Trenton man's woodworking is a trip back in time
EDGEFIELD — Ike Carpenter spends his time living in the past, doing things the way they were done hundreds of years ago. He's proud of being old-fashioned.
“I like to describe myself as an 18th century woodworker,” Carpenter said. “I prefer to use the tools of the 18th century when I can find them, make them or have them made. It's my favorite period in history because people had to work with their hands. There was no artificial energy.”
Carpenter, 67, has a shop on Main Street. When the weather is nice, the resident of nearby Trenton sits outside the cluttered building making spoons and bowls. He turns pieces of wood into pigs and crows, and he transforms peach pits into monkeys and frogs. He also builds furniture.
“I really like making hunt boards, which are tall tables that can be up to 48 inches high,” Carpenter said. “They were used outside during foxhunts. When the men came back with really muddy boots and didn't want to get off their horses, they would ride up to a hunt board to get food and drink before continuing on with the hunt.”
In 1995, Carpenter won a South Carolina Folk Heritage Award. He makes frequent appearances at historical reenactments, where he demonstrates how to use the tools of his trade such as adzes, froes and spokeshaves. Carpenter also enjoys telling stories about the pieces he produces, which include intricate love spoons with heart-shaped handles.
“Young men carved love spoons while they were courting,” he said. “When a couple spent time together, the young woman did her needlework, making dresses and bonnets and things like that while they were getting to know each other. The young man would work on a spoon so his fiancée's dad would know that there was activity going on that he could approve of.”
Later, when the couple got married, “they would feed wedding food to each other with their love spoon,” Carpenter said. “They also would use it on their anniversary.”
Carpenter represents the third generation of his family's involvement in woodworking. It started with his grandfather, Mark Gary Carpenter.
“He died when I was 3½-years-old, so I never really knew him,” Ike Carpenter said. “I learned everything from my dad, Paul Carpenter, who was a really good carver. I've copied a lot of the stuff that he did. We're up to the fifth generation now. I have two daughters, and one of them can do all of this when she wants to, and all three of my grandchildren can do some form of it.”
A Vietnam veteran, Carpenter has held a variety of jobs over the years. They included operating a fruit stand, working in factories, serving as a policeman and repairing air conditioners.
“But every time I would go off and do something else, I would always come back to woodworking,” he said. “There is just something about taking a sharp piece of steel and shaping a piece wood into something pretty or useful; it makes me happy.”
Carpenter never gets bored because he's always coming up with new projects that he wants to tackle. He'd like to make special spoons inspired by his favorite South Carolina historic markers. He also wants to design a trick dovetail joint puzzle and create more artistic objects.
“My goal is to keep doing this as long as I can, because it's something that I like to do,” Carpenter said. “I don't do this because I have to; I do it because I want to.”
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.