Teri Masaschi – Finisher Extraordinaire and Much More!

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In this photo that appears in her book, Foolproof Wood Finishing: For Those Who Love to Build and Hate to Finish, Teri Masaschi is surrounded by some of the products that are used for restoring and finishing wood furniture and other pieces.

Teri Masaschi’s life goal was not to become a finishing expert. At age 14, she was focused on earning money to enroll in a private school, High Mowing, in neighboring Wilton, New Hampshire, that combined academics and the arts – including woodworking.

“I was always making things and carving small objects on my makeshift workbench in my bedroom. At that time and even when I was younger, my father was a weekend warrior in the workshop in the basement. He made the furniture that was in our house. I was always there watching him,” Teri said. 

To raise half the $850 High Mowing tuition – her mother’s requirement – Teri started painting houses that summer with a friend. Although she earned the tuition money and did enroll in High Mowing, her path to becoming a finishing expert also began that summer after she painted the home of an Amherst, New Hampshire, fine arts dealer, who offered her a job in her antique shop.

The dealer taught Teri all about art glass – she had an extensive collection including Tiffany, Steuben, and Mt. Washington. Teri cataloged a large collection of Early American pattern glass, and also cleaned and scrubbed pieces that the dealer and her husband bought at auction.

A Life-Changing Experience

“And then one day,” Teri said, “she showed me how to rescue a Queen Anne chair that had smoke and water damage. Down behind the barn with a bucket of denatured alcohol I started slowly removing all the black smoke, and as it dissolved and dripped into the pan, the wood underneath started to reveal itself. It was rosewood gleaming through all that muck, and I was instantly bitten by the restoring ‘bug.’ This is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life!”

The dealer gave her more antiques to fix – old lap desks, carvings and inlay pieces that were missing parts and more. That summer Teri rode her bike 5 miles every day to work and learn at the dealer’s shop. In the fall, she enrolled in High Mowing, but on weekends she brought home broken antiques to repair in an area of the basement shop.

After three years, Teri said she had outgrown anything the arts dealer could teach her. She moved to a barn workshop, married, and the newlyweds worked at the antique business, which was booming then. They could buy projects for pennies, fix them and sell them for profit.

It was then that Teri learned to splice in new parts, new legs, doors, etc., and color them in to look the same as the surrounding old surfaces. She also learned the fine art of color, faux, aging, distressing, and coatings.

During this period, Teri said she realized: “Finishing was not a separate skill that I thought of as a career; it was a necessity to get the piece up and running and sold.”

Custom Antique Furniture Reproductions

During the heyday of antiques, Teri began to get requests to build reproduction antiques, and her Collection of Furniture was born.

“I would take details of various antiques that were beautiful and combine them into one ‘super’ antique reproduction. I built many pieces of furniture for clients. I liked to specially design pieces to fit them,” Teri explained. “Tiger maple was my favorite wood, and Federal my favorite furniture period.”

Furniture Grouping

Three-Drawer Blanket Chest with Lift Top

The furniture grouping above includes an 18th century Chimney Mirror in tiger maple (hanging), a Tilt Top Candlestand in tiger maple (left), a Diminutive Chest in pine that Teri grain painted to look like bird’s-eye (front), a Federal Two-Drawer Stand in tiger maple with tiny brass casters, and a bird’s-eye box with walnut overlay sitting atop the stand.

Teri constructed the Three-Drawer Blanket Chest with Lift Top from wide pine boards and cotter pin hinges. It is commonly called a Six-Board Chest. She painted it with an 1840s method called vinegar putty paint.

In the grouping below, Teri finished but did not build the Windsor chair. She did build the Eli Terry Pillar and Scroll Clock that features a hand painted dial and the cherry candlestand.

Her Seven-Drawer Chest is made from flame cherry. All drawer fronts alternate flame direction, and the entire chest is made from brother boards. (Brother indicates the boards are all from one tree.)

Teri finished the Tiger Maple Mirror with beveled glass below in an antique crazed style.

Windsor Chair, Clock, and Candlestand

Seven-Drawer Chest

Tiger Maple Mirror

“I was a rare combination of woodworker/finisher. Most people decide early on that they love building ‘stuff’ but much prefer to have someone else do the finishing,” Teri said. 

