Friday, December 26, 2014

Happy Holidays 2014

It was a beautiful, sunny, cool Christmas day here in Santa Cruz. The sun is a welcome respite from the drenching we received for several weeks. We do need much more rain (we’re still in drought mode), but hopefully it won’t come in torrential downpours like it did a few weeks ago.

So, what’s been happening here since my last blog entry? In my last blog, I was just getting ready to be part of the Open Studios Art Tour. Unfortunately, after 13 years of decent sales, this was the first time there were no sales. Well, try, try again next year.

At the end of October and start of November I once again taught a woodcarving class at Cabrillo College. It was a small class of six people who all showed some talent that, with practice, could someday be very good carvers. One who exhibited very good talent is now one of my students here at my studio. I have three wonderful students who come nearly every week for two hour sessions. Classes range from carving, to wood turning, to instrument making, to general wood working. It’s great to see the progress each of them make.

In November, after teaching, I took a break. A friend of mine and I went on a short vacation. I started by driving to his place in Sacramento where we had a great time sampling craft beers and eating at new up-and-coming pubs and restaurants. Mercey Hot SpringsThe next day we drove to Mercey Hot Springs, which is 20-30 miles south of Los Banos. There is an artesian mineral hot spring there that Indians have known about for hundreds of years. In 1912 a land developer bought the property and began building cabins and baths. In the photo, the two left cabins are where my friend and I stayed. These are originals built around 1915. Small, cozy, with gas heaters and a front porch with table and chairs, where we had wine, cheese, French bread, etc. The water in the baths is slightly sulfurous, but warm (around 102-105), and pleasant.

Pinnicles 1We did some hiking at Mercey, but the next day we went all out! We drove first to Tres Pinos for breakfast, then, by 10am, we were starting our 10 mile hike at Pinnacles National Park. We first hiked through the caves, then up and over the Ridge Trail. It threatened rain all day, but held off for the six hours we were on the trails. The Pinnacles are nice to visit any time of the year, but Spring time is really the best, with incredible wild flowers in bloom and the chance to see some of the growing population of California condors. Summer can be very hot, so bring lots of water. (Bring water anyway if you’re hiking any time of year.)

We spent the second evening at Mercey and left the next morning for the ghost town of New Idria, on the end of a rough, unmaintained road high in San Benito County mountains. New Idria was a quicksilver (mercury) mine that ran from the gold rush days up into the 1970s. Because of the mercury and lead contamination, that is still leaching out of the mines, machinery, and tailings, the main part of the town was fenced off in 2011 as a Superfund site.The creek that flows through New Idria is a sickly orange color. Contaminants from the mine have been traced as far away as the San Jaoquin River, which flows to the San Francisco Bay. Hopefully, a cleanup will happen soon.

New Idria1

This was a fun trip. Mercey Hot Springs was so remote, it is totally off the grid. For a relaxing time away from electronic devices, television, phones, etc., this is the place to go. For great hiking, camping, or picnicking, head for Pinnacles National Park. (It’s only a few hours from San Jose! Day trips are big there.) New Idria? It is a piece of gold fever history. However, there are no signs, no historical references, or no one around to ask about it. There are many references online, but nothing at the site.



Recent Work

Not much recent work happening on the instrument and furniture side of my crafting life. My wife and I are getting ready for a major remodel of our home, and we’ve been packing everything away and putting it in storage. I’m taking a sabbatical from Ron Cook Studios for at least 6 months, while I make new furniture pieces for our new home. I’ll be creating several live-edge pieces, including a new mantel for the fireplace, new coffee and end tables, and a raised live-edge counter on the kitchen island.

To keep the sawdust flying, I recently finished what is called The Milkman’s Workbench. I saved an article from the June, 2013, issue of Popular Woodworking, last year because I thought I’d like to make it. I found enough good pieces of wood in my stash to put one together, so I decided to finally do it. It took only a few days to make. This type of workbench is small, but handy for craftspeople who work in small spaces, like apartments or tiny workshops. It’s also handy for taking along for carving demonstrations.

