John Brooks turns woodworking hobby into creating angels for others
Fastened securely in place, the block of wood begins to rapidly spin. Face shield on and tool in hand, John Brooks sets to work on his latest creation.
Wood chips begin to fly like confetti as the block spins and Brooks moves his tool back and forth cutting a chunk here, smoothing an edge there.
What was once a rejected piece of scrap wood slowly takes shape into a piece of art at Brooks’ deft touch.
The modest workshop set off from his house is filled with sawdust, tools and scraps of wood waiting to be shaped and carved into a bowl or a Christmas tree or, on this particular day, an angel.
In less than 15 minutes, Brooks turns a rejected scrap of wood into a simple angel figurine using his wood lathe and a variety of handheld tools.
“It is relaxing,” Brooks said. “You can go out there and think about anything you want to other than what is going on outside those doors. Part of it is, like I said when I do the little angels, sometimes I make them for somebody.”
Brooks has owned the wood lathe he uses to turn angels, bowls, candlesticks and more for 10 years, but he has been fiddling with woodworking for at least 30 years, or as his wife Sandra tells it, “He played with it for 30 years, and then when he retired he really got into it.”
“I have had more time and no children to go to football games, cheerleading and dancing and soccer and all that. You have a little more time,” Brooks said.
His original workshop was the garage, which in the years since has been transformed into the living room. He now has his private workshop, which Sandra has been reminded in the past is not a storage place, but his place to woodwork. There is a radio he never turns on and the tools of the trade, all of it covered by the sawdust that has accrued over the years.
No piece of wood is wasted in what has been dubbed John Brooks’ Snowflake Workshop by friends because no two pieces are ever exactly the same. A tiny scrap can become a fridge magnet and bigger scraps become his snowmen and angels.
“It is hard for me to throw any of the scraps away because I make something out of them,” Brooks said. “Like the angels, they are usually made out of a piece that has been sawed up to make a bowl or a chunk of wood. It is lying there so you just start. I never know what I’m going to make.”
The fun, Brooks said, is in the imprecision. He isn’t worried about every bowl being perfect, or every angel being the same. His time at the lathe is an escape into his own world where nothing matters except for the adventure of seeing what the piece of wood wants to become and what it looks like once you get beyond the outer layers.
“You never know what the grain is going to be,” Brooks said. “You don’t ever know if there has been a wormhole in it. You never know what’s going to be where there is a knot. When you cut into it, it has a different grain.
“I can look and I don’t see a flaw. I can let it go and not worry about the nth degree. It takes the fun out of it.”
Although he spends much of his time at the lathe, recently Brooks has been working on a bigger project. As a gift for his nephew, Brooks has been working to build a large farm table from reclaimed wood collected by his nephew.
“You measure and you measure and you measure and then you cut and hope that you haven’t messed up,” Brooks said of making the table. “I’ve got 50 or 60 hours in it.”
The table might be considerably bigger than the wooden angels he turns on the lathe or the countless bowls and candlesticks that decorate his house, but the same tenets hold true — nothing has to be exact.
“I don’t care to follow an exact plan,” Brooks said. “I think people who can do that have a wonderful talent. I don’t like to do the same thing all the time. My shop does not lend itself to being super exact. If you get within a 32nd of where you’re going that is OK. I’m not going to get down to the 100th of an inch and make sure all my 45 joints are absolutely perfect. They are close, but it doesn’t bother me that they aren’t absolutely perfect.”
Brooks said his favorite things to make are bowls, but he tries to constantly do different things and craft new items. Over the years the various creations that come out of his workshop have been dubbed We Pop’s Originals by his granddaughter, and that’s a name he has embraced.
There are many of those original pieces throughout his house including a toothpick holder, numerous bowls and candlesticks and even a baby rattle, but the vast majority of them are given away to friends and family.
“You never know what is on the inside of the wood,” Brooks said. “I can’t make anything exactly alike. It is not in my nature and I don’t want to.”
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