Whittlin’ Away: Moundsville Teens Take Woodcraft To Market
A long COVID winter, a downed tree and a gift idea that worked well once before. That’s what it took to turn the teenaged Harr brothers into whittling entrepreneurs.
“Two years ago, for Christmas, he (brother Jacob Harr, 15) gave me a book on lure making,” said Austin Harr, 13. The gift was such a hit — as both Harrs love to fish — Jacob continued the how-to theme in 2020, Austin added. “He gave me a whittling book and we got some ideas out of it.”
Quite a few ideas, as it happened.
The homeschooled brothers — who live in Moundsville and now sell their woodcraft at the Ohio Valley Farmers Market in Bellaire and through Austin’s Whittle Wood Shop on Facebook — took a look at the maple the family had just cut down in the backyard and saw opportunity.
Every twig could become a pen or pencil or decorative rooster. And, if they were going to work wood, why not rev up some power tools and make clocks and tic-tac-toe boards, too? Recess time suddenly turned into a different kind of work.
“We started with just a Swiss army knife,” Austin said of initial projects.
But, the teens quickly realized they needed a fixed blade. They bought a couple of traditional whittling knives — one tiny and the other somewhat smaller than a steak knife.
The pair are kept handy in a wooden box with a well-crafted sliding lid, ready to carve spirals onto twigs whenever there’s a scrap of downtime, Austin said. Spirals serve as starting and stopping points for the blade in addition to being decorative.
“I usually start with a pattern,” Austin explained. “Sometimes, when I’m doing pens, I just start it and see where it goes.”
Patterns have also helped the two turn the same materials into something as fanciful as a rooster, the brothers’ most ambitious projects to date.
“For the tail to curl, you have to have it dry, but not too dry,” Jacob said of the roosters. “It’s very easy to break.”
BODY OF WORK
“Winter was tough,” mom Cathleen Harr admitted of the time period during which the Harrs started accumulating the items they would eventually decide to sell at market and online.
“She got tired of wood chips all over the kitchen,” Jacob explained, noting they’re saving the chips in case they find a later use for them.
The teens and dad Stephen wound up figuring out how to safely use power-driven woodworking tools, as well, something that was new to the family.
Jacob, who aspires to be a commercial airline pilot, grew to prefer the power tools. He began turning out clocks from slabs of tree trunk and making small tic-tac-toe games. Jacob also realized a drill can quickly remove the soft pith from a maple twig destined to be filled with a pen cartridge or a pencil lead.
Austin prefers hand whittling.
Whatever the method, the teens’ work has been popular with customers at the farmers market in particular, they said. It’s been hard to keep up with demand at times.
But, fall and winter are coming and recess time will roll around again, Cathleen Harr noted. There will be time to build fresh stock. And, perhaps something more.
“They sit on the back porch and just spend time together,” Cathleen Harr said with a smile.