Knock Wood: Beloved Virginia-Highland shop marks 40th anniversary

Shops and boutiques in Virginia-Highland have come and gone over the years, but one has seen enduring prosperity. Highland Woodworking has stood strong on North Highland Avenue for nearly 40 years by staying true to their niche industry.

The shop, originally known as Highland Hardware, was created by husband and wife team Chris and Sharon Bagby in 1978. The hardware store evolved over the years to become the go-to spot for dedicated woodworkers. The store moved to its current location on North Highland in 1984 and had expanded to more than 8,000 square feet by 1995. In 2006, the local hardware store with a woodworking obsession officially became Highland Woodworking to reflect the Bagby’s dedication to the art of working with wood.

In such a specialized industry, Highland Woodworking does generate most of its business from website and catalog sales. However, cyber shopping will never be able to compare to the in-shop experience.

“When customers from our website happen to be in Atlanta, this is a star attraction for them. The moment they walk in, it’s a woodworking toy store,” said Molly Bagby, marketing manager.

The Bagby Family

Molly Bagby, daughter of the store’s founders, grew up at Highland Woodworking. She is now editor of Wood News Online and Highland Woodturner where she shares wood-making projects and stories. Through open submission, anyone can submit a woodworking story for publication. Bagby then rewards the featured woodworker with not only fame, but also store credit to Highland Woodworking and its many classes.

The most popular woodworking class is a two-day basic woodworking class in which participants build a box. The box may be small, and yet the process of making the keepsake teaches all the basics in both hand and power tools while providing a taste of the mindset of a woodworker.

“Woodworking takes a lot of patience,” Bagby said. “A big part of it, especially with hand tool woodworking, is having sharp tools. They teach how to sharpen tools and that takes the majority of the few hours because you don’t want to use a dull tool.”

More specialized classes include woodturning, which uses a wood lathe to cut symmetrical shapes with the same gentle touch used on a pottery wheel. Learning the art of marquetry through a woodworking classes teaches woodworkers how to inlay small pieces of wood to decorate a larger structure. The most advanced classes Highland Woodworking offers are monthly project-based classes that last a couple of days. The dedicated leave with new knowledge and impressive pieces such as cabinets, bookcases or Windsor chairs.

As Highland Woodworking transformed from general store to specialty store, the space evolved as well. The former garden center now is storage space for various woods, while upstairs is crammed with tools. As soon as you step through the doors, a small library serves as both a resource for woodworkers and instant inspiration.

Further in, visitors will notice that Highland Woodworking is a hands-on store with demo benches throughout the shop. It’s not uncommon to see a customer take a piece of wood and start planing it while staff members circle the shop to give advice.

Past a peg wall full of hanging axes, you’ll spot photos of classes held through the years. Humbly hung among the visual history of the shop is one of President Jimmy Carter, who attended many woodworking seminars through the years. Upstairs, the main classroom has high windows that create a bright woodworking space. Workbenches on wheels make the room flexible and ready for both classes and larger seminars.

Yearly conferences are a way for Highland Woodworking to keep connections with its vendors, see the latest tools and network with woodworkers and instructors. Famous instructors such as Roy Underhill, who hosts the PBS series The Woodwright’s Shop, offers demonstrations at Highland Woodworking every couple of years. Bagby has noticed that the public coming out to attend these special demonstrations is becoming more and more diverse, which makes her hopeful about the future of the woodworking world.

“One really great thing is that in today’s world with the DIY movement, woodworking has become more hip,” Bagby said. “A lot of people are interested in building their own furniture and making their own way through life built by their hands.”

Highland Woodworking is located at 1045 N. Highland Ave. NE. For more information, call (404) 872-4466 or visit highlandwoodworking.com.

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