SMITH SPOTLIGHT #7

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It probably goes without saying, but Smith Design is full of creatives. In our new Smith Spotlight blog series, we’re highlighting the talent of our team and their endeavors outside of our studio. Follow along to get to know the people who make Smith Design awesome.

Our seventh Smith Spotlight features our talented Ken Kiger, showing off his incredible woodworking skills.

Ken was inspired to get into Woodworking when he was younger from his dad and his uncle. His Father worked in Forest Management and his uncle worked as a contractor and had a thorough wood shop with access to an abundance of different species of lumber and tools that he had the freedom to work with. His uncle would teach him a lot of different techniques and how to use each of the tools. He learned so much that when he began his middle school wood shop class, he was the star of the class! From there, he continued with his woodworking as a hobby and really enjoyed the freedom to be creative as well as working with his hands. It became a form of relaxation for him.

In middle school, one of his first projects was to create a book holder. Anyone who has ever taken a wood shop class, probably has some recollection of this as it was the staple wood shop project to build! He still remembers having to punch his name in the wood with stencils and his teacher having to help him.  

Ken then joined a Balsa Wood racing club which challenged members with the task of designing and constructing cars with strict requirements. They needed to build a car that would not only pick up the most speed, but also be strong enough to safely contain a CO2 cartridge throughout multiple races. With this came a lot of problem solving – which Ken really enjoyed when it came to art, design and woodworking. These skills would lay the foundation for many of Ken’s creations to come.

One of his favorite pieces of art that he has created was a keychain for his Nannan. He made it out of Walnut wood and cut it out to look like the word “Nan”, which she absolutely adored. He also created a unique keychain of a tiny cutting board, using different wood types and patterns which replicated a larger cutting board that he had previously crafted for his mom.

He went to college at Kutztown University, where he majored in communication design. However, he did take some elective classes on 3-D design programs and wood working. A really cool project that he was tasked to design was a wooden spoon, with the only directions of it having to look unique and contain some type of pattern. He explained his process of making the spoon, which started with sketching his general idea as a starting point. As he continued working on the spoon, he enjoyed the idea of carving with no rhythm or reason – just whatever flowed and felt good. He used chisel marks to create textures and precise details to create a uniqueness to the simplicity of a spoon. One of his favorite parts of working with wood was that every piece was different and offered unique characteristics, so being able to utilize these learnings and natural tendencies of different types of wood was exciting. When creating his spoon, if he found a uniqueness to the wood like a knot, he would work with the knot as a guide to his design. He was always aware and observant of the different traits of the wood as it created individuality in his art pieces.

Ken’s grandest project that he built took a combination of his interests and hobbies, His love for playing guitar and his passion for wood working. His father suggested – why not combine them both? After 300 hours of building and learning endless techniques and making of tools, forms, and riggs, as he tackled obstacles, complications, and problem solving, he achieved one of his biggest accomplishments and built his very own wooden guitar. He loved the idea that it was personalized to exactly what he liked in a guitar. He explained that “It was basically like picking out the perfect guitar.” He would look at every guitar out there for purchase and see what he liked and didn’t like as far as details and use that information to customize his dream guitar. As a designer he liked that sleek, clean look, with the addition of unique details and patterns. And similar to his Balsa Wood car designs, Ken was fulfilled by designing for form and function.

After many different projects, especially the 300 hours spent working on his guitar, Ken can definitely say that he has learned a lot through his experience. Patience being one. His uncle always taught him that while you can always remove wood, it is extremely hard to add the wood back. Being careful, patient, and confident with the design process and thinking through the next steps before executing can really help. Also, considering and evaluating the grain and the type of wood the designer is working with ahead of time helps the design process as well.

With that, what kind of advice can Ken give aspiring wood designers?

He stresses not to be afraid to try different things, because a lot of learning comes out of making mistakes. Also, there will be many obstacles along the way, especially when things become complicated but when you have the ability to push through them, it helps to grow. He expressed that in a way, it gives you other perspectives in life, something might look and feel so complicated but if you take one step at a time and break it down into smaller pieces, you can really accomplish anything with hard work and perseverance.

Ken has been a part of the Smith Design team for about 18 years now. He loves being able to work every day in the creative process, being able to express his creativity and problem-solving skills. Even though he is not physically wood working while he is in the studio, he gets that same satisfaction in solving creative problems on an everyday basis and is always looking forward to being challenged with the next task.

See below to view some of Ken’s incredible wood creations!

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