Decorative Wood Design
While walking in the woods one autumn afternoon with the children, my husband came across an interesting looking log. They persuaded him to carry it home and it remained in the garage for some considerable time before he hit upon a brilliant idea. I was pleased since I'd tripped over the log on innumerable occasions, on the way to the freezer, and was just about to donate it to our village's forthcoming fifth of November bonfire.
Much to our neighbours' disgust, my husband proceeded to shatter the tranquillity of an autumn evening by sawing the log into slices with a noisy electric saw on the back lawn. "Whatever is he doing?" I asked the children, who observed him with great interest through the patio door.
The next day we were sent on a shopping expedition to Leeds Market with instructions to buy a whole box full of assorted ceramic "Santa" figures. There were wobbly ones on tiny springs, about to pop out of a chimney and some cute ones on skis, carrying sacks of toys on their backs.
"Look, this is what we'll do," said hubby, taking us all into his confidence at last. "We'll cover those log slices with yacht varnish, stick some felt on one side and mount a Santa figure on the other, and then you can sell them at the Brownie's Xmas fair."
So "Crafty Ideas" was born, the brain-child of a bored husband with no time-consuming hobbies - until now. He had found his ideal hobby, and promptly declared himself a "Decorative wood designer."
"This isn't going to become a SAW point between us is it?" I joked.
The Santa ornaments sold like hot-cakes and we all had to trek out into the woods again in search of more logs to keep the production line going. Hubby decided to branch out, if you pardon the pun, into other wooden items. The garage soon became a workshop in which he spent every waking moment. The car was rendered homeless, the children became apprentices and I was roped in as sales manager. New lines were thought up on an almost daily basis, each one was photographed and a catalogue compiled. Business cards were printed as everything had to be done in a professional manner - we were now entrepreneurs, after all.
Wood was purchased cheaply from the local Sunday market and was used to create bookends, shelves, and even toy-boxes in various sizes, sturdy enough to pass on to one's grandchildren; we designed a child's desk too. All our lines found a market at the local playgroup. Before long we had enough stock to try a stall at the local car boot sale.
We carried a very popular line in house number plaques; these were just flat pieces of wood which had been sanded to achieve a smooth surface, and then coated with five coats of yacht varnish so that they were adequately weather-proofed. We even left one in a bucket of water overnight to test this. Brass numbers were then affixed to the plaques, or sometimes the numbers were painted on in watercolours and varnished over. "Can you do me a sixty-nine love?" said one cheeky customer at the boot sale. "You'll have to wait until next week," I replied, rather too innocently for a woman of my years.
We bought wooden knobs and brass hooks to mount on our basic wooden plaques, thus turning them into useful coat racks. Our stall always looked bright and cheerful and was crammed to capacity with our display of painted wooden items. We held a stall at the local primary school's Christmas fair and one at the village hall summer fete. Many of our products proved popular with housewives; there were letter racks, kitchen towel holders and decorative trays; plus teapot stands and spice racks; all practical and inexpensive gifts.
Hubby sent off for some clock mechanisms and we made clocks out of picture tiles and gave them wooden surrounds. We produced picture frames, and even bookcases trimmed with decorative beading, in different finishes. The solid wooden items could be stained with antique pine, walnut, mahogany and dark oak wood dyes prior to varnishing. Sometimes the dyes could be blended to create various shades in between. The finished items were either left plain or depicted some hand-painted design, usually floral, or rambling vines.
The beauty of wood is never fully appreciated until you see the grain when it appears through a coat of shiny varnish. We realised this after restoring a battered oak chest which we bought for a song in a junk shop and were very impressed with the result. Most of our wooden items were practical but we also created some purely ornamental lines as well. There were our novelty "decorative duck" pencil holders and gaily painted model canal boats. Some of the designs were hand-painted or stencilled but we found that Disney transfers could also be used and were easily varnished over to protect them from peeling off.
Most of our items were developed on a trial and error basis and we were pleased when our prototypes were declared a success. Our prices were reasonable and for a while, our products sold well. We attended craft fairs and our goods were always spoken highly of but sometimes the cost of a stall, on one occasion almost 20 GB pounds, made us realise it was not always worth the effort. We frequently bemoaned the fact that we didn't live in a more tourist-oriented area where there would always be someone new to an interest in our wares. It seemed we had reached the stage where we had already sold something to almost everyone we knew.
It was not difficult to saturate the market in such a small village, and our advertisements in the local post office/shop soon ceased to attract further custom. I stopped going to the playgroup because my youngest son began school and our children understandably became fed up with being daddy's little helpers. It became annoying to have a husband who "lived" in the garage and I realised the hobby had become an obsession when he only came into the house for five minutes on Christmas Day in order to eat his dinner. Even the neighbours became fed up eventually and we received a letter from the Environmental Health Department. The nice folk next door had apparently complained about "the continual hammering, sawing and banging" coming from our garage.
It was a while before hubby admitted we were no longer selling anything and reluctantly halted production. Our garage is still not quite empty enough to fit the car in, and we have more than enough Santa ornaments to give to family and friends for some years to come. And by the way, if you know of anyone who would like a hand-painted wooden clock of individual design...
© 2015 Stella Kaye