A Fork in the Road

It has been 5 years since I started on this journey. It has been a most enjoyable time. I have made thousands of unique items. Last year alone, my work tripled! This caught me by surprise and come Christmas I was quite overwhelmed. Instead of making 4-5 items a week, I was making 30-40 items a week. Instead of making 12 boxes a year, I made 60 boxes. Now most folks say “That’s great!” or “Congratulations!” and it really is great except for the fact that I can only realistically make 20 items a week. The shop in in shambles and scrap wood and dust are becoming a real issue not to mention a health hazard. So I am constantly falling behind and the waiting list grows longer and longer. These are good problems to have as problems go but I feel bad that I have lost some customers and some orders because I just could not get to everyone on time. My friends and family say “Hire some help!”. I am not sure I could find anyone to work in Chaos the way I do. So what can be done? How can I maintain the hands on personal handmade quality and keep up with increasing demand? There is also the issue of burn out and I am tired and I have neglected some health issues for too long. I have worked 7 days a week for more than 6 months now and I worry that inspiration and passion may wane. Growing pains to be sure.

I have decided that I need to change my ways of working. I have always made each item from start to finish. I need to make multiple items and complete the heavy work (milling, sizing,planning) ahead of time and work from an inventory of plaques and boxes that are ready for assembly, engraving and finishing. In the past I built up an inventory of 10-20 plaques and 6 boxes to prepare for Christmas. These were gone before Thanksgiving and I was back in the catch up game. Perhaps if I have 60-75 plaques and 20 boxes I would be in better shape and would replenish this inventory once a month. This will take some time and much work, not to mention some new tooling,shop layout and storage. Of course this will also mean that special custom sizes will have to be on a “As Available” basis.

Therefore, I have decided to close Fishers Laser Carvers for Remodeling effective May 23rd through September 2nd, 2014. This is to remodel the shop, build an inventory and instal a state of the art dust collection and air filtration system. Tools need sharpened, machines need tune ups and I need a break. This is going to be expensive. I have several new items and new methods in mind. The idea here is not to stop making but expand production. So I am leaving for a little bit. You can still contact me as I will be around. I will return, better able to take care of my wonderful clients in a more timely fashion. In the words of the The Tempos, “I Will See you in September”.

Remembering Marina Keegan

By all accounts, Marina Keegan was an exceptional young woman with a voice for a generation. Just a week after her graduation from Yale she was on her way to Cape Cod when a tragic auto accident stole this precious life away. In a heartbeat, this optimistic and most promising voice of a new generation was silenced. This tragic story was widely covered in the national media including the Times and The New Yorker. For her friends and family this loss is intimate and personal. For all of us the loss of her talent and voice is immeasurable. Her words of hope and optimism are truly inspiring. Maple Plaque

I was contacted by a friend and family of Marina. I was asked to create a remembrance plaque for Marina’s mother. I selected a piece of maple and I decided to frame the plaque with a 3dimensional laser carving of maple leaves. I selected this graphic for two reasons. A very old technique that I have always admired is to reflect a reverence for the tree that provided the wood such as maple leaves as drawer pulls on a maple table or oak leaves or acorns on an oak piece. I will talk more about this in a later entry. The other reason is that blowing leaves are a symbol of fate (leaves in the wind, a leaf on the river, the feather in Forest Gump). It is a charming plaque and my great hope that it may ease those broken hearts that view it.

In August, Marina Keegan’s work Independence opened in New York. The loss will never be over come but Marina’s words and thoughts live on. I never had the pleasure of meeting this young woman but I have read her words and I have engraved her thoughts and I feel very privileged to have done so. This is in memory of a fine young writer and playwright gone too soon.

Peace

George

You can learn more about this remarkable life here.

