Five Expert Woodworkers Tell Us About the Gift of WoodComments (0)
This article is from Issue 7 of Woodcraft Magazine.
What makes a good woodworking gift to give or receive, and just what is it that makes a gift special? To find out we asked several well-known woodcrafters five gift-related questions. Here’s what we found out!
Roy Underhill recently completed taping the 25th season of his PBS series “The Woodwright’s Shop.” In addition to his popular show, Underhill is a teacher, lecturer, consultant, author, entertainer (he originally planned to pursue a career in theater) and historian. He lives in Williamsburg, Va.
What is the best gift you have ever made and given to someone? Just before heading off to college, my daughter Eleanor took up the banjo (something secure to fall back on if her career as an artist hit a soft spot). I made a case for her banjo-ukulele with bookmatched red cedar panels as a high school graduation present. I can tell by the way she’s kept it, and the things that she’s kept in it, that it means something to her.
What is the best gift someone else ever made for you? My birthday and Christmas fall right close together, so I am not sure what the occasion was, but when I was in my twenties, my parents gave me an antique broadaxe they found at a flea market. It’s not just that a broadaxe is an unusual gift for someone from Washington, D. C., but that it was their way of saying they were ready to encourage whatever interest I wanted to pursue, and that was the best gift of all!
What wooden item makes a great holiday gift? Anything made from a tree that was special to someone makes a special gift. When a yard tree has to come down (or these days, when a hurricane takes it down), that’s your chance to get some of the wood and turn it into a bowl or a puzzle or picture frame. Nothing beats a bit of woodworking with a story behind it. (But if anybody wants to send me a Stanley No. 1, I won’t turn it down.)
What woodworking tip have you been keeping to yourself? Everybody knows this, but we always forget. Keep a candle, a hunk of beeswax or a pot of tallow handy when you are hand planing or sawing. A bit of slippery stuff rubbed on the bottom of the plane or the blade of the saw cuts the effort in half. (Just don’t use so much that it would interfere with any finishing you have planned.)
What’s the woodworking-related gift you’d most like to receive this year? I’d like to learn to do something new and exotic. Carving lessons with the Dogon people in Mali, or a meeting with an insane Algerian wagon maker, or a few weeks working on a lapstrake fishing boat in Estonia. Aside from that, there’s no greater gift than an appreciative audience.
Amy Devers of Los Angeles wears several hats on the DIY Network, doing hosting chores on no fewer than three shows – “DIY to the Rescue,” “DIY Inside: The Home Builder’s Show” and her brand new “Freeform Furniture.” A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Devers is skilled in furniture design and construction, finish carpentry, and metal, plastic and upholstery fabrication.
What is the best gift you have ever made and given to someone? Back when I was in graduate school I had a long-distance boyfriend (he’s now my husband) whose mother was battling cancer. She had been in remission for quite some time when the disease resurfaced rather severely. Everyone was sending cards and flowers. But I had the inside knowledge that, while she really appreciated them, the smell of flowers made her nauseous. I was in the careful position of trying to demonstrate my genuine concern and sympathy for her situation, while also trying to impress her the way one wants to impress future in-laws. I made a small picture frame from shaped and painted basswood, a car door handle and part of a headlight assembly. She loved it! Whenever I visit my father-in-law, it’s there on the shelf with all of the other standard picture frames, sticking out like a sore thumb (or a beautiful misfit). It meant something to me, because I think it really meant something to her.
What is the best gift someone else ever made for you? In high school, shortly before my 16th birthday, I was the victim of a very bad haircut. It upset me deeply, but amused the rest of my family to no end. At my sweet 16 family birthday dinner, my father (for whom I have tremendous respect) presented me with my gift. I tore the paper off to reveal a box with the label “Hair Replacement Kit.” Inside was a chunk of my dog’s hair and a roll of Scotch tape. I didn’t think it was funny at first ... and then I saw my dog!
What wooden item makes a great holiday gift? I think bent laminated serving trays are always a classy gift.
What woodworking tip have you been keeping to yourself? Perhaps this isn’t a new tip, but I save all those phony credit cards you get in the mail (also the hotel keys I forget to turn in) and use them as glue spreaders.
What’s the woodworking-related gift you’d most like to receive this year? I would love a lesson in making shoes!
David Marks is the host of “Wood Works” on the DIY Network. While he is best known for the contemporary furniture seen on his TV show, he also specializes in lathe-turned work that incorporates metals and fantastically colored patination. He lives in Santa Rosa, Calif.
What is the best gift you have ever made and given to someone? I have to say turned, wooden bowls, turned out of burl.
What is the best gift someone else ever made for you? I would say a wooden jewelry box.
What wooden item makes a great holiday gift? I would say a turned bowl, a cutting board or a jewelry box.
