Ronno L. Cooke found success in discovering what he was meant to do.

This table was made from black walnut, curly cherry and jatoba, with ash and black walnut drawers. Even the drawer slides are made of wood, as opposed to metal.

After decades of working in a wide variety of unfulfilling jobs, Morganton, NC, woodcrafter Ronno L. Cooke says he now sometimes finds himself “singing and dancing” in his workshop.

“My joke is that it took me 47 years to find out what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Cooke says. “Now, to take this wonderful medium I have to work with, this beautiful wood with all the grain and color variations, and be able to create something that comes from my vision and bring it into fruition, and to sell it and pay my bills is a dream come true.”

A job building custom log homes helped Cooke realize how much he enjoyed working with his hands. Later he worked for master cabinetmaker James Ferguson, who taught Cooke the intricacies of various wood species. Then, when he worked for a company building custom cabinetry for an ultra-exclusive resort area, he was able to salvage scraps of exotic woods, and he recycled the pieces to build small tables in his own workshop for friends and family.

With wife Tracy’s support, Cooke worked hard at honing his craft. Using traditional methods, like mortise-and- tenon pin joints, hand cut with hammer and chisel, dowels, no nails or brads, and multiple coats of hand-applied tung oil and paste wax, Cooke developed his own style, placing different wood species side-by-side to produce stunning contrasts.

Cooke’s break came when the 2006 Historic Morganton Festival dedicated a stage to the region’s once-thriving furniture manufacturing industry. Asked to participate with a demonstration, he put together a small table using hand tools, such as draw knives, breast drills, hammer and chisels. He also brought seven or eight of his small tables and sold four of them at the event.

Cooke next approached the Burke (Co.) Arts Council and was selected as one of three artists featured at its Fall 2006 fundraiser. Taking the pieces remaining from that show to an art gallery in Black Mountain, NC, Cooke was pleasantly surprised when the owner purchased every one. Since then, he has picked up a dozen other galleries as clients in just over a year.

This curly redwood table came from a reclaimed stump that had been blackened by a forest fire. The black tips can still be seen.

A member of the guild, Handmade in America, Cooke recently won a prestigious honor against a high level of competition, when he was selected to build furniture for a custom home in The Ramble at the Biltmore Forest in Asheville, a showcase project using leading-edge building and design ideas.

Cooke is an advocate of green practices and takes pride in purchasing his materials from sustainable forestry or recycling sources. Some curly redwood he has used is from stumps that were left behind when loggers cut the massive trees 10 to 12 feet above the roots. Some still exhibit blackening from forest fires.

The cheerful craftsman offers this advice to others, based on his experience: “Don’t be afraid to follow your bliss. And when making custom pieces, approach each piece as a brand new opportunity to make something unique. I make every piece as if I was making it for myself or my dad. Every time I find myself wanting to take a shortcut, I just imagine my dad looking at me and shaking his head. And I don’t want to see that.”

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