Fremont man turns wood into art

Toys, decorative items, clocks, plant stands and small cupboards are among the items crafted by R.J. Van Sickle of Fremont. Van Sickle, who calls his business Nubbin’s Workshop, is the featured artist for the 2013 Y-Wives Holiday Extravaganza Saturday at the YMCA.

“I started probably 30-some years ago when we went out looking for furniture and couldn’t find anything that wasn’t tacked together with staples and bubble gum. So we decided to start making my own,” Van Sickle said.

His first projects, a couch and chair, did not turn out the way he had hoped, but it didn’t stop him from trying to make different objects out of wood. Unable to find an instructor, Van Sickle watched handyman television programs and found plans and instructions in books and magazines. Although some “failed experiments” resulted, Van Sickle said he did learn from each undertaking.

“I always watch ‘This Old House,’ but they show things so quickly, and of course, he had tools that I didn’t have,” Van Sickle said. “A million things can go wrong.”

He would have liked someone there in person to guide him rather than using the trial-and-error method. Learning about materials, designs, tools and techniques came gradually over the years.

“I’ll buy a plan every so often, or I’ll make my own. It just depends on what the item is. If it’s a good plan, I don’t feel ashamed to use it. That’s why they put them out there,” Van Sickle said.

Now retired from his regular job, Van Sickle can spend more time in his home workshop, which holds tools he has collected, materials and catalogs from which to order special hardware for custom pieces.

“My wife names them different things. She has one she calls a ‘scatterbox,’ which is a stacked jewelry box affair,” Van Sickle said.

Jeanette also helps R.J. book shows, run the booth and keep records of the sales. They have taken their wares to craft shows in Fremont, Findlay and other venues close to home. They have become friends with other craftsmen at the shows.

Van Sickle said he buys wood such as mahogany, poplar, maple, walnut, oak and more exotic hardwoods such as curly or tiger maple and quilted cherry. Much of his work incorporates multiple kinds of wood with natural hand finishes to preserve the beauty of the grains. He loses track of the time to complete any given object.

“I start something and stay with it until it’s finished or I’m happy with it. Sometimes I’ll have two or three things going. I might be waiting for one thing to dry and be cutting out something on the band saw or table saw,” Van Sickle said.

For the extravaganza, he has been working on band saw boxes, kitchen carousels and racks, a big table sleigh, smaller sleds and banks that look like delivery vans.