A Checkered Past At Fishers Laser Carvers

When people ask me what I am doing these days, I often find that difficult to describe. I do my best to explain the concept of enhancing hand made wooden objects with a laser and they invariably ask “How in the World did you get into that?”. That is a strange story. a wooden hand plane

I have pursued woodworking my whole life. The books by James Krenov (A Cabinetmakers Notebook, The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking and The Impractical CabinetMaker in particular) were inspirational to me. I was especially struck, not only by his use of hand planes, but that he made these tools himself to fit his hands. I decided over 25 years ago that this was something I must master. Thus I started making hand planes.

I made quite a few and I use them everyday. Then one day this odd idea popped into my head. I had never seen a hand plane with checkering added for the grip like a rifle stock. So I began to research the craft of gun stock checkering. Laser checkered planesThis lead me to read several books and took me to a few scary gun owner web sites. I bought some checkering files and started my pursuit of this tedious art. In my research I discovered that most modern gun stocks are checkered with lasers. Lasers? I thought. This took me off to explore the abilities of laser engraving. I thought lasers were interesting and more than a little bit cool. I went to trade shows and watched every demonstration I could. I thought perhaps, I could use laser engraving to fund my woodworking pursuits and well as, of course, have checkered hand planes. The only ones in the world to the best of my knowledge.

Recently, I was contacted by the Irish Setters Club of Greater Tucson about some awards for a dog show. They wanted an award that was simple and understated but symbolized the sport of gun dogs. These dogs are trained to fetch quail. The dog and the rifle and the shooter work together. We tried several standard borders and the typical “First Place” “awarded to” trophy, when the idea came to me once again; Why not gun checkering? After all this familiar pattern is certainly well know to gun enthusiasts. We could even use a Remington or Winchester diamond pattern for the checkering. One of the club members had drawn a lovely quail graphic used by the club (these folks are really into this as I am sure are the dogs). So perhaps just a quail and gun checkering as a border. The plaque to the right is the result. The members were thrilled and the plaques were noticed by representatives of the ASPCA.

The wonderful lady who developed these plaques with me told me they were a big hit and no one has ever seen such a thing. I was relating this story to her and she mentioned I had quite a background. Isn’t it wonderful how one thing can lead to another and to another. I suppose one could say I have a checkered past.

Peace

George

Proudly made in the United States of America

The 135th Airlift Squadron is one of two flying units of the Maryland Air National Guard. It is based at Warfield Air National Guard Base (Martin State Airport) in Middle River, Maryland. Its parent unit is the 135th Airlift Group. The unit flies the C-27J Spartan.
The 135th Airlift Squadron was organized as the 135th Air Resupply Squadron on September 10, 1955 as part of the 135th Air Resupply Group (now the 135th Airlift Group). When it was organized, it was one of a handful of Air National Guard units nationwide tasked with what was at the time called the air commando mission, which included covert infiltration, resupply and exfiltration of special operations troops. It remained a special operations-type unit until 1971, when it was reorganized as a tactical air support unit. In this role, it was tasked with providing Forward Air Controllers to direct air strikes in support of troops on the ground. In 1977 it was again reorganized, this time as a tactical airlift unit. The 135th Airlift Group was inactivated for two brief periods: 1958-1962, during which time the 135th Airlift Squadron continued to function as independent squadron, and 1996–1999, during which time it reported directly to the 175th Wing.

When I was contacted by the Squadron last year about plaques they issue for deployments, I started researching the logos and missions. These folks are involved all over the world. If we have military somewhere, the Maryland Air National Guard is not far behind. The graphics they provided were too low a resolution to make an effective engraving. 135thAirlift GroupI worked on these for weeks before deciding it was best to just redraw them. I did not want to use a black and white outlines as that would look too much like a rubber stamp. I wanted something more along the lines of a carving. Baltimore's Best InsigniaI should probably explain here that I consider cutting (or more accurately burning into the wood) an engraving and cutting away the background and leaving a design standing as laser carving. What I wanted to do was to replicate color with depth and texture. This is the resulting plaque.

