Woodworker Exhibit: Devin Klarer, the ‘Experimental’ Woodworker

Devin Klarer

For Devin, woodworking has always been a part and parcel of life. From spending time at his father’s workshop to having one of his own, he’s come a long way.

One of the first things you will notice about Devin are his unique designs.

He loves experimenting and coming up with new designs and we were quite impressed with how he has taken woodworking to a whole new level so we decided to pick his brain and see how he does it and what he’s learned so far from his time as a woodworker.

Here’s what he has to say.

Enter Devin…..

What determined your passion for Woodworking? Tell us about the moment when you decided this is the way to go.

I grew up spending a good deal of time in my father’s woodshop. In many ways, I am simply following in my dad’s footsteps. When I was a teenager, my dad was already teaching me a good deal about the properties of different woods and how to safely use power tools. Whenever I needed help making something cool out of wood, dad always was there with expert advice.

Even though I have been working wood for over two decades, only in the last three years has my technical ability and artistic design ability found the perfect marriage. Once I saw the first 2-d optical illusion made out of wood, I was hooked. I feel like I have only begun to scratch the surface of what optical illusions are possible with wood.

Vanishing Cutting Board

Vanishing Cutting Board by Devin

Can you remember your first woodworking project? Describe it a bit, whether it is a gizmo you worked at as a little kid or something that was sold at a large scale.

I remember one of my first woodworking projects when I was probably 12 or 13 years old, I designed and cut a wooden sword out of plywood on a band saw. The band saw is a great tool for beginners because it is considerably safer than a table saw or a miter saw and is relatively quiet and easy to use.

What is your greatest strength? How does it help you as a Woodworker?

My greatest strength as a woodworker is probably my ability to try new things. Even with all the expert advice, I have been given by other woodworkers over the years (which has been a huge part of my learning), and all the woodworking research I have done, my greatest breakthroughs have always come from just experimenting.

This method of experimenting does lead to many failures, but it is true you learn so much more from failures than successes. I highly recommend that anyone interested in woodworking get their hands on some various hardwood and softwood scraps and try random experimenting: hammering, cutting, gluing, bending, sanding, and oiling them. Make a mess, this is how to learn about wood.

My latest woodworking epiphany derived from needing a new way to make complex patterns on cutting boards. The traditional method of gluing and clamping strips or shapes of wood together was not time or cost effective for the uniqueness of my designs.

So, I researched everything I could find about laminating, and veneering wood in the context of cutting boards. I found surprisingly little information about this, and I thought to myself “There must be a reason no one is using these processes to make cutting boards.” Still, I couldn’t figure out “why not?”

For three months I experimented with different woods of various thicknesses, gluing and laminating and veneering until I found a way I liked.

Then I made a test model and tested the cutting board in my own kitchen. This is how you really know if something works, you make it and then use the heck out of it. If it holds up, then you have a winner!

veneered wall-hanging

Veneered Wall-Hanging

Chronologically describe what you are going through (feeling and thoughts) on your way to work.

I am convinced that making optical illusion patterns out of wood is one of the main reasons I was put on this Earth. The moment I started making cube/hexagon wood art, everything started falling into place. It was as if some unseen hand or intelligence was guiding my every move.

There are still many obstacles along the way, but I can honestly say that I am simply a conduit for channeling some powerful artistic force. I believe everyone has this artistic spirit force in their lives. The hard part is listening to it when it conflicts with your practical day-to-day life.

For me, this meant quitting my day job, staying up long nights working wood, and reaching out to everyone I could to find support and resources. This can be a scary process, but when you know in your heart that it is your path, then it will always work itself out.

What is your favorite book/magazine on woodworking? How about your favorite site?

There is a woodworker based in Holland named Thomas Anton Geurts (TAG Woodworking) who I most closely identify with in the woodworking world.

Even though I have never met Thomas, some of the YouTube time-lapse videos he creates for his wood projects are simply stunning. Like me, Thomas has a great interest in hexagonal shapes and optical illusion.

