Kenneth Copp has always loved creating things by hand, but it might have surprised his boyhood self in Virginia to hear he’d one day be a full-time furniture maker in Maine, using machines powered entirely by horses.

Copp is a man who feels driven to discover the truest path to right living and to responsibly use Earth’s natural resources. It’s also led him on an odyssey through the spiritual spectrum.

When Copp was in his teens he left his mother’s Lutheran religious tradition to join the Mennonites, attracted by their simple lifestyle and closeness to the natural world. He later gravitated toward the Amish, whose principles deeply resonated with him for several decades. During those years, Copp mastered the art of fine, handcrafted woodwork, in keeping with Amish ideals. He and his family lived in several Amish communities around the United States, ending up in Thorndike, Maine.

Copp is a voracious learner with a deep-seated inclination to seek and to question. Those questions — about religion, God and the Earth’s history — eventually led to his decision to leave his Amish faith behind. His admiration for Amish traditions and lifestyle, however, remains largely unabated. Copp still wears Amish clothing for its practicality. He is an avid believer in reducing consumption of fossil fuels. He believes in shared community support, travels by horse and buggy almost exclusively and hopes to teach students at nearby Unity College about horse care and how to drive a horse and buggy.

“I’d like to see more people that have one to two acres keep a horse and buggy for local travel,” he said. “I think more people could do it if they wanted to.”

Copp ran his home-based business, Locust Grove Woodworks, exclusively by horse power for more than 17 years. Horses harnessed to a central hub inside his barn walk in a circle, turning gears connected to a line shaft that powers Copp’s woodworking machines in an adjoining room. In keeping with his disinclination to complacency, however, he hopes to transition to more sustainable and efficient sources of power — a horse treadmill, solar panels, and stored power. Though he still uses his horse power machine to operate some of his machinery, he currently uses grid electricity for the rest. Under strict Amish rules, he would not have been allowed to make that compromise, even in transition.

Part of his goal is to become more efficient by moving his machines from a distant barn into the same building that houses his showroom full of furniture. “I was planning to put in a horse treadmill because it takes up less room,” Copp said, “but the treadmill doesn’t have as much turning power.”

Then someone suggested that he use his four workhorses to feed a generator or alternator. That way he can store electricity in a battery bank.

Copp is dedicated to partnering with his horses, but “Horse power takes a lot of patience,” he said. “Unlike driving a buggy or plow, in a workshop you are not right behind the horse to talk to them or keep them moving.”

Copp uses a system of ropes that lead from his workshop to the horse power barn. If the horses slow down or stop, so do his machines, so he pulls a rope that flicks the horses’ flanks — like a tap on the shoulder to remind them to keep moving. Better long-term power storage would be more consistent and efficient.

In addition to the horse treadmill, Copp hopes to install solar panels to store energy. He hopes to get back off the grid entirely as soon as he is able, not because of any rules or dogma, but because it’s the right way to live.

Copp, who now thinks of himself as an “Amish atheist,” said his evolution of thought has felt almost like a rebirth, something he calls a “deconversion.” He attributes it to education and is now as devout a believer in learning as he once was in his faith.

“When you become educated,” he said, “you realize you’re not the only one in the world. There’s more than your personal bubble of experience.”

That realization has fed the fire of his commitment to low fossil fuel consumption, even though he feels less bound by other rules of his former life. In consequence of his education, there have been some painful rifts between him and those he cares about. Copp wishes ill on no one, but abides by his commitment to living according to his found truths.

“It was the same earnestness to understand truth that brought me in and took me out,” he said.

He is finding his peace, carrying out his devotion to right living, and continuing to produce beautiful furniture made with care and responsibility to the Earth.

“Life has been good to me,” he said. “I hope when I leave, I’ll leave the world a better place.”

Read more about Kenneth Copp’s woodworking at locustgrovewoodworks.com.

Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at robin.everyday@gmail.com