I graduated from Purdue University with a degree in Computer Science and spend my days working at an awesome software company here in Indianapolis. I am husband to my beautiful highschool sweetheart, Carey, and father to our three adorable and rambunctious boys.
My grandfather first introduced me to woodworking when we would spend a week at his place in the summer. I don’t think I ever went there without coming back with some small finished project: wooden rifle, battery-powered boat (that didn’t float), desk organizer, chess board. That was my primary exposure to woodworking until my wife and I bought our first home. It was then that I first started using the skills I had gained from my grandfather to begin creating for my own family. It started with a toy chest for our oldest son, then picture frames, end tables, and eventually led to a full kitchen renovation.
I started getting the itch to find ways for woodworking to actually bring in revenue for the family, especially after we added 2 more boys (“the twins”) to the family. So I started selling picture frames to local businesses, did a few local markets, and spun up an online retail store. It began to consume me and was cutting into time that should have been carved out for quality family time. A year into it I had a garage full of new tools, unpurchased inventory, and credit card debt. Add to that, the twins were now a year old and it’s like I hardly knew them. I knew I needed to make a change, but I wasn’t certain what to do or how to do it.
Fortunately, God knew. All I had to do was get out of the way, and so for the next 2 years, with God’s grace, I spent my time rebuilding my life one brick at a time starting with my faith, then my relationship with my wife, then our boys, then my full-time job, then eventually got back to woodworking. I have less tools, less paying customers, a smaller shop, and less “shop time” today than I did 2 years ago. Yet, somehow the joy I get from the work I do in the shop today is immeasurably greater.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my story, and what I’ve learned along the way. I hope that you’ll find value in the stories you hear and hopefully meet some great people along the journey. God bless!
My love of woodworking comes undoubtedly from my father, who taught carpentry at a technical high school for over thirty years. He had built or helped to build nearly every house that our family owned since my parents got married, and when I was ten years old, we built my parents’ dream home—a log house—as a family. We would help Dad with construction projects here and there, but aside from the occasional scrollsawn Christmas ornament, there was little collective interest between the three of us (myself, my father, and my brother) in what we’d consider today to be “fine woodworking.”
Fast-forward to January of 2014. I bought my first fountain pen, which soon turned into multiple fountain pens (they’re quite addictive!), and I wanted a way of storing/carrying/displaying them that I could make myself to save money. After talking it through with my brother, we decided that I should try to build a case out of wood. I began to search online for woodworking tutorials and began devouring as much content as I could, as did my brother, which led to a myriad of small and large project ideas, which led to a myriad of tool purchases… you get the idea. To this day, I still haven’t built my fountain pen case, but I got bitten hard by the woodworking bug for sure!
As a lifelong Catholic, I became eager to use my newfound woodworking talents in the service of God and His Church. I started with small projects like crucifixes, but my dream was to build altars and other ecclesiastical furniture. When my wife and I got married in August of 2015, I built a double kneeler or prie-dieu for us to use at our wedding. Not only did it turn out well—so well, in fact, that we’ve used it nearly every day since for our morning and evening prayers at home—but it also confirmed my desire to give my gifts back to God like Abel, and it showed me how rewarding it is to build for the Church, whether institutional or domestic. To that end, my brother Dan and I formed Little John Woodworks, a side business with the goal of building ecclesiastical appointments and devotional items.
Woodworking is my most active hobby, but it is far from the most important thing in my life. As a lifelong Catholic, I’ve been blessed with a faith that nourishes and inspires every aspect of my daily life. My loving wife supports me in everything I do, and I couldn’t ask for a better model of virtue to inspire me from day to day. May we lead each other to heaven! Music is also a big part of my life. I studied composition at Shepherd University and, by the grace of God, have been able to write many pieces for liturgical and concert use, some of which are published by CanticaNOVA Publications. I sing regularly with two choirs: the choir of the Priory of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, home of the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem; and the Suspicious Cheese Lords, an all-male a cappella choir dedicated to performing lesser-known Renaissance polyphony.
Thank you for taking the time to get to know us, and for joining in the conversation about virtue bearing fruit in work. May our mutual love of the craft edify and enrich this wonderful community in which we take part. Oremus pro invicem: let us pray for one another!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What does “Arbor Vitae” mean?
Arbor Vitae is Latin for “Tree of Life.” We felt this was a fitting name for our podcast because it is the intersection of faith and woodworking. Each of us have pursued woodworking for different reasons. Some are looking for a primary or secondary source of income, others just need a hobby, and others still are simply fulfilling the needs of a growing family by building vs. buying what is required to furnish a home. Whatever the reason, woodworking has a purpose in our life, and there is a strong natural desire for our efforts to be fruitful, producing the end which we seek from it. Just as the foundation of a healthy fruit-bearing tree is a strong root system, the foundation of a healthy and fruitful woodworking experience are virtues like charity, discipline, patience, and humility. As Catholic men, we believe that the Cross of Christ is the Tree of Life, for by His sacrifice we were freed from the death of sin. We look to the Cross as a path to virtue in all that we do, including woodworking. Woodworking and the Christian life have so much in common, it’s not surprising that Christ grew up as the son of a carpenter. As we each entered into the world of woodworking at different stages in our adult lives, we have been blown away by the woodworking community. It is a refreshing change from today’s culture of “me.” As such, it is not surprising why so many have been drawn to woodworking in the last 5-10 years. Our mission is to explore how different virtues influence the way we live and work in the shop, how virtues contribute to the fruitfulness of our labor, and highlight those who are making significant contributions to this great community. Thank you for visiting, and we hope you stick around and join in on the conversation. God bless!
Why Latin for the name?
While the focus of this podcast isn’t Catholicism, we make no attempt to hide the fact that we’re Catholic and that woodworking is a faith-filled activity for both of us. Latin is a part of our heritage and the language of the Universal Church. It’s natural for Catholics to think and speak with Latin phrases when pondering concepts related to the faith, so “Arbor Vitae” was one of the first ideas that came to us when contemplating a name that captured the essence of what we wanted this podcast to be. But Latin doesn’t belong only to Catholics! For the past two millennia, Latin has long been the language of scholars and learned men in Western culture, both religious and secular—not for its exclusivity, but its universality (and resulting inclusivity). Look at any text on virtue from the past 2,000 years, and more likely than not you’ll find Latin epithets galore, if not whole works written in Latin. English is certainly on its way to become the closest thing we have to a modern-day universal language; however, if you want a language that connects you with the past as well as the present, Latin is the way to go!
Is your show relevant if I’m not a Catholic? Or Christian? Or a member of any faith?
Yes! For us, woodworking is a deeply spiritual pastime; however, there are certain universal truths that hold no matter what creed you profess. It’s these universal truths, such as the seven virtues, which we hope to highlight on the show. These virtues apply to everyone, and by seeking to foster them in your woodworking, we’re sure that it will become more fruitful and rewarding. Full disclosure: there will be a healthy amount of Catholic banter between us as your co-hosts because our faith is an integral part of who we are.
What if I’m not even a woodworker?
Absolutely! In much the same way as virtue holds true regardless of your faith, applying that virtue in your work will yield similar results no matter what your hobby or craft. Whether you’re interested in woodworking, knitting, metalworking, bookbinding, underwater basket weaving, or even just being a good husband/wife/father/mother/brother/sister/friend/person, our show will have something for you. And don’t feel like you can’t ask questions or join the discussion if you don’t woodwork, either. We may answer using woodworking terms and metaphors, just because that’s most familiar to us, but we’ll answer nonetheless!