This interview with PanamaJack is from the March 2012 issue of our LJ eMag.
1. How did you first get started working with wood?
I remember, way back in the mid-60”s, watching my Grandpa Carl Fritz making what I call the old “School House” hexagonal type wall clocks. Sometimes I got to help in cutting the woods he used. Most times however he told me to just sit there on my own little chair and watch. Told me many a time that I could learn a whole lot by just watching, and I did. He was a machinist by trade and was retired when I really got to know him. He used mostly native, to Indiana, woods that I can remember in creating some really gorgeous clock housings. Curly Maple, Cherry, and Walnut! Can’t say that to this day I have ever seen any made better. I have one at my home. I was amazed at my young age how tight the miters were. There was never any putty or any paint job to cover a loose miter! They just didn’t happen. Perfect! I know today I cannot duplicate this feet in woodworking. I watched him for hours working his lathe on small projects. Today I am a self taught wood turner because as a kid I did learn a lot by just watching. I strive to duplicate my Grandpa’s ability for woodworking each day I that I am lucky enough to be able to go out to my “office” or work shop.
2. What was it about woodworking that initially caught your interest, enticing you to get into it at the level you are now?
I remember the smells of the wood when he was cutting, sanding or turning the many different woods he used. I even remember the smell of the Shellac finish he used for his wood projects. I love the smells of Cocobolo, Rosewoods and the likes of Sassafras woods in the air! Even the occasional turned pen made from a piece of wood procured from an old whiskey barrel!! :-)
3. Tell us a bit of history of your journey from that beginning to where you are today
My history from the mid-60’s huh(?). That’s a long time. The 70’s and 80’s are a blur. I graduated from high school, went to and graduated from college. Got married in 1974, started a family in the latter part of the 70’s. As the kids were growing up in the 80’s and 90’s I sort of forgot about much woodworking. It was all about raising the kids. In the mid 90’s I started back into woodworking. In the mid to late 80’s I was working for a lumber yard here locally. I started making several projects for them. I made a lot of their displays. For years I made a display deck or some feature item for a local radio station to be prominently displayed at our county fair. Most items had to be assembled on site or moved there by semi. Like when I made a 12 foot octagonal deck with built in railing and seats (1988). I remember that year because to make extra monies for the kids clothes I made over 200 6-foot treated picnic tables for the lumber yard! I made several other sizes that year. I made this really nice 52” round picnic table, with rounded benches, also. Anyway, it wasn’t until the mid 90’s that I started making wood working things for myself. Made some cabinets and nicer things. Went to a couple of craft shows and so forth. It wasn’t until spring 2007 that I got the idea, and monies, to further my life in woodworking. I bought a (Jet) JWL1236 lathe off eBay for cheap. (Actually came from a friend, but that’s another story.) It was in really rough shape as it had been in a barn for about 10 years, so the first thing I had to do is to strip the rust and overhaul it. That took about 6 months and a lot of muscle. Now looks fairly new, about the time that I am going out to buy something a little smaller, a mini lathe is going to be delivered within the next two weeks!
4. What inspires you regarding wood creations?
Wood, I love it. Every piece of wood is unique, and so to should be the outcome of anything made from it. I am amazed by the sheer numbers of different woods from all across our great planet. I have now made pens from more than 107 different spices of wood. Having said this, I have made many pens from other things as well. I recycle many things. When I got started making pens I had to find things unique. (I have often said that it I can cut it with a woodworking tool, I’ll turn it into a pen.) I go to places like Goodwill and flea markets to see what treasures I might find. I use old butcher blocks or cutting boards, I’ve procured plastics and aluminum items that I incorporate into pens. I worked retail for nearly 40 years…I found a great use for the credit card I had for that company…You guessed it – a pen! I found a whiskey barrel at a flea market last year…a whole one and promptly turned it into 475 pen blanks!
5. What are the greatest challenges that you have met along the way? (and how did you overcome them)
Cost of equipment for making a pen and having kids in college at the same time. That is why it took me about 30 years to do what I love to do. First I had to get my kids raised up! You have to have saws: a table saw, a band saw, a scroll saw and with logs you have to have a chain saw. You need a drill and a drill press, sander and grinder to keep the tools scary sharp and so forth. Then you need a lathe. I figured out that my first pen that I made was in the neighborhood of $1800.00. All used machinery at that. Of course after looking at the list of tools you will find that unless you break or mess up a tool, the 2nd pen will cost only about $3-4.
6. What is the greatest reward that you have received from woodworking? (personal or tangible)
Amazingly as I stated above I am semi-retired after about 40 years in retail. Basically I am still in retail, and for the most part I am dealing with a lot of people that I have dealt with for all these years. That is my satisfaction. To help people with what they want or need. To deliver on a promise and like always back it up.
7. What is your favorite tool that you use for woodworking?
It has got to be my tablesaw! It is though the table saw that all great woodworking starts. (you can quote me on that)
8. What is your favorite creation in/for your woodworking?
One of the projects I have listed on my LumberJocks is a Dolphin Jewelry Box. I showed one in the project section, but in fact there are two of them. The one shown was one I made for my daughter. I presented it to her as a present on her adoption of three great little kids that really need a break in their life..and that is to find a Mom that cared about them. I made another box, that is a reverse image of the one shown for my wonderful wife, come July 13th of 38 years. Much to her surprise on our 37th.
9. What tips would you give to someone just starting out or currently struggling with woodworking?
Whether I talk about pen turning or any other type of woodworking it’s about the same. Don’t give up. Keep at it. It takes a while to learn the tools of the trade. If you get frustrated, just ask someone. Don’t stop the creative want or desire. If ever I have had a question for anyone on LumberJocks, they are always glad to help you out. Like most, I find by teaching someone on how to make a pen, I become a better penmaker myself. Same goes with cabinet making or other form of woodworking.
10. How did you find LumberJocks and what is it that keeps you coming back?
Same answer as above. When I need help a few years ago, y’all helped me out!
Always learning, means there’s always questions that will need answering. This is the place there some will help you.
We are family here on LumberJocks.
Thanks to PanamaJack for taking the time to do this interview for us.
-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)