Campus & Community

A look inside: Eliot House

3 min read

A basement haven for woodworking

Ask Eliot House residents where the woodshop is, and the answers will vary from “Woodshop? We have a woodshop? I didn’t know about a woodshop,” to an enthusiastic, “Oh my God, let me show you the woodshop!”

Interested students flock to the basement shop to construct tables, boxes, or chairs, turn vases or bowls, or complete the initial safety test on a doorstop that is cleverly fashioned into the shape of a mouse.

Like mice, students find themselves scrounging around town for hidden treasures and returning to the woodshop with them. One student found a 300-year-old piece of Southern yellow pine from an old mill in Lowell that she used to craft a jewelry box.

George Kenty, a lab manager in Harvard’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, is one of the nonresident tutors for woodworking and design. (Jim Wheeler is the other.) Kenty compares his task to that of people who do prep work on cooking shows. The students “are Julia Child, and I’m their assistant.”

“I’m really fortunate. … I benefit most. I mean, sure, the kids get a table, but I get to interact with the kids,” he said.

One of the most interesting projects that Kenty recalls was a wooden shoe constructed for a woman who was rowing in the Head of the Charles Regatta. She had broken her foot but did not want to miss the race. Her sister made the shoe and taped it to her foot, allowing the rower to compete.

Kenty shares a wealth of knowledge with his students. Like a sommelier, he puts his nose to two different pieces of oak. The white oak “smells almost buttery. You know the piece of wood you’re working on because of the smell.”

In this basement retreat, students find their way through this olfactory, tactile experience, leading them to the more fundamental world of woodworking.