MLT man uses newly acquired woodworking skills to help others

CJ Monaghan got into woodworking last year while his work was shut down during the pandemic. “There was no way I could just sit at home and watch TV for months, so it was definitely an outlet that turned into a new passion,” he said. (Photo by Nathan Blackwell)

C.J. Monaghan discovered a new passion for woodworking during the pandemic and recently found a way to use his skills to help other people. Using a slab of donated wood, Monaghan custom crafted a large table, approximately 6 feet in length, and in turn presented $1,000 from its sale to the Everett Recovery Café which helps people struggling with substance abuse and related mental health challenges.

Like many people, the Mountlake Terrace resident suddenly found himself home from work for an extended period of time last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Monaghan had an old shed on his property that needed to be replaced and decided to tackle the undertaking himself. But rather than buying a prefabricated structure, “I actually built a whole big shed from scratch,” he said. “I’d never done anything like it.”

Monaghan, who works in the kitchen at Google’s South Lake Union campus in Seattle, realized he enjoyed the project, and with the additional space available in his new shed decided to see what else he could craft with wood. “I wasn’t working so I had to keep the mind going and the body moving,” Monaghan noted.

“I had a couple tools and just went from there,” he said. “I actually started with (making) planter boxes and cutting boards.” As those sold, he used the profits to “buy more tools and get into more difficult types of woodworking.”

Looking for new challenges, he decided to draw upon his work-related experience and started crafting additional kitchen-oriented items. “I saw people turning bowls and all this fantastic artwork, so I took a chance and staked quite a bit of money on a lathe and started making some bowls,” he said. He began sourcing from area retailers bowl blanks and other previously dried forms of wood that were ready to work with.

Wood bowls Monaghan crafted. (Photo courtesy CJ Monaghan)

Monaghan posted his creations on social media and people soon began to snap them up as the images were shared online.

But he also kept seeing online posts about craftsmen sourcing wood, of various types and sizes, from trees recently felled in their local neighborhood – and that led him to an idea. “I figured we’re in Washington state, there’s trees everywhere, so I just put it out there, ‘Hey if anybody is cutting down some trees, let me know,’” he said.

Shortly thereafter, an important friend in his life contacted him “out of the blue,” he said, offering to drop off a free large slab of maple wood. Bill Webster, who had bought several slabs of recently cut wood, was supportive of Monaghan’s efforts long before he got into woodworking.

“I’m a recovering alcoholic, (in) December I’ll have six years sober,” Monaghan noted. “It was either stay comfortable in my demise that I was in or man up and face the problems that were ahead of me and try to become a better person.” He reached out to a sobriety house in Everett, which Webster was running at the time, and said he was particularly impressed that Webster didn’t judge him negatively as a person because of his struggles and after their phone conversation was willing “to open up his house to me and let me move in.”

After Monaghan moved out of the house, the two stayed in touch throughout the years. “Bill’s one of those people that I would do anything for and there’s not many of them that I hold close to me,” Monaghan said. “But his willingness and his sacrifice to help me turned into a really good friendship.”

Because of their bond, Monaghan was inspired to use his efforts crafting the maple slab Webster gave him as a way to help people in situations similar to what he had experienced.

“I figured it was free,” Monaghan said, “and Bill does a lot of work with recovering addicts” in his role on the board of directors at the Everett Recovery Cafe. “So I just figured I get the experience to learn, and I’ll have the chance to give back from this relationship, kind of like a full circle-type deal.”

Monaghan decided that after the table was finished, he would then donate a portion of any profits from its sale to the recovery café. The idea represented “a perfect opportunity to do something good and give back,” he noted. “The act of Bill giving it to me then turned into me figuring out a way to pay it forward from there.”

After the large slab of spalted maple wood had finished drying, Monaghan then spent close to 25 hours total, over the course of approximately 10 days, crafting it into a table. Spalting is a fungal discoloration caused by partially decayed wood that is popular for use in hobby and turning wood, instrument wood and lumber because of its unique look.

