown in from time to time,” he said.

Before retiring from teaching, Frederick had introduced more than 4,000 youngsters to the joys of working with wood as well as metal, welding, CNC router, 3D printing and more. Keeping classroom after classroom filled with 20-25 middle schoolers on task and accident-free while working with tools is a challenge. How did he do it?

Frederick credits part of his success to what he told his students the first day they came into his class.

“I started doing this at about your age, but we called it junior high back then,” Frederick would tell each class at the beginning of the year. He would then hold up both of his hands, pause dramatically and add, “I want you to know this. I have all 10 fingers and you will leave here with all 10.”

He kept his promise. Frederick’s students worked with a variety of tools, making cedar hangers, rock boxes and stools, which they proudly took home and kept – and “every student left with all their fingers.”

The girls in his classes took things seriously and were more mindful of safety than the boys, Frederick noted. About a quarter of his students were girls.

Frederick designed a stool that involved metal and welding that each of his eighth-graders made and took home. With siblings often taking his classes, some families ended up with two or three of these stools in their homes.

Although Frederick has retired from teaching young people, he has not completely given up teaching. These days, in addition to working with wood in his own shop for commissioned pieces, he manages a fully outfitted workshop at the Meadows of Napa Valley. This retirement community workshop includes a table saw, joiner, router, band saw, drill presses, a full-size lathe, belt and disc sander and dust collection system.

Inside his Coombsville workshop Allan Frederick inspects one of the letters he cut out with a handheld router for “The Ruth Richmond Library” dedication sign at the Meadows. Photo by Marissa Carlisle.

Fredrick works with seven residents “hand in hand, side by side” on their individual projects. A few have prior experience in woodworking while others have none.

“I can’t tell you how rewarding it has been working at the Meadows in their workshop helping the residents with their projects,” Frederick said. “The residents come up with their own ideas or what I give them. One gentleman has made little toy cars for years. Once he accumulates enough cars, he and his wife donate them to the Shriners Hospital. The cars are completely done. Some have little people in them,” Frederick said. “Jeannie is making her fourth table.”

Staffing the Meadows workshop for just three hours twice a week allows Frederick more time to work in the shop he built for himself years ago. He can be found there making Quaker arts and crafts furniture, engraved clipboards, barn doors and more. His favorite woods to work with are white oak, maple and cherry; however, he will work with whatever the client wants.

Frederick’s collection of hand tools on his tool panel with custom holders are organized for easy access. They include a variety of new and refurbished antiques, including a plane that belonged to his grandfather.

“I like to incorporate both hand and machine and technology in my work,” he said. “I just got two new hand tools. I have a collection of planes [and] chisels and I enjoy handwork, but I’m also a realist and do a lot of machining. Within the last two years I’ve gotten a CNC router, laser cutter engraver and a 3D printer.”

Frederick’s  commissioned work can be found throughout Napa Valley. His many projects in American Canyon include sauna benches in the spa at Double Tree made from western red cedar.

He also built the impressive reception counter for the American Canyon Chamber of Commerce from walnut that he had been “hoarding.” The counter features a live-edge walnut slab top that Frederick milled himself and wine barrel stave supports.

In Yountville, Frederick was the project lead for the Home Depot volunteers for the Habitat for Humanity bocce ball court spectator seating at the Veterans Home in Yountville.

He does not have a website or advertise; people discover him through word of mouth and Frederick never lacks people wanting his services. His outstanding work speaks for itself, and he has friends in many walks of life who appreciate his skills with wood as well as his friendliness – and they tell others about him.

Although not Latino, Frederick is a member of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and has hosted mixers for the group at his shop. Last year for Christmas he made clipboards for family and friends engraved with their names and he donated some for the Hispanic mixers.

He is also active in his community. “Cindy and I are ambassadors for the Coombsville AVA. We don’t grow grapes or make wine, we’re avid consumers of wine,” Frederick said, laughing.

Rosemarie Kempton is a retired teacher and journalist living in Napa.