The 135th also uses the designation “Baltimore’s Best”. This insignia was even more of a challenge. It features cross lances on a shield which boasts the Maryland State Flag, which is a fascinating and complicated design.The flag of the state of Maryland consists of the heraldic banner of George Calvert, 1st Baron Baltimore. It is the only state flag in the United States to be based on English heraldry. It took me about 12 different designs and 20 (yes, 20) tests runs to find that combination of deeply cut but not too deep and crisply cut lines. It is a heraldry insignia and the motto “Baltimore’s Best” was adopted in 1987 as a result of the unit being recognized by the Best in Baltimore committee the same year.

I do not think I have ever worked so hard on simple plaques. For reasons I am at a loss to explain, I considered this task most important. The squadron sent me an Arm patch in appreciation which is quickly becoming one of my most prized processions. I enjoyed working with these wonderful and brave Americans. I must say if we ever get into a real scrape, I want them on my side.

I had finished all of the plaques (I made a big batch) and was preparing to wrap them when at the very last minute, I decided to engrave the backs with “proudly made in the U.S.A.” After this experience, I really must say, “I sleep better at night, knowing the 135th and the entire 175th is over head”. May God Bless them all and keep them safe.

Peace

George

A tribute desk plaque from Fishers Laser Carvers; Remembering a President

Presidents Day is often a day to reflect on our past presidents and many times wishing we had them back. I remember watching John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural address on a small, by today’s standards, black and white television. In school we were made to memorize those famous words, “Ask not what your country can do for you….”. I still recall vividly, as a boy, watching the tradgedy in Dallas and being glued to the screen as the unimaginable poured over the air waves and into our hearts and minds. As a result of this early experience, I spent a great deal of time in my later youth studying the man. I, like most of the country, became fascinated with all things “Kennedy”. How those pictures of a riderless horse or a little child’s salute still move us. Little did we know and less did we suspect that these events would be a prelude to events yet to unfold.
As I reflect on these events, I am often puzzled by why I found this time and this president so inspirational.JFK Desk Plaque I think it was the message of hope and change that we can be all we can be. That somehow, despite the trials that will surely come, we can reach for the moon. I remembered a desk plaque that President Kennedy held in particular favor. A plaque that recites the Breton Fisherman’s prayer “O God, Thy sea is so great and my boat is so small”. (The picture on the right is the original from the JFK museum) The story goes that Admiral Rickover, the father of the modern nuclear navy, had this little bronze desk plaque and the new president expressed his admiration. Admiral Rickover presented the president with this plaque which sat on the president’s desk in the oval office. This was latter adapted in the television series “The West Wing” as “O Lord, thy sea is so vast and my boat is so small”. This little desk plaque has become American Lore. It has also always been one of my favorite quotes.
I had no idea at the time that quotes and plaques would become my passion and my business.(This still astounds me). JFK desk plaque One of the first plaques I ever made with my laser was this quote. That first plaque even bore the little ship logo which become the logo of Fishers Laser Carvers. I still wanted to create a replica of the original plaque which now resides in The John f. Kennedy Museum. The original is cast brass mounted on mahogany wood. I decided to try to make this on cherry as with my other desk plaques. Not a copy or reproduction, I would rather call this an interpretation or tribute to the little plaque that influenced me so long ago. So,if I may, “Let the word go forth”, here is my little rendition. A little piece of work that represents so much of my life and my thoughts. A simple thing that has moved me and moves me still.Something new gleaned from something very old. Who Knows? Perhaps we can still “light the globe.”

Peace

George

Another year with Fishers Laser Carvers

I have just finished and delivered my 500th plaque since I have been on this journey. It was a tumultuous season. Illness and family illness (nothing dire just irratating) prevented me from being as prepared as I needed to be. However, with some late nights and complaining I managed to ship 60 items. hymn plaqueSome very touching and powerful in the personal messages they contain. This once again reminded me of the task of creating these little simple things that touch hearts and send a sentiment. It always gives me pause.prayer plaque

From the special rushed package from one of our boys in Afghanistan to his wife or the simple children’s prayer remembered from long ago, these little pieces of wood attempt to say something. This is an ancient thing. I have been laboring at this for some time and it still pleases and amazes me to have a small part in this process.