Spalting created the dark vein-like streaks on the edges of the table. (Photo courtesy CJ Monaghan)

Since this involved the largest piece of wood he had attempted to craft, Monaghan said, “The biggest challenge was starting it.” That included spending a couple of days to wrap his head around the project, doing research and also developing a setup to flatten the wood out, which involves “a long process with a router.” He noted that once the setup was configured, he then used the router’s flat bit, which is one-half inch wide, to begin performing repeated passes along both sides of the nearly 6-foot-long piece of wood to make it level.

Monaghan also chiseled in custom-made butterfly inlays to help stop cracks in the slab from expanding further over time. He explained that such cracks are common in large pieces of wood during the drying process. “It just all came together,” Monaghan said. “The butterflies I put into it, everything just fell into place.”

He posted his plans for the table on Facebook’s Mountlake Terrace Community page, where he provided regular progress updates while completing the woodworking process.

Monaghan solicited the community page after the table was finished for ideas of auction sites or similar marketplaces where he might be able to sell such a large unique item. “I’m really new at all of this, so pricing stuff out is kind of a problem,” he said. “I was trying to get the most out of it, to make the most impact, and I thought that an auction, if people knew the story, maybe they would pay a little bit more because they know that it was going to a good cause – and they’d get a badass table out of it.”

Laura, who requested not to share her last name, came across his post and said she found herself drawn to the custom-made table both for its “gorgeous” appearance and Monaghan’s charitable intentions. After consulting with family members, she contacted him and discovered the two lived only a block away from one another. Shortly thereafter, she purchased the piece of furniture for $1,800.

Monaghan even personally delivered the 6-foot-by-3-foot table by loading it onto a dolly and then walking it over to her house. Monaghan noted he was by himself “in my pajamas and there was (definitely) a couple of head turns,” from people along the way.

Laura said she usually shops at the Goodwill, “so I never would have imagined paying that much money for a table.” But the fact Monaghan planned to donate half the proceeds to the recovery café “definitely did influence my decision because I also feel like I’m supporting that cause which is really important,” she said. She reported that a decision has not yet been made as to whether the table will be used for dining or decorative display purposes.

Monaghan decided to donate $1,000 from the table’s sale price to the recovery café in Everett. While dropping the money order off there, he said he “had a good time meeting all the people and they were very appreciative.”

The money will go to help “supportive services” offered at the café, which includes peer-to-peer counseling and feeding approximately 75 people each day, Webster said. “People come in there with nothing, hunched over and can’t look you in the eye and after getting involved and becoming a member they slowly start to get their confidence back, build their life up, get a job and get a place to live,” he said.

Laura, who works in behavioral health, said she has previously referred clients experiencing addiction and mental health issues to the Seattle Recovery Cafe, calling it a “really good resource.”

“I think social services, particularly in mental health and addiction, are severely underfunded, which is a big problem,” she said. “I think there’s too much stigma around mental health and addiction and I think that supporting people who are struggling is important to do.”

Monaghan agreed about the significance of helping people who are trying to better themselves. “A lot of struggling addicts are really phenomenal people” who tend to engage in behaviors that are “comfortable with whatever problems they have,” he said. “They really get looked down upon and it drives a lot of people away from trying to help them. They get the stigma of, they’re drug addicts or they’re alcoholics – they put themselves in that situation and they want to be there, but it’s really not the case.”

Webster’s help nearly six years ago has enabled Monaghan to turn his own life around. “I think people should know (how valuable) the little kind gesture of answering the phone (is),” Monaghan said, “because that’s how my story started, he picked up the phone and there was just no judgment whatsoever.”

Besides helping people struggling with substance use and related issues, Monaghan noted he was also happy to have purchased more woodworking tools and supplies with his portion of the proceeds. He enjoys the planning, focus, creativity and sense of peace that he discovered woodworking provides him with and reported staying busy crafting new items both large and small, including a coffee table.

Monaghan said that woodworking helped him fill his days when his work was shut down during the quarantine period. “There was no way I could just sit at home and watch TV for months, so it was definitely an outlet that turned into a new passion,” he said.

— By Nathan Blackwell

Monaghan holds a bowl blank in his woodworking shed. (Photo by Nathan Blackwell)
  1. CJ I love you dude. I am so proud of what you are doing. We disagreed on politics but you are awesomeness!

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