Watson carves signs for the times

Tom Watson knows how to go with the grain. It’s a skill he picked up during his childhood while watching his father work in his workshop, amidst the smell of fresh cedar, pine and oak shavings.

Tom Watson artistically works through several steps before personalized signs are delivered to his customers.

Tom Watson knows how to go with the grain. It’s a skill he picked up during his childhood while watching his father work in his workshop, amidst the smell of fresh cedar, pine and oak shavings.

Today, the 57-year-old Bonney Lake man has taken the skilled trade passed down from another generation and carved out a new legacy, Watson’s Wooden Words – a business featuring one-of-a-kind, hand-designed signs.

“I like things natural, versus painted,” he said, and credited his dad’s love of nature for the influence. “My dad was a park ranger in California. He made signs for his job.”

Even his brother picked up on woodworking skills and produced hand-made bowls.

While Watson carries on his father’s craftsmanship, he’s added the use of modern tools of the trade not available in his dad’s day: a software program known as Computer Numerical Control, or CNC.

“I can take any image and put it on a board,” he said. “All my designs are hand-carved.”

Each creation is a time-consuming work of art that is as unique as its customers: there’s the set of infant footprints, accompanied by a baby’s name and date of birth; a wife’s name gracefully carved and painted in pink next to tulips, her favorite color and commissioned as a gift from her husband; a Beautify Bonney Lake sign, complete with Mount Rainier looming in the background; and numerous signs for businesses, including a towing company and housecleaning service.

One of Watson’s customers is David Colbeth, a real estate professional with Windermere Real Estate in Lake Tapps. Colbeth asked Watson to create signs for customers moving into their new residences, complete with the families’ last names and a Pacific Northwest theme. Colbeth uses each finished work of art as a “welcome” gift when the homeowners are presented with the keys to their home.

“Tom does a very beautiful job,” Colbeth said.

Watson’s work also graces the streets of Orting.

“The businesses within the city have to follow a 1900s look,” he said.

From a blank board to finished sign, carving the right words or pictures generally involves a seven-step process. First, he and the customer choose a design on the computer; next, he applies that design to the CNC machine, followed by cutting away to the customer’s specifications, he said. He uses a sander to detail the work and then a spiral saw to clean up images, such as evergreen tree branches – a customer favorite; next, he sands again to create intrinsic features and finally, applies stain and a water sealant.

The tedious work results in detailed images of scenes highlighting mountains, deer and horses, to name a few.

Large designs require the pattern drawn out on paper and then adhered to the board, he said, much as a tailor might use a paper pattern on top of fabric prior to cutting. “Then I use a router and a gauge to carve it out,” he said. The average sign’s turn-around takes two weeks.

The work may seem tedious but to Watson, the time he invests is worthwhile.

“It’s very fulfilling to me,” he said. “It’s relaxing. I can spend all day out here in the shop, fulfilling their ideas.”

Additional information is available by visiting www.watsonswoodenwords.com or by calling 253-951-6385.

To comment on this story view it online at www.blscourierherald. Reach Judy Halone at jhalone@courierherald.com or 360-802-8210.

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