Nicasio couple makes art out of twice-recycled, and sometimes grafted, wood

David Briggs
Nicasio Woodworks, run by Nicasio couple Barbara Contini and Patrick McDonnell, emerged several years ago from what she called a “hobby that has run amok.”   
08/17/2017

Nicasio resident Barbara Contini was looking for the ideal cutting board with her sister-in-law a few years ago and, after being thoroughly disappointed by the options, pulled out some forgotten tools in her garage and got to work. For Ms. Contini and her husband, Patrick McDonnell, who now run Nicasio Woodworks out of their residence, woodworking is a “hobby that has run amok,” she said. The Nicasio couple began experimenting with new types of tools, wood and designs five years ago. “We’ve always had an affinity for wood and appreciated its beauty,” said Mr. McDonnell, who described the arduous process of drying wood—it can often take over six months—and watching it lose half its weight to evaporation and even morph in color and shape. Ms. Contini, who retired after working as vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, said they decided to start marketing their work after loading down their friends, family and neighbors with gifts. Using discarded wood they scavenged locally, primarily from acacia and walnut trees, the couple creates products ranging from hand-carved bowls and breadboards to candle holders and vases. They often collaborate, swapping the responsibilities of design, carving, sawing, finishing and critiquing. “We’re able to make a lot of choices, such as to keep the natural edge of the wood in our cutting boards or select imperfect, finicky wood with odd markings or damages, because we aren’t doing industrial production,” Mr. McDonnell said. The two collect scraps from a gun manufacturer in Santa Rosa that itself uses recycled wood from Central Valley growers, and recently started making a type of bowl out of wood from trees that have been “grafted,” a technique used with fruit and nut trees in which one species is literally attached to the other. The finished product is a perfect gift for newlyweds, Mr. McDonnell said. For more information, visit nicasiowoodworks.com.