In his day job, Alex Heitkemper sells homes. But in his off hours, he can often be found working on his latest project at his home woodworking shop in University Park.
In recent weeks, Heitkemper has been putting the finishing touches on one of his most ambitious projects to date, a large table for the soon-to-open Banana Blossom Bistro Vietnamese restaurant in Riverdale Park.
It was a change of pace for Heitkemper, who typically focuses on smaller projects like cutting boards, jewelry boxes and end tables. But he’s also made bookcases, cabinets and end tables, so the craft wasn’t entirely new.
“I usually make smaller items because my shop space is so small and large pieces tend to just take so much room,” he said.
Heitkemper talked with the Hyattsville Wire recently about his woodworking.
When did you first try woodworking? What inspired you to start doing this particular work?
I first actually tried woodworking during shop class in middle school. While I didn’t get to directly learn from my grandfather before he died, he was probably who inspired me to do this type of work. He was master carpenter in the Boston area. He did several projects at Harvard, he was one of few carpenters in his company that could tackle spiral staircases, and he also did a few custom kitchens for some of the Celtics (John Havlicek being one). He had tons of pieces that he did around his house as well: Custom kitchen cabinets, some built-in, a coffee table, those kinds of things.
How did you learn to do it?
I would say I am 90 percent self-taught. My father-in-law has given me some pointers over the years, but I use trial and error to complete projects. Obviously, YouTube and Google are great resources.
What kinds of wood do you work with? Where do you get them? What kinds of things do you usually make?
The kind of wood used really depends on the project. In general, I use locally sourced hardwoods: maple, walnut, cherry and white oak. My main source for lumber is Maryland Select Harwoods in LaPlata run by Dennis Woodruff. It’s an old-school lumber yard. There probably aren’t many of those left. He is fair with his prices and has a great selection, all local from Maryland or Pennsylvania.
How did you come to make the table for Banana Blossom Bistro?
I met the owner of Banana Blossom Bistro at a silent auction for the Greenwood School. We also were the listing agents when they purchased their home. I had donated a couple smaller cutting boards and (owner) Annie (Ha Esguerra) noticed one of them. We began talking about how they were made and she asked if I would consider making a table top for her restaurant that would be open in a year or so. I usually don’t do these type of projects because woodworking is more of hobby and it takes a lot of time to get things right. However for some reason I thought it would great for them to have a nice piece in their new space. I always think is amazing when people take a risk to open a new business so I thought it would be great to do this project.
Where can people learn more about woodworking?
One of the best places to learn about woodworking is at the Woodworkers Club in Rockville. They have classes for beginners to advanced and the staff is extremely knowledgeable.