Floating Shelves, Recycled Wood, and Life Lessons at SF Mission Woodworking Studio

Image courtesy of Danny Montoya

Six-year-old Zach Barnes came home from woodshop camp wanting to eat vegetables.

Sending him to classes at the Butterfly Joint, which opened about three months ago on Mission and 22nd next to the burned-out shell of a former discount store, turned out to have advantages beyond the floating shelf Zach brought home.

Kristina Barnes, Zach’s mother, credits Danny Montoya, the proprietor of the Butterfly Joint, with the shift in her son’s taste. Montoya, who chose the space for its affordability despite the extensive repairs it needed, is a woodworker and a former kindergarten teacher.

“Danny’s kind of magic with the kids, really,” Barnes said. “The woodworking is really cool…but what you also get is this great influence over your child. I haven’t really had that in such a positive way as we had with the Butterfly Joint.”

Jane Ibrahim Gaito’s nine-year-old daughter Nicki also brought home life lessons along with the stool she made in class.

“She comes home and she says, ‘you know mom, Mr. Montoya doesn’t let us say ‘what’ or ‘um’. If you don’t have anything to say, just don’t say anything’.” Gaito recalled. “Nine years old is when they start developing all those really bad habits. He doesn’t want any of that.”

That comes from what Gaito calls a respect for the kids – holding them to high standards and knowing they can do it. But Montoya also has a long history of wanting to teach hands-on.  

“I used to do units on real-life stuff, electronics, woodworking,” he said. “Shop class kinda doesn’t exist anymore.”

Barnes first noticed the woodworking studio walking Zach to school. At the time, it was under construction, and Montoya takes pride in having done a lot of the work with his own hands.

The necessary renovations were extensive.

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The whole rear of the location was once a meat locker. Montoya turned it into a woodshop that houses a table saw and other power tools. The bathroom acquired relics of the butcher shop owners’ decor, like a few old framed Chinese embroideries and the shop’s former sign.

Montoya is committed to reusing old materials. Zach’s shelf, for example, was made from old pallet wood.

“You’re using this thing that could have been around the world,” Montoya said he tells the kids who are using pallets. “They could have been in Thailand, they could have been in Ethiopia.”

The decorative siding inside much of the studio is reclaimed wood that Montoya snapped up from demolition workers removing it from the site of the burned-out store next door.

But even if he’s using what’s ostensibly trash, Montoya is still committed to the craft, and wants the kids (and adults) in his class to create something valuable.

“They get to take something home that’s gonna be an heirloom,” he said. “Something that’s not crafty. I want the kids to make things that their parents want, or that makes them jealous.”

Montoya shows off a cutting board made in one of his classes. Photo by Laura Wenus

Montoya shows off a cutting board made in one of his classes. Photo by Laura Wenus

He’s also trying to be a good neighbor. The location wasn’t the first he scoped out, but turned out to have its advantages. Montoya quickly found he shared Colombian roots with the owner of Grand Coffee and bonded over their shared heritage and alma mater – both went to San Francisco State University. He also extends warm welcomes to those who visit his studio and speak to him in Spanish.

Parents, too, were happy to see something accessible to children move on to the street.

Gaito said her daughter often comes home excited about trips the kids took to other parts of the neighborhood – to Mission Playground, for example.

“It’s like, ‘we’re in the Mission, so we’re gonna do the best of the Mission’,” she said.

“We’re just really excited to have something in the neighborhood that is sort of, like, wholesome,” said Barnes. “It sounds ridiculous to use that word… But it’s nice to have something move in that isn’t a bar or a restaurant.”

“A lot of people come in and are like, this gives me hope that there are things happening in this city that aren’t depressing,” Montoya said. “So I’m just kind of trying to ride that wave.”

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