Thursday, June 21, 2012

Norm Sartorius—Spoon Maker Extraordinaire

Six times a year I write “The Great American Woodworker” column for American Woodworker magazine —which means I get to interview six truly unique, talented woodworkers every year. For my next few blogs, I’m going to briefly introduce you to a few of these amazing woodworkers.

Norm Sartorius in his shop
Today you get to meet spoonmaker, Norm Sartorius. Though his area of expertise may seem quirky, it’s served him well. He’s been able to make a living plying his specialty craft for over 30 years and currently has spoons in the Museum of Art and Design in New York City, The Smithsonian, the Carnegie Museum of Art and dozens of other private collections and galleries. Some of his spoons sell for as much as $4,000.
         One of the reasons he loves making spoons is that the design possibilities are endless—his work will attest to this. During the interview Norm explained, “Spoons are an infinite category. You can make thousands of them and no two are the same. I still have fun making each one.”

Spoon made from Paela Burl (photo by Jim Osborn)
He’s used woods from a tree planted by George Washington, from the famed. fallen Wyatt Tree, and from woods that people from around the world have sent him. He’s used 5,000-year-old river gum, exotic amboyna burl and mystery woods found in the desert.

Spoon crafted from cocobolo wood
In most cases he lets the shape and grain of the wood determine the size and shape of the spoon he’ll craft from it. Once the wood speaks to him, he does the initial roughing out using bandsaws, die grinders and pneumatic sanding drums, then switches over to scrapers of every shape and size (dental picks included) and sandpaper.
His spoons aren’t for stirring soup, but rather to “stir the soul.” See what you think. To see more of his work, visit  Norm's website

Spoon crafted for folksinger Pete Seeger. "Art or not, Pete told me he was going to use it," explains Norm.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


A simple gift for dad—anyone can build it

Last weekend I was at Valley Bookseller Visit Valley Bookseller in Stillwater promoting Woodworking FAQ: The Workshop Companion, and other books I've penned, for Fathers’ Day. I was promoting something else, too—the idea of building something with your own two hands to give as a gift. We weren’t just promoting the idea, we were building it! I think the good folks at the bookstore are still vacuuming up sawdust
The book that features the project

The project was a simple balancing wine rack featured in my book, Ridiculously Simple Furniture Projects. All it really takes to build one is a drill, a jigsaw and about 30 minutes. I think these things are so cool people should make them by the dozen to have on hand for emergency gifts! And there are a jillion variations in terms of shape and size. It's a great project for using up oddball wood scraps.

My granddaughter Paige sanding her project

There were kids of all ages building the racks during that hour; a couple of 60+ years olds that wanted to dip their toes into woodworking, a pair of Junior High girls that unwittingly walked into the scene and wound up making gifts for their dads. They rolled their eyes a little, but in the end they thought it was cool. There were little kids ranging from 1 to 7 years old. Best of all, three of my granddaughters and four of my own daughters were there. Guess what I got for Fathers’ Day?

Daughters Kellie and Tessa building a bottle rack for dad

         It’s pretty easy to walk into a store and buy a card and a necktie—but it’s not much harder to make a simple gift. With a handmade gift comes the memories of making, giving and receiving it. It feels better. Give it a whirl.

Here's the basic plan::
A simple plan for a simple project. Just build it!

Thursday, June 7, 2012


About every two years I head over to Tanzania for a couple of weeks to work alongside the students and staff at Bomalong'ombe secondary school to improve their water and electrical system and to help build dorms and classrooms. Last time I was there I promised the school carpenter—a gentleman by the name of isaak—that I'd get some hand tools over to him. I can’t go this time, but while I was packing up tools for the group going over there to take, I began reminiscing about the day I spent building chairs with Isaak.
Isaak and students working on chair components

Power at the school is scarce, so Isaak does all of his work with hand tools. The morning I arrived to apprentice with him he explained that our first task was to rip the material we needed for the chairs down to the proper width. With that he broke out a machete and in 6 or 7 deft strokes “ripped” the chair legs to the exact width needed. The blade came within fractions of an inch to his fingers, but he was so skilled he never even flinched. When it came time for me to “rip” some material to width, it took me 10 times as long.
Spike cutting tenons using a box miter saw

The day involved much sharing of information, much laughter and much building. The workbench was a rickety old table with crossbracing. We used planes to plane; brace, bits and chisels to create the mortises; saws and chisels to create the tenons; draw knives to create the scooped seats and curved backs. By the end of the day, Isaak had created five new chairs and left an indelible impression upon me. What was impressed?
Isaak proudly displays one of  five completed chairs

1)    That having the right skills trumps having the right tools
2)    That every woodworker has things to learn from every other woodworker
3)    That woodworking is a universal language.

For more information on Mission Tanzania, visit Mission Tanzania, Trinity Lutheran Church