Friday, September 18, 2015

Sabbatical: Planned & Unplanned!

Toward the end of last year, I was planning on taking a sabbatical from my craft for at least the first half of 2015. Our home was about to be remodeled, and we had to pack up and move temporarily to another Santa Cruz location. By the end of June, we moved back into our wonderful "new" home, and I was ready to get back to work. Also, I was getting ready to teach another woodcarving class at Cabrillo College the end of July.   Now for the "unplanned" part of my sabbatical: I "blew out" my back! After all the moving, I started to have severe back pain that laid me up for several weeks. I had to cancel teaching at Cabrillo, as well as cancel my own students here at my studio and cancel my appearance at the American Craft Council Show. I couldn't even go see it, much to my huge disappointment. Turns out I have a ruptured disk in my lower back. It is naturally healing now, and the pain is gone. However, it takes approximately 6 months to heal. I'm back in the studio again carving and woodturning and getting ready for Open Studios (see below for more information). I'm also finally finishing up another zither restoration (also see below), but I have to watch my posture and not do any heavy lifting. As the old saying goes, "time heals all wounds." But other than that, we are ecstatic about our remodeled home. New formal entry, larger kitchen, office nook, and, for Ron Cook Studios, a permanent gallery in the back of the house right next to my studio. Here's the before and after pictures of the front with the new formal entry. We waited a long time for this.

                                                 Before                                                              After
Onward and upward...

Open Studios Art Tour 2015

Yes, it's that time of year again. The Santa Cruz County Open Studios Art Tour is coming up on the first three weekends in October. Events leading up to the Tour begin with the opening of the Preview Exhibit at the Santa Cruz Art League on September 26th, and the "meet the artists" reception on Sunday, September 27th from 3 to 6. At the reception you can meet many of the Open Studios artists, see a representative sample of artists' works, listen to live music, and enjoy tasty treats and libations. The Open Studios Art Tour happens throughout Santa Cruz County. This is a juried event showcasing around 300 of the best artists in the county. With so many to see, the tour is divided between North County and South County artists. I am in North County, and my studio will be open from 11 to 5 on October 3 and 4. I will also be open for the Encore Weekend, October 17 and 18. Note that South County artists will be open October 10 and 11. For information on all artists, with maps directing you to them, get the Artist Guide ($5) at locations throughout the county. The IOS and Android apps will be available soon. The guide will also be available for free in the September 30th issue of the Good Times. For more information, visit the Arts Council of Santa Cruz County website.

Cabrillo College Fall Arts 2015 Wood Carving with Rotary Carving Tools

Because students like my carving classes and consistently give me good reviews, I was asked to teach a new two day woodcarving class at Cabrillo College for the Summer Arts extension courses. Because of my severe back problem, I sadly had to cancel this class. I'm doing much better, so the Wood Carving with Rotary Carving Tools class is now rescheduled for the Fall Arts extension program on two Sundays, October 25 and November 1.

I will be teaching carving using hand-held rotary carving tools, like the one seen in the photo below. The class isn't full yet, so if you'd like to learn carving, or increase your carving skills, sign up on the Cabrillo Extensions Fall Arts web page.

In this 2-day workshop, beginning students will learn the fundamentals of wood carving using powered rotary carving tools, and intermediate students will be guided in additional power carving techniques and styles. Participants will work on small sculptural carvings using flex-shaft-style rotary carving tools. Topics covered are safety, types of carving tools, the best woods and materials for carving, styles, and finishing. After instruction and demonstrations on the properties and characteristics of different woods and materials, students will practice what they have learned on examples to be taken home. Cabrillo has a selection of rotary power carving tools and bits with which to experiment. If you prefer, you can also bring in your own rotary tools. Practice materials will be included, but bring your own ideas so that we may discuss them.

Class is limited to 12 students, so register soon!
Fees: $195, plus $25 materials fee (payable upon registration).

Meanwhile, In The Studio

Ch-ch-ch-changes. After moving back into our remodeled home, I had to start getting the new gallery space arranged, rearrange the attic for Ron Cook Studios storage, and lay new paving stones leading into the studio. I also planned to finish several small carvings and start several more, all for Open Studios, and finish a zither restoration. Of course, first I had to let my back heal, which made me a little anxious about being able to get everything done in time. Well, my back got better, so I finished the gallery, laid paving stones, got some carvings done, and I'm finally stringing up the restored zither.

Student  with Turned and Hand-carved Whistle
During the late summer I had a new 12-year-old student who wanted to increase her woodturning knowledge. She enjoyed several lessons during her time between Summer camps and school. She's young, but already knew the basics of woodturning. Seeing her work, and seeing the results of her work, makes me believe she is a budding woodcraft talent. My other student is getting close to finishing a lovely tenor ukulele. She's at that long sanding and finishing process that will soon give the uke a very smooth surface.

