WINONA LAKE — Soft music plays overhead in the woodshop. One half of the shop forms a maze of handmade machinery while the other half is filled and organized with different kinds of wood, works in progress and completed creations.
Philip Barkey, Winona Lake, refers to this as his toy box, where he can retreat and work for hours to craft items to present in upcoming art fairs. Since he retired from manufacturing and distributing in the wood industry, an industry his family had always been involved in, Barkey began crafting and selling his work at art fairs across northern Indiana by the name Old Guy Woodcrafters.
“Like any business, you have to keep what you do fresh,” he explained. “Even though I’m still in the wood arena, every year I make something a little different than what I have had in the past. Your creative spirits help with the ideas as well as the internet.
“My wife and I cruise the internet, looking for different things, but the judges of what I make are my two daughter-in-laws. They’re the target age group for this kind of stuff.”
From butler trays to cutting boards to cake stands, Barkey discovers use for any wood that comes across his path.
Each piece of work is crisp, smooth and beautiful with personal touches that range from colored stain, different handles or a pop of color to add zest. The care and patience put into each piece is noticeable, leaving no room to wonder if it’s one-of-a-kind.
Barkey’s eye and imagination is trained to look beyond what is and see what could be.
A hackberry tree, commonly referred to as a weed tree, has “great personality” from Barkey’s perspective. Taking the tree, he’s able to create charcuterie plates — also known as a cheese board that holds cheeses and meats.
“I make all my own stain,” explained Barkey, running a hand down a smooth round that had been cut and sanded, and will soon be a part of a cake stand. “I’m very food-grade conscious. Everything I do is food safe.”
Along with food safe stain, a special natural conditioner is also sold with cutting boards to prevent contamination from the grooves that will inevitably be etched in with knives. About 50% of the wood Barkey uses is reclaimed, adding unique character to his product while avoiding wastefulness.
His knowledge in woodworking was absorbed through his family or his career, which allowed him to travel extensively and observe techniques and processes in multiple company facilities. In combining all that knowledge and expertise, he’s been able to invest quality into his hobby.
When he isn’t browsing the internet for ideas with his wife or in his shop, Barkey is with his grandchildren. During the summer, he restores wooden restaurant chairs with his grandson.
“My grandkids are getting older and, because of their parents’ work schedules, we’re very active in their lives. So you want to spend time with your grandkids when they still want to spend time with you,” he chuckled.
Before retirement, Barkey took it upon himself to extend internships to the local youth. One internship involved translating building plans into Spanglish for a Latino crew. Understanding their expertise and the difficulty that comes with language barriers, Barkey took it upon himself to make life a bit better and easier for others.
His thoughtfulness and ability to think outside of his own experiences shocked the crew into tears, as no one had ever considered doing that for them.