This pilot discovers a talent as an 'aspiring tamer of wood'
Jul. 29, 2017
Columbus, Miss. (AP) — When sleep eludes, many turn to sound to bring on a good night's rest -- the gurgling brooks, ocean waves and white noise of a sound machine, the whir of an electric fan or maybe a dose of Coldplay or Ed Sheeran. But woodworking videos? Not so common.
"I did -- I started watching woodworking YouTube videos at night to fall asleep; it was kind of like a pacifier," grinned Jason Barlow in his workshop at home in eastern Lowndes County. "I couldn't get enough of them."
By day, Barlow is often whipping through the sky in a T-6 Texan II aircraft as an Active Guard Reserve instructor pilot at Columbus Air Force Base. It's an intense and demanding career. When a request from his wife for a farm table unearthed an itch to make things with his hands a few years ago, Barlow discovered a whole new passion on the ground.
The Madison native had never taken a shop class, never owned anything more complex than a cordless drill. But immersed in how-to videos, he was determined to have a go at the farm table. A good friend, Patrick Singley, shared power tools and time to assist. The project was a success.
"That was the moment I gained an appreciation and passion for woodworking and all things handcrafted," Barlow said. Before long, he was begging his wife, April, for half the garage.
"When she saw how motivated and enthusiastic I was, she said why don't you take the whole thing, and without blinking an eye, I took her up on it," said Barlow. "She may have some regrets on some really cold, rainy days, but not too many I hope."
In the two-plus years since, the Air Force Academy graduate has turned that garage into a respectable shop, with a lathe, grinding jig, diamond grinding wheel dresser, saws, routers, sanders and his work bench, "Bessie."
"Jason's kind of that person," April said. "When he puts his mind to it, he does it."
Art of the craft
With unflagging curiosity, Barlow developed his skills. He soaked up mentoring from fellow woodworkers and online videos -- including those by Shawn Stone of New Hope.
"The woodworking community is a fantastic group of makers that not only share their craft but also share their time and resources," Barlow said. "It's a very giving community, to say the least."
Woodturning is currently the pilot's focus: A lathe holds and rotates a material like wood so that it can be quickly shaped with tools. His craftsmanship is evidenced in beautifully-grained bowls, distinctive writing pens, handmade duck calls, handsome bottle stoppers and bottle openers sporting NCAA emblems.
"I use anything I can find or is given to me," Barlow said. That includes East Indian rosewood, persimmon, cypress, walnut, hickory, cocobolo, olive wood and bocote. Even storm-damaged trees are inspiring raw material. Not long ago, Barlow made a dozen crosses from a tree that fell by his church, for April to give to leaders in the women's ministry she directs at Mount Vernon Church.
For some of his pens, Barlow uses man-made acrylic pen blanks that polish to a dazzling finish, with color mixtures that swirl and intertwine like a captured sunset or marine landscape. He makes pens from wood as well. Two of the most special to date have been crafted from Palestinian oak a friend brought back from Mount Carmel in Israel.
"I like a piece with a story," Barlow said. "I would love to take a downed tree or even a piece of furniture that somebody has had in their family, that maybe belonged to their grandfather, and make a pen or a bowl ... "
Something from nothing
The father of two finds deep satisfaction in creating something out of nothing, "to take something that someone would burn up in a fireplace and make it into something beautiful, to make that and see how it brings joy."
Workshop time isn't necessarily easy to come by. In addition to being full time active duty, husband and father, Barlow coaches soccer at Columbus Christian Academy, currently serves as The Father's Child Ministry board president, is active in church and follows his daughters who play basketball, volleyball and also cheer.
What he does find time to make, he often offers on his website, jbsworkshop.net, Instagram and Etsy. He has hopes of expanding his hobby in future and being able to consider more custom requests than he can now. But Barlow has plenty going for him, including family support.
April sees his hobby as a healthy way to clear the mind. "This is a house full of girls -- even our pets are girls!" she laughed. "He has a stressful job. I think for him this is a great way to get away and get out there and make something with his hands and still be a part of the family. And he actually gets to see the fruits of his labors."
Nothing beats the feeling of creating something, said the man who describes himself as an "aspiring tamer of wood." ''It's a happy niche. I can get on that lathe, and I can put in headphones and tune out the world. It's a way to recharge and go quiet for a little while. Who doesn't want that, right?"
Information from: The Commercial Dispatch, http://www.cdispatch.com