Milkman workbench 1     Milkman workbench-magazine

The kitchen part of our remodel will have two new sinks. There’s a regular kitchen sink, and a bar sink on the island. To be able to cut vegetables over the sink, I’m putting together a cutting board that IMG_0888will fit nicely over one of the sinks. It is all salvaged urban forest wood from an old apple tree. The tree died and the owner gave me the trunk and a couple of thick branches. The tree had rotted in the middle, but I was still able to salvage some very good sections. I ripped it into boards and it has been drying for over a year. A few months ago I cut a couple of the boards into one inch square pieces, then started gluing them together. I’ll finish this after we get the sinks so I can fit it properly.

Pen turning set

I’ve been doing a lot of woodturning, and a couple of my students have too. For smaller turnings, like pens, small spindles, or the noters like I do, I picked up a set of mini carbide turning tools. (Christmas present for myself!) These stay sharp much longer than standard turning tools and work well on my mini lathe.

Another present I got for myself is a new set of 8 inch dado blades for my table saw. I’ve been using an old 6 inch set for 30 years, and it’s been too hard to keep sharp. After nearly “burning” my way through a project, I bit the bullet (when a sale popped up) and got a new set of Freud dado blades. They cut through maple like going through butter!

Well, that’s about it for now. When I start working on the new furniture pieces for our remodel, I’ll be posting pictures of the processes, from start to finish, on my blog. Stay tuned!

I hope everyone has had a wonderful Holiday Season, and, to everyone, Happy New Year!

Saturday, September 27, 2014



Boy, it seems like Summer flew by here in Santa Cruz! It wasn’t the warmest, or sunniest, of Summers, and I am looking forward to the warm, clear Fall days we usually have in September and during the Open Studios Art Tour in October. Open Studios is just one thing happening in my arts & crafts world. Read on...

Upcoming Soon!

Santa Cruz County Open Studios Art Tour

It's that time of year again. The first three weekends in October are when the Open Studios Art Tour 2014 happens! This is a juried event, so you can be sure you will be seeing the best artists and craftspeople in Santa Cruz County. The first weekend, October 4 & 5, is for South County artists. The second weekend, October 11 & 12, is for

North County artists (where I am). The third weekend, October 18 & 19, is Encore Weekend, which includes artists in the entire county.

You can start your tour now by purchasing the Open Studios Art Tour 2014 Guide or the Open Studios Art Tour App (iTunes and Google Play). With either, you can pick the artists you want to see and chart your course on the enclosed maps or your device. Guides are available at many locations throughout Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Counties. For more information on Open Studios and where to find guides and the app, go to the Arts Council Santa Cruz County website.

To help you decide which artists to see, a preview exhibit, showing pieces by nearly all Open Studios Artists, is at the Santa Cruz Art League September 27 through October 19. An artists' reception is on September 28, from 3 to 6, at the Art League. You can also purchase guides at the Art League.

My studio, number 269 in the Tour Guide, will be open from 11 to 5 on the second and third weekends, October 11-12 and 18-19.

I will be showing most of my furniture and instruments from the last few years, plus a few surprises. As a little personal preview, the following is one of my newer pieces on the front of my Open Studios postcard. (Pick up postcards at the Santa Cruz Art League!)

This is my newest piece of furniture. It is a medieval-style 3-legged chair I'll have on display at my Studio. It is hand-turned, hand-carved black walnut, with a hand-woven rush seat. This is based on a similar chair in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

So come on by and visit me October 11, 12, 18, or 19! Everything will be available for purchase!


Fall Woodcarving Class at Cabrillo!

Once again I've been asked to teach a two day woodcarving class at Cabrillo College for the FallArts extension courses. This year it will be on two Sundays, October 26th and November 2nd. The class isn't quite full yet, so if you'd like to learn carving, or increase your carving skills, sign up on the Cabrillo Extensions FallArts web page.

Cabrillo College Gallery 12 x 12 (x12) Exhibition!

Starting October 6th at the Cabrillo Gallery on the Cabrillo College Campus is a fascinating collection of art and craft works all sized 12 inches by 12 inches. (Some are also 12 inches deep!) I just completed two brand new pieces that conform to these sizes. They will be on display from October 6 through October 31. A reception will be on Saturday, October 4th, from 4 to 6pm. Stop by after your Open Studios Art Tour!

