This interview with Spoontaneous is from the April 2012 issue of our LJ eMag.
1. How did you first get started working with wood?
I grew up in an orphanage from age 6 until I graduated high school and there was never any introduction to woodworking, art or craft. The exception that probably set the course, was one day the Superintendent of the orphanage showed me a walking cane crafted from burnt matchsticks made by someone in prison. I got it in my head that one day I wanted to try that (not the prison thing), and since then I have made a few canes from matchsticks and even toothpicks… so it must have had an effect.
The first wood project that I remember ever making was a very small ‘jewelry’ box for my girlfriend when I was 19 years old. I had no tools so I bought a Xacto knife, along with the dimensioned ‘hobby wood’ they sold. The wood was already 3” wide and you could buy it in different thickness.. all the way down to veneer thickness. The hobby store also had ¼” square dowels and I laid them up sort of like brick… or log cabin fashion. The ends actually came out looking like ‘box joints’ but by not gluing certain pieces I was able to incorporate a hidden ‘drawer’ for ear ring posts. I used veneer in between the layers as needed and left them out when I wanted more depth. I used an old found soldering iron to burn an acorn into the top. The things we do for girls !!
2. What was it about woodworking that initially caught your interest, enticing you to get into it at the level you are now?
I’ve always like working with my hands (they seem to be more capable than my mind) and as a kid (and now) I loved spending my time exploring the woods, climbing trees, building forts and the such. I think it was a natural outgrowth (pun intended) to be drawn to working wood.
I suppose what has kept me ‘in’ over the years is an appreciation for the characteristics of wood. The colors, grain, textures …and that wood is somehow ‘alive’ even after it is dead.
3. Tell us a bit of history of your journey from that beginning to where you are today?
I just remember spending a lot of time at the bookstore looking at the woodworking magazines and books. I remember specifically a book (I still own) by Donna Meilach ‘Creating Small Wood Objects’, which was full of pipes, boxes, turnings, sculptures, etc. I bet I’ve looked through that book a thousand times since. So much variety and creativity, …it was like pouring gasoline on the fire.
From that point on I really just did woodworking in spurts every few years… turned bowls for a spell, made some boxes, canes, marquetry, and one piece of furniture (using the word loosely). A couple of years ago I decided to mess around with making spoons for a while. I still make, and want to make some other projects, but the tools I have now are well suited for spoons.
4. What inspires you regarding wood creations?
Everything! And I mean that in the most literal sense. I see an ear ring and I think, “that would make a great clock”. I see a pattern or texture on fabric and think “what a great coffee table”. That sort of thing… I call it ‘transference’.
Words or phrases that create visual puns are a favorite inspiration. ‘Bullfrog’ ..gives you a frog’s body with a cow’s head. And the play on words seems to be endless.
Of course, another limitless source for inspiration are the projects of other woodworkers, artists and designers. I see so many projects on LJs that just blow me away. It is easy to get (and stay) inspired by all the ‘eye-candy’ that is presented on the project pages. A certain wood combination, an elegant table design or mesmerizing pattern all just seem to fire off the brain’s synapses.
5. What are the greatest challenges that you have met along the way? (and how did you overcome them)
Money, time, and tools. No, I take that back. The greatest challenge for me has been the lack of ability to ‘focus’. With an attention span that barely lasts as long as a flash of lightning, I tend to get ‘bottle necked’ …a lot. I get so many ideas in my head (and on paper) that I struggle to see one idea through to completion before being distracted by the next idea. I would go for years without making a thing (or at least ‘finishing’ a thing).. and then there would be a small spurt of activity, and again…. nothing.
I literally have stacks of papers and sketchbooks full of ideas for all kinds of projects: clocks, boxes, canes, sculptures, furniture and of course, spoons.
It wasn’t until I began to just focus my attention on one area (spoons) that I was able to have any consistency in completing any projects. Somehow, narrowing the ‘canvas’ has allowed me to not be overwhelmed by all of the ideas. In creating spoons I can usually complete a project within a couple of hours or a couple of days …and be on to the next.
6. What is the greatest reward that you have received from woodworking?
I suppose the greatest ‘tangible’ reward was winning the National Pipe Carving competition back in 1991. It was the only pipe I had made (other than one incorporated into a walking cane) and I didn’t expect to have a chance but entered on a ‘whim’. I received $500 and 15 minutes of very limited local ‘fame’.
The ‘intangible’ rewards have been more lasting, more significant for me. The greatest one happens to be two-fold. First, woodworking has given me an endless creative outlet. A way to express myself…. A way to explore the creative process and see what comes about. The second reward is the peace of mind, the ‘in the moment’ presence of watching something new take form. I enjoy those occasional moments when something shows up while I am working on a piece, and I smile to myself because I see the piece taking off in a unexpected direction. Woodworking allows me that certain immersion where the mind is quieted. Time becomes warped.
7. What is your favourite tool that you use for woodworking?
I’m going to cheat and mention two tools. I have owned my Foredom for maybe 25 years. It is called upon to do most of the work. I have replaced the brushes a couple of times and the flexible shaft once (I loaned it out) and other than that it has been relentless. And I don’t even oil the thing.
A little over a year ago I managed to buy a Grizzly 14 inch band saw. It has given me the gift of speed (relatively speaking). I used to cut the wood with a pruning saw the best I could and grind down to the desired shape. The band saw gives me a head start.
8. What is your favourite creation in/for your woodworking?
I hope I haven’t made that one just yet …but so far, I think my favorite piece was a matchstick cane with a carved duck head. The briar wood duck head was threaded onto the cane shaft which was partially hollowed. The head unscrewed from the cane and when inverted, became a working pipe. The ebony beak would hinge open to accept a pipe stem that stored inside the cane. I took it to a friend in Australia back in the early nineties.
9. What tips would you give to someone just starting out or currently struggling with woodworking?
Have fun! …and keep at it. Try not to compare your work to someone else’s.
What I can say as true is that I have NEVER had one single project turn out the way I wanted or planned. Never happens…. and this used to frustrate the heck out of me and many times brought me to a screeching halt. Somewhere down the line I stopped resisting, and actually embraced ‘not knowing’ how something would turn out.
I think it is important to enjoy the process and not be so hung up on the end result. Let someone else ‘judge’ the piece while you are on to making something else. Some of the spoons I’ve made I really don’t like, but oftentimes, they are the ones to sell quicker. Go figure. So, I say… just do the woodworking for the sake of doing.
10. How did you find LumberJocks and what is it that keeps you coming back?
The heck if I remember how I found the Lumberjocks website, but I have certainly been enriched by it. There have been three areas of interest in my life that have all share a common quality.. flying, gardening and woodworking. The quality they share is that all three seem to attract people that are willing to share their knowledge freely.
I love that the woodworking community is ALWAYS inclusive. Inclusive in that ‘tips and tricks’ are shared, and also that the love of working with wood is shared, and others are encouraged to join in. I am not familiar with any other woodworking site on the internet where that spirit of camaraderie and support is more prevalent.
The amount of information and advice posted is virtually unlimited. I find encouragement, knowledge and ideas to be abundant. And the willingness of LJs members to share is remarkably refreshing. I certainly have gained from it.
Thanks to Spoontaneous for taking the time to do this interview.
-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)