World’s Master Carver Ernest “Mooney” Warther – Part 1: History & Tour

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In this 3-part blog, we bring you a timeless American story of a 2nd grade educated mechanical and mathematical genius in the world’s master carver, Ernest “Mooney” Warther (1885-1973).  Mooney was renowned for his walnutebony and ivory train carvings.  Born of Swiss immigrants in Dover, Ohio, the life and times of Mooney and his family still live on in today’s 3rd and 4th Warther generations.  It is rare in these technological times to find such a family that still maintains its deep-rooted 100 year history, actively passing on its legacy from its sons and daughters who care to take the time to preserve its heritage and share it with the community and world.  This talented family operates as its main source of income, a cutlery business while maintaining the historical Warther Museum, restored home, Button House, and floral grounds, all dedicated to Mooney and his wife Freida.  Mooney’s son, the late David Warther, built the museum in honor of his father in 1963.  Today’s Warther family is made up of many family members consisting of woodworkers, carvers, cutlery makers, and business personnel that are second to none, carrying on and honoring the traditions of Ernest “Mooney” Warther.


Mooney carved the B & O Funeral Train replica after the original which carried President Abraham Lincoln.

Mooney was as detailed in every aspect of his life.  His full days consisted of carving his trains with intricate moving parts, working in the steel mill and spending quality time with his family.  In his train carvings, all internal and external parts have exact features that are scaled in proportion from actual size locomotives and box cars.  All working parts move just like the authentic railroad cars they are modeled after.  From pistons timed with driving arms, fly rods with reversing levers, pinned valves, couplers which open and close, to bells and whistles; all having accurate detailed hand-carved pieces and mechanical parts.  His greatest masterpiece was the 1933 Great Northern mountain type locomotive, which has 7,752 parts, shown below.

Mooney hand-carved everything.  The love he showed in his work and his eye for detail allowed him to carve round parts, all created without the use of a lathe.  It was not until Mooney was in his mid 70′s that he finally used an old Delta Milwaukee drill press as his first power tool with the ebony and walnut density becoming a problem for him as he aged.  The Warther’s could have been millionaires by selling off their Smithsonian appraised hobby as “Priceless Works of Art”, but stuck to their traditional deep rooted family values and kept it within the family for generations to come.  Once again, as Rob Cosman so often reminds us, “Family First” is very apparent with the Warther Family.  Each of the family members have their own special values to offer today’s Warther business, keeping it alive for everyone to see and share.


According to  Mooney’s grandson and president of Warther operations, Mark Warther…

“My granddad had a balanced lifestyle, making time for all the things that were important to him. He worked in the steel mill, handcrafted kitchen cutlery, carved 5-6 hours a day, traveled, passed on his craftsmanship-teaching his family, and still made time for his wife and five children every day.  Uncommon in today’s standards.”

Mooney’s dedicated wife, in Mark’s eyes stated, “Freida was a true partner.  Granddad used to take her sewing machine belts and use them without her knowing until she turned on the machine and never said a word!”

During the Warther home restoration, a rare and early carving of Mooney’s was found in the attic of the house.  Although it was not as detailed as Mooney’s later carvings, it showed early promise of what was to come.  Mark stated, “Granddad would throw out carvings less perfect that were not in accordance with his standards and work ethic!”

We visited the Warther Museum and from the moment we stepped into the facility, we were treated like a member of their family.  Mark gave us a personal tour of the museum and son-in-law and marketing director, Steve Cunningham showed us the historical home of Mooney and Freida.  I cannot express enough, our thanks to Mark and Steve for spending the entire day with us so that we might bring this story to you.  Their handed-down family work ethic and personal attention to everything showed during our visit.  I highly recommend personally touring the Warther Museum and surrounding area, you won’t be disappointed.  Here is our tour (condensed) and the history of Ernest “Mooney” Warther and family.

In upcoming blogs on the Warther’s, we’ll show you detailed whittling instructions by David Warther on the basswood pliers shown in the above video.  In the third blog, we will take you on the Warther woodshop tour where the family tradition continues in making cutlery today.  Another blog will have Steve and Mark discussing with us a carved chess set given to actor Henry Morgan as a thank you from Mooney for getting him on the Johnny Carson Show in 1965.

Be sure to visit the Warther Family Museum, Button House and Home located in Dover, Ohio.  There is so much to see, you will need more than one visit!

We hope this inspires your woodworking! Stay linked, 

Auf Wiedersehen…Frank!

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