In The Studio

There have been a few changes around my studio over the last month and many about to happen. Not long after Open Studios, our house will be remodeled. Fortunately, my studio is not part of the remodel, so I can continue working on new pieces and finishing up one or two that have been on the shelf for a couple of years.

A big change for me is my new carving tool. I recently picked up a miniature chain saw carving device called The Merlin 2. It's a small angle-grinder type of device with a 2 inch circular chain saw blade. It is made specifically for carving medium to large sculptures.

My first piece turned out quite well. Come to my Open Studio to see my carving tool up close, and to see the results!

The other change is an addition to my carving workstations. A couple of years ago, I made a small carving bench with a vise that I use inside my studio for my smaller works. For larger pieces, I needed a bigger and sturdier bench able to hold hundred pound pieces of wood.

Here it is!

The top section is for small to medium carvings. It swivels and tilts in many directions so carving can be done easily on all surfaces. It is removable, so larger pieces can be attached directly to the bench top, or clamped in the vise. There is another device that attaches to the bench, but you'll have to come to Open Studios to see that!

Old Instruments and Repairs

I continue to get e-mails and calls from people who have recently purchased antique zithers, dulcimers, and other stringed instruments. Some were inherited from parents or grandparents, and some are from collections or are personal favorites. These instruments, being as old as they are, quite often need restoration or repair to make them playable again. If only to be displayed, conservation is an option for them.

I'm always interested in restoring, repairing, or conserving unusual and different instruments with a history. My basic fee starts at $350 for major work. For minor repairs, such as new strings, small crack repairs, cleaning, etc., contact me for costs. Please send photos of areas that are damaged or in need of TLC to me at my email address. For major repairs, I provide a complimentary repair log. 

I have openings in my schedule starting in November of this year and into 2015. Check with me for scheduling!

If you have inherited a stringed instrument, such as a zither, dulcimer, or other zither-style instrument, or even old ukuleles, or know of someone who has, it is tremendously easy to have the instrument made a functional part of living history for a very modest investment, whether it is ever played again or displayed as a family heirloom. If you have old photos of family members playing the instrument, be sure to send them along as well.

More ... Behind the Scenes - Folk Art Corner - Hot off the Press

Behind the scenes:

roncook Etsy shop

My Esty shop is popular all over the world! I have been "favorited" by people as far away as Latvia and China. Recent sales have gone to Canada and Italy! Here's how to reach my shop: You may set up a free account on Etsy to preview and purchase any other items offered for sale.

New Students

If you are interested in learning how to carve, learning general woodworking skills, or learning about the history and construction of early European (medieval) or early American (19th century) stringed instruments, please contact me at  During the instrument course, the student will learn about the evolution of stringed instruments, research a particular instrument, create working drawings, and build it. Open to interested high school and college students. All students choose wood from my wood stash!   E-mail me for more information.

Folk Art Corner: Items from special wood

If you have some wood that has come from a "special tree" or are planning to remove a tree that has played an important role in your life or your family's life, please contact me to see what we can create to memorialize it. Suggestions: spoons, small instruments, small stools.


That’s it for now! I’ll have some photos of “new” pieces I’m working on. A new direction…

More later! Onward through the fog…

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

2014—A New (Dry) Year

For California, this “rainy season” has been the driest on record. Here in Santa Cruz, right next to the Monterey Bay (1/2 block from my studio), we’ve had barely an inch of rain in three months and temperatures have often been in the sunny 70s. Hopefully that will soon change. We need the water.

On the plus side, I’ve been able to do a lot of work in my studio, including applying finishes that dry in hours instead of days. (Wet weather slows drying time.) I’ve been able to complete new pieces and restorations in less time than normal during this Winter.


For the 10th year I’ve been juried in to the American Craft Council Show in San Francisco. The show will run this year August 8-10. Booth assignments aren’t available yet, but when they are you can check on the American Craft Council San Francisco web site.

New Work

3-legged chair-72It’s been a long time coming, but my second medieval-style 3-legged chair is almost done. Since January 1, I finished all the spindle turning, drilled all the angled holes, and glued the whole thing together. All I have left to do is weave the rush seat, which is usually a two-day job.

