I am so pleased that y’all talked to me about the importance of the interviews to the community because I am loving getting to know our members. I think you will enjoy getting to know The Box Whisperer.
Here is his story….
What is your inspiration story? Who did you watch, what was their hobby, and how did you get involved?
My story started off very simply, although it was not pretty. Back in the day, I had a “contractor”. He was good, and most importantly he was honest. He had done a couple of bathrooms for me, and some tiling. I asked him for a price on a back deck. Later on that day, I happened to mention this to someone I knew. He gave me a stern look and used some very creative language to say, that if I were to hire someone to build me a deck I was an idiot. “Go buy a drill and a saw and built it yourself” he says. Ok, so I do. I did some research, designed it above code, bought the lumber and tools and built the deck. When I was done, I invited my contractor (not my friend LOL) over to have a beer on my new deck. He took a good look at my deck and offered me a job. I worked with him full time for 4 years (while also working full time in a nursing job). He built houses, and I learned a lot. While it takes a lot more then wood to put most houses up, it was the wood I fell in love with. Even 2×4s and ¾ ply were the “fun stuff” for me. I learned a lot from him, and he certainly taught me the basic fundamentals that lead me to where I am today.
Power or hand tools? Why?
I’m going to borrow The Wood Whisperers line and say I’m a hybrid. For me it’s more about safety and efficiency then about being hardcore one way or the other. Don’t get me wrong, the things some folks can make out of 100% hand tools are too beautiful for words. On the other end of the spectrum, when you see what can be done on a router table with a little creativity, that can be mind-blowing too. For me I have to look at things practically. At one point this was a hobby for me, but that is no longer the case. This is a full time gig and living for me. If at the end of the day I can produce the same results in less time with a power tool, I will generally go that route. Notice I said “I”. I will never claim to use my power tools to replicate the results of the old time masters. I simply do the best I can and try to learn each day and improve with each project. Sometimes however, when I need to make say one quick cut, the hand tool IS faster. By the time I set up the saw, the fence and or jig, the dust collector, grab my eye/ear/lung protectors, I could have just grabbed the glasses and cut it by hand faster. So I use both, although I’d say I lean towards tower tools.
What advice would you give to someone just getting started in woodworking?
Go buy 3 or 4 sets of safety glasses. Never do anything without them. If your gut is telling you something is not safe, don’t do it. The only woodworking website you need is lumberjocks.
If you could build one thing, what would it be? What is your dream woodworking project?
I am a bit of a dreamer. When it comes to woodworking, I am a lot of a dreamer. I can sit and daydream projects all day. While I may look like I’m staring off into space, I’m mentally building something. Where everyone else can only see my living room, I can see pieces of wood going together to make something. I guess I’m trying to say that I’m lucky in that many of my projects are dream projects. I’ve dreamed of beautiful boxes, and brought those dreams to reality. I dreamed of one day making a live edge slab coffee table for my home, and now it is sitting in front of me. I posted it on LJs if anyone would like to see. http://lumberjocks.com/projects/101565
I have a few dream projects on the go right now. It really does make me feel lucky. My current ultimate dream project right now is called an Earth Ship. It is basically an off the grid home. Check it out here, http://thespiritscience.net/2014/06/21/10-reasons-why-earthships-are-fing-awesome/ I hope one day to be able to build one although it may have to remain a dream. My more “grounded in reality” dream projects on the go include a walnut slab countertop with a mixed hardwood leg, and a built in entryway bench with a really nice spalted beech slab I have.
How did you come up with your nickname?
Well, when I say I’m the box whisperer, I mean it literally (or so I think). Call me crazy, but I swear wood talks to me. I can often (but not always) look at a piece of wood, and it will tell me what it wants to be. I am learning to see other things in wood but what it mainly shows me is boxes. I can see some rough oak here, maybe a piece of walnut on the floor, and some scrap pine and it will start. The oak will say, “Wow, you know man, the way I’m all quarter sawn, and have that nice grain, I’d sure make a nice box top” and it goes from there. I certainly have tried other and new things, and been inspired by the work of others, but at the end of the day the boxes are what talk to me. I reclaim most of my wood so sometimes it’s hard to see through the grime and dirt, but the wood still talks to me. I hope I’m not crazy.
