HARKER HEIGHTS — Jim Blankinship holds a block of wood in his hands. As he whittles, tiny remnants fall onto the table. Soon, the rectangular slab transforms into a bird.
Blankinship, 83, has been whittling ever since he received a Boy Scout merit badge for successfully learning the skill in June 1945. More than six decades later, Blankinship continues to chip away at slabs of wood during Centroplex Wood Carvers’ weekly meetings at the Harker Heights Recreation Center.
“Back then, everybody always carried a pocket knife. You used to whittle on a branch or you’d whittle on something,” Blankinship said. “I never really took sculpting (wood) seriously until about 12 years ago when I got in with these guys.”
The club officially became a nonprofit organization in 1993. Marty Stanek, current president, joined about a year later and said the club’s nice environment and enthusiasm has kept him around since. The club originally met once a month, but now meets every Tuesday.
“I wanted to get more carving time in,” said Stanek, who learned the skill as a teenager in high school.
“When you see an idea for a project and you like it, it gives you encouragement,” he said. “There’s kind of excitement to it. ... The reward is when you put the finishing touches on and it’s all done.”
Norman Cole, of Nolanville, said the newfound skill enhances his hobby of repurposing and building wood furniture.
Cole’s only been with the club about a year and encourages others to join. He said he’s learned a lot from the veteran carvers, who welcomed and helped him determine what types of knifes, tools and wood to purchase.
“Some of these guys, they’ve been carving all their lives. ... Some of the stuff (they do) just amazes me,” Cole said. “We swap information. We help each other out whenever we have problems with different things or techniques. Plus (there’s) camaraderie.”
You don’t have to be artistic to excel at the hobby, Cole said. “A lot of people just pick up a knife and start carving.”
Wood carving is a great pasttime and stress reliever, Stanek said. “Sometimes it’s time consuming but that’s the relaxing part,” he said. “People who do other hobbies, they get focused on their hobby and they’re not worried about the world. It’s kind of like a little break from society.”