MAIN BROOK, N.L. – In a shed populated with tools and woodwork by the hundreds, Bruce Pilgrim has earned a strong set of skills and reputation with only 10 years at the craft.
Inside “da shed” by his Main Brook home, the shelves, tables and walls are cluttered with a variety of carved and crafted items. With flowerpots, model boats, pet dishes, birdhouses, decorative lobster pots, uniquely-styled crib boards and other items, Pilgrim’s woodcarving work displays dedication and expertise.
Yet, before Pilgrim decided to take up the pursuit, he says the only tools he’d ever had were a handsaw and a hammer.
“I found myself a little out of place when I retired, because I was always used to doing something,” said Pilgrim, who spent his career as a teacher and school principal. “I decided then to go into woodworking, but I had never done anything like it before.
“Before then I don’t know if I could hammer a nail straight or saw a board straight.”
Now the tools in his shed are plentiful. With a table saw, planers, scroll saws, banner saws, carving knives and other tools galore, Pilgrim has re-established himself as a handyman.
Developing the skill
Pilgrim’s woodwork venture all started with a plastic paper towel holder that was faulty.
“You would go to pull off a sheet and before you know it the whole roll of paper towel was rolling across the kitchen floor,” said Pilgrim. “So I decided I was going to make a replacement out of wood.”
From there his woodworking projects grew.
Pilgrim says his most prominent work in the past few years are the decorative signs he designs and creates for local homeowners.
He often designs different things for children as well, whether it be wooden turtles and ducks, dip nets, little boxes for lost teeth, or even a “climbing bear” toy - with strings attached for the wooden bear to climb upward.
He is currently carving and painting a bald eagle for his brother, and has even designed swords.
Pilgrim is mostly self-taught, and says trial and error is the main method he uses when crafting.
“It’s very meticulous, when you got to plot out all the different cuts, and always be precise to make sure you don’t break tips off,” he said. “You got to have patience. If it don’t turn out, well then it ends up in the stove and I try it again.”
While he spends around six hours per day at his projects and is well-known around the community with continual requests, Pilgrim says he doesn’t sell most of what he makes.
“Sometimes someone comes in and wants to buy something but most of the stuff I make I give away,” he said. “It’s just a hobby for me, and it’s therapeutic in a sense – it gives me something to fill the day.”
There are many distinctive and idiosyncratic artifacts in the Pilgrim shed. For his crib boards, Pilgrim has designed some the size of table stools and some with cursive spiral designs. A paddleball Pilgrim made for his wife also has wooden birds that bob their heads up and down as the ball attached to the paddle is swung around.
Pilgrim says many of these designs he thinks of himself, or finds them online and decides to test his skill and figure out how to make them himself.
“I just took at it and think to myself ‘there’s a way to rig that up,’” he said.
Whatever the project or design, Pilgrim is content to keep growing and developing his talents with woodcarving for many years to come.