We live in a world filled with division and turmoil. The news speaks daily of the angst and fear that people feel in dealing with this uncertainty. I think we need to remind ourselves at this time of year that all are just people. They get their hearts broken, they lose loved ones, they celebrate births, they struggle with jobs and money, they have trials and tribulations and it is not hard in the hustle and bustle of everyday life for folks to start thinking that they don’t matter. They feel as leafs on a river. Well they do matter! I think perhaps that just the reminder that Jesus loves them and I love them can make a burden a little less heavy or a joy a little more memorable. In my poor way I like to think that I play a small part in delivering these messages.Plaque

I received a letter from a customer who wrote; “I can’t begin to tell you what your work has done for me. I was going through one of the worst times in my life and in my hands was the beautiful plaque you made for me. I held the wood and read the words and I began to feel a little better. Don’t ever think that what you do doesn’t matter. I will cherish this always.”

This is my reward. The government and insurance companies take the rest.

Merry Christmas Everyone

George

The Arrow of Light for the Fishers, Indiana Scouts

The Arrow of Light is one of the most prized awards in scouting. It represents a cub scout’s completion of all requirements and the entry into the Boy Scouts. If you have never attended a Blue and Gold banquet, believe me when I tell you it is a very big deal.

Arrow of lightI was a cub scout and a boy scout. I was really into the scouting experience. This is where I first learned to play with knives and axes. We slept outside and learned to build fires. We hiked with the military at Wright Paterson Air Force base. We even camped out in the snow. Of course we also made pictures from macaroni and paper plates and sold a lot of pop corn. Some of my very first woodworking was making pine wood derby cars. If any of this makes sense to you or is similar in your experience, then you know the arrow of light is a transitional moment in a young scouts life.

When I was approached with the idea of making award plaques for the local scouts, I was more than happy to do so. The scout master stopped by and we started making little samples to select a design. The he threw a curve ball at me. How to attach the arrows. Arrows? What arrows? Now it is often customary that the scout receive an arrow head as a symbol of becoming a man. The leaders wanted to mount arrows on the plaque. They were planning to screw cup hooks into my plaques or maybe just holes to tie a string or pegs. I had viewed several similar awards on the internet and they just didn’t seem right to me. I had not really planned on making racks instead of plaques. Now I had to figure out how to mount them. I remembered my vow, “I promise to do my best”, from so many years ago.

Arrow Og Light plaqueNow just off the back of my little basement shop is an unfinished little room. This is where the furnace and water heater reside and there is a wash basin( it is also the laundry room) where I often clean up tools or wash things off. I was standing at the basin looking up when I saw the copper pipes suspended with plastic pipe holders. Hmmmmm, pipes are round and about the same size as an arrow. I wonder. I took one of the pipe holders off the beam (yes I now have a dangling pipe held with a coat hanger) and traced it onto a piece of wood. This might just work.

I fabricated the little holders and mounted them on the plaques with dowels wedged from the back.. These hold the arrow not unlike a gun rack. I thought to myself, “Wow” I just got a lousy cardboard certificate when I passed through!”. But sour grapes aside, I think the boys were pleased. I hope it means more to them later in life than it does now. I rather imagine it will mean the most when their sons reach the same and this is how it should be. Tradition, handed down from father to son, the unbroken cycle in the walk of life. This is the Arrow of Light.

Peace

George

Support your local Scouts!

