Jeff Knox and Gerdine van Woudenberg: Canoes, Gnomes — and a Little of Everything

From canoes to gnomes – and many things in between – Jeff Knox and Gerdine van Woudenberg have built a woodworking business, J.a.G Woodworking.

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The husband and wife team are now located in Ontario, but started out in New Brunswick, where Jeff began his woodworking by building houses with his dad –he officially joined the business after high school, but had been helping out on evenings and weekends since he was 11 years old. “He called me the project man. If there was a specialty thing, he’d give it to me, and I’d do it. I guess that’s me.”

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Gerdine took a different path to woodworking. After originally pursuing a career path with a master’s in international affairs and a Ph.D. In anthropology, about five years ago, “She got tired of it. She wanted to something with her hands instead of her head,” Jeff said.

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Gerdine is of Dutch heritage, and one of her specialties is the gnome carving. She collected gnomes as a child and, “when she started carving, that’s what she wanted to carve,” Jeff said. Each has individual details in part, Jeff says, because Gerdine “hates repetition.”

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Some parts of Jeff’s work, on the other hand, have an inevitable type of repetition: one of the mainstays of his business is canoe building and restoration. “With every canoe I’m restoring and rebuilding, I bring it back to life and wonder where it’s going and how many years it’s going to be.” The canoes he works on get shipped all over Canada and the U.S., and he puts an autograph and a note underneath each one. “Maybe 50 years down the road the people rebuilding it again will see what was done to it, who did it and what was done at that time.”

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Still, Jeff says they both like to think up something new and different to add to their product lineup, “not just stick in one rut.” Among the additions they’ve made is a wine rack, which will hold 19 full bottles of wine, contained within the two halves of a wine barrel. It came about at the request of a customer who had acquired some wine barrels from an Ontario winery and said “make me something.” Jeff said the first one he made was a little “tippy,” but “I got all the jigs and patterns made, and figured out the legs and the balance with the full wine bottles, and now it works great.

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“It’s fun to do stuff like that, to figure out how to make things work.” At Gerdine’s inspiration, they also have a “Book Coffee Table,” made of three sections constructed to look like wooden books, with pages woodburned into the sides. The two bottom “books” open as drawers, and the top as a lid, offering storage space for magazines or books, CDs, DVDs “or whatever,” Jeff said.

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Dutch heritage items show up not only in the gnome carvings, but also Dutch village houses, Sinterklaas, and some Dutch groceries in their storefront. Plus, Jeff and Gerdine also make and sell a Dutch version of the game of shuffleboard.

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The original “sjoelbak” that was their model came from Holland to Canada with Gerdine’s family over 30 years ago. Their new ones, Jeff said, are “constructed better than the original one, with no staples or anything; it’s all screws” – but maintaining the size, shape and dimensions that are unique to Holland. The tabletop-type box unit can be stored under a bed when not in use.

Almost all of their items are made from domestic woods, such as butternut (Jeff’s favorite), cherry, oak, ash – and pine for smaller items and cedar for canoes and garden gnomes. “We go to a local sawmill guy, and he’ll take whatever you want out of a log and kiln dry it – and then you can build furniture out of it,” Jeff said.

As he reflected on the start of that furniture building via his dad’s home construction business, Jeff said, “I learned from one of the best and took that skill and enhanced it.”

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