Consider the lowly used shipping pallet. Where others see junk or firewood, woodworker Hugh Lane sees a handsome, functional piece of furniture. Lane, who works out of a shop in Rockland’s Lincoln Street Center, uses lumber salvaged from pallets in the woodworking classes he teaches to adults at the Mid-Coast School of Technology.

“Salvaged pallet lumber has many virtues,” said Lane. “It’s usually a nice hardwood like oak, birch or maple. It’s been air-dried.”

“It often has nice figure, good character,” he said, referring to the wood’s grain and color. “One of its best qualities, for my purposes, is that it’s not easy to work with. And, of course, it’s free.”

A consummate craftsman, Lane said that learning how to cope with the difficult qualities of a piece of wood is key to developing skill as a woodworker.

“First, it requires that your tools be really sharp,” he said. “We spend a lot of time in the class learning about sharpening, and that is perhaps the single most important skill of a woodworker.”

Difficult wood also requires an understanding of grain, and Lane’s students learn how to read the wood’s cutting characteristics and work with, not against, them.

Student Michael Gallagher agreed. The Hope resident had unsuccessfully tried to teach himself how to use hand tools for years, but picked up the skills quickly in Lane’s class.

“He is very knowledgeable, and makes the classes engaging,” said Gallagher, a self-employed physical therapist. “Without getting overly technical, he explains why things were done a certain way for hundreds of years, before the introduction of power tools.”

Teaching at MCST is only the latest of connected career moves for Lane, who lives in Rockport with his wife and three children in a post-and-beam home he designed and built. He has also served as bosun and captain on sailing vessels, and worked as a ship’s rigger, as director of education at the Penobscot Marine Museum, as a boatbuilder, and as a technical illustrator. Most of his current business consists of custom work, including sea chests, and rigging components, such as gaff jaws, deadeyes, and blocks for the local windjammer fleet.

Most of this background comes into play in Lane’s classes, which typically run one night a week for three hours over the course of eight weeks. Lane uses his educational experience, as well as voluble storytelling, to make his classes productive and stimulating. His illustrating background helps students visualize the piece of furniture they will build. And his classes focus on woodworking with hand tools. When he is teaching how to make a mortise-and-tenon joint, for example, the mortises are cut entirely with chisels. No electric drills are used to remove the excess wood. (A mortise and tenon is a common method of joining two pieces of wood at right angles. The mortise is a hole cut in one piece, into which the tenon, a narrowed portion on the end of the other piece, must fit snugly.)

Gallagher had some experience working with shop machines, but said he had been unable to acquire good hand tool skills until he took a class in mortise-and-tenon joinery from Lane.

“I learned how to do things with a chisel and a saw in just a couple of classes,” he said. “It’s like having your favorite uncle teach you how to cut a dovetail.”

Several students have taken Lane’s class more than once. “The point is not the furniture,” said Lane. “There are easier ways to get a table.” Instead, the objective is to learn and refine basic woodworking skills. “Those will enable you to build any project you want,” he said.

In an upcoming class at MCST beginning April 1, students will build a wall-hung tool cabinet with a dovetailed carcass, sliding dovetailed shelves and paneled doors. Students will customize the design to suit the tool collections and the available wall space. Lane also has classes scheduled in woodworking for women and hand tool sharpening.

For more information, visit or contact MCST at 596-7752 or

Bob Holtzman is a writer and does business as Your Name Here Communications in Rockport;