A Handcrafted Mirror Story – or – Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

I have not written in a bit. It has been a very busy summer. There were days that I doubted if I was going to be able to keep up. A wise lawyer told me when I started out that there are two things one must consider when starting a business; “What do you do if it fails?” and What do you do if it succeeds?”. Happily I have been struggling with the latter. How am I going to make 14 plaques, 2 pastry boards and 6 boxes in a week? Cherry MirrorSometimes you have to have a long talk with the guy in the mirror.
I had a client contact me with a strange request. Her father had once owned a mirror with the words from Psalm 96, “Then shall all the trees of the forest exalt before the Lord.” He loved this mirror and longed to have it again. She thought perhaps because of my constant use of tree motifs, I could offer a rendition of this mirror. This started me thinking about how to do this. Now since I have begun this journey, I have made plaques with engravings and items with relief laser carvings and I have made picture frames. I became intrigued with the notion of combining engraving and carving (deep relief) and traditional frame woodworking. However, this was not enough of a challenge. The mirror also needed to be arched and sit flat against a wall.
It is not that difficult to get the text to follow a curve in a graphics program. But how does one cut the frame parts to the exact same curve? It is one thing to build a mortice and tenon frame and add a curve, but it must be so that the laser knows how to follow the same shape and curve. I decided to use an old chair makers trick, templates.

When I would visit my great uncle Walter’s shop as a boy, I noticed dozens of thin templates hanging from the rafters. These templates were of various curves used to shape chair backs and set the angles on chair legs. My mother is a seamstress and I have often watched her lay out patterns for dresses and such. It is not important, the exact shape or angle. It is important all be the same. I thought to myself, “Patterns and Templates, that’s the ticket!”

I set about drawing patterns in Corel Draw and then using the laser to cut the patterns out in 1/8″ plywood. It turns out the laser does this very well. I then used the templates to layout the piece and cut to the line. I could even make a template of the mirror and take it to the good folks at Carmel Glass and Mirror to cut the 1/4 plate glass.

I cut the parts and carefully cut to the line of the template. I then cut the mortice and tenon in the traditional manor with chisel and saw. Now the rabbet or rebate for the back. Wait a minute! This will need two rabbets(grooves), one for the mirror and another for the slightly larger inset back. I decided to mill this on the router table, first cutting the larger rabbet and the a second relief for the mirror and finishing the corners with a chisel. This results in a stair step shape. Whew!mirror back

The frame completed could now be engraved and carved. I used two little relief carvings, one of a cherry blossom, as the frame is cherry and one little humming bird feeding from a blossom at the bottom.Cherry blossom A cherry vine wraps the frame. I made my poor customer wait about 16 weeks while all of this was figured out. Sometimes these special unique projects take awhile. The work doesn’t take anymore time but all the design and building of templates and such does. This another of those items thats looks simple but is in fact, rather complex.

So here is my first attempt at bringing woodworking, engraving and laser carving together. Who knows, might be a new style of craft. In the meantime, I am back at the bench, happily making as many unique and interesting items as I can. I am reminded of the words of Mother Teresa, “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle, I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.”

Peace

George

You will never use that!

During my career in the corporate world the question of education came up from time to time. When I disclosed that my degree was in theology and religion I used to get some pretty strange looks and more than a few questions. “How did you get from religion to sales?” or “What went wrong?”, “Did you fall from grace?”, I would be asked. I had one immediate superior who wrote in my retirement letters ” A degree in theology! Are you kidding me?”. He once told me that he thought this was a waste. “You will never use that knowledge!”
Now, I must admit, the use of ancient greek or latin or archeology seldom came up in the industrial sales game. Not many of my customers knew or especially cared about my educational background and I am fairly certain that no one bought from me because of it. Still, I always bristled at that thought that all education is merely vocational training. There was a time when the study of the humanities, as it called back when dragons roomed the earth, that religion and the arts and the humanities were a prerequisite for all advanced studies. One could not think properly or be morally grounded without being versed in the wisdom of the ages. Of course this was in the days before Wikipedia and the internet. They are right. There is probably no practical application for my unusual history.

