Meet the Master Craftsman

Imel Woodworks

Little did I know the day my dad dropped me off on the construction site as a carpenter's helper on a framing crew that it would lead me to a career as a furniture maker. I was only fifteen, but managed to work hard and learn the trade. The crew foreman was a carpenter from the old school. Every board that made up the house structure was cut by hand. I remained on the crew for five years, working summers, some Saturdays, and during school holiday breaks. It provided me the money to buy my first car, a 1969 GTO, and pay for college expenses at Oklahoma University. I absolutely loved being a part of such a process that you could easily see what you accomplished at the end of each day.
College graduation led to a job with Touche Ross, a public accounting firm. After almost two years, I realized I could do the work, but the satisfaction just was not there. In my spare time, I made a few furniture pieces for myself and friends. My first ambitious piece was a grandfather clock. I purchased the movement from a clock company and built the case to fit. I located an individual who ran a small sawmill. He sawed not only for people in the area, but also sold highly figured walnut slabs to Remington and Winchester for their fancy gunstocks. I visited with him about my project and said I wanted enough of his fancy walnut to complete it. I waited six months for it, but the wood was spectacular. I can remember the feeling of seeing the wood come alive when the finish was applied. I thought to myself, "Now, wouldn't that be something to be able to do that for a living?" That was 1976, the year of the bicentennial. That idea never let go, and in short order, I found myself leaving my CPA position and returning to school.
I felt I needed more training to succeed with this new endeavor, so I enrolled in a master's program in industrial arts at Oklahoma State University. Instead of doing the traditional thesis, I was the first person who was approved to do a creative project, which consisted of designing and building a five string banjo. This was a nice challenge, fitting metal and wood together to make something that could be played. I chose fiddle back maple for the neck and rosewood for the fingerboard and resonator. Its dense structure would help with the sound. I was able to complete the work and presented it to a committee for review. It was exciting telling them about all the intricacies of the instrument. And yes, they did ask me to play it for them, which I did with pride.
Getting the master's degree gave me the option of teaching, but I was drawn to opening my own shop. Needless to say, work was limited at first. But, I still enjoyed my time in the shop. I was able to come back to the feeling that I had on the carpenter crew of seeing what was done at the end of each day.
A real opportunity arrived when I was accepted to show my furniture at the Oklahoma City Arts Festival. It is one of the largest in the nation, drawing several hundred thousand people during the week. I had some pieces that I had built at OSU and added some others. By the end of the show, I had sold most of what I brought. More importantly, I gained some good exposure and began getting a variety of projects.

Imel Woodworks

Perhaps my greatest success came in the summer of 1981 when a friend asked me to help his wife and him move. I was reluctant to go, because I knew he was trying to fix me up on a blind date with one of his co-workers. I found out later she was also hesitant to go, but agreed on a whim anyway.I met her at the move, and I asked her if she wanted to ride with me in the truck once it was loaded. That hopeful question turned into a wedding in May 1982. I still have the truck, a 1977 Chevy pickup, and I will always keep it for that reason.

Elaine was completing her master's degree in housing, design, and consumer resources at OSU. She helped with the business. One of the most challenging things to do in this work is match an existing finish. Her eye for color is valuable in achieving that. We have been blessed with two children. Parker was born in 1986, and Hayley was born in 1988. Because the shop is located on our property, we were both able to spend a lot of time with them. That was one of the nicest benefits of working a stone's throw from your house. They would even go on deliveries with us.
I come from a large family- I'm one of seven kids. When I was a teenager, I fell in love with hunting as a way of bonding with my four older brothers. However, I quickly realized the decoys on the market did not exactly look like the real birds. So, I started making my own. I used wood, cork, and sometimes canvas to create my spread. As time went on, I began making them for others. Once, when I was carving a decoy, Parker, then age two, was in the shop with me. I was explaining to him what I was doing. When we stopped for lunch, we went inside, and he pointed to a decoy on the shelf and told Elaine, "Duckoy, Mamma, duckoy." I thought, "Out of the mouths of babes come gems." I applied and received the Duckoy trademark for the decoys that I carve.
Once while I was reading the weekly county newspaper, I noticed an article requesting landowners to apply for assistance in restoring wetland areas. I felt our property would qualify, since we are so close to the Deep Fork River. I applied and was eventually approved for a project on our sixty acres. The National Resource Conservation Service assisted us in establishing a wetland on our sixty acres. When it is full, there is over 30 acres of shallow water that provides good habitat for a myriad of wildlife. We occasionally hunt on the property, but I find myself spending more time just sitting, watching, and photographing waterfowl to further enhance the decoys I carve.
I am always aware of the fact the best advertisement is a satisfied client. So, I put a critical eye to each step in the process. Hopefully, the result is a piece that not only is functional, but also bears the mark of a true craftsman.

God Bless,

Ben Imel

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    National Recognition

  • Browning National Design Competition Winner
  • Featured in Country Living Magazine
  • Featured in national advertisement for National Resource Conservation Services

    Regional Recognition

  • Conservationist of the Year
  • Oklahoma City Arts Festival Exhibitor
  • Guest lecturer at Okahoma State University

    Media Features

  • The Daily Oklahoman
  • KOTV Tulsa
  • Lincoln County News

    Past Clientele

  • ATT Corporate Offices
  • Oklahoma Publishing Company
  • Oklahoma Bar Association
  • Mercy Health Hospital
  • Oklahoma Tourism Department
  • Oklahoma State Capitol
  • Baptist Hospital
  • Deaconness Hospital
  • Presbyterian Hospital
  • National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum

Custom Crafted Products

  • Conference Tables
  • Reception Desks
  • Credenzas
  • Case Goods
  • Entertainment Centers
  • Beds
  • Coffee Tables
  • Sofa Tables
  • Dining Tables
  • Chairs
  • Buffets
  • Benches
  • Cabinetry
  • Podiums
  • Duck and Goose Decoys
  • Cradles
  • Goblets

Services

  • Wood Turning
  • Wood Carving
  • Mortise and Tenon
  • Hand Planing
  • Hand-cut dovetails
  • Custom Finishing
  • Finish Matching
  • Restoring and Distressing
  • Precise repeatable parts in wood, metal, and plastic
  • Metal Engraving
  • Wood and plastic carving
  • Ability to cut parts directly from CAD drawings