Over the past few years, the hobby of woodworking has experienced a massive boom, said Allan Chaney, owner of several Woodcraft stores across Oklahoma, Kentucky and Cleveland.
With the rise of social media platforms like YouTube, TikTok and Instagram, woodworking hobbyists all over the world took to sharing their projects on the internet, inspiring those who came across their videos to try their hand at the craft, as well.
Additionally, government restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic caused more people to stay home than ever before, which gave many woodworkers the time and space they needed to hone their hobby in solitude, Chaney said.
“In the last couple of years, social media has skyrocketed, and visibility has increased so much for woodworking,” said Tony Fisher, assistant manager at Woodcraft in Tulsa. “The inspiration is out there — you can see normal people making amazing things, which makes people say, ‘I can do this, too.’ It makes it so available to the everyday person at home.”
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Even with the recent growth of the woodworking hobby, a vibrant woodworking community has called Tulsa home for many years.
Dr. Bob Block is a member of the Eastern Oklahoma Woodcarvers Association, a charitable nonprofit organization created in 1975 for the preservation and expansion of the art of woodworking in Oklahoma.
Block was introduced to woodworking while on a family trip to Minnesota. He spontaneously decided to take a class taught by a skilled woodcarver from Greece, and from then on, he was hooked, Block said.
“I found out it was something I could really do — I can’t draw worth a hoot, I can’t paint, but woodworking was something I really enjoyed and could spend hours doing,” Block said.
Block moved to Tulsa in 1975 and joined the OU College of Medicine faculty, where he worked for several decades as a child abuse pediatrics specialist. Upon coming to Tulsa, Block joined the EOWA, where he fostered his woodworking abilities as an artistic outlet and found a community of fellow hobbyists.
“I love the friendship,” Block said. “Everybody is willing to help each other. If I’m stuck on something or if I screw something up and it needs to get fixed, another carver can help me and I can help them, too. It’s really nice to be in a group that has that common interest.”
Since retiring nearly a decade ago, Block has dedicated more time to his woodworking hobby. In his backyard studio, Block said he can spend up to five hours each day creating intricate carvings by hand.
With his set of tools and the large selection of wood he has at home, Block creates remarkable wooden renderings of subject matter ranging from the natural to the mystical and everything in between. Carvings of wooden faces, wild animals, leaves and even a dragon wrapped around a castle decorate his Tulsa home.
“I have models for some carvings, but most I just do from imagination,” Block said. “I like the creativity of it. Sometimes a carving was meant to be one thing, but turned out to be something else in the end, and that’s a fun part of the process, too.”
As Block gets older, he said it’s important to him to pass the woodworking tradition to the next generation. When his grandkids visit, he teaches them woodworking fundamentals to try to instill in them the joy of carving.
“I had my grandchildren here last week, and they wanted to carve,” Block said. “I took them out to my shop and we carved a rectangular piece of basswood into round parts that look like a drop necklace. We drilled holes in it and added a leather strap, and you would’ve thought my grandson carved the Michelangelo, he was so excited.”
Block and the EOWA are working to encourage youth woodworking in Oklahoma. The EOWA offers a variety of free woodworking classes and workshops to kids over 13 in hopes of keeping the tradition alive.
“It’s really important for us to get the kids started and teach them how to carve safely,” Block said.
Woodworking experts at Woodcraft in Tulsa said they’ve noticed a change in demographic in their store over the past few years.
“We’ve seen a shift in clientele to include a lot more of the younger generation,” said Laura Kane, store manager at Woodcraft. “We’re glad to see that because woodworking is a dying art, so teaching it to young people is important. Handmade things just mean so much more to people.”
New hobbyists will often come to Woodcraft with not much more than a photo of a project they’d like to try, Fisher said. Fortunately, an idea is all they need to get started.
“The first thing we do is ask someone what they’re interested in and what they saw that made them want to try woodworking, whether it was a jewelry box, a carving or a bowl,” Fisher said. “Then, we talk them through what the woodworking process will look like for that project and if they want to work by hand or with power tools. Woodworking is just a genre, there are so many different avenues you can take with it.”
It may be tempting for a first-time woodworker to purchase a host of expensive tools in the excitement of starting a new hobby, but it’s better to start with the basics or take a class, Fisher said.
“Someone might want to build a dresser because they saw a YouTuber with 30 years of experience who made it seem really easy, but then they’ll get home and be frustrated because they don’t know what they’re doing,” Fisher said. “There’s a lot you need to be aware of before you walk out of the store with a $300 handplane because you might not actually know what to do with it.”
Woodcraft offers a variety of small entry-level classes for new woodworkers that teach them how to make small crafts, like wooden bowls and pens.
“We always steer people toward our classes, even if it’s not what they’re particularly interested in, because it lets them get a feel for the craft, learn to use the tools and make some sawdust,” Fisher said. “Then, they’ll walk out with a new craft and new knowledge.”
Once the woodworking fundamentals are established, hobbyists can easily find whatever they need for any project at Woodcraft. The store supplies power and hand tools, hardware, wood, finishing supplies, project kits and more to suit the needs of any hobbyist.
“Woodworking is so vast — you can take a Swiss army knife, cut a branch off a tree and make a slingshot, or you can get professional tools and make a beautiful chifforobe, and everything in between,” Fisher said. “You’re working with something that’s natural, something that just grew, and you’re using it to create something of value that has purpose and use.”
To learn more about woodworking and to shop supplies, visit woodcraft.com.
To see artisanal woodworking on display and to shop for other art such as mosaics, jewelry, leatherworks and more, the EOWA will host its Woodcarving and Arts Festival on Aug. 12-13, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Central Park Community Center in the Broken Arrow Rose District. Admission is free. For more information, visit eowa.us.
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