Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Carolina In My Mind

Unlike James Taylor's well known song, I didn't have to go to Carolina in my mind, we had Jeff's Toyota Tacoma pickup and after leaving the familiar ground of Jonesborough we headed for the mountains of North Carolina and the home of John Kraus. 

I had only heard of John and the spokeshaves he's renowned for, through the grapevine a few years ago. Then while Jeff and I were discussing our trip South he suggested we drop in visit him on our way to visit Drew Langsner at Country Workshops. No brainer, especially when I was to find out that he literally lived next door.

The road to John and his partner Nancy Darrell's house is a long and winding drive through the Southern Appalachian countryside. I made mention a few posts back on just how thick and lush the forests of the East coast are when I was staying in Massachusetts. There was certainly no difference here in North Carolina, if anything it's even more intense.

John greeted us at the door like I'd known him for a lifetime and before I knew it Jeff and I were standing in his small workshop attached to the side of his home, looking over some of his spokeshaves and other tools. John's workspace, although compact is a tour de force of interesting bits and pieces sitting on shelves, hanging from hooks or leaning in corners. And that's exactly where I saw the first of John's long bows. A beautiful example leaning behind the door.

Made from Osage Orange, which apparently is relatively plentiful in the area, this long bow was a thing of simple beauty. Before I knew it, we were outside the workshop and John was letting loose with a few arrows. John then bought out a few miniature bows that he'd made to study the various forms of long bows before he made full size versions. 

 Mid sized

They were perfect scale bows in their own right. It was a theme that I was to find repeated itself throughout the day.

Jeff and I were then treated to great home cooked lunch with Nancy and John. I was really starting to become accustomed to this Southern hospitality. Inside the house are examples of both nancy and John's incredible craftsmanship.

Nancy's lamp ceramic shade

 Everything from early ceramics by Nancy, to chairs and baskets made by John. Amongst a ceiling full of baskets, one stood out. It was a Nantucket style basket handmade by John. 

I said at the time and I still think it was one of the most impressive and beautiful objects I'd seen to that point of the trip. Perfect proportions, impeccably woven and the finest steam bent oak handle. It was all there.

After lunch Nancy took us for a tour of her new house in the making. A combination of solid timber framing and a contemporary framed home, it was an impressive building.

 At the rear at ground level was a drive through area which Nancy had said they had contemplated using as a workspace. 

That's where I noticed the superb joinery in the frame. 

Further down the hill we came to Nancy's workshop. Nancy's focus at present is relief printing, primarily with hand carved wood blocks. Her work was stunning. As I knew I was going to miss Lisa's birthday, I made a point of picking out a couple of Nancy's relief prints for her. 

Then there was a wood cut of John called 'feeding the birds,' which I couldn't resist.... so that was added to the list.

Heading back up to meet John at his workshop, I mentioned the detail of the frame in the new house. With that, John said, "well you'll like these then," and pulled out a miniature of the very joint I had seen in the house.

It was a great little working model and again showed a lot about John's approach to wood working. You could see that he thought out every detail of anything he made. And that thought process showed in the final product. Everything he made was beautifully rendered. Real honest attention to detail, a reflection of John himself.

I couldn't buy one of John's shaves whilst I was there as he didn't have any available, but a day or so later John rang to say that he managed to find one that he said he could send me. So as I type I'm patiently awaiting the arrival of that tool. It will be a great reminder of a highlight of my trip down South. Thanks John and Nancy.


  1. Jason Weaver just sent me the link to this post because I'd mentioned something about looking for a John Kraus scraper shave.

    Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing.

    Do you happen to have his contact information handy? I'd love to get one of his scraper shaves, if at all possible.

    1. Never mind. Got the contact info. Now just need to reach him when he's at home. Thanks again for the wonderful story.



  2. Hi Ethan, don't know why, but I've only just noticed your comment here. Usually I get an email to notify me. Anyway, good luck with the shave from John, I went in his little black book in July last year and haven't heard anything yet. I've heard it can take quite a while! Glad you enjoyed the post, I'm going to be posting back here on the blog more often now so please keep dropping by! Cheers Glen