Woodn’t It be Luverly: Fine Woodworking Turns the Ordinary into the Extraordinary

By Claire Larrabee

Fine woodworking often evokes images of perfectly crafted tables, chairs, and dressers in the rich tones of woods like mahogany, curly maple, cherry, or black walnut. While serving a utilitarian purpose, these pieces are also significant works of art that enliven our homes. But it isn’t always necessary to invest in a large piece of furniture to bring the combined value of wood’s function and beauty into our lives. Rendered in wood, what might have been a mundane, utilitarian object becomes its own little work of art.

Branch Out in the Kitchen

I have a jug full of utensils sitting on my kitchen island, mostly stuffed with plastic spoons and spatulas. But I think the tool I reach for most is my wooden cooking spoon. There’s something homey and satisfying about mixing a cake batter or stirring a simmering pot of spaghetti sauce with a wooden spoon. Jonathan Simons clearly understands this little pleasure and uses his woodworking skills to hone spoons that not only do their job, but do it with grace and beauty.

Made of wild cherry, Jonathan Simons’ spoons and kitchen utensils make cooking and serving fun.

Jonathan carefully considers how his pieces will actually work in a kitchen. “My utensils have a unique sense of balance and warmth because they are designed with the hand and purpose in mind,” he says. Jonathan has even figured out how to make cooking easier by inventing what he calls the “lazy spoon.” The spoon’s handle has a notch that allows it to balance on the edge of a pot or pan. Through many years of experimentation in the woodshop and the kitchen, Jonathan has expanded his range of work to include wooden spatulas, tongs, spaghetti forks, spreaders, and more.

Enjoy Wooden Games and Toys

When you are done in the kitchen and ready to kick back, the handmade wood gameboards of David A. Levy and John Deveer make play a richer experience. David and John handcraft sets for chess, checkers, backgammon, cribbage, and other games in a wide range of exotic and domestic hardwoods. They use a variety of woods to make the patterns in the game boards and pieces. Each piece is finished with a mineral oil or multiple coats of clear lacquer to enhance the natural beauty of the wood.

David Levy and John Deever use a variety of hardwoods to handcraft their game boards and game pieces.

There’s even an opportunity to introduce the small fry in your home to the pleasures of a perfectly honed, smooth wooden toy. So much better than plastic!

Left to Right: Pull toy duck with rotating egg; rolling cars; alligator puzzles

Lose Track of Time While Watching the Clock

“What time is it?” Sometimes I think this question is asked more than any other. We turn around to look at the kitchen clock or grab our phone to check the time. Wouldn’t it be nice to make “What time is it?” more interesting? James Borden takes time checking to a whole new level with his “timescape” sculptures. For more than 30 years, James has been shaping woods like black walnut, cherry, ash, and hickory into large, hand-carved clocks with exposed and moving levers, wheels, and gears. There is a Zen-like peacefulness to watching one of James’ clocks tick off the seconds. He loves to create wide, graceful motions and soft, woody, clicking sounds which are mesmerizing to watch and hear. Experience the peace yourself in this video of one of his clocks in action.

James Borden’s large wall clocks are made of cherry and walnut.

Wood is a Fashion Statement

Fine woodworking is by no means limited to just wonderful objects for the home. Husband and wife team Sharon Hammill Diebolt and Mark Diebolt have applied their years of experience creating handmade wood furniture and jewelry boxes to a most unusual subject – handbags and purses! Their purses are made using the woodworking technique of veneer, which applies a facing or covering made of very thin wood to an object, such as a table. Somehow Sharon and Mark have figured out how to use veneer in a way that provides the flexibility needed for opening and closing a purse. Even the interiors are made of wood. What a way to up your fashion game!

Left to Right: Handbag of maple burl with amboyna burl accents; Minaudiere (small purse) made of bubinga

Ugly on the Outside – Stunning on the Inside!

Warren Vienneau uses the most amazing burl wood to make functional and decorative items for the home. A burl is a rounded, knotty growth on a tree, which is ugly on the outside, but magnificent on the inside! When the unattractive lump is put into Warren’s hands, he transforms it into a work of art, creating bowls, vases, candleholders, sculptures, and even wine glasses that reveal the inner beauty of the burl.

Left to Right: Cametillo and ebony wine glasses; maple burl winged bowl; granadillo and ebony Ikebana vase

For many of his works, Warren lets the natural form of the raw wood become the guiding principle for the piece’s design. He blends ultra-smooth turned lines with the bumps, voids, and natural edges which are characteristic of different burl woods. “My focus as an artist is to create a finished piece which shows the work of my hand while preserving some of the natural existing beauty that was already there,” he says.

Where Wood You Find These Artists?

Jonathan Simons, David Levy and John Deveer, James Borden, the Deibolts, and Warren Vienneau will all be participating in the upcoming Paradise City Arts Festivals in October or November. If you’d like the opportunity to experience the look and feel of their wood creations in person, mark your calendars now for the upcoming shows. The October festival takes place October 6-8 at the Three County Fairgrounds, 54 Old Ferry Road, Northampton, MA. The November show will be November 16-18 at the Royal Plaza Trade Center, Marlborough, MA. Hope to see you there!