Student Project: Ukulele. Lots of Sanding
Starting early in 2016, I will have space for one or two more students at my studio. I teach wood carving, musical instrument building, wood turning, and general woodwork. I encourage each student to develop his or her own style. Outside my studio the walkway and flagstone patio area was filled with small pebbles that always got scattered and caught in "waffle-stomper" shoe soles. After our front walkway of cobble stones was finished, we had quite a few odd sizes and shapes left over. I decided to use them to redo the walkway to my shop.

Sweeping Sand to Fill Voids
I used  special "filling" sand to fill all the joints and small openings throughout the cobbles. I also prepped the flagstone (weeded and opened joints) and filled them with the same sand. This type of sand has a binding agent in it that when moistened hardens like concrete. Turned out nice. Meanwhile, in the new Gallery, I finally finished and installed all the new instrument hangers. I designed them to include tracks for track lighting to help illuminate my pieces when showing them for Open Studios. I picked up some very nice 1 x 6 and 1 x 8 poplar that I ripped down and sized for each wall in the gallery. I'm happy with the results.

Old Instruments and Repairs

I've been embarrassed that my current zither repair has taken so long. Between moving twice during our home remodel and having my back problem, it's taken much longer to finish the zither than usual. I'm glad to say that now that my back is doing better, I've been able to spend some time finishing the instrument. I'm now stringing it up, and I should be done by the time you read this. Now I have to sit down and write the repair log!

Installing New Strings
I still occasionally get e-mails and calls from people who have recently purchased or found antique zithers, dulcimers, and other stringed instruments. Some were inherited from parents or grandparents, and some are from collections or are personal favorites. As old as they are, the instruments quite often need restoration or repair to make them playable again. If the instrument is only to be displayed, conservation is an option for them. I'm always interested in restoring, repairing, or conserving unusual and different instruments with a history. My basic fee starts at $350 for major work. For minor repairs, such as new strings, small crack repairs, cleaning, etc., contact me for costs. Please send photos of areas that are damaged or in need of TLC to me at my email address. For major repairs, I provide a complimentary repair log. If you have inherited a stringed instrument, such as a zither, dulcimer, or other zither-style instrument, or even old ukuleles, or know of someone who has, it is tremendously easy to have the instrument made a functional part of living history for a very modest investment, whether it is ever played again or displayed as a family heirloom. If you have old photos of family members playing the instrument, be sure to send them along as well.

Behind the scenes: roncook Etsy shop

My Esty shop is popular all over the world! I have been "favorited" by people as far away as Latvia and China. Sales have gone to Canada and Italy, as well as New Hampshire, Illinois, and Georgia! Here's how to reach my shop: You may set up a free account on Etsy to preview and purchase any other items offered for sale.

New Students

If you are interested in learning how to carve, learning general woodworking skills, or learning about the history and construction of early European (medieval) or early American (19th century) stringed instruments, please contact me at  During the instrument course, the student will learn about the evolution of stringed instruments, research a particular instrument, create working drawings, and build it. Open to all, especially interested high school and college students . All students choose wood from my wood stash!   E-mail me for more information.

Folk Art Corner: Items from special wood

If you have some wood that has come from a "special tree" or are planning to remove a tree that has played an important role in your life or your family's life, please contact me to see what we can create to memorialize it. Suggestions: spoons, small instruments, small stools.

Recent Shows

I said no shows this year, but  I was in three already, proudly showing my new sculptures and one new instrument, completed just before the remodel started. I also did not plan to do Open Studios this year as part of my sabbatical, but... I did apply and was accepted for my 14th year. I am Studio # 30, and open October 3 & 4, and 17 & 18. As I mentioned above, I will be at the The Open Studios Preview Exhibit Public Reception, Sunday, September 27, from 3 to 6, at the Santa Cruz Art League, 526 Broadway, in Santa Cruz. Be sure to stop in to see my piece and say hello. There will be hundreds of other great Santa Cruz County artists there too. (All pieces are for sale at the Art League.) Get the Artist Guide  ($5 at many stores and galleries, or free in the Good Times September 30th) and plan your visits to view and purchase wonderful arts and crafts, and learn how artists work and create those pieces. Above all, get out and have fun!


Friday, December 26, 2014

Happy Holidays 2014

It was a beautiful, sunny, cool Christmas day here in Santa Cruz. The sun is a welcome respite from the drenching we received for several weeks. We do need much more rain (we’re still in drought mode), but hopefully it won’t come in torrential downpours like it did a few weeks ago.

So, what’s been happening here since my last blog entry? In my last blog, I was just getting ready to be part of the Open Studios Art Tour. Unfortunately, after 13 years of decent sales, this was the first time there were no sales. Well, try, try again next year.