What is the most frustrating aspect of your job as a woodworker? And the most rewarding one?

The most frustrating part of woodworking for me is not having enough workspace. The five primary bench tools I use for my woodworking are: a compound miter saw, table saw, small jointer, thickness planer, and drum sander. These tools alone take up most of my shop because of the space needed around them to work efficiently.

You also need some form of sawdust collection system, which takes up even more space. I have found that putting all my tools on rollers and converting outdoor areas into usable space are great space-savers. Also, I have to focus on making smaller items for the time being due to a limited workspace.

The most rewarding part of my work is probably when I find just the right piece of wood for a project. I have more different species of wood in my shop than I can count, and I take great care and time in individually handling many different boards and scraps and “asking” them what they want to be made into.

Reversible Serving Board:Cutting Board

Reversible Serving Board:Cutting Board

From your point of view, is woodworking an art or a science?

Any woodworking is both an art and a science. The knowledge of the wood’s properties is a science, and the bringing out the woods’ natural beauty through working and finishing is an art.

Tell us something unusual that happened in your career.

When I was in Peace Corps in Ethiopia a few years ago I had the opportunity to learn about working bamboo from an Ethiopian bamboo furniture maker.

Bamboo is not technically a wood, but it is more sustainable to use than wood because of its fast growth rate. Bamboo is also a superb building material because it has a compression strength-to-weight ratio of steel.

I also honed some of my hand tool skills while living in Ethiopia, because power tools and consistent electricity were rare luxuries. You can check out some of the beehives I made in Ethiopia at http://devinandjillinethiopia.blogspot.com/2014/03/

Bee Keeping

Bee Keeping in Ethiopia

Tell us about how you deal with safety issues in your job.

The type of woodwork I do (cutting tiny shapes of wood) has the potential to be very dangerous. The last thing I want to do is get my fingers anywhere near a saw blade, so I have to get creative.

I use a good deal of jigs, clamps, and especially masking tape to secure small pieces of wood while cutting. This process of securing wood firmly before cutting allows me to cut even the smallest bits of wood and reduce waste.

Even with all the securing mechanisms I use, I inevitably still have bits of wood catch a saw blade and fling into my face. I will never touch a saw without safety glasses on.

I also wear a respirator with an organic filter when using any dense, oily tropical woods because I have almost passed out from breathing the dust of woods such as Zebrawood, Paduke, or Cocobolo.

If you had no limits (money, resources), what would you create?

I would love to do some public art installations of geometric wood designs. I taught a volunteer art class with some grade school kids last year, and they really enjoyed assembling shapes of wood together into patterns.

I will probably apply for a grant in the next few years to do a larger-scale wood-art project with youth. This project will ideally consist of dozens of individual wood-art pieces made by kids that I combine into a huge wall-sized panel and display at the local library or schools.

Share something you would like the world to know about you or your ideas.

Many of my design ideas were inspired by cube/hexagon crop circles. The crop circles mysteriously appear in southern England wheat fields every summer.

Crop circle art is, in my opinion, is the highest modern art form in existence. The designs are beautiful, expansive, and geometrically precise to a level that seems almost impossible.

One great thing about the best crop circle designs is that they cannot be trademarked because no one can prove credit for making them.

Fire Cube Window Large Cutting Boards

Fire Cube Window Large Cutting Boards

What advice do you have for young woodworkers reading this interview?

There are quite a few old, retired woodworkers who are looking for younger people to share their craft with. Many older woodworkers have so much to share.

Besides their crafting wisdom, they usually have ample time to teach, and they have a lifetime of accumulated woodworking tools.

I am one of the younger members of my local woodworking guild, The Siskiyou Woodcraft Guild in Southern Oregon/Northern California, and I imagine there are similar guilds in most parts of the U.S.

If our readers had to follow you on or wanted to reach out, what would be the best way to go about it?

To see my work, visit my blog at danceswithwoods.com

I am currently working on a more comprehensive website that will be up in the next year under the same URL.

e-mail me at devinklarer@gmail.com

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