Wood whisperers

Don Millenbruch

Longtime member Don Millenbruch whittles in wood. A pastime for nearly 40 years, he shows off one of his many character carvings. ANTHONY INSWASTY

Club carving its own niche in the community


Do you seek less stress or a break from electronic devices? Does wood whisper to you? Getting back to nature is always beneficial to good health. Woodcarving can be a spiritual and meditative practice and a way to relax while making an aesthetically pleasing handcrafted item.

It’s as easy as looking yourself in the mirror and saying, I can do that, because the first step in carving a wood spirit is picking up a piece of wood, chipping away the bark and carving a face – it just takes practice.

Retirees and youth alike can enjoy the art of carving or wood burning with a few basic tools and help from members of a club that meets every Tuesday and Saturday in Port St. Lucie.

In 1983, 12 people met at Port St. Lucie Bowling Lanes to form what has become the Treasure Coast Woodcarvers, a nonprofit club for men and women who are dedicated to the art of woodcarving. St. Lucie County is home to a companion club: the Treasure Coast Woodturners Guild. With an overlap of interest, some are members of both groups.

Known for teaching their hobby to others, the carvers have volunteered many hours in the community, assisting Boy Scouts in earning their woodcarving merit badge, demonstrating techniques at the county fair and exhibiting at church bazaars.

Their generosity is evident in their Canes for Vets – handmade and donated by members. These custom hardwood canes are painted, set with inlay military insignias, adorned with eagles and fashioned with great care. They have been given to veterans of World War II, the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War.

“Our public outreach includes informing the public of our existence,” says Bob Brubaker, a snowbird from Akron, Ohio, and the club’s education coordinator. “Classes are open to the public for a nominal fee and increase carving skills of club members, too,” he says.

Brubaker plans and schedules classes on a variety of styles and forms of carving: realism, faces, caricatures, animals and birds. “Our library contains books, instructional videos and hands-on carving visual aids,” he adds.

For Brubaker, a retired design engineer in the tire manufacturing industry, his venture into carving was a bit of a fluke.

“About 10 years ago, we visited my brother-in-law in Texas, who had been carving for about 40 years,” he recalls. “His collection was displayed at his home and I got interested. I picked up a project at a woodshop. It was a work boot. That’s what got me started.”

After corresponding via phone and letters, his brother-in-law asked him to stop sending photos because, “You’re making me look bad! You’re doing what fellas with 30 years of experience can do.”

It was then that Brubaker realized he had a talent he didn’t know about. “I’ve been a member of the club for about 10 years. It’s the friendship and camaraderie with other carvers that keeps me there. Also, the fact that you never stop learning.”

It takes patience and the ability to think in 3-D if you want to whittle in wood. Being a scrapper helps because harvesting wood is vital for saving money to buy tools. Pattern-making, sketching and having a steady hand for painting are also good skills to develop.

Basic cutting and safety — and learning what not to do — is taught step by step by Don Millenbruch.

Good hand tools are essential, which can be acquired gradually. A basic set of gouges, carving knives, a V tool, coping saw, chisels, sharpening stone, Kevlar glove, thumb guard and a carver’s mallet will fill your carryall. The need for eye, hand and respiratory protection is critical if you want to use power carving tools. Selecting a style or area of interest and honing in – whether it is relief, caricature or carving love spoons – is up to you.

First rule of thumb: Protect your hands and fingers. A Kevlar glove and friction tape are essential accessories because they protect fingers from the knick of a knife or chisel. Getting to know your wood is just as important as having the right tools. Softwoods like butternut, pine or basswood work well for small beginner projects.

Club president Keith Jones says that his industrial arts class in high school launched a lifelong love of wood. His interest lies with canes for veterans and a little bit of everything.

“We gave 50 canes to Purple Heart vets,” Jones says. “A handful of carvers make them. We are growing the membership through our show and public outreaches.”

The woodcarvers return to Langford Park in Rio for their February show. The two-day event features demonstrations by carvers and turners. A premier exhibit and sale since 1986, it is one of the largest woodcarving expos on Florida’s east coast. As the show grew over the years, the club moved locations to accommodate the crowds.

The 34th annual woodcarver’s show, Artistry in Wood, will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Feb. 10 and 11 at the Vince Bocchino Community Center (Langford Park, 2369 NE Dixie Highway in the Rio area of Jensen Beach). A suggested donation of $5 for adults will be collected at the door. Children 12 years old and younger are free.

The club presents its featured carver, fellow snowbird, Mike Sullivan, highlighting the talents of this proficient Canadian craftsman. A caricature carving class by traveling professional Floyd Rhadigan is offered Feb. 5-7 with pre-registration. The Treasure Coast Woodturners will also sell and demonstrate their craft and hold a raffle of donated work.

Each year, members make and donate a memento to give to children attending the show. This year’s keepsake will be a Whimmy Diddle, also known as Whizzle Stick or Arkansas Airplane. The toy will be distributed at the door to parents who bring children. A special sweet potato carving session for youth is also planned.

Along with free demonstrations each day, there will be artists’ displays, a raffle, gift items for sale and vendors selling books, bulk wood, blanks, dust equipment, hand tools and more. The sales area can supply any carving need from tools and wood to sandpaper or stain. Some woodcarvings will be for sale.

To learn more about the woodcarving experience, go to www.woodcarvers.com or visit the carvers at the Walton Community Center. For more information, call 220.2135.