Woodworker Encourages Community to Take The “Wooden Way”

Offering a selection of well-crafted wooden utensils for a variety of purposes is Charlie Hinkel of Wooden Way Creations. (Photo by Lura Jackson)

By Lura Jackson

 

Our childhood dreams sometimes have a way of catching up with us later on in life, rewarding us with the unique combination of personal passion and the wisdom accrued over a lifetime. Such is the story of woodworker Charlie Hinkel of Indian Township, who – after a career in the metalworking trades – has returned to his original love of shaping wood into beautiful, useful objects. Hinkel is now the proprietor of Wooden Way Creations, a business through which he sells a variety of artfully constructed kitchen utensils across the eastern portion of the state.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, Hinkel was first introduced to woodworking when he was a young boy. His father, a lead lineman for the electrical company, had a side job making traditional bows from his basement, a task that he set upon every day as soon as he arrived home. “If I wanted to see my dad, I’ve have to be in the workshop,” Hinkel recalls. He remembers being given a piece of wood to shape, and then using the bandsaw later on. “When I got older, he let me sand a bow. You have to polish it so it comes out beautiful and smooth…just like you’d polish a telescope. That’s what brings the amazing grain out.” He absorbed as much as he could about the art from his father, and he knew that someday, he, too, would have his own woodworking shop.

As a young man, Hinkel followed his friends into the metalworking trade, eventually taking a job at Bath Iron Works in Southern Maine and spending a few years in Indian Township with his future wife in the mid-80s. They moved south to Tennessee, where Hinkel worked in the metal fabrication industry for two decades until the market crashed in 2008 and he was laid off.

As sometimes happens, life has a way of pointing us in the right direction. Hinkel was laid off right at a time when the family had just purchased a home, and then he and his wife received unexpected news – they were pregnant. The convergence of events led the family to return to Indian Township, thereby enabling young Preston to be raised among his extended family – and giving Hinkel the perfect opportunity to return to his lifelong love of woodworking.

While living in the south, Hinkel experimented with carving wood. He made figurines of mountain men, and then became enchanted by the story of Welsh love spoons. According to the tradition, young men carve the spoons by hand for their love interests. Hinkel began carving spoons with knots, crosses and hearts in their handles – learning how to make the functional portion of the spoon at the same time.

Hinkel’s handmade spoons were popular gifts amongst family and friends. When he and his wife moved back to Indian Township in 2013, he decided to focus on cooking utensils rather than devoting his time and attention to traditional bows. While he maintains a great love for both crafts, he doesn’t want the fiberglass from the bows to contaminate the cooking utensils, he explains.

Now, Hinkel makes a wide selection of utensils, utilizing a Guinevere tool with a flexible shaft and a carbide tip to shape them where necessary. He makes cooking spoons of a variety of sizes, for both right and left hands, a wide spreader, a baking paddle for cookies and eggs, and angled cooking spoons for particular tasks. One of his most popular utensils is a simple jam and butter knife, while the wooden rice paddles are catching on as well. “Most are plastic, but the wooden ones are becoming more popular,” Hinkel says. “I’m encouraging people to take the wooden way.”   

Each of Hinkel’s utensils are made with an uncanny level of focus, resulting in a precisely-rendered tool that is incredibly smooth to the touch. Consider his cutting boards as an example, which are among his more popular items. After repeatedly hearing from his customers that they are reticent to use it to cut objects since they appreciate it as a piece of art instead, he started suggesting that they use one side for cutting and the other for display. “They become their own pieces of art, but I am making tools for the kitchen, after all.”

Hinkel uses a range of wood to create his pieces, including cherrywood, ironwood, sumac, walnut, beech, ash, yellow birch, mahogany, eucalyptus, hickory and rosewood. Some pieces are obtained locally from windblown trees or firewood. Being able to work with the wood has been a dream come true for Hinkel. “I love the warmth of the wood, the smell of the wood, carving the grain and seeing what’s inside,” he shared.

To keep his pieces looking spectacular, Hinkel makes and sells his own all-natural wood finishing agent, made from beeswax and avocado oil. “The oil soaks in and the beeswax sits on the outside and gives it a shine,” Hinkel explained.

 

You can find Hinkel’s products at the Olde Boston Shoe Store, the Commons in Eastport, Expressions Art Gallery in Machias, Nie’s Boutique and Bake Shop, the Variety Store in Princeton, Krafty Kreations, Bread of Life in Presque Isle and the Sunshine and Dixie craft store in Ellsworth. Hinkel also travels to fairs and craft shows, including the Blueberry Festival in Machias, the International Homecoming Festival in Calais and the Crown of Maine hot air balloon festival in Presque Isle. On most weekends, he can be found at the Machias Dike selling his wares.