When asked about retirement, John Kirkpatrick gives a quick laugh and responds, “Yeah, I retired. I retired and went to work.” About ten years ago, John picked up woodcarving as a way to alleviate stress, with no intention of it becoming a business. Today, JK Woodworking is the husband and wife team of John and Rachelle Kirkpatrick.
Rachelle says, “He started out making this stuff and he gave it to family. Our son and daughter said, ‘You need to be selling this, Dad,’ and then it kind of turned into a business. It started out as stress relief and fun for him, just seeing what he can do.”
While John does all the carving, he credits Rachelle’s help with allowing him to do his work. “She does more of the work than I do. She does all the labeling, making tags, the website.” Each item is numbered, and it’s Rachelle who burns all the numbers into the carved items.
Though John carves several types of items, Rachelle says it’s the spoons that sell best. “The spoons are John’s favorite thing to make. People just have an attraction to them.” John adds, “It’s all done by hand, which people like.”
Rachelle continues, “He gets lost in a spoon. Look how lyrical it is. He works to leave that kind of character in each piece that he makes. John would have never thought of himself as being creative, but he’s very creative. We did a demonstration at War Eagle Mill back in June. John always tells people, ‘Oh, it’s easy. There’s nothing to it.’ But it’s a true talent. He has developed his own technique. It’s all self-taught.”
John is humble about his craft, but when she mentions places his spoons have travelled—all over the world—he tells of the note he received after finishing a set of spoons for a wedding, and the pleasure in his tone is marked: “We got a nice letter from her. We still hear from her.”
John first began carving canes, eventually transitioning into spoons: “I’d sit on the back porch and peel the bark and everything off. A lot of times when I’d get done taking the bad wood off, all I’d have left was a small piece, and that’s all I’d have enough wood for [was a spoon],” he says.
Rachelle notes that their specialty items, like biscuit cutters, often receive a lot of attention at craft shows. “A lot of people when we’re at a show will say, what is this? Well, who makes biscuits anymore?”
“A lot of people will spend a small fortune on tools. I bought a whole set of tools for $39 and they are the best. These other tools are $50, $60, $70 and I very seldom use them.”
John begins each spoon with a piece of wood. After the bark is removed, he splits it into smaller pieces before shaping it into the shape of a spoon with a band saw. From there, he puts the part of the spoon that will become the bowl into a vise. He uses his small hand tools to shape the bowl, a process that takes about twenty minutes. From there, he’s got the shape of it, though there’s still work to be done before it’s ready to sell.
Part of what makes their work so beautiful is the attention to sanding and conditioning the wood. It’s not finished until each piece is smooth as glass. After the piece is finished, John or Rachelle will apply a thick layer of a special rub to the wood. After a day or so, they’ll wipe away the excess. Rachelle says every item includes also includes a sample of the rub and a piece of sandpaper, because, “The first time you use it [the item] may get a little fuzzy, so you sand it down and apply a little of the rub.”
As for how long he’ll stay at work? “I guess as long as it stays fun, I’ll do it.”