Ed Overbay’s works can also be found at the RiverSea Gallery, 1160 Commercial St., Astoria
By Mike Williams
WARRENTON — Edward Overbay turned his passion for fine woodworking into a business upscale homeowners appreciate.
Tour the finest homes on the North Coast and you’re likely to find Overbay’s handiwork at some point. Entry doors, staircases, kitchen cabinetry and even arched-stand pool tables are just a few items to come out of the Overbay Houseworks.
Parishioners at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in Seaside see his work every time they worship or visit the confessional.
He’s been in business since 1974. He was pursuing a degree in architecture when his father encouraged him to learn about building.
He dabbled in building furniture and “took to it like a duck to water.”
He didn’t have any formal schooling, but there was plenty of information handy.
“The library was chock full of woodworking books,” he said.
He was 21 at the time.
He continues to study woodworking, architecture and construction trades.
He has designed and built entire houses. A lot of that was to get customers for the woodworking business he’s passionate about.
The recession forced him to pull back on the construction business. He focuses now on kitchen design and remodels, building furniture, entry doors, staircases, cabinets and architectural woodwork.
Recent projects include the altar, ambo and other furnishings for Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in Seaside.
Overbay built a curved top ambo, or pulpit, out of Oregon black walnut and Oregon quilted maple.
“Frankly I enjoy working for churches,” he said.
The work is intended to be celebrated, “and heck, I have a captive audience once a week,” he joked.
He currently has four full-timers and a part-timer. His son, Kyle, is among those workers. He’ll be heading off to school to study architecture once he settles on a school.
Dale Victor has been with him for about 12 years; Colby Lennon has worked there for three.
Levi Roberts came in with no experience but a passion for craftsmanship.
“He showed me a handmade knife he made and it was exquisite, and I realized he was a craftsman at heart,” Overbay said. “He’s been one of the best apprentices I’ve ever had.”
Overbay involves the whole crew on projects, even the most inexperienced workers.
Sometimes having a fresh set of eyes on things finds solutions veteran carpenters haven’t found, he said.
Overbay’s work is high end. You can find it in vacation homes with spectacular views and spectacular price tags. He makes no apologies. Apart from materials, many of which are imported and costly, it’s a specialized job.
“The nature of our work is labor intensive,” he said. “We don’t pretend to compete with the big box stores. Our business model is predicated on quality.”
He matches the grain from door to door and drawer front to drawer front. The grain patterns paint a picture, Overbay said.
He uses a lot of African sapele. He used to use more mahogany, but governments in countries that grow those trees changed their policies, and getting lumber is more difficult.
“Now they say, ‘Sure, we’ll sell you some mahogany. What would you like us to make?’“
The most exotic wood he’s ever used? Cambodian maidu burl for a home in Oceanside.
While most people are ambivalent about doors, Overbay is passionate about them.
“It’s the first solid impression of a home,” he said. “It sets the tone for a house.”
Entry doors have to be built right, he stresses. Coastal weather is unforgiving.
“We live in an acid test environment,” Overbay said. “It has to work right.”
Hemlock is not weather resistant and is inappropriate for this climate, he insists. If he’s not building it himself, he’ll insist on fir for customers who want a wood entry door.
Overbay’s eager to share his appreciation for fine woodworking. He was instrumental in getting a historic preservation program at Clatsop Community College six years ago. He teaches classes there and is also on the advisory committee.
It was a natural fit for the community with Astoria’s abundance of historic structures, he said.
The classes go beyond theory or appreciation of historic structures. There’s a hands-on aspect to the courses, he said.
The basics of staircases is one course he teaches. Hand tools is another.
“You can read all you want about hand-cut dovetails, but until you actually use the tools required to make them, you’re not going to learn it,” Overbay said.
It’s the rule of 10,000, he added. You have to do 10,000 of anything to develop the technique and gain the muscle memory required to do things well, he said.
Talk with him for any length of time and you’ll hear him say again and again that wood should be celebrated.
“We have to use wood creatively,” he said. “It’s such a precious material.”
He’s happy to use plywood for cabinet carcasses and save the good stuff for the surface that’s going to be seen.
“A lot of people ask for certified sustainable material,” he said. “It costs a little more, but it’s important that we as a culture embrace the recognition of the vital importance of sustainability.”