Danny Kamerath is now a professional woodworker whose shop is an attic in his 1926 Tudor house in Dallas, Texas. “A good friend of mine calls this place my treehouse: I come up here and pretty much get left alone” to make things, Danny says. (And, in regard to getting his power tools up there, he notes that he has a winch and a pulley, and “I’m stronger than I look.”)
It’s a second career for him, which grew out of a previous career that wasn’t what he actually intended when he began. As a kid, “I always liked making stuff, being out in nature, seeing what a stick could bend into,” Danny said, and, he went to college to learn to be a sculptor. After a year and a half at a community college, he transferred to a university, where the sculpture teacher was just so-so, but the teacher for the advertising design class the school put him in was “great, plus I learned I could make a living, and wouldn’t have to live in a garage apartment.”
He worked for 20-plus years as a graphic designer, starting out as an employee and then starting his own firm. “About the time computers got into it, I had less interest. I like working with my hands.” About this time, the events of September 11, 2001 occurred, affecting the graphic design business – and causing Danny to reevaluate his priorities.
While working as a graphic designer, he had already begun making furniture for himself. “Being a designer is kind of a curse” when it comes to shopping for furniture for his new home, he said: he and his wife couldn’t find anything they liked, so, drawing on a woodworking education that included nothing more than eighth grade woodshop, Danny said, “I’ll just make something.”
“The first chair took me a year to make,” – during which time he got tired of the design, and came up with several other design sketches. “Today, our dining room has eight different chairs,” he said.
“I don’t have the attention span to make the same thing over and over again,” Danny said. “I have sketch books full of ideas and drawings that I’ll just never get to – it always seems like the last sketch I’ve done is the one that gets me all excited. It’s not very pragmatic.”
On the other hand, “I worked so long in the practical world, it’s hard for me to do something conceptual,” he said. For instance, his favorite piece is a simple ladderback chair named “Tom 2.” “it’s the nicest piece of furniture I’ve ever made. The proportions worked, it was nice material…I haven’t entered it in a show, because I think it would go unnoticed.”
Lately, though, he does find his work going back to more conceptual, sculptural aspects, and he’s trying to take an idea and create a line of furniture from it. “I’m working on two different series at the same time. One is real structural, based on the grid, everything is hard-edged. The other is sculptural, fluid, with a lot of carving, that I enjoy.”
Danny said, “It’s more fun to do the sculptural, because I get to grab the grinder and start whaling on wood. It goes back to my first love of being a sculptor: it feels like I’m really making something when I’m grinding away.”
In fact, Danny said, any project of his with a curved shape started out being created with a grinder (moving, of course, to eventually finishing with fine-grit sandpaper).
His creations tend to be made with combinations of wood, largely mahogany and maple, because he thinks they look good together. Danny notes that his favorite wood is African blackwood, because of the way it finishes, but it’s so expensive, and so hard to find pieces of size, that it’s not practical to use very often.
Right now, he’s focusing on something “kind of practical” – bowls to sell and give as Christmas gifts. Given his distaste for “doing the same thing over and over,” it’s unlikely any of his gift recipients will be getting duplicate gifts.