Don't tell Joseph Smania you can't make something from nothing. In his hometown of Treviso, Italy, he began by making his own woodworking tools, then used them to turn out some of the most elegant furniture being made today.

It's what you call starting from scratch.Smania is an old-fashioned woodworker. You won't find a nail in his cabinets, chairs or cupboards, for instance. And he insists on taking months to do jobs that less patient people try to toss off in a week.

"I went to school in Italy for seven years to learn all this," he says. "Four years to learn design and three years of shopwork. When human beings first started to work with wood, this is the kind of woodwork they did. Sometimes I will spend four weeks just making a duck-tail joint."

Smania left Italy as young man. He spent 11 years in Argentina - where he met his wife Elizabeth - then returned to Europe to live in Switzerland. The Smanias have lived in America for 15 years now.

But if the man's been unsure of where he wanted to live, he's never had a doubt about what he wanted to do.

"I wanted to be a woodworker since I was tiny," he says. "When I was a little boy I made my own wooden toys for myself. Today I never have trouble imagining what a piece will look like before I begin, even if it's never been built before. I simply see the job already completed in my head and go to work. When you love your work, you know what can be done, what can't."

Today Smania sells most of his wares in California. (`In Utah everybody likes it very much, but nobody wants to buy," he says.) Some of his handcrafted items (hich he often gives an antique look) sell for as much as $1,000 a piece. When asked what he loves to work on most, he can't choose.

"I like to do everything. Whatever people want, that's what I give them."

His favorite wood?

"Walnut. Walnut and mahogany. They are beautiful woods."

The most difficult wood to work with?

"When you have good tools, there's no bad wood."

As for the future, Smania hopes to expand the business a little. He also hopes to make some furniture for his own home but claims people end up buying the things from him before he can put them to good use. One of his sons knows a bit about cabinet work, but, according to Smania, "The boy doesn't like the wood dust. He prefers to put racing stripes on the cars."

Joseph Smania shrugs.

The main thing, he says, is that a man loves what he does.

And he speaks from experience.