GazetteXtra Print Article Logo URL:

San Antonio woodworker crafts musical instruments, including ukuleles

By Gail Diederich, Times Staff Writer
Andrew Gibson works with a lot of local salvaged wood. “You start with just, basically, a raw piece of wood and you can do anything with it,” he said. His interest in woodworking began as a child.


Andrew Gibson was 13 when his grandpa determined an old upright piano was shot and needed to be trashed.

Gibson, who had been hammering nails in his grandpa's shadow since he was a toddler, started salvaging parts. A flat piece would work for a table top. Legs came from a builder's supply. Before long, the piano pieces formed a small table that Gibson's grandpa still keeps in his New Port Richey home.

Gibson has been fashioning lumber and leftovers into furniture and musical instruments ever since. When the job market soured in 2008, just as Gibson was graduating from college, he turned to his woodworking skills and found a way to earn an income.

"I wouldn't say I have people banging the door down, but I'm on the edge of things becoming very productive," said Gibson, 27, in his San Antonio workshop, carefully stacking pieces of red eucalyptus cut into shapes for small tables.

Gibson grew up in St. Peters, Mo. He was 2 when his grandpa, Charles Harris, handed him his first chunk of wood, a hammer and some nails. He was 9 when someone gave him his first toolbox for Christmas.

He eagerly opened the empty box, then asked, "But, where are the tools?!"

From then on, someone was sure to give him a tool for Christmas or his birthday to keep his woodworking interest growing. While other kids his age enjoyed baseball, Gibson slipped inside to watch This Old House.

Then his grandparents moved to Florida, and Gibson's family followed. He was homeschooled, then attended Saint Leo University, where he studied history and fell in love with a biology major named Nicole Williams. They married in May.

She encouraged Gibson to hone his woodworking skills into a career. While she works as a manager at PetSmart, he's busy with planes, chisels and hand saws. He prefers hand tools — it may take longer to build pieces that way, but he believes it gives them a unique look and feel. And, he said, it's quieter.

His woodcrafting ribbons hang in his workshop above a large, handsome tool chest that he crafted. It's filled with saws, hand planers and other tools that help shape wood into something useful and beautiful, the creative designs — leaning toward 1800s early American — created by Gibson.

He joined up with Tampa Woodcrafters who saw his talent, encouraging him to exhibit work in the 2011 Florida State Fair. Gibson entered three pieces and came away with prizes for each, including Best of Show for a Shaker five-drawer table. A gun cabinet took another first prize, and a side table nailed down a second prize.

Both tables sold during the fair. Gibson's confidence was boosted, the experience proving his wood craftsmanship was respected.

A few months later, his woodworking took a new turn when he met a group of Dade City ukulele players. Gibson figured a good way to learn to play one was to build his own. That led to ukulele orders from others, expanding his woodworking skills into a promising new area.

At his workshop bench on a recent morning, Gibson ran his hands over a partially complete ukulele, the top a silky piece of sycamore, surrounded with rich cherry sides.

Inside on the hearth sat four more ukuleles made from camphor, guanacaste, eucalyptus and mahogany. Gibson makes them in different sizes (for sound) and different woods (for aesthetics).

An ash rocker, which Gibson designed and made, sat nearby. Two delicately handmade boxes rested in the entryway, and the award-winning gun cabinet stood tall and regal.

Gibson prefers using woods native to Florida, and his go-to place is Viable Lumber, a group that started as a co-op, salvaging trees that would otherwise be burned or mulched. Gibson contracts with them and has a variety of native Florida woods that, at first glance, appear exotic. He understands the grain and look of the wood, the care it needs before it becomes a functional item and he especially appreciates giving the wood a new purpose.

Of course this line of work has its hazards. Recently Gibson caught his finger in the joiner, resulting in a nasty cut. Then there was the stack of lacewood he brought in to build new bedroom furniture for his bride. Many times he stepped back and forth over it, his legs brushing the wood. An irritating rash occurred, much like that from poison ivy. Gibson discovered he's allergic to that particular kind of wood.

So the bedroom set is on hold. But Gibson's woodworking career is not. He's busily working on other creations, including a whole line of ukuleles.

He said he's getting better with each one.