Hello, I am Marty Wilson-Nolen, co-founder of the wood art company Creative & Celtic in Hamilton, MT with my wife, April. My journey into woodworking began the year I was in second grade, my Dad carved a wooden car for me. It meant more to me than anything, and ultimately inspired me. I began carving wooden figures out of pine, earning several scars on my fingers, on through middle school, as I made items like shields and swords that fit into the hands of my wooden creations with one of my father's pocket knives- when I wasn't helping my Dad in his metal shop learning many lessons that would further carry me into woodworking.
You might say I had a mentor in woodworking, in my Dad, and I would agree, as he taught me many things, and I still consult with him today. As far as certifications go, I have none. I did not get formal training by a school, and my Dad primarily worked with metals; for those reasons, I consider myself a self taught woodworker. However, I plan on going to school to learn more about CNC machining and woodworking, because even after all that I have learned and created, I am still learning.
There are certifications in CNC, as well as an AA Degree through Helena, Montana, and Kalispell, Montana, as I checked into college degrees when I started Vocational Rehab. They are too far away to be feasible for me. I later tried setting a program up through the University of Montana in Missoula, but there was not enough interest, so it fell through for me, however, if you are interested, check out the options in your surrounding areas.
My first experience with traditional woodworking was when I was sixteen. I built a workbench, a very basic combination of 2x4's, plywood, and 16 penny nails, but creating it lit a fire for woodworking within my soul that I wouldn't fully realize until much later- not even as a hobby, many years later, making dining sets for friends, and a gaming table for my then family.
I have had several transitions that have made up my woodworking journey, so far, as well as diverse inspirations for the transitions. One such creative transition occurred when I bought a used Shopsmith with five of the most common shop tools in one- but they were tools I didn't have before! I could be more accurate, more efficient, and their inclusion within my shop made creating exciting again, but more it made me hungry to truly create, exploring and pushing myself beyond the Shopsmith's capabilities into honing my own. I started building dining tables, Adirondack chairs, and some basic home decor when I wasn't driving truck, but I was already making orders for customers in many states in the USA.
Then, one night, my wife showed me a magazine with a CNC for sale. The second creative transition. I knew nothing about computerized machining coming from a background of manual machining. She said, “I want you to make me a dragon statue!” And I wanted to, as our imaginations went nuts with all the things we could create, because, at that time there were videos of people creating all of these really neat things with a CNC. So, we researched and ordered a 4 axis 6040z.
When it arrived, we were so excited! Per its description, it used Mach3 from Artsoft. I downloaded the demo version of the software, installed it, and- nothing happened. My heart sank, but I am a very determined person. I searched online for any kind of how-to videos and finally found some setup tutorials for the software. Never-the-less, the thing sat for 2 years due to lack of any information on how to make it create any of the things we wanted it to create, but after 2 years, and what seemed like endless hours of searching, more people came to own a CNC machine, therefore more YouTube videos became available sharing how other hobbyists were making their CNC work for them! I became aware of CAD/CAM and found Fusion360 to compliment Mach 3. I used notebooks to make checklists of things I tried that worked, and didn't, making small progress with each informational find on my off-time. Then an injury ended my trucking career and my wife encouraged me to find my passion again, while my injury encouraged me to utilize woodworking as a balm, then a career when traditional work failed.
Not being able to drive anymore nearly crushed me, but it also demanded another path- I wanted more from my craft. After ten years of trial and error, tons of videos on YouTube, and many broken bits, I developed my own methods from start to finish. My wife and I are very artistic, constantly striving to be unique, so I began using traditional and artistic woodworking methods together with the CNC. This combination, together with my absolute love for my craft, has made me the artisan I am today. My family, community, friends, and customers assist me in pushing myself creatively.
