The Earl of Burl
Story and photos by Stacy Fisher
Clear Creek resident and woodwork craftsman Jack Dickson has lived in the area since 1996, and has been producing a variety of useful wood products as well as art pieces in his grandmother’s garage, which he converted into his workshop a few years ago.
Jack got his start after taking over selling Manzanita burls on the Internet from an ex-girlfriend who hadn’t done much with the business and started his own business ‘Manzanita Burlwood.’
“I was selling pallets of burls to guys back east who were making beautiful artwork, and I thought maybe I could give it a try,” he recalls.
Even though Jack hadn’t really touched a wood lathe since high school, “I decided to purchase one just to try making objects from Manzanita burls, which is an extremely hard wood.”
Carving the burls is a violent event, he says, because of the hardness of the material. “The wood will in a way fight you. Pieces go flying everywhere and break things inside the shop. I even had a couple teeth knocked out. You really have to pay attention to what you’re doing if you haven’t used a lathe before.”
He began turning out one or two pieces a day, “and just fell in love with the process … As I progressed, the burl shows me what it needs to be, whether a bowl or vase, or a decorative hollow form or whatever.” The beauty of the wood has its own innate character, “and you never know what you’re going to get.”
Manzanita isn’t the only wood he uses, but it is one of the most popular species once it’s turned, always producing spectacular results.
Jack gathers most of the wood he employs through his relationships with property owners and logging crews, and gathers what they pull up out of the ground. “As far as they’re concerned, Manzanita is a weed that uses up vital water supplies needed for timber,” he says. The wood is found only in specific geographical areas in Mexico, San Diego, and in the mountains around Mt. Lassen.
He also uses wood like Walnut, Maple, Douglas fir, Redwood burl and Olive burl. “Every wood is different to work with, having different properties in their grains.”
It is a tedious process and very labor intensive, Jack notes. After sanding he covers certain pieces with up to 10 coats of ‘food-safe’ Carnauba wax, hand-rubbed Bees wax and Lemmon oil, while other pieces receive two coats of polyurethane for a lasting protective shine.
A lot of pieces end up in the stove, if the wood lacks character or beauty to it, he insists.
Jack has several pieces available at Sierra Wisteria in Chester, CA. that include lamp bases, bowls, vases, decorative items and larger pieces like a gorgeous coffee table made out of Manzanita and Cedar. “I value my customers and will go the extra mile to make sure I provide them with the highest quality that I can produce for them.”
Customers can buy from his ready-made stock, or go to his ‘Turned Products Gallery’ on his home page, or commission something in particular that they want him to make, no matter how unusual. Everything he makes is unique. “I recently crafted a small wooden urn for a friend of mine who keeps her mother’s ashes inside.”
Jack is always looking for venues like craft fairs to show his work. “I also sell some of my stuff on my website, www.manzanitaburl.com, and I’ve sold a few pieces on Ebay as well.”
Jack has exhibited his work publicly at the Clear Creek Festival in
2013, and more recently at The Rails to Trails event in Susanville, where his work was a big hit.
Even after years of producing hundreds of items, the learning process is ongoing. “I call my work my ‘babies,’ because it’s really hard to let go of some of them. They’ve just been that important to me, having taken a lot of time and effort to make.”
Jack unexpectedly discovered the artist inside him later in life and is pleased with the direction he is taking. “I’ve had to reinvent myself,” he continues, revealing that, “Art to me is anything that strikes people in an emotional way. It is something that people feel a need or desire to have that enriches their lives.”
Those wishing to make serious inquiries about Jack Dickson’s woodwork products, can call: 530-256-2516, or cell: 530-816-0627. Customers can also inquire by email: [email protected].
Visit Jack online at http://manzanitaburl.com