When Carmella Yates married her husband, Nolan, she told him she’d always wanted a scroll saw. For her first birthday after they were married, her husband bought one for her. That’s what began her interest in and love of working with wood. Carmella, 53, is a resident of Tooele.
“Our daughter, Holly, had a one-inch belt sander, and we started cutting cookie jar lids and Christmas stocking holders,” Carmella said.
Carmella was in the Relief Society presidency in her ward in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and as a monthly project at their meetings, they made and painted wooden cookie jar lids. She cut all of the cookie jar lids out, but she eventually got a little bored with cutting the lids and wanted to do more interesting projects.
“One Christmas Nolan bought me a band saw,” Carmella said. “Then for every birthday, Mother’s Day or Christmas, he would buy me a new tool — a drill press, air compressor, nail gun. I told him, ‘Don’t buy me jewelry. I’m not a jewelry person. The only diamond I want is a Diamond brand tool.’”
She started taking over the garage with her woodworking. Carmella and Nolan could only park one vehicle in the garage. Soon her son came to the rescue, but only for a short time.
“Our son bought a home on Seventh Street up by East Elementary, and it had a shop in it and he said I could use that,” Carmella said. “I didn’t do as much woodworking because it was just out-of-sight, out-of-mind. When our son sold his house, I had to move my woodworking back to our house, but by then Nolan had reclaimed the garage, so I couldn’t move my tools and projects in there.”
That’s when Nolan built his wife a shop in their backyard.
“It made everything better,” Carmella said. “I started doing inlay wood projects about four years ago.”
Inlay wood projects, otherwise known as intarsia woodworking, is a mosaic of assorted woods of different colors used to create a picture. No paint or stain is used to change any intarsia wood color, just the various woods.
Carmella’s first project was a snowman. Next, she made a set of dolphin wall plaques for her husband as a Christmas present.
In the beginning, Carmella used mostly redwood and pine, but then she got more adventurous. Bud Ross, a friend and master woodworker from Grantsville, took her to MacBeath’s Hardwood in Salt Lake.
“They have exotic wood,” she said. “I began working with different woods with different colors. My first project using these colors was a clown wall plaque.”
Carmella has two clown plaques on her living room wall because Nolan collects them.
“I bought the first clown at the Tooele Arts Festival as a gift for Nolan,” she said. “Then about 15 years later, I made the second clown using purpleheart wood and yellowheart wood on the flowers and Paduk and Jatoba wood on the face and hair.”
Jatoba is a Brazilian hardwood with color ranging from orange-brown to russet, turning dark reddish brown with a golden luster after finishing. Paduk comes from central and west Africa. It is a vivid reddish-orange color that changes to a purplish-rose colored hue with age and exposure.
On another wall, Carmella has a wall plaque of chipmunks she made.
“She got best in class at the [Tooele] County Fair for the chipmunks,” Nolan said.
Carmella has received four Tooele County Fair first-place ribbons for her woodworking projects, as well as two first-place ribbons and one second-place ribbon from the Utah State Fair.
“The chipmunks were the first project I entered, and I got a sweepstakes ribbon at the Tooele County Fair and at the Utah State Fair,” Carmella said.
Carmella said inlay woodworking has become addictive.
“Sometimes I’m intimidated when I begin a project, but each step is really, really rewarding,” she said. “I begin by cutting the pattern, and then I glue it on the wood. When it fits together flat on the wood, it is rewarding. I start shaping and it comes together, then put the varnish on and the colors come out. Then it is payday. It’s so rewarding.”
Carmella said when she first started woodworking; she craved for someone to talk to about the process. She was able to find a group on Facebook called Intarsia Nuts.
“I can talk to them and get advice and they can answer my questions,” she said. “I can be totally exhausted, but new life is breathed in when I start working with my wood. My favorite smell is sawdust.
“My friend and mentor, Bud Ross, is amazing. He takes scraps of wood and makes the most beautiful projects. He makes furniture. He has a wood shop the size of a four-car garage.”
Speaking of a baby cradle they made together, she said she could not have made the baby cradle without him.
“I bought a pattern, but we never used the pattern, except for some measurements,” she said. “I’m really grateful to him. The first grand-baby that used the cradle was Charly, and I put her name and birthdate on the bottom of the cradle. We now have a great-grandson that is using it, and I’ve put his name and birthdate on the bottom, also. I hope the bottom gets totally filled up with babies’ names and birthdates.”
She said she couldn’t have done this hobby without Nolan.
“He has been my biggest cheerleader,” she said. “He buys me all of my tools and he built my shop.”
Carmella and Nolan are planning to buy a new home in St. George, although she said she’s not looking forward to the move.
“I told the realtor I need room for a shop or room to build one,” she said. “It’s going to take a semi to move my shop!”
Though woodworking is Carmella’s favorite hobby, it is definitely not her only talent. Nolan smiled as he talked about other things she does.
Nolan said, “She is very gifted musically. She can play the sax, clarinet, and piano and has many other talents.”
“I had a friend once ask me if there was anything I couldn’t do,” Carmella said. “I told her: knit. Then I went online and learned how to do that, so I can’t say that anymore!”
She was quick to add that she only knits square things like pot holders.
“My mother taught us there isn’t anything you can’t do,” she said. “Her father, my grandfather, had three fingers on his left hand and no fingers on his right hand. He first started painting oils with his left hand. Then he did leather work by holding the leather with the three fingers of his left hand, and he would put a lead pipe on the stump of his right hand and use it to hammer out the leather. He said the only people who are handicapped are those who think they are. If Grandpa did that, there’s no excuse to say I can’t do anything.”
Carmella’s mother was also a strong example of learning and ability. Carmella grew up in Las Vegas where her father worked for the Nevada test site. He was gone a lot except on weekends.
“When mother asked him to do something, it took him a long time to get to it. She found it was easier to do it herself. I grew up seeing my mother do everything around the house, and my sister and I are not afraid to tackle anything.”