Get to know Caleb rogers- a woodworker's Q&A
1 When did you first started working with wood?
I guess I was in my mid-twenties when I first started playing around with wood, bashing stuff together with hammer and nails. It wasn't until my early thirties though that I really started paying attention to design and the craft of woodworking.
2. What is the best piece of advice you ever got about woodworking?
I don't think I've ever gotten any solid advice about woodworking, not directly anyway. Truth be told, I tend to avoid it.
3. What are the 5 most important tools in your workshop and why?
It'd probably be too obnoxious to say something like, my hands, head, heart... Yeah, I thought so. Then I'll say, my handmade ryoba saw, 3/4 inch Sheffield steel chisel (my first proper chisel, which was a gift from a fellow woodworker), 11 oz hammer, double edge marking knife, and 70 mm smoothing plane.
4. What most inspires you about wood and about your work?
How it's never the same thing twice. Some of my butsudans may look similar, but no two are identical, just like no two pieces of wood are the same. I don't use templates. I'm always changing something, experimenting.
5. What is the first wooden item you ever made? Please let us know how it came about.
The first wooden item I ever made was a twenty-foot arched bridge. No kidding. I built it with my mother one summer. I'd just turned twenty-five. Neither of us knew what we were doing. We had just had a pond dug at her ranch up in WA and needed a way to access a little island. We both liked the idea of an arched bridge-like Monet's at Giverny. We spent a few days planning it out and then just dove headfirst into the project, hoping to get it finished before the rains came and filled the pond up with water. It's still standing, I'm pleased to say, now trellaced with purple wisteria. I got married at the foot of it.
6. When did you start your journey with your business?
Officially, I started Esho Funi Butsudans about six years ago. That was when I decided to try and build my butsudans full time.
7. Can you tell us about the signature products?
It's a butsudan I designed fourteen years ago, something I came up with to replace the one my girlfriend was using at the time. She was a practicing Buddhist and I just felt she had to have something better than a little particle board box. I felt she needed something more in keeping with the philosophical principles of her practice, something that was handmade from solid wood, that used no metal hardware and as little glue as possible. I had a very clear idea of what it ought to be, in principle. I felt very driven to create it like it was something that had been waiting for me. Hard to explain. It took me a few days to come up with the design and a week or so to build, working on the floor of our guest bedroom and using only hand tools given me by a neighbor.
8. What are the projects you are most proud of?
I am proud of the work itself, the struggle. I'm proud that I'm still showing up for work, saying boldly "Yes!" to things I find daunting. Naturally, I feel good when I think that something I've made is serving a useful purpose, that it is a valued part of someone's daily life. But I feel no sense of pride in the objects themselves. Meeting the day to day challenges of my work, the fact that I know and like myself better now than I did five years ago. That's what I'm proud of.
9.What is the most unusual use of wood in your workshop?
Unusual use? Not sure I have an answer for that. I can tell you that just the other day I discovered a very strong emotional bond with a scrap of cherry. It's an end piece from a recent commission, about 2" x 2" x 5". I use it to help knock stuff together. I find I'm always reaching out for it. There's normally plenty of scrap lying around, but now I only want to use this bit of cherry. It's a very pretty little piece of wood with a bit of live edge on it. Boy, can it take a beating! The thought of losing it saddens me. I don't often get that attached to things. People and animals, of course, but rarely objects. This little piece of wood seems more like a colleague than a tool. Yikes, I sound like Tom Hanks in that film, Castaway. "Wilson!!!"
10. What is the most inspiring quote that always motivates you?
I think it's something I read in a book by Toshio Odate and has to do with how a woodworker imbues the wood with his/her intentions. Not sure what that means exactly, but I feel there's something to it. There's also something I read that says “a carpenter uses his hands, a craftsman his head and an artist his heart”. I think that's how it goes. Again, that may or may not be true, but I like to wonder from time to time which part of me my energy might be coming from.
If you would like to see more of Caleb's amazing craftmenship, you have to check out his IG account.