Recently, I was contacted by a client who was desirous of a plaque that held the word Hupomeno. She stated that she had heard this word in a sermon and it had come to hold special significance in their family. The word Hupomeno appears more than 20 times in the New Testament. It generally translated as “patience or perseverance”. However, the word has more of a connotation of active waiting and anticipation. In modern vernacular I would translate it as “Keep the Faith” or “Hang in there baby”. Given the fact that the first century church was in pesecution, this is altogher understandable. Because of this meaning of “active anticipation” it is one of those ancient words that has become an iconic symbol for many, particularly evangelical churches. Maranatha (Come Lord Jesus) is another such word, but that is a different plaque. I suggested that we make the plaque in the original greek. “You can do that?”, my client exclaimed. Yes I can do that. This made for a quite unique and interesting piece of work.

It was strange that during the same week I received a phone call from another client who had seen my “Ebenezer” plaque. He was searching for this in Hebrew and wondered if I could do that. Yes I can do that. Now it has been a long time since I studied any hebrew and I never was good at it. Ebenezer plaqueThe last time I interpreted any hebrew, there were no cell phones or any such thing as the internet and computer was that big thing at the Pentagon. But I found this interesting and decided to give it a go. Now, keep in mind that this is actually two words combined in hebrew and of course it is written from right to left. The word is from 1 Samuel and means “Thus far the Lord has helped us”. This name was given to a rock by Samuel that marked the spot of God’s victory over the Philistines. This is another ancient word that has become an iconic symbol of faith. I liked the fact that the simple design to the plaque also gives testimony to the origins of the word.

In my adventure that has become Fishers Laser Carvers, I have been able to revisit the wisdom of my education. I continue to happily revisit the great thinkers and wisdom of the ancients. There is a great need in our world today for wisdom and words of Jesus, Gandhi, Tolstoy, Buddha, Thoreau ,Jefferson, Blake and Burke. As I continue to write my life’s story I think often of the words “You will never use that knowledge!” The Lord does work in mysterious ways.

Peace

George

That’s going to leave a mark

My last Christmas package should be delivered today. I must admit there were times, usually about 2 a.m., that I wondered if I was going to make it. There is that anxious moment when I find myself torn between doing my very best work and just getting the work done. I think I avoided the temptation to “just get it done” for the most part. I thought I was prepared, with plenty of stock ready, but after 50 orders, which is a lot for a one man show, I began to secretly wish for the holiday to be over.

Angel plaque

Then I received an email from a customer telling me how I had brought peace and joy to their lives and “filled them with an enlightened view of divine peace.” Now I admit to be susceptible to flattery, but I thought, “Now wait a minute, I am just the guy who puts marks on wood.” It was the words that moved them and their willingness to let themselves be moved that brought peace, not my efforts.

The more I thought about this, the more I thought how ancient and human it is to leave marks. As far back as we can imagine, people have been marking images and words on stone or wood or bone. This means there was always someone like me, who would make the marks, etched or carved, whether by rock or chisel or laser, that would add some permanence to human thought and feeling. Our need to express ourselves and leave a mark to share with others in the hope that they may share our feelings by seeing the marks.Music sheet plaque

I have made many marks this year. Songs and sonnets, limericks and speeches, prayers and promises, hopes and dreams and expressions of loss. Lives being etched upon little pieces of wood to leave a heart. This has always been the case. We see the great monuments. We read the markers and the stele, from the rosetta stone to simple grave markers. Who made these marks? Rarely is that remembered. Does it matter? I think not as long as the marks hold their meaning and mystery and magic.

I imagine that way back in ancient times some Emperor or Pharaoh would approach someone like myself and say “We would like this etched onto stone. Can you do it?” My ancestor answering “Sure, I can do that!” Then the Pharaoh would say “Now, I am going to need this by the end of the week!” My ancient counterpart saying “WHAT??”
And so it goes.

Thanks to everyone for your support. Have a peaceful holiday.

George

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