When I conceived of this posting, I considered a few titles: Introducing Don Mertz, Who is Don Mertz, and even Would the Real Don Mertz Please Stand. Because Don is a famous guy already known to a lot of people, he really needs no introduction. And, there is only one real Don Mertz. So, let’s cut to the chase. Don Mertz is really quite an amazing gentlemen and woodcarver. Following 39 years serving as a Pastor of the Christian Church, he is now retired. However, I would argue that Don is still an active Pastor today but his flock is made up of woodcarvers and woodcarving is his “cause.” He executes his “cause” with generosity, skill, and kindness. Let me explain. Don is involved nearly full-time with his contributions in promoting woodcarving. He authors a blog that is unmatched with its content and tutorials. He is an active member of several carving groups including the CCA (Caricature Carvers of America). He is published, and he is a regular participant in carving events. Don lives in Wilmington, Ohio with Frances, his bride of many years. Thank you Frances for supporting Don’s activities in making the woodcarving community richer.
Don’s Early Years
Don grew up on a farm near Poneto, Indiana. Of several events that contributed to Don’s woodcarving interests, one such event was an annual visit to the Bluffton, Indiana Street Fair at the age of 5-6. Each year there was a fellow there who had built an entire circus composed of 3-inch, hand carved, performers and roustabouts complete with moving arms and legs. Don was mesmerized not only by the circus and its moving parts but also by each individually carved character.
Following, his admiration of the hand-carved circus, Don sneaked into the family kitchen and liberated a paring knife from the cutlery drawer. He carefully did the low crawl back outside and began his hand at whittling. A moment later, the knife slipped and Don had cut his finger. Knowing that his mom would be concerned and probably upset, he darted back into the kitchen and quickly replaced the knife. As luck would have it, Don’s mom was also heading to the kitchen but was far enough behind Don that she did not see his slight of hand in replacing the knife. Don quickly placed the cut hand behind his back. As moms do, Don’s mom wanted to chat. So, Don grimaced, pressed one finger on top of the cut and slipped his injured hand into his pants pocket. Don had escaped his mother’s finding out about his accident but learned an early lesson on safety.
Don lived past several similar incidents and became a pretty good self-taught whittler. As he got a bit older, he always carried a pocket knife. At his school, there was a noon-time concession stand that sold Popsicles. As kids did back then, when finished, the Popsicle stick generally got thrown on the ground. Don would gather up these Popsicle sticks and whittle tiny rifles which became great trading stock for marbles and other fine collectibles. I can imagine that his rifles were pretty hot items with his school chums.
Always whittling over the years, Don got serious about woodcarving in 1975 when he joined the National Woodcarver’s Association and started receiving Chip Chats Magazine on a regular basis.
Don’s Carving Today
Don spends roughly 6 hours per day with his carving related activities. Of course, much of that is spent with carving itself. Don’s carving enjoyment comes mostly from miniatures. Don’s “Whittle Folks” are downright tiny and his giants are whopping 5-6 inches.
When asked what has been his favorite carving, Don softly states: “It’s the one I am working on at the moment.” Don also said: “Every carving is a new learning piece… even though it may be the same subject as I have done before… they are different with their own personality and I enjoy each one of them.”
Don uses primarily Basswood to create his little masterpieces with but will occasionally use Butternut.
Don is active in a number of woodcarving groups including one in his hometown of Wilmington. He also contributes to Dayton and Miami Valley woodcarving clubs. The CCA inducted Don a couple of years back and it seems to me that Don’s generosity with his skill and knowledge fits very well with the CCA creed.
Don enjoys participating in several woodcarving shows each year. He especially loves chatting with attendees and other carvers. He likes competition and he encourages others to compete. He appreciates judge’s feedback and says he always learns from it. He has been a regular participant in carving shows since 1977.
Of Don’s many talents, teaching is clearly one of them and he generally teaches 4-5 classes per year. He has a class coming up at the Dayton Woodcraft store. Information about that class and others can be found on Don’s website ( www.woodbeecarver.com ).
I should also mention that Don’s Mondays are pretty special to him. He gets a lot less carving done because this is the day that Don and Frances gets a visit from their young granddaughter. As much as Don enjoys carving, he says carving does not match up with the time he gets to spend with his granddaughter. I suspect, in time, this “Whittle Person” will have a knife in her hand doing her own “Whittle Folks.” Step aside Don!
Don’s Tool Choices
Don is the guy who introduced me to the term “whittle carving.” For purists, “whittling” is restricted to a hand held project using no more than a knife. Don is pretty much a purist. His favorite tools are his knives. He enjoys and uses some gouges but his tool of choice is a knife. “I enjoy maneuvering a knife so the cuts appear to have been done with a gouge” Don says. Neat trick… I need to learn that one. Just one look at Don’s work and you can see that he has this “knife only thing” mastered.
Don does not use power and he rarely uses a mallet… not even for roughing out. Come to think about it, the chips from many carver’s roughing out are larger than many of Don’s finished pieces. He goes straight from a block of wood to completion with a knife. Don explained: “The roughing-out process primes the pump for the creative part.”
I mentioned earlier that Don, like so many of us old guys, got started carving with a pocket knife. Well, Don’s interest in pocket knives was more serious than most. He collected and traded pocket knives for years and became somewhat of an expert. He still can be found repairing pocket knives or just admiring their workmanship.
Don, the Writer
Writing is not that easy for a lot of folks but Don has proven himself a master. Don is a regular contributor to Woodcarving Illustrated, Chip Chats, and Carving Magazine. Don writes under the byline: “The WOOD BEE CARVER” whose philosophy is “Would be carvers would be carvers if they would carve wood.”
The best of Don can be seen at his own WoodBeeCarver web site ( www.woodbeecarver.com ). It is unmatched for its educational material, tips, and motivation points… and it’s all stated in an easy-to-follow, well written manner with endless photographs. It is a never-ending supply of valuable information for both the beginner and the advanced carver. One could easily spend the better part of a day going through Don’s site for the first time. And once you do go through it, you will keep coming back for more of his latest posts. Don is a text book perfect blogger. He posts regularly and often, and keeps his subject matter concise and on point. I suspect he is a favorite of the WordPress folks.
Don, the Man
The message that I want to leave you with goes beyond Don’s skills, knowledge, and talents. In a very short time after becoming acquainted with Don, it became clear to me that Don was one of the kindest, most generous, most supportive men that I had ever met. He gives of himself continuously and he is truly an ambassador for the woodcarving community. Don and I are Internet buddies. We have never met face to face. When we do speak on the telephone, I am always “taken” by Don’s soft, down to earth manner. When I launched my new web site a few years back, I asked Don if he would be kind enough to do a guest post for me. He did! It is titled: Woodcarving is more the Journey than the Destination.” It is a beautiful message, written from the heart that touches every reader at the soul level.
There is, however, one area that remains a mystery about Don… his choice of interesting hats. Perhaps we could encourage him to do a posting about his hats someday. I’ll bet it will be entertaining.
Let’s enjoy some of Don’s work……..
For lots more photos of Don’s work, please visit www.woodbeecarver.com.
Keep sharp and happy carving!
Please visit my website at: www.WhiteEagleStudios.com.