Craig Rigdon fuses practical and play with Rigdon Woodwork

Craig Rigdon has spent his life among the trees. As a child, his imagination was cradled by the forest and that same wonder has persisted into his adulthood. 

Craig inadvertently fed this tendency toward the woods with his time as a wildland firefighter, wildlife biologist, professor, and professional birdwatcher. It’s no surprise to us that crafting furniture was in his future, but for Craig, that realization was slow to come into focus. 

There’s a certain poetry to Craig’s story—growing up among the towering limbs, having watched their transformation in fighting flames, and listening to the sing-song of birds whistling by—that suggests a foreshadowing loyalty to his love for watching trees become a usable product.

Today, Craig owns and operates Ridgon Woodwork, a custom woodworking business for residential and commercial pieces. According to Craig, there was a certain aimlessness that was necessary to him finding his way back to the woods. A certain phrase comes to mind: can’t see the trees through the forest. [Edit: That’s not the phrase. It’s “Can’t see the forest for the trees,” unless I’m missing something. Didn’t want to change it, just in case.)

He was drifting from one thing to the next without any real sense of purpose until he discovered woodworking and it melded two outlets that he’d been struggling to combine. 

It started with him simply looking for an outlet through grad school. He needed to find a way to blow off steam, and he knew the woods so well, so he started building things out of reclaimed wood. He liked the physicality of woodworking. It balanced out the intellectual side of Craig as he went on to work toward a PhD.

He’d always been an athlete, whether in school or felling burnt trees, and he’d always been an intellectual, but according to Craig, “when you go to [one] extreme, you miss the other.” Spending too much time studying made him squirrelly, but then too much time cutting down trees made him miss his creativity and problem-solving skills. Woodworking married these two values to create purpose.  

He explained the engineering process of creating a piece of furniture. He has to figure out how the wood will move, how it will be installed, how he will hide the hardware and not jeopardize its strength. He described how physically complicated creating furniture can be.  He’s a one-man show moving around pieces of wood that can weigh upwards of 200 pounds, and he loves the whole process.  

Craig also loves working one-on-one with his clients.

“It’s more satisfying to work as a team” he said. “Maybe that’s from my years of hot-shotting and sports.” 

His process starts with a client in their own space. If we’re talking about a dining room table, his clients usually have a pretty good idea of what they want initially, and Craig can bring that idea to fruition by getting a feel for the space where the piece will call home. 

From there, it’s a constant collaboration of designs and photo updates until the client has exactly what they hoped for. And it’s not just residential space that speaks to Craig—Missoula’s Conflux Brewing made its big entrance last year and did so in style with Craig’s patchwork of dark, sleek tables to bring the definition of that space to life: to merge, or come together as one. 

Craig has also designed cafeteria and conference tables for the Missoula College, inspiring students to seek his craftsmanship and eye for embracing a natural element and letting the material speak for itself.

Despite working passionately on numerous projects, Craig’s eyes widen in excitement when he tells me, “I can spend a long time on a table,” referring to his favorite piece—a dining room table. There are memories and histories that commence around a table. Meals are shared, daily meanderings are muttered, and these pieces—these witnesses—are passed down for generations. 

A tree might live two to three hundred years in the woods, then at the end of its life cycle it can live another couple of hundred years as a table. 

“It’s about honoring the material,” Craig said, as a living tree or a future heirloom. He sees the longevity and the life in his work and I see that his pieces are destined for legacy status.

It was Thoreau who said, “I went to the woods to live deliberately,” and I think Rigdon brings the woods to us, so that we might live deliberately, too. 

 

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