By Tony Glaros
In a world where “on demand” is deeply woven into the cultural DNA, Mike Gerecht follows a different route where he immerses himself in a process called turned wood. It illumines the wisdom of completing a task all in good time. Through his company, Woodcrafts By Mike Gerecht, his painstakingly focused regimen is something of a throwback to an era when families gathered around the dinner table and communicated using vocal chords as opposed to texting.
On display in the living room of his comfortable Kensington home are samples of finished products. Anchored by exquisite, durable pens fashioned from the wood harvested from olive trees grown in Jerusalem — his bestseller — the array includes an ice cream scoop, pizza cutter, wine bottle stopper and a bottle opener.
The wood used to make many of his products is shipped from a supplier in Israel. While Gerecht said he’s never met the supplier, he emphasized each product comes with a certificate of authenticity. The card reads, in part: “They are from trees that can be hundreds of years old but still producing olives. Pruning keeps them productive for years to come.” Every year, Gerecht said he orders up to 150 blocks of wood from Israel.
“I try to maximize my shipment because it’s so expensive.”
Gerecht then showed a visitor his garage, half of which he converted into a workshop, a meticulously ordered affair with every tool of the trade in its proper place.
Making the wood pens, he said, standing over the hardware like a protective father, involves “cutting my pieces to a certain size on a band saw. “I put the glue for the pen in a brass tube and then mount it on my lathe and start carving away with my chisel. I spend a lot of time sanding it down.”
Gerecht also makes acrylic pens. The work involved is similar to what goes into making the wood pens, he explained. The big difference, he added, comes when “you pour different colors into a mold. You can get any color combination.”
Along with the olive tree wood from the Holy Land, Gerecht becomes one with other hard fibrous material culled from tree trunks and branches. The list runs the gamut from birch wood to the more exotic bocote, native to Central and South America.
He picked up a piece of marblewood before running his long, tapered fingers down the length. ”I like wood with really nice grains,” he remarked. “When I start with a piece of marblewood, it looks like something I could be eating.”
Gerecht, 63, sells his handiwork at craft fairs, in at the Guild of Artists and to Local to the Area (Gala) in Kensington. Another venue, he said, during Chanukah at Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase, where he’s a member. Because his small business is guided by a more intimate, grassroots flavor — “I enjoy the interactions with people — he said he skips renowned shows like the Sugarloaf Crafts Festival, which requires a much larger inventory.
“You don’t do this for the money.” he declared, adding that he gets emotional satisfaction from giving finished creations away to family and friends.
Before he dreamed about launching his own woodworking enterprise, Gerecht was an executive in the family newsletter business, CD Publications. After it was sold, he found himself exploring ways he might fill the pages of life’s next chapter.
Drawing on his love of wood, gardening and landscaping, he signed up for a woodworking class in Rockville. “The teacher said we could make whatever we want.” He decided to try his hand at a wooden pen, he recalled, but didn’t get far.
Discouraged but not defeated, he banished the unfinished object to a dresser drawer for two years. As time passed, it became clear that if he was serious about this pursuit, if he expected to finish what he started, he would have to invest in a small lathe. That was the inspiration he needed to complete it. “If someone showed me something I made back then, I wouldn’t claim it,” he said, laughing.
Inevitably, mistakes creep into his work from time to time. “If I have a bad day, if a piece of wood cracks on me, I go upstairs and have a beer,” he remarked.
Like any artist, Gerecht needs a sounding board to help keep him steady. That role is filled by Susan, his wife of 26 years. “She’s got a pretty good eye. I often don’t see little blemishes.”
Always open to adding unique twists to his repertoire, Gerecht recalled the time he was driving with his wife in South Dakota. “I saw a pickup truck completely filled with elk antlers,” he said. Jumping out of his car, he got his first chance to touch one. “I picked it up and I said, `Oh, my gosh, it feels so nice in my hand!’”
That was the spark he needed. After returning home, he made a beer bottle opener from elk antlers. “Now it opens every bottle of beer I have. It’s a real conversation piece.”
Fingering a pen while commenting on its “heft” and “European style,” Gerecht reaffirmed his devotion to wood. “If you ask 10 people about wood, you’ll get 10 different answers. It’s a personal thing. I enjoy the whole aspect, from tree to finished product.”
Anthony Glaros is a Washington-area writer.