New Directions

After her divorce in 1994, Teri moved to New Mexico and went to work for Woodworker’s Supply. She began in phone sales, but only for a short time. Before long, Teri said other sales reps and customers realized she knew a lot about finishing. She was moved to marketing and put in charge of a large section of the catalog that featured finishing supplies.

“Like a kid in a candy store,” Teri said, “I was able to get samples of stuff I had never heard of and test them out to see if they were good products for the catalog. It was a great job. I unwittingly became a finishing guru.”

A few years later, Teri had an opportunity to fill in for finishing expert Bob Flexner, who was teaching at the prestigious Center for Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine, but had a scheduling conflict. “Of course I said yes, even though I had never taught before, so away I went,” Teri said. “I loved teaching and ended up teaching there for 20+ years.”

Teri explains a new method of French polishing during one of her classes.

Teri's book is based on her finishing experience acquired over many years while restoring antique furniture and building antique furniture reproductions, along with teaching finishing classes.

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Teri also taught at Bob Van Dyke’s Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking (affiliated with the Woodcraft store in Manchester, Connecticut); Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, Colorado; Northwest Woodworking Studio in Portland, Oregon; the Kelly Mehler School of Woodworking in Berea, Kentucky; the Dogwood Institute School of Fine Woodworking in Alpharetta, Georgia; Santa Fe Community College in Santa Fe, New Mexico; and at seminars for woodworking clubs.

“It was during teaching and making copies of class notes that I decided to formalize those notes in a book that was then published,” Teri shared. Foolproof Wood Finishing: For Those Who Love to Build and Hate to Finish was published in 2006 by Fox Chapel Publishing, and then an updated version was released in 2014.

In June 2003 when Teri appeared on the cover of Fine Woodworking, she was only the second woman to be featured on the cover of the prestigious woodworking publication.

Over the years, Teri has also shared her finishing expertise in articles that appeared in Fine Woodworking magazine.

Teri’s Workshop 

Teri has a very large shop on her property where she does woodworking, restoration and finishing. It is equipped with a spray booth and tools that have proven they can withstand the demands of her projects.

“The tools that I use are not fancy,” Teri said. “Restoration is hard on tools. When disassembling, the chisels run into screws and nails, the inlay needs to be replaced with a super sharp scalpel, the leg needs to be turned on my old lathe, the surface of a table needs to be sanded with my air sanders. The finish needs to be sprayed with my hybrid guns. There are no gleaming antique planes on an antique workbench. These are all tools that I need to work.”

She is always curious about new products and tools, a trait she says harkens back to her days as product manager at Woodworker’s Supply. “I love trying out anything new. Sometimes I have to buy it, but sometimes I get free samples – especially if I am writing an article or review about them.”

Until recently, she ran a full-time business of restoration and finishing for other woodworkers, along with teaching and writing. Now she only does her own work, which is cleaning up pieces to resell and fun building projects with antique components, such as industrial iron bases with aged and distressed tops (she loves iron, she says).

Thoughts about Woodworking

I asked Teri about changes in woodworking that she has observed on the years and what advice she would give to beginning woodworkers.

Changes: “One change that I see in woodworking is a disconcerting one. It is a shrinking industry. Whenever I teach or travel, the audience is an older crowd with a smattering of younger faces. The generations coming up do not seem to want to work as hard or as long on a project. The population of women in woodworking has not grown as much as I would like either. Maybe it is generational rather than gender. The women that have risen to upper levels of skill are phenomenal.”

For Beginners: “My advice to anyone entering the woodworking field: patience. Success comes with time and making mistakes and learning how to back out of them. The difference between an amateur and a professional is this: the amateur makes a mistake and gets discouraged and/or stops. The pro looks at the mistake and says ‘wow, that’s interesting’ and then figures out how to fix the problem.”

Most Treasured Accomplishment

Asked which of her accomplishments has been the most rewarding, she responded: “There are so many, but not all are about woodworking (like my three children). In my career, teaching has been my greatest accomplishment and thrill. When I see that I have communicated to someone in such a way that their lightbulb goes off and they get it, that’s the best!  Oh, and then there was receiving my book printed in Japanese – that was cool!”

Thank you, Teri Masaschi, for sharing your life experiences with Woodcraft. We hope our readers are inspired by your accomplishments and take note of your efforts to get the education you wanted and to try new things and learn from them, as you did throughout your career.

Woodworkers and DIYers, if finishing is in your future, Foolproof Wood Finishing: For Those Who Love to Build and Hate to Finish is available at Woodcraft


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