In traditional woodworking, the methods I use are both hand tools (mortising and lathe chisels, rubber mallet, jewelers file set) and with power tools (planer, mitre saw, drill press, lathe, bandsaw, router table, table saw, joiner, Dremel, sanders, and polishers). In artistic woodworking I use a combination of hand tools, power tools, and CNC machinery. In both methods I've come to prefer using mostly hardwoods, both exotic and domestic, perfecting my joinery while exploring with dovetails, mortise and tenons, box joints, biscuits, and dowels. It has taken me lots of trial and error, but I find it important to find my balance, and use the right techniques and tools for the job.
Custom projects are my primary focus. Most clients see my work either at the county fair, hear about it through word of mouth, or see the images I post on social media. From this, we get in contact, they ask me if I can do something, and I show them how I would do their project. Sometimes I am set up for their project, and sometimes I am not- making Walmart or Ikea the best option for them. My primary focus is to explore their dream, how they would like to realize their dream, then I create it.
Customers often tell me that pictures alone do not do my products justice, and I have found numerous times that once they hold a product, they are more intrigued and want the item. Given this, I attune to what my environment offers, animals, cowboys, and so on- knowing we have a diverse area and such designs are appreciated. Showing these creations at fairs and when I meet people increases their excitement for a project they have had on their minds, and we go from there.
Being a self-employed woodworking artist, I wear many hats, however, when I started my own company people helping me find my way required that I know the answers to so many questions that I did not know existed, at the time. It was like being flung into a fully chummed shark tank. I was now figuring out what permits and licenses I need, the funding needed to buy supplies to make my product- that was an eye opener. Oh, and I get to decide how things are done- so... how do I want them done? What is my optimal shop flow? How do I want my product to look to a customer when they open their package? How many email accounts do I need associated with my website? I have to do more planning than I ever thought went into a business, and with that planning there were built-in, “need to be done” distractions. It can be very over-whelming.
When I worked for someone else I took all this for granted, as they have everything established- their brand, their reputation within the community, their mission statement and rules and regulations, email and phone systems and websites, mail delivery systems, and, well, everything. When I worked at another company I went by what they needed done- my job, and I didn't stray out of that, into someone else's job.
So, I took a course in small business management, which helped me understand the base aspects of running a business, which, for me, are: creating a brand and reputation with our products, having a solid business plan, time/resource management, and a place to work/create your product. These all helped me research another challenge, whether or not I would have to compete with other artists that may have similar crafts, whether the market can sustain the business, and if there is enough interest in my products to sell them. Through working these challenges, and I still am tackling some of them, I stumbled into what I consider a significant reward for being self-employed- People who have seen and held my work know my work from other peoples. So, while the journey has some challenges, those challenges, should you choose to use them as tools, will give rewards.
Accuracy is extremely important to me, therefore I use the following items: digital dial indicators (one for my router, table saw, and any powered blade cutting or grinding tool that sharpens the blades I use), inside and outside digital calipers, 6 and 12 inch digital vernier calipers, moisture meters, as well as W01005 tapered ball mill CNC bit by SpeTool that I use to finish most of my products. I pay close attention to the condition and maintenance of my equipment including the bits/blades it uses, and calibration.
As far as daily use tools, I use a quality tape measure, both 6 inch and 12 inch speed squares, a metal scribe, a quality set of lathe chisels, coping saw, mortising chisels, rubber mallet, draw knife, Dremel tools (with whip extension for easier handling), good lighting, a magnification station with led lights, belt sander, bench grinder/sharpener for my chisels, flat end-mills, dual action polisher/sander, and various grit 2” sanding discs.
In today's world, high-quality woodworking is becoming rare, so be safe as you let yourself dream, and remember that the tool is only as good as the operator- it does what you tell it to do, to your skill level. My advice for young woodworkers is to safely love what you do, safely explore what makes your heart sing, and be willing to safely make it a reality- then it's totally worth doing! Find that passion inside of you, believe in yourself- and never give up! Being safe and excited about your product/s will ensure your product/s appeal/s to your customers.