Today, we had the chance to ask some questions to Kathy McCown, Crafter from Orange Grove in Texas (USA) who specializes in making all kind of beautiful furniture from recycled wooden pallets. If you think you deserve to be featured in the next interview, please, drop us an email.
Tell us a little more about you? Who you are? Where are you from?
I am a 63 year old mother and grandmother. I work building raised bed gardens, planting them and teaching others how to grow their own food. I have always been one to be outside as much as possible, and love to cook, sew, paint, draw, work on plumbing, make things out of polymer clay, and basically anything I can do and look at the final product; a tangible item. I am originally from San Antonio, Texas, but now live just outside of Orange Grove (population 1311), Texas, which is in South Texas.
Why do you craft?
I like the feeling of accomplishment I get when I make something and can look at it and see what I did. I love doing things with my hands.
How did you learn to do wood crafts?
I started learning from my Daddy, and just continued, basically reading, watching, reverse-engineering things that I liked so I could figure out how to make them myself. I am pretty much self-taught.
How long have you been working with pallets?
I have worked with pallets for about two years.
Why did you choose to work with pallets instead of purchased wood?
You never know what you will get with pallets. I like the mystery and surprise I experience when I sand/plane the boards and see what is under the dirt. I find prettier wood in pallets usually, than the store-bought kind. Also, you can’t beat the price, which for me, is free.
What are your can’t-live-without essentials?
One thing I can’t live without is the most wonderful gift my husband ever gave me for Mother’s Day – battery operated screwdriver/drill. Since then, I have worn that out and had to get a replacement, and now have two of them with three batteries and chargers. I also got the jig saw that is battery operated. Those are my favorite tools. Oh, also my husband bought me a used little Workmate bench that has a vise built in, using the bench top boards and crank handles. I replaced the boards finally, I have used it so much and it was old. And I nearly forgot the reciprocating saw and my wood clamps. Gotta have them.
Are there any brands that are your favorites?
I like Craftsman power tools, but if the price is right, I will use most any tools. I definitely trust Craftsman the best, though.
How would you describe your crafting style?
My style is basic, plain and strange. I like to use everyday things to make unexpected things out of them, things that would seem opposite to their original purpose.
Are there any crafters/artists/designers that you particularly look up to?
My younger sister is the queen of imagination. She, like me, has the ability to squint her eyes and see a project through the rust and dirt, in its finished state. I do not have her imagination, but we are equal in skill level. She is very talented as an artist also.
Where do you do your wood crafts? How would you describe your workspace?
I have a small work shed that my grandsons call my fort, but it is small and usually hot in there, so I work outside on our patio we made out of pavers. I have a homemade potting bench that helps, and of course my Workmate, but I am always moving my work around to find a shady spot to be in.
How did you make your workspace more functional and/or inspiring?
My shop is all finished out in salvage wood, and I have pictures and notes and things stuck up on the walls. I made shelves all over to store paint, tools, materials, etc. for working. I also put my stereo out there so I can have tunes while I work.
What types of things inspire you?
Just about everything I see inspires me in some way.
Where do you look for inspiration for a new woodcraft?
I go to 1001pallets.com website for ideas, or look at pictures of furniture, Ebay; just about anything I read I can get ideas from.
When do you feel the most creative?
I feel creative just about all the time. When I see something that I really like, it does inspire me some, and then I start looking for pictures for the reverse engineering part.
We live in such a mass-produced, buy-it-now society. Why should people continue to make things by hand?
I can make better quality of furniture than I can afford to buy. The mass-produced is just that. Everyone can get it for cheap. I can usually make the same thing for the price of screws and maybe some casters or paint/varnish, and it will be sturdier and just how I like it. And not everyone will have just what I have.
What is your favorite medium to work in (other than pallets)?
I love wood. I like fence pickets, barn wood; just about all of it.
What are your tips for people who'd like to start crafting?
Jump in and do what you want. You have nothing to lose if you use salvaged materials, so what is holding you back?
What are your most important safety tips when woodworking?
Keep those fingers!!! You need them all. Be aware of what you are doing and of your surroundings. Complacency is dangerous and will get you hurt. Read the instructions on a new tool, and ask someone if you have questions. Usually they will go out of their way to help you. People surprise me all the time.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I love varnish. I also love cabinet/drawer pulls. Yes, I am perverted that way. Why the pulls? I have no idea, but I absolutely love them and don’t like them to match each other when I am using a lot of them together, like in the kitchen.
What are some of your other hobbies or favorite things to do (other than crafting)?
I love to plant things and help them grow, especially if I can get them for free. I have a jar of sticks I cut off some trees and put in water, and they now have roots, so if they live after transplanting, I will have about 30 free trees! I like to raise animals, do yard work, and make things out of live trees. I am going to make some live chairs out of the trees we started in the jars.
What are some of your best tips for breaking down, prepping, and cleaning pallets before you build with them?
Be careful! Don’t do it when you are tired. Use a reciprocating saw...need I say more? I love that thing, and it goes through just about any material I have found so far.
Have you designed any special tools or jigs for wood crafts?
No, not that I can think of offhand.
What does your family or friends think of your wood crafts?
They like them, especially when I make stuff for them.
What is the one project you’re the proudest of so far?
When one of my grandsons went off to college last year, he asked me if I could make an extension to his bathroom counter top, because it was very small. I got dimensions, etc, and made this excellent cabinet with a tile top with a star design and lights inside, and hardware cloth in the doors so they could turn on the lights and use it as a night light of sorts. Well, it turned into liquor cabinet! He said he didn’t want to hide it in the bathroom, which it was too nice to use in there.
What else would you like to share with the pallet community?
I don’t know, except that if you are thinking about doing it, jump in there. Time is going by anyway, so may as well get started.
Editor’s Note: Thank you for your time and for sharing your story with us, and with our fellow Crafters. Your work is beautiful and inspiring to all of us, and we truly look forward to more from you in the future! Keep those gorgeous pieces coming!
Thanks Kathy for this interview :)
To find more on Kathy, you can check her profile.