ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – An APG contractor, who won first and second place in the novice “Wood Art” category of the MWR Arts and Craft Contest, has always had an interest in woodworking. That budding interest didn’t solidify for Tom Jones, however, until his mother gave him a radial arm saw at the age of 14. That gift, which Jones concedes is a “truly scary tool to trust a 14-year-old with,” turned his hobby into a lifelong love affair.
“I love wood. I love the smell of it. I love the feel of it. I love the satisfaction of being able to make pretty much anything I want or need from it… it keeps me sane,” he said.
The love affair is renewed every weekend within a sawdust-filled workshop in central Maryland, where Jones crafted the “Cherry Wedding Goblet with Celtic Knot,” and the “Open Segmented Bowl,” that won him first and second place, respectively, in the MWR contest.
Jones said that while he was “floored” after he received the email informing him of his win, that feeling was nothing compared to how he felt when he was able to use his craft to change the life of his then 6- month-old niece.
More than 20 years ago, Jones’ great-niece, Brianna, was born with a displaced hip that could only be corrected with a body cast. At 6 months old, she was placed in the cast for an entire year. The cast forced her legs to nearly 180-degree angles making it impossible for her to use a standard high chair or other types of furniture.
Kim, Brianna’s mother and Jones’ niece, knew about her uncle’s woodworking hobby, and eventually asked him to build something that would allow Brianna to have a better quality of life for the challenging year ahead.
As soon as he got the request, Jones went straight to work, and in only two days, designed and custom built a chair using scrap wood from his shop. The only parts of the high chair he didn’t make were the hardware and the safety belt.
Jones’ design had a narrow seat that Brianna could be lowered onto. Because traditional arms wouldn’t work, Jones attached them to the bottom of the tray. When closed, the arms would be secured to the backrest to prevent her from falling out.
”I gave the highchair to them four days after she first asked me about it. I’ve never seen a happier kid than [Brianna] was the first time she sat in it,” he said. “She spent most of the next year sitting in it.”
Jones subsequently entered his high chair into a design contest, which competed against, according to Jones, a “very impressive,” dining room set. Though he lost that contest, Jones is proud that his chair still maintains a place of honor in Kim’s kitchen.