The deafening whirring sound of the shaper drowned the entirety of the wood shop as Myrl Phelps carefully guided a thin piece of pine through the machine, giving a quick demonstration of how the blade is used to carve out a decorative molding.
Phelps is an expert woodworker who has been in the business for over four decades. Raised in Danbury, he worked as a carpenter for 35 years until he opened up his wood shop, Myrl Phelps Furniture and Cabinetry, in 2009. Phelps said he wanted to open his own business because it gave him the freedom to create what he wanted, and was an opportunity to escape the gnarly winters that he’d been exposed to working as a carpenter in the Northeast.
Over the years, Phelps said that woodworking has become a passion through which he can let his creativity shine. Small pieces he’s built by hand dot his shop, such as a decorative floral wood carving hung on the wall and two conjoined heads resembling people which Phelps originally began making for a customer. That client ended up not wanting the piece, so the expertly smoothed edges of the two heads have found a new home in his shop.
In past years, Phelps had been accepted into the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, and his unique pieces have been showcased in the annual League of N.H. Craftsmen’s Fair multiple years in a row. One of the prized pieces that he showcased at the fair included a Chinese coffer he handcrafted while studying at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. Phelps said he put over 700 hours into the crafting of the detailed cabinet, as many of the pieces that structurally configured the cabinet were very tedious, requiring careful hand carving.
Phelps said that most of his work is “sort of like a puzzle,” and that he in fact does puzzles in his free time.
The shop was spotless as Phelps gave a tour of the studio. Various projects perched on tables in the midst of being worked on, the air fragrant with the deep, rich smell of fresh-cut wood.
Phelps’ prized pieces occupy his cozy sun-filled front room. Alongside the coffer sat a stunning black walnut table that Phelps said took a month to create. Phelps’s mastery is evident in the presentation of his woodwork. The smooth waves of the black walnut gleamed on the surface of the table, while the legs full of minute details clearly appeared to be well-loved when made.
“Most everything I do is one a kind,” said Phelps.
He added that no two pieces he creates are ever the same, and that he really tries to avoid creating duplicates of his pieces since that sort of work becomes dull for him.
As he moved his way around his sunlit shop, you could tell Phelps really loves what he does. He noted many of the pieces he’s created have been for friends and family. The Phelps family has been no stranger to Danbury. Phelps’s parents, Myrl senior and June Phelps, bought the Danbury Country Store in 1966. The store has since been passed through many hands, but the Phelps family bought the property again in 2012. Phelps said that much of his clientele has been through word of mouth, with a strong network he built through his decades of carpentry experience.
Phelps said he can create anything a customer may ask him to within his capabilities. He works with any sort of wood the customer may want, but most frequently works with pine, ash, cherry, walnut and maple.
His store is open weekdays and weekends from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., but he said those hours are flexible. The best way to get in contact with the woodworker is through his website, myrl.phelps.com.