Wood is amazing stuff.
It comes in a variety of neutrals, tans, browns, and even purples. With common sense and lack of greed, it is sustainably harvestable. And in the hands of a skilled woodworking artist, wood is an elegant medium for creating sculpture as well as artisan items we use every day, from wine stoppers to treasure boxes, from bowls to cutting boards.
It is these latter — cutting boards — that Spokane woodworker Dave Ulmen focuses upon, crafting cheese, sushi, and cutting boards, as well as coasters, Lazy Susans, and wine waves from laminated hardwood in his Spokane shop. Working with his wife Liz, Ulmen has built a thriving business from what started out as the extension of a lifelong interest.
“I’ve been a tool guy since I was a little kid hanging out in my grandpa’s shop,” Ulmen explains. “After both my parents passed, I had a small estate fund remaining. Since tools had always been important in my family, it seemed a fitting investment.
“When I saw what I could accomplish with a few good tools, I was hooked. My adult kids kept encouraging me to offer some work for sale, which got the ball rolling.”
The Woodworking Studio
His dad and grandpa, Ulmen says, would be delighted with his woodworking studio — which started out in a garage and grew into custom built shop — and tools. And while his tools are newer, shinier, and dependent upon electricity, what they represent remains the same:
“There is the satisfaction of creating an interesting and useful object that is pleasing to the eye and gentle to the hand,” Ulmen says.
This is what Ulmen has been doing since 2005, when he launched Dave Ulmen Woods while both he and Liz were still working full time as teachers – he in 7th grade language arts, she in elementary gifted ed. (He describes their teaching careers, from which they fully retired in 2015, as a combined 71 years in crafting skills and critical thinking, “even more rewarding than our woodworking — and that’s saying a great deal.”)
Purchasing hardwood from local distributors a hefty pickup load at a time, Ulmen designs boards with the grain and unique coloration of individual hardwoods in mind. He and Liz saw, joint, glue, sand, finish and oil the completed boards, with each woodworking product passing through their hands multiple times. The wine waves, which incorporate bits and pieces (“post production materials”) into a signature curve, vie with the cutting boards for popularity.
Handcrafted Woodworking Art Sold throughout the Northwest
Ulmen sells his work throughout the Pacific Northwest in numerous gift shops and galleries, including Made in Washington stores; The Highlight Gallery in Mendocino, CA; The Real Mother Goose at the Portland, OR, International Airport; Northwest Handmade Gallery in Sandpoint, ID; and Wenaha Gallery in Dayton, WA. He has shipped to customers in more than 20 states, throughout Europe, and in Canada. In 2007, Made in Washington stores named him Artist of the Year.
“I took great pride in that because it was an acknowledgement of the quality of work, in combination with excellent service provided.”
As a testament to that commitment to quality, Ulmen and Liz still own, and use, the first cutting board they made.
“We just rinse it, wipe it to damp/dry, and stand it on edge to finish drying. We recommend a beeswax/oil emulsion be applied from time to time which we also make and can supply.
“Never soak a wood cutting board!”
Woodworking and Life
In some ways, the properties of wood — its sustainability, its variety, and its connection to the earth and to the past — mirror Ullmen’s own experience in woodworking. He always knew that somehow, he would follow his grandpa’s and father’s interest in and skill with a material that has been part of humankind’s experience ever since there were trees.
“I knew I had the right background to become a woodworker when the time was right,” Ulmen says.
“After raising a few sons of my own, raising a home of our own, and raising a few grey hairs as a middle school teacher, I have been blessed with the opportunity to do my own woodworking.”
It took time to fulfill the dream, but then again, everything about wood, from the growing of trees to the crafting of functional items of beauty, takes time as well.
But it was well worth the wait, Ulmen says, to fulfill a dream he has had “since I ran my fingers through that soft and silky sawdust in Grandpa’s shop when I wasn’t tall enough to reach much else.”
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.