What inspires you regarding woodworking?
What inspires me, is being able to take something discarded, unwanted and undesirable and turn it into something beautiful. Wood is one of the prettiest things in the world, with seemingly as much variety as wildflowers. Some wood is pretty as soon as you see it, and sometimes we have to find the beauty inside. I enjoy working with any wood, but the ones that make me smile like I’m a kid again are the hidden gems. What may not even look like wood can be something amazing when you give it some love.
What are the greatest challenges that you have met in your woodworking journey? And, how did you deal with such challenges?
My greatest woodworking challenge is also my greatest life challenge. Through a 15 year nursing career, I have suffered several bad back injuries. I have had 6 herniated disks. The last surgeon I saw, after telling me he couldn’t help me, also told me he was surprised I wasn’t in a wheelchair, and if I were to herniate another disk I likely would be. The last time it happened, I could not move at all for days, I could not walk for weeks and it took 6 months before I could stand up straight. Long story short I don’t do nursing anymore. Legally I am considered disabled. I’ve always been a fighter, and I’ve come a long way. I am still in pain every day, but I am able to do some things. I am very lucky I can still do some woodworking, but my days of building houses are probably over. Lucky for me boxes are very small, and even in terms of furniture I try not to get into anything too big. Basically if I can’t easily handle it alone then I tend to avoid it. I also have my shop set up ergonomically, so as to avoid injury and be able to work for longer without raising my pain levels. Also, tools have come a long way in terms of ergonomics and weight. When I started I used a big heavy dewalt 18v impact driver, but I now turn to my lighter 12v tools. Often a hand tool will be even lighter, but the action of using it may not be a smart one for me. I will never be a hand plane master.
What is the greatest reward that you have received from woodworking?
Two things come to mind. First of all, the great friendships I’ve formed on Lumberjocks. You guys are like a second family to me, and those who I’m talking about know who they are. I would never have learned the things I have, or even pushed myself to try some of the things I’ve done if not for my brothers and sisters on Lumberjocks. Also, some of what I like to call the “heavyweight champions” on LJs are just amazing. The amount of free, incredible advice, dished out on the daily, is just awesome. We all know who’s the guy to personally greet every new member and who the go-to table saw advice guy is. Need the craziest jig/saw upgrades ever? Yeah we’ve got a guy for that too. There are over 50k ACTIVE members. How’s that for a family? That leads me to my second thing/point, which has on many occasions come after following the advice of a Lumberjock, is the “light bulb going on in my head” moments that every woodworker has experienced. Maybe it’s the first time you put finish on a new type of wood, or when you realize a new way you could join that box. The “Aha!” moments make me giddy like I’m a kid again.
What is your favorite creation you’ve made in your woodworking?
I haven’t posted this as a project on Lumberjocks, so Ill share it with you now. This is Piglets stool. Piglet is my rescued kitty. I love her like nothing else, she really is like a child to me. She’s not as young as she used to be, and our bed is awfully high up. While she’s ok now, I worried that as she got older, the jump up, and particularly the jump down and landing, might be a little rough for her. I made her this stool out of a 143 year old Fir slab, and reclaimed Douglas Fir taken from 60 year old interior doors. Now little Pig doesn’t have to jump all the way up.
How did you find LumberJocks and what is it that keeps you coming back?
I found Lumberjocks, because one day long ago, it dawned on me that I could fit a router table in the extension wing of my table saw. I ran the idea by a few folks I considered handy, and they basically said it was over their heads. I did a google search and found several folks had done it on here, and some even with the same saw! From there I lurked for maybe a month and joined up. What keeps me coming back are the amazing friendships I’ve formed with the great people on here. I can’t even imagine not being a member at this point.
Thanks for taking the time to read my story!
The Box Whisperer
-- "Show respect even to people who don’t deserve it, not as a reflection of their character, but as a reflection of yours."