This interview, with richgreer, is from the July 2012 issue of our LumberJocks’ eMag.
1. How did you first get started working with wood?
I was raised on the family farm and was actively involved in farm work from the time I was physically able. I particularly enjoyed the “working with wood” projects on the farm. We were often building, modifying or repairing calf pens, corncribs, wagon racks, etc. My Grandfather was quite talented and taught me many basic lessons about using hand tools properly. We only had one power tool at the time, a heavy, clunky, hand held drill.
2. What was it about woodworking that initially caught your interest, enticing you to get into it at the level you are now?
The first thing that enticed me about working with wood, as a boy, was working with Grandpa, whom I loved very much. After he died (I was 13), I continued to do the much of the carpentry work on the farm and I really enjoyed the challenge of finding the optimal way to design something. I seemed to have a knack for it.
3. Tell us a bit of history of your journey from that beginning to where you are today
I left the farm to go to college. After college, I pursued a career as an actuary. Any interest in working with wood had to be put on hold for quite a while as I dealt with the demands of my career and raising our two sons.
I’ve always been handy at minor things around the house and did some modest projects (e.g. Adirondack chairs) but I did not do any serious woodworking until 1998, the year I was transferred to Iowa. In Iowa I was in the later phase of my career and my work was less demanding and our sons were on their own. We also bought a home that was well suited to having a shop.
I started with a 10’ x 12’ shop and a used ShopSmith. I reconfigured the shop twice and it is now 17’ x 22’ and I have plans to make it even bigger. I still have the ShopSmith, but it is only used for very limited applications.
A second significant year was 2007 when I retired and had more hours to put into woodworking. From then until now, I probably spend about 20 hours per week in the shop during the fall and winter seasons.
4. What inspires you regarding wood creations?
I am most inspired by the beauty of the wood itself. I do almost all of my own design work and I stress designs that show off the inherent beauty of the wood. More than most, I work with exotic woods. However, due to the cost, they are usually accent pieces on projects made primarily of less expensive wood. Even with domestic wood, I seek out wood with beautiful grain.
I do both flat work and turning. To me, they are radically different aspects of woodworking. I really feel like an artist when I turn. Working with my own designs in flat work makes me feel more like an engineer looking for perfect joints and a creative design.
5. What are the greatest challenges that you have met along the way? (and how did you overcome them)
I have supervised other volunteers on some big projects for my church. I found supervising some volunteers very challenging. From now on, if I need some help on a church project, I have a few specific people I will ask. I will never again issue a general invitation for people to help.
6. What is the greatest reward that you have received from woodworking? (personal or tangible)
I spent almost a year working on numerous projects for my church. We completely renovated the chancel area of the church with 9 new pieces of furniture, a new communion rail and new end panels for the pews. Several projects were solo acts I did alone and others were team projects that I supervised. Pardon my lack of modesty, but my greatest reward is just seeing how beautiful it is every Sunday morning. I relish the joy from knowing I did a good job for my church and my God.
7. What is your favorite tool that you use for woodworking?
I have lots of tools and each tool serves a particular purpose. At any given point in time, my favorite tool is the tool that will do the best job at the task before me.
If you want a more specific answer, my Festool Rotex 150 sander is high on my list of favorite tools. It’s permanently connected to a dust extractor and always near my primary work area, ready to go. It gets a lot of use.
8. What is your favorite creation in/for your woodworking?
If I had to identify one project as my favorite creation, it would be the communion rail. It is curved and I had to deal with difficult joints and cutting some precise arches. From a technical perspective, this was my most challenging project to date. It really came out great. The red oak I found for this project is stunning and the design shows off the wood beautifully.
9. What tips would you give to someone just starting out or currently struggling with woodworking?
Patience. I work slowly and I intend to always work slowly. I pause and think often. I do mock ups with cheap lumber to test how something will work before I do it with the real lumber. For a tricky task, I usually practice on scrap wood first. I avoid any project that has a deadline that could force me to work faster than I am comfortable with. I don’t enjoy woodworking when I am rushed and enjoying what you are doing is what it is all about.
10. How did you find LumberJocks and what is it that keeps you coming back?
I tripped onto LumberJocks when perusing the Internet. I genuinely appreciate LumberJocks and all the great advice I have received. I am a seasonal woodworker. I am much more active, both in the shop and on LumberJocks in the fall and winter months. Spring and summer are more focused on my other hobbies, baseball and antique tractors.
Thanks to richgreer for taking the time to do this interview.
-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)