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An Eye for Art: Local craftsman finds beauty in wood

John Englund is a local woodwork craftsman from Westminster. “My grandparents were carpenters from Scandinavia. My dad picked up those carpentry skills and passed them on to me. Dad was a businessman, however, and loved woodworking as a hobby. I was in fourth grade when I decided to build a mailbox with Snoopy on it that I gave to my parents. They were amazed that I made it with adult tools,” he said.

Englund’s family moved from Illinois farm county to Orange County, California, when he was 16. He attended Laguna Beach High School, taking all the trade school classes such as welding, mechanics and woodworking. That was his refuge as he did not fit in with the high school beach and surfing culture.

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Following graduation, Englund apprenticed with a furniture maker, learning the skills needed to build high end custom furniture. After several years, he opened his own custom woodworking shop in Laguna Niguel, California.

He, his wife and son, moved to Westminster in 1987. After 25 years in the corporate end of the Mid-Atlantic construction trade, he established a woodworking shop at his residence. He specializes in custom woodworking and furniture such as wormy chestnut farmhouse benches and slab wood tables.

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“I decided to build unique boxes when I began making Christmas presents last year. I made a dozen different styles of boxes. I did the design work first. It was an experiment,” Englund said. That expanded to the delight of family and friends to include all sorts of boxes including tea boxes, trinket boxes and boxes to hold anything you wish, any size you wish. There are many styles, different types of handles and diverse combinations of wood.

John Englund is pictured with his handmade boxes at Gallery of Gifts at the Carroll County Arts Council.
John Englund is pictured with his handmade boxes at Gallery of Gifts at the Carroll County Arts Council. (Lyndi McNulty)

Interlocking sides on the boxes is called dovetailing and produces a strong joint although it is a time-consuming process to use.

Englund uses different hardwoods in designing and making his boxes. The wormy chestnut wood was given to him by a friend, who took down a 200-year-old barn in Carroll County. He is always looking for interesting pieces of wood. Englund knows what a drab piece of bark and wood can become.

One line of boxes is made from natural tree limbs. Tea boxes are more finished. Englund uses woods that can be anything, including Osage Orange which is also called horse apple or hedge apple. Figured tiger oak, another wood he uses in his boxes is produced by a process using “quarter sawn” wood. The tiger pattern is produced by cutting across the medullary rays or horizontal grains, which expose flecks that appear as an eye pattern. A rare wood he uses is called wormy chestnut. Wormy chestnut is from the American chestnut trees that were killed in a blight during the early 1900s. The dead trees were infested with insects that created holes and patterns in the wood. This wood is rare and harvested for lumber, often take from old barns. He also creates boxes from walnut.

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Englund also does custom work. He built a side table for people that had a cherry dining room table and needed a buffet to go with it. They wanted to be able to take the legs off so that it could be stored flat. He used high powered magnets to hold the table legs. The magnets made the table legs easy to remove for storage.

“I have to find whatever I am making to be interesting. Designing pieces stimulates my brain. Figuring it out is half the fun for me,” Englund explained. “Then, I choose the wood and the dance begins. As I work with it, it comes alive. I have the pleasure of discovering the deep beauty of this gift called wood.”

“I love trees,” Englund said. “I have been talking to the trees on my property for 30 years. Trees give and give and give to us. It is amazing. The cycles of trees provide shade, fuel, lumber, shelter, heat and furniture.”

“I get the special joy of assisting wood express its artistic beauty,” Englund said.

Englund can be contacted at johnnycat52@gmail.com. His Facebook page is called Catmando Artisan Woodworks.

Lyndi McNulty is the owner of Gizmo’s Art in Westminster. Her column, An Eye for Art, appears regularly in Life & Times.

CUTLINE: John Englund is pictured with his handmade boxes at Gallery of Gifts at the Carroll County Arts Council.

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