By Gina Malone
Although he studied woodworking at Western Kentucky University, Tom Sims refers to himself in his early days as a “regular woodworking hobbyist” and says he primarily made things to give away as gifts. A Kentucky native, he transferred with his job to Hendersonville in 1979 and began investing in equipment. Early in the 2000s, he began to find outlets for his work and today, retired from his job, he devotes himself full-time to his craft.
Of his three siblings, he is the only one who became a crafter, although he says his father volunteered his carpentry skills to the community where they lived and his mother’s talents included drawing, quilting and crewel embroidery.
“My first woodworking interest was with Southwestern design,” Sims says. “Once I visited the Grove Park Inn, I realized it was actually the Arts & Crafts movement designs that were calling me. I currently make the majority of my products in the Arts & Crafts style, including Stickley Craftsman, but I prefer the Greene & Greene Brothers style, which has an Asian influence that maintains the Arts & Crafts joinery but softens the bulkiness with soft curves and flowing lines.”
He favors woods that are natural to the Appalachian Mountains: white oak, walnut, cherry and maple. “I also use sustainable woods from around the world like leopardwood, redheart, ebony and sapele,” he says. “My products are made to be visually admired and touched.”
Nature inspires his designs, as do creations by other woodworkers and original ideas that come to him. “All of my projects start in my sketchbook and sometimes become adjusted as I go,” Sims says. “Most of my pieces are one-of-a-kind; however, I do get repeat requests, which makes the sketchbook a handy reference. I also make products specific to customers’ orders.” Among his creations are boxes, furniture, lamps and clocks. He is currently at work on a cherry Asian-style bookcase, a walnut wall shelf and several boxes. A regular customer for his boxes is The Boulders, a community in Hendersonville whose staff present Sims’ finely handcrafted boxes to customers who purchase a building lot in the development. “This encourages me to maintain an inventory of boxes,” Sims says.
Devoting himself full-time to his craft has increased his productivity and improved efficiency, even when the pandemic slowed sales. “I no longer have to make notes for refreshing my weekend memory on projects,” Sims says. “I find my woodworking helps in maintaining a calming peace of mind and refreshes me. I am an avid listener and supporter of local, listener-supported WNCW, which keeps me company in the shop.”
Sims exhibits at Number 7 Arts, a cooperative art gallery in Brevard. “Tom’s work is a popular draw in the gallery in that many of our visitors stop to admire his pieces,” says Jack Christfield, a photographer and fellow exhibiting artist at Number 7 Arts. “I think Tom has done a number of custom commissions based on customers contacting him after seeing his work here at Number 7.”