Studio visit: woodworker Jon Black

Staining wood is like putting too much makeup on a beautiful girl. I like to let the colour of the wood speak for itself.” - JB

Jon Black is a bit of an accidental artisan in a sense. He started out with an interest in wood and an idea to make cutting boards. Jon has since developed his woodworking skills to create beautifully original pieces, both the functional kind and purely aesthetic. Using woods of different colours and provenance, he constructs pieces that are solidly built with a definite artistic flair that lets the wood speak for itself. Jon has grown his reputation for quality work in the community. He is rooted New Brunswick and proud of it, sourcing much of his material locally and encouraging others to buy local as well. You’re likely to see his work in local businesses as well as homes around the province.

Jon’s workshop was sort of your standard man-cave, with different pieces of equipment set up strategically around the room, and of course the obligatory layer of dust you will find in every woodsmith’s workspace. He chatted easily about his love for the craft. It is clear that Jon Black is doing his favourite thing every day, playing with wood and being creative. Business is doing well and Jon wants to keep it personal and make everything himself. You’ll have to get in line to get your hands on one of his unique, beautiful pieces of wood-art!

How did you get into woodworking?

I’m mostly self-taught. We always had tools in the house when I was growing up and my dad taught me the fundamentals of how the tools worked. I just took it from there. I’ve always had an interest in wood, lumber, trees, the forest, all that kind of stuff. I tried university but it wasn’t a good fit, this was what I really enjoyed doing. My dad still comes to my shop sometimes and works with me. He enjoys making stuff.

How has what you make changed over the years?

I signed up to sell at the market eight years ago and figured I would sell cutting boards, even though I’d never made one before. So I taught myself to make cutting boards and sold them for 4 or 5 years. But as I got bored of that, no pun intended, I started branching out and making bigger pieces like furniture, tables and counter-tops. Now I’m big into the wall art. I still do tons of cutting boards, I still enjoy making them. I make bowl boards too. It just depends on the day.

Where do you get your wood?

I have a pretty big list of sources. I get wood from all kinds of places, Halifax, Ontario and around the world. I get tons of reclaimed wood from a guy who tears down 100-200-year old barns all over the Maritimes. I get some from local lumber mills, cabinet makers who have imperfect pieces, trees that get cut down in the area, trees off the land here and even driftwood from the beach. I like to highlight imperfections like knots, where others would get rid of it try to hide them. There are so many beautiful woods out there.

What is your favourite thing to make?

I like making tables, or wall art, pieces that will be a focal point in someone’s home or business, something that they will truly enjoy for a long time. I enjoy the process, of taking the wood and turning it into a beautiful product. I don’t look at a woodworking magazine and make a plan and find wood to make it. I just find wood and the pieces inspire me. Each piece tells the story of where each piece of wood came from. Some of the wall art pieces have up to twenty different types of wood from all different places.

I try to save every piece I can to eventually make into something. I even make pens.

What would you say is the biggest challenge as an artisan here in NB?

The biggest challenge is getting people to buy local. People like getting a cheap deal so they might go to Wal-Mart or HomeSense to buy something that would be 2 or 3 times more expensive if it were made locally. BUT I have noticed a big shift in the past couple of years, people are starting to value buying local. Businesses especially, want locally made products in their offices. I’ve been able to get my foot in the door with several businesses, providing furniture and wall art for their offices. A big challenge is growing your network, but as it grows your projects increase. Sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone as people hear about you and want your work. Sometimes I get asked to do things I’ve never done before, and I have to figure out how to put an artistic flair on something totally new to me. It’s hard to be confident and figure out pricing so you make money but that is fair. It was easier to do the cutting boards, but I like doing this too. Working for yourself can be tough. It’s a learning curve for sure. You have to be your self-motivator. No one is going to slap my wrist if I show up late or don’t complete something. You have to micro-manage yourself really.

What’s next for you?

Now I’m doing a big job for a company in Sackville, doing some desks, tables, wall art pieces, it’s probably my biggest project yet. I’d like to eventually have my own space on my own land, with a shop of my own. I’d like to eventually make more money and be better known, sell my work for a premium. I’m really happy with the progress I’ve made in the past few years. I’d just like to keep doing what I’m doing.

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