Jim Malcolm whittled away the hours in the guard shack when he worked at Dugway Proving Ground, but that’s not to imply he wasn’t working. Jim literally whittled away the hours.
“I used to sit out there on the guard shack and carve walking sticks and stuff,” Jim said. “To kinda keep awake, and I just kept doing it.”
He gathered five or six sticks at a time. He preferred maple.
“I’ve carved a bunch and sold a bunch,” Jim said.
After retiring five years ago, Jim discovered Ron Clements taught woodworking at the Tooele Senior Center, and he asked his wife, Bonnie, to go with him to the class. Soon after, Bonnie started carving birds.
This last year their son, Tren, grabbed a knife, too.
“I just grabbed a knife and just started carving,” Tren Malcolm said.
First, he made a wooden ring for his ex-girlfriend. A friend told him he should sell them.
Hence, woodworking became a family affair and a business as well. The Malcolms work out of their home in Tooele. They started selling at venues about three years ago. Though Tren only began woodworking a year ago, he was involved in the business from the start.
“[Jim] worked out in Dugway and he carved,” Tren said. “I always thought it would be great to get him going because I always thought he did really good work.”
Their business operates mostly at venues, which involves setting up, taking down, and dealing with the weather.
“Tren’s our main man,” Bonnie said. “He helps us know where we’re going to be and how we can get it set up. It takes about an hour.”
The Malcolms tried several names for their business.
“We made the name of the business The Burning Tree Productions,” Tren said. “It was catchier.”
They always choose to participate in the Tooele Arts Festival.
“One of the things we really liked about the venues is talking to the people,” Tren said. “We love to talk to the people.”
Sometimes the family business includes the next generation. Tren’s daughter, Harley, who uses sign language proficiently, once signed for a deaf customer having a difficult time communicating with Jim and Bonnie.
“I says, ‘Harley, come here,’ Jim said. “She sat there and started talking to her in sign, and was able to get what she wanted from us.”
The Malcolms say the funniest thing that happened to them at a venue was when a bicyclist bought a walking stick.
“He said, ‘I can’t take it with me because I’m on a bike,’” Jim said.
The cyclist took a picture of their sign to contact them later. However, the cyclist’s state of inebriation probably didn’t allow him to remember because the Malcolms never heard from him again. They tried to give him his money back, but he refused to take it.
People donate a lot of wood to the Malcolms. Sometimes it happens when people ask them to cut down a tree. As the Malcolms talk, their love for, and familiarity with, wood comes out.
“There’s marblewood that smells like popcorn. All woods smell different,” Tren said. “One smells like gunpowder. Some lady told me that when she turns maple, it smells like marshmallow to her.”
“I made a bird out of apricot wood, and it smelled so good,” Bonnie said.
Tren’s favorite wood is walnut.
“I just love the smell of it, working with it and everything like that,” Tren said, “A wood burl is awesome for pattern, too.”
Jim prefers maple.
“I go up in the canyon and look for them,” he said. “Maples up the canyons here is quite plentiful and all.”
Jim said fellow wood carvers likely think he’s crazy for having a preference for a hardwood like maple. He jokes that he is looking for a knife that will carve petrified wood.
“When I’m carving a stick, I like to get the maple and carve it green because it’s softer,” he said.
Jim often will incorporate the natural shape of the wood into his pieces, such as a maple lamp he carved from wood recovered after the Middle Canyon fire last year.
“I went up and there was a dead tree where the fire was and I dug down and cut the root out,” he said. “I cut the roots off where it sits flat to make a base and then I carved it.”
Bonnie’s favorite wood is butternut. It is a favorite of wood carvers because it’s soft and nice to work with.
Bonnie carves a lot of birds, which was the first project Ron Clements taught in woodworking. Bonnie describes the smooth birds as “comfort birds.”
“You just hold it and pet it,” she said. “I’ve done quite a few of them because people love them. I have this lady who bought six of them.”
In addition to the birds, she’s carved eight- and 12-point stars for fingers to explore the angles and points.
“You have to put your lines in to do the star, and sometimes they get rubbed off, so you have to do it over again,” Bonnie said. “On YouTube they showed how to do a 12, and I’m like OK.”
The Burning Tree Productions include figurines, wooden ties, swords, walking sticks, lamps, jars, jewelry, and boxes including phone amplifiers.
“You put your speaker down inside the wooden box and the wood amplifies it,” Jim said.
The wooden ties include hinges that move with the body.
“One time I wore one to church,” Jim said.
They recently decided they are not a mass-production company.
“Art is not meant to be massed produced,” Tren said. “As of lately we started saying we’re just going to start making unique things and they’re going to be one of a kind.”
Sometimes mistakes create the unique. One of Tren’s mistakes turned into a mushroom pot and the creativity kept happening.
“I thought, ‘Well, it will be cheesy, but what else can I do?’” Tren said. “And the light bulb came on and says, “Hah, put a fairy on the top of it.’”
The Malcolms feel the business is an asset in many ways.
“I used to say ‘I hate people,’” Tren said. “Recently, I realized, ‘I don’t hate people. I actually like people. I like to get to know their story. Just because of the art and just because of thinking that way it’s made my life a lot better.”
Jim and Bonnie pursued various forms of art throughout their lives, and want people to know they should pursue their passion.
“Don’t give up if you really have a passion,” Jim said. “Sometimes you want something to turn out a certain way, but something happens. Sometimes the mistake looks better than what you actually wanted.”
“If you like something, you can do it,” Bonnie said. “There’s people out there to show you how to do it.”
Tren said, “I know there is tons of artists out there. I wish Tooele would do more than just the arts festival.”