Interview with Joseph Johnson of Joe and Ronnie-Sue’s Handmade Woodwork


What makes this shop uniquely Tacoma?

I am in the USAF. I first came to McChord in Dec 2005. I lived on base for the first 3 years. My wife and I decided it would be monetarily prudent to buy a house. When making the decision, we had no idea how we’d fall in love with the gritty city. My wife, Ronnie-Sue, feel like we are old souls. We walked into the home we live in now, for the first time, and instantly knew this 1924 craftsman home was to be our forever home. However, our real estate agent was not as convinced as we were because it is on the dreaded “Hilltop.”

I was raised in a very transient style home environment around a family of construction workers. I was taught the basics of construction from the time I could swing a hammer.  There’s not a more satisfying feeling than when you see a home starting to take on the shape when just a few weeks prior it was nothing but dirt. I love working with my hands. Anything I can do myself, I do. My motto is, if others have been doing it for generations, I can learn to do it as well.

I work with a kindred spirit, when it comes to woodworking. He took me to Sumner Woodworker store. I was in heaven. So many choices of wood. They also had some lathes on display. I had not turned wood since high school. I thought, maybe I should take it up again. I went on Craigslist and found a used lathe. It was all down hill from there.
I turned a few small things that were o.k., but not at a professional level at all. I have a few loves in my life. Coffee is one of them. (My wife and I owned a coffee shop at one time). I have a small commercial espresso machine in our home. Just in case we want a cappuccino, right now. I decided to turn an espresso tamper. That was cool. What’s next?  I found a guy that cuts stainless steel tamper bases. These turned out to be the finest tamper bases I have ever come across. I turned one tamper, then another, then another…my extended family asked, “How many do you plan on making?”  I don’t know, I thought.

I work out of my basement after work. I try to work on something each day.

What inspires your espresso tampers and shaving accessories? 
My wife and I frequent a local coffee roaster/shop, Valhalla Coffee. I have traveled the world and Valhalla has the best flavored espresso drink my wife and I have ever tasted. I took some of my tampers in to A.J. Anderson. I asked him for feedback. I told him to be brutally honest. He gave me some tips for shape & size of the tamper handles. I adjusted my turning of handles and he and his staff have purchased 3 now. It gives me such joy to be able to make a tool for somebody that they have specked out.
I thought, I might be able to actually sell these for real.  I made a bunch more. And opened my etsy account.
I started looking for other things to turn. So far, I’ve been very selective about what I turn. I turn for my own pleasure. It is very therapeutic. Just me, the material, and tools. I usually say that I let the wood tell me what shape it wants to be and use my tools to help it along.

It looks like you try to use natural/up-cycled materials. Is that right? If so, can you touch on that briefly? 
I am not the most conscious person when it comes to being environmentally friendly, but I really do try to be a good steward of the resources we have on the planet. I use wood often. When I can, I get it locally at small businesses. I try to find scrap wood that would normally be thrown away or burned. I have purchased wood items from earthwise Tacoma to repurpose.

I have recently found a great product to turn, Richlite. It is a Tacoma company that is very earth friendly. They make counter tops and other similar items out of recycled paper impregnated with resin. I have been trying to turn some of their product for my items.

I am also using a product called Tru-Stone. It is 85% crushed stone & 15% resin. It make some very beautiful stone items.

The natural shed antler is one of the most difficult materials. It is very porous. It can be very hard or very soft. Which means a constant control of the tools is required. The first piece I had was leftover from another project, cuckoo clock hands. (That was a really fun project). I received it from a friend. After I used that up, I went searching for more. I found a couple really old ones and have been using those. I believe I have finally found a reliable(ish) source for shed antler for the future. It’s very unique. You’ll have to read about for yourself to make sense of it all.

Is there anything you’d like our readers to know about your shop? Please explain in the space below. 

You can see more of my items on Instagram, joeandronniesue. When I do custom orders, I post pictures there and they will never end up on Etsy.

Joseph Johnson

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