What woodworking tip have you been keeping to yourself? Router rails! When I get into a difficult woodworking situation I find that if I support a router on a flat plane with router rails it enables me to flatten and mill all sorts of odd shapes and unusual pieces of wood. This would specifically apply to a table base that needs to be leveled and curved, or sculptural pieces.
What’s the woodworking-related gift you’d most like to receive this year? More magnification glasses so that I better see the fine details!
Sam Maloof is widely regarded as one of the finest contemporary furniture makers living today. At 89, he still works every day, and personally does work on every piece that leaves his shop. His distinctive style – especially that of his signature rocking chairs – is often copied, but never duplicated. He lives in Alta Loma, Calif.
What is the best gift you have ever made and given to someone? I think it was the very first piece I ever made, which I gave to my wife. It was a little, four-legged stool with a footrest that I made for the kitchen, way back in 1950 or 1951. I still have it.
What is the best gift someone else made for you? It’s not really holiday, but I think the nicest gift was that Freda agreed to marry me. And then, when Freda was gone, it was when Beverly married me. I don’t know if that sounds corny or not, but those were the two finest gifts I’ve received.
What wooden item makes a great holiday gift? That stumps me a bit. I’ve made a lot of holiday gifts for people, all different kinds of things, little trinkets and such. Some people when they visit my shop will pick up bits of scrap and ask me to sign it to them as gifts. One of the things I like to do is to make a little trophy of one of my chair arms, all sculpted out. I make them in all different sizes from 6" up to regular size, and people like them a lot. But really, everything should be shared. I give workshops several times a year, and I’ve always given away my “secrets,” and I’ve shared them with everybody who asks. There are no secrets in woodworking, and everything should be shared. Giving woodworking knowledge to another is a wonderful gift.
What woodworking tip have you been keeping to yourself? Always keep a clean shop where you don’t trip over anything. I can’t really say that very well, because in my shop I’m always crawling over everything. I do several jobs at once, and I’m always bumping into things. Beyond that, I’ve always said that a dull tool is the most dangerous tool in the shop. Always keep your tools sharp.
What’s the woodworking-related gift you’d most like to receive this year? The other day I was at Aspen teaching, and a retired contractor came to my workshop. He did intricate sculpture, and showed me his work. Without even asking, he pulled something off the shelf and said he wanted me to have it. It was just a beautiful piece of sculpture, and I really liked it; he seemed to know that when he gave it to me, which made it special.
Sandor Nagyszalanczy of Bonny Doon, Calif., is a professional furniture designer, photographer and tool consultant with over 25 years of experience building high-end custom furniture. A former senior editor of Fine Woodworking, Sandor has authored a dozen books, including “Tools Rare and Ingenious” (2004, Taunton Press).
What is the best gift you have ever made and given to someone? Probably the single, coolest thing I ever made was a sculpture for a girl I was dating back in the ’70s. I took a very good poem that she had written, and routed the words – along with some drawings I drew to accompany the words – onto a long, tapered strip of clear Plexiglas. Then, I bent the strip into a “Z” shape and mounted it edgewise into a Z-shape slot cut into the top of a wooden box. I put an electric light inside the box to edge-light the plastic, so the poem and illustrations were all lit up.
What is the best gift someone else ever made for you? Both my parents and wife have given me lovely vintage ukuleles (both dating from the 1920s) as Christmas presents. I’m an avid uke player and collector. But my all-time favorite gifts would have to be a small Buddha figure that my Dad carved for me out of soapstone, and a gorgeous shirt my Mom embroidered with a traditional Hungarian design.
What wooden item makes a great holiday gift? Any kind of kitchen utensil or bar tool; they’re easy to make, and the recipient is almost guaranteed to find them useful. Wooden kitchen spoons and spurtles are quick and easy to shave and/or carve out of small scraps you probably already have laying around the shop. If you’re a turner, you could turn a wood honey dipper, stirring or swizzle stick, or scoop for flour, sugar, sel de mar (sea salt), etc.
What woodworking tip have you been keeping to yourself? When cutting out and fitting parts for a project, I’ve found that it’s actually easier and often more accurate to use the “analog” method. I use my tape measure only to set the length of all primary parts – lengths of bookcase sides, chair legs, table top, etc. Then, I put my tape measure away and use a story stick to record the lengths of subsequent parts. Say I need to cut shelves for my bookcase: I just set my story stick into the case, and make a mark for the exact size of shelf that fits perfectly. I then use that stick to set the fence on my saw for a perfect cut.
What’s the woodworking-related gift you’d most like to receive this year? If the sky’s the limit, I’d love to find the gorgeous burl-wood dashboard and interior trim of a new Aston-Martin DB-9 under my tree – along with the rest of the car, of course!
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