At the end of October and start of November I once again taught a woodcarving class at Cabrillo College. It was a small class of six people who all showed some talent that, with practice, could someday be very good carvers. One who exhibited very good talent is now one of my students here at my studio. I have three wonderful students who come nearly every week for two hour sessions. Classes range from carving, to wood turning, to instrument making, to general wood working. It’s great to see the progress each of them make.

In November, after teaching, I took a break. A friend of mine and I went on a short vacation. I started by driving to his place in Sacramento where we had a great time sampling craft beers and eating at new up-and-coming pubs and restaurants. Mercey Hot SpringsThe next day we drove to Mercey Hot Springs, which is 20-30 miles south of Los Banos. There is an artesian mineral hot spring there that Indians have known about for hundreds of years. In 1912 a land developer bought the property and began building cabins and baths. In the photo, the two left cabins are where my friend and I stayed. These are originals built around 1915. Small, cozy, with gas heaters and a front porch with table and chairs, where we had wine, cheese, French bread, etc. The water in the baths is slightly sulfurous, but warm (around 102-105), and pleasant.

Pinnicles 1We did some hiking at Mercey, but the next day we went all out! We drove first to Tres Pinos for breakfast, then, by 10am, we were starting our 10 mile hike at Pinnacles National Park. We first hiked through the caves, then up and over the Ridge Trail. It threatened rain all day, but held off for the six hours we were on the trails. The Pinnacles are nice to visit any time of the year, but Spring time is really the best, with incredible wild flowers in bloom and the chance to see some of the growing population of California condors. Summer can be very hot, so bring lots of water. (Bring water anyway if you’re hiking any time of year.)

We spent the second evening at Mercey and left the next morning for the ghost town of New Idria, on the end of a rough, unmaintained road high in San Benito County mountains. New Idria was a quicksilver (mercury) mine that ran from the gold rush days up into the 1970s. Because of the mercury and lead contamination, that is still leaching out of the mines, machinery, and tailings, the main part of the town was fenced off in 2011 as a Superfund site.The creek that flows through New Idria is a sickly orange color. Contaminants from the mine have been traced as far away as the San Jaoquin River, which flows to the San Francisco Bay. Hopefully, a cleanup will happen soon.

New Idria1

This was a fun trip. Mercey Hot Springs was so remote, it is totally off the grid. For a relaxing time away from electronic devices, television, phones, etc., this is the place to go. For great hiking, camping, or picnicking, head for Pinnacles National Park. (It’s only a few hours from San Jose! Day trips are big there.) New Idria? It is a piece of gold fever history. However, there are no signs, no historical references, or no one around to ask about it. There are many references online, but nothing at the site.



Recent Work

Not much recent work happening on the instrument and furniture side of my crafting life. My wife and I are getting ready for a major remodel of our home, and we’ve been packing everything away and putting it in storage. I’m taking a sabbatical from Ron Cook Studios for at least 6 months, while I make new furniture pieces for our new home. I’ll be creating several live-edge pieces, including a new mantel for the fireplace, new coffee and end tables, and a raised live-edge counter on the kitchen island.

To keep the sawdust flying, I recently finished what is called The Milkman’s Workbench. I saved an article from the June, 2013, issue of Popular Woodworking, last year because I thought I’d like to make it. I found enough good pieces of wood in my stash to put one together, so I decided to finally do it. It took only a few days to make. This type of workbench is small, but handy for craftspeople who work in small spaces, like apartments or tiny workshops. It’s also handy for taking along for carving demonstrations.

Milkman workbench 1     Milkman workbench-magazine

The kitchen part of our remodel will have two new sinks. There’s a regular kitchen sink, and a bar sink on the island. To be able to cut vegetables over the sink, I’m putting together a cutting board that IMG_0888will fit nicely over one of the sinks. It is all salvaged urban forest wood from an old apple tree. The tree died and the owner gave me the trunk and a couple of thick branches. The tree had rotted in the middle, but I was still able to salvage some very good sections. I ripped it into boards and it has been drying for over a year. A few months ago I cut a couple of the boards into one inch square pieces, then started gluing them together. I’ll finish this after we get the sinks so I can fit it properly.

Pen turning set

I’ve been doing a lot of woodturning, and a couple of my students have too. For smaller turnings, like pens, small spindles, or the noters like I do, I picked up a set of mini carbide turning tools. (Christmas present for myself!) These stay sharp much longer than standard turning tools and work well on my mini lathe.

Another present I got for myself is a new set of 8 inch dado blades for my table saw. I’ve been using an old 6 inch set for 30 years, and it’s been too hard to keep sharp. After nearly “burning” my way through a project, I bit the bullet (when a sale popped up) and got a new set of Freud dado blades. They cut through maple like going through butter!

Well, that’s about it for now. When I start working on the new furniture pieces for our remodel, I’ll be posting pictures of the processes, from start to finish, on my blog. Stay tuned!

I hope everyone has had a wonderful Holiday Season, and, to everyone, Happy New Year!