January 2010

Carrying On a Tradition in Indianapolis

On January 9,2009, Richard Luke quietly passed away. He was my mother’s oldest brother and the patriarch of the clan. A father, a furniture salesman, who I always knew as Uncle Dick. He was also a woodworker, who loved time in his shop making precious little things of wood. This January 9th the family paused and reflected on the man, who for 91 years had been a father, an uncle, a big brother and friend. We all remembered the man we loved so much and missed so terribly now. I too, spent the day pondering the past.

When I was a child we would travel to Ohio to visit Uncle Dick and Aunt Ruth, but we really wanted to see Mickey and Dixie and Janie, Dick’s children. They were the big kids. While we were watching Captain Kangaroo, Dixie and Janie wore saddle oxfords and poodle skirts and listened to Everly Brothers records. Mickey, the practical joker and oldest, usually had a hot car like a convertible. They were so cool!

When I reflect on my Uncle Dick, I remember a meticulous man, who often wore a tie to breakfast. However, I mostly remember a man who had the amazing ability to derive deep meaning from small and precious objects. His pocket watch, which is famous in family lore, was given to him by his father. It had a locket in the back, which opened where he kept a picture of my mother. He would lovingly hold and polish the watch and wind it faithfully. He also had a wall clock which had belonged to my grandmother. He would wind it everyday, with the discipline of a monk, often taking time to wipe the glass with a handkerchief or just let his fingers caress the sides, letting the wood and the shape share all the memories it faithfully held. Uncle Dick had “the touch”, that wonderful ability to let wood and objects speak to him. He held these objects in high regard like religious artifacts, simple in their form, precious in their meaning. I can still see him sitting in a rocking chair, letting his hands roam the arm, feeling the smoothness and the warmth of a familiar and friendly piece of wood.

When I started this little venture, I received a lovely congratulations from my cousin Janie. In her correspondence she said,

Dad (and I) always loved wood (especially the grain) and he would be so PROUD that you have that same love for wood. Must be in the genes.

I was deeply moved by that and as I pondered her statement, I thought , she may be right. My great uncle Walter worked wood as did my uncle Dick and my father. My mother is a seamstress. All have “the touch”, the ability to let fingers speak and see deep meaning and derive simple pleasure from the crafting of objects and because of this to hold objects made so in special regard. I think all craftspeople have this gift. I think it is very special. I thought of the lines by D.H. Lawrence;

“Things men have made with wakened hands,
and put soft life into are awake through years with transferred touch,
and go on glowing for long years.
And for this reason, some old things are lovely
warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them.”

I am proud in my little way to carry on this simple tradition here in Indianapolis. It is a tradition as old as mankind, from the first who chipped a flint spear point to the great artists and craftspeople of our history. The ability to see beauty and profound meaning in a small wooden box or a well stitched quilt or a carefully forged tool is to be in touch with our humanity. I call this new piece “Wakened Hands” and it is my tribute and fond reflection of my Uncle Dick and the long line of makers whose warm life lives still.


The Birth of Fishers Laser Carvers

Welcome to the birth of Fishers Laser Carvers. My name is George Beck and this is my blog. It does not seem all that long ago that I did not know what a blog was, let alone write one. Yet, here I am. What in the world is Fishers Laser Carvers? I will attempt to explain in this introduction.

I am a woodworker. More precisely, I would consider myself a traditional woodworker or romantic woodworker, if you will. My work is predominately worked in the old tradition with hand tools. My favorite is hand planning with planes I make myself. The little nuances of these tools is a journey that began long ago. I have long loved hand saws and chisels and I desired the skills of those craftsman like James Krenov and Sam Maloof, who taught and inspired me. For more than 40 years I have pursued this ancient craft.

After a nearly 30 year successful career in the business world, I had the opportunity for early retirement. I had often dreamed of the day when I could devote myself to the craft I loved and wondered what I could accomplish if I devoted full time effort to it. Here was my opportunity and I seized it. Now, what to make?

A few years ago I became interested in checkering, such as one sees on gun stocks. I have been making hand planes for over 25 years but I had never seen one checkered with a grip like a rifle stock. I started working with files and checkering tools and this brought me into the technology of laser engraving, which is how many modern guns are carved. I had the notion that perhaps I could help fund my woodworking pursuits with some engraving work. So I bought a laser engraver and started to learn this new technology, thinking of perhaps making name tags or awards. I still wanted a checkered plane and the idea of using new technology to redefine old technology appealed to me. Imagine, old world craftsmanship combined with new age laser technology. Roy Underhill meets Darth Vader, a blend of old and new!

One problem one encounters when making things in wood is scrape pieces. Wood that is precious and beautiful but not quite big enough for that last drawer or the grain and color is not quite a match. I had stockpiled quite a bit of wood like this over years and had often pondered a use. I often use it to practice planning or sawing. When my laser was delivered, we used a piece of this wood for a test. We engraved a quote on nice little piece of hand planed cherry. The concept for Fishers Laser Carvers was born.

I hope in this endeavor to accomplish four things; 1) Combine old world craftsmanship with new age laser technology to produce beautiful and affordable gift items. 2) Utilize reclaimed and “saved” wood 3) Help fund my journey in craftsmanship 4) Use the power of wisdom words to create inspirational and intensely personal items.

I hope you find this a pleasing little corner of this vast internet. I will be writing here about hand tools and sharpening and the pursuit of working in wood and of course, laser engraving. Stop by often and see where this takes me. The coffee pot is always on.