To recap, my 3-legged chair is based on one in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The original was English oak, which darkened with age and use so it looks more like black walnut then oak. Since I had quite a bit of salvaged black walnut, I decided to use that for this chair. Other then my head carvings on the front legs, this one looks almost identical to the original. The turnings and wood color are very similar.

Germanic rotes-72In my last blog I showed two new “mini” Saxon rotes (lyres). I decided last week to make a couple of “mini” Germanic rotes. Like the Saxon rotes, these Germanic ones are smaller versions of the full-sized lyres I often show at crafts shows and Open Studios. The small Saxon lyres have been popular on my Etsy shop, and when I finish the Germanic ones, I’ll put them on Etsy too.



New Tools


Back in December, my old Craftsman table saw stopped working. Bearings went out in the arbor and the saw blade started wobbling dangerously. Getting new parts was not only expensive, but would take quite a few hours to repair. So, I started doing some research on new saws and decided on a Laguna hybrid. This is like the larger cabinet saws, but built more for small shops. This new model is wired for 110, which is good since I don’t have 220 in my shop. It has a dust port on the side that I hook up to my portable dust collection system, and the motor is quiet and powerful. I’ve used it quite a bit already, and I have no complaints. It’s a well-made hybrid table saw. And… it was on sale!

Bandsaw-72I also have a Craftsman 12-inch band saw that I’ve been using for the last 20 years, resawing all the woods I’ve used in my instruments and furniture. Resaw capacity was a short 6 inches, so I wasn’t able to cut anything thicker. This saw was also getting a little old and cranky, and my resawing was taking much longer to accomplish. The motor kept straining too hard and sometimes would even stop in the middle of work—even with a new blade.

Well, again, Laguna was rated pretty high, and like the table saw, it was on sale too. I ordered it on January 2nd, but since it was on back order, I just got it last week. This is a new 14 inch model, also wired for 110, that has a 13 inch resaw capacity. And it came with a very good and tall resaw fence. I got a 3/4 inch, 3tpi (teeth per inch) Timberwolf blade for resawing, and it worked great with my first resawn pieces of wood. It cut through 8 inch wide cherry and mahogany like it was butter. And the motor is incredibly quiet! I’m very happy with it.


Kumalae-beforeThe work keeps coming. Since the first week in January, I’ve been working on two antique instruments. One I just finished is another Kumalae ukulele from around 1920. It is the same model as one I restored back in December, with the same type of fancy “rope” binding, and lovely figured koa wood.

Finished 3-72This one was definitely more of a challenge, because the neck had broken off from the body. It had the appearance that someone might have sat on it. On the body, where the neck broke off, the wood was cracked and torn and some pieces were missing. The top was warped and several glue joints around the body had failed, leaving warped openings.

But I love a challenge. I disassembled, repaired, reassembled, and refinished it in around 6 weeks. It now looks like nothing ever happened to it.

It’s now fully restored and playable.

chord-zither-72Also on my restoration workbench is a Schmidt and Menzenhauer Niagara Special model chord zither from around 1900-1910. Like many zithers I’ve restored, this one was also coming apart and the tail pin block was curling up from the string tension. It was pretty dirty, and the old strings and tuning pins were all rusty. (The photo is a before shot.)

I removed the back to be able to repair and strengthen all the internal bracing, and it’s now back together, clean, and I’m putting the finishing touches on it. I hope to string it up next week.

Do you have a unique stringed instrument, one that’s been in your family, or one you picked up somewhere, that needs a little TLC and needs to be repaired or restored, contact me for a quote. I specialize in antique zithers (concert and chord), ukuleles, dulcimers, and some guitars and other stringed instruments. My e-mail is


I will be teaching at Cabrillo again for the next Spring Arts program, April 6 and 13, 2014. The Spring Cabrillo College Extensions Catalog is now available. You can check it out at

As of this writing, my class is full. However, there’s a possibility I may be teaching a week-long wood carving course this Summer. Stay tuned!

As I look out the window, I see a few clouds drifting my way. Starting tomorrow, it is supposed to rain for the next five days. Hopefully, we’ll get enough rain to put a little water in the reservoirs.