Photos by Lisa Saleme
Within the Bible’s book of Exodus (35th chapter), Christians are taught of God’s call for all artisans, “And He hath filled them with the spirit of God in wisdom, understanding, and knowledge in all manner of workmanship to devise production in making things, carving and fashioning wood and in every craft.”
Local Pastor Ken Hugghins of Elkins Lake Baptist Church would be happy to know one of the members of the church is such a man with a calling to this remarkable skill. His name is Tom Sprott, owner and operator of Custom Wood Concepts, and he has been going strong in the Huntsville area building cabinets for more than 35 years.
6 AM – Sprott’s day begins like many in this region, with a cup of coffee and a quick look at the news. Just as important to this morning ritual are the leftover thoughts about completing the previous day’s work. “Sometimes, I dream about jobs that I have to complete,” he said. “If I have a problem, it seems to stay on my mind, and when I wake up, I usually come up with a solution or some type of improvement.”
7 AM – With final solutions fixed in his mind, Sprott begins his morning, set to begin either in his shop or at the worksite he designates for that day.
8 AM – On this particular morning, he finally has a solution to a problem that had been vexing him the day prior. “I’ve got this job that I’m working on for Markham Construction Company,” he begins. “It has this unusual 45 degree angle that extends along the wall. I had to come up with a way to engineer some type of solution to extend the upper cabinet and put in adjustable shelves with enough room for a large microwave oven.” Slowly yet steadily, he fashions a true 45-degree “bend” to an impression of the cabinet he has in mind. As he inspects his handiwork, he is often heard repeating the maxim, “Measure twice, cut once.”
9 AM – After measuring several times to ensure he has a true angle, he sets out to the location of a custom home project along Highway 75 South. The home is beautiful, complete with his finished products. To enter this home, one gets the feeling of viewing one of the home improvement network television shows, and rightfully so. Sprott is proud of the work he has put into this particular home.
“I just want to make sure that this angle will fit,” he said. “You can never be too careful. It may take a few minutes more, but that’s always better than rushing and not doing the job right.” It’s a good thing, because although his angle is true, the wall at the house is not. He must measure again, this time along the wall itself. What is fascinating about Sprott is that he has this exceptional ability to remember all his measurements in his head, forgetting nary a one.
10 AM – With better measurements, he quickly begins to sketch out a pattern on the wood he must cut to form the new angle. First, he measures. Then, he measures again. Next, he sketches once more, then he cuts.
11 AM – Along with his ability to remember measurements, he has devised a number of ways to work efficiently alone. “You have to come up with ways to help speed the job along, especially when you work alone as much as I do.”
He has an impressive number of tools specially designed for every job he encounters. Some, he has bought brand new. Others, he has accumulated along the way in his more than 35 years in the practice of his craft.
Within his shop are two of the impressive lockers he custom-built for the Sam Houston State University Men’s Basketball Team. “They (The University) are currently undergoing some remodeling, so they are getting new ones (lockers). But, I remember when we had a chance to visit other facilities, I thought it would be a great idea to upgrade the lockers they already had. Our boys would play their hearts out, and they deserved to be able to relax at home in our facilities.
Noon – His motion is constant and never-ending. One can only marvel at his ability to move effortlessly from one project to another. When asked what moves him, he is often reminded of the work his father did. “I used to just watch my father do this type of work,” he said. “I would watch him, and I just seemed to pick it up.”
In some ways, the large workbench he uses in the back of his shop inspires the work he does. “My father built this workbench himself,” Sprott continued. “Sometimes I get to thinking about him when I’m out here working.” Perhaps this is the reason he can work so methodical, organized, and streamlined.
1 PM – Sprott finally breaks for lunch. Today, he has a craving for a good old-fashioned hamburger from the local Mr. Hamburger. As soon as he walks through the door, it’s “Hey, Tom,” or “Hi Tom. How’s it going?”
He seems to be one of the more sought after craftsmen in town. “I very seldom have the time to do local individual cabinet work,” he said. “The Markham Construction Company keeps me in more than enough work with all the custom homes. I’d love to do more, but I simply just don’t have the time. Every now and again, I may do one, but it may take me months to get to it.”
2 PM – After lunch, it’s off to another site, this time in the community of Elkins Lake in Huntsville.
Again, this home is spectacular. Another crew from a local flooring company is putting in hardwood floors. Sprott is sought after for his advice and expertise. “I was able to do all the upper and lower cabinet work in this home,” Sprott explained. “Depending on the size of the house, I can be complete somewhere in the neighborhood of three to eight weeks.”
He went on to explain how sometimes he has to compete with the expectations of those who watch the home improvement network shows. “Sometimes, they (customers) want to leave and have everything done in a week, but that’s TV, and they have large crews.”
However, the customers are satisfied with his finished product and have a better understanding of how things work in the real world. At this particular worksite, his eyes do twice as much work as his hands. He works with the flooring company on ways that they can work together. Without saying a word, he commands total respect for his decades of skill.
3 PM – This hour finds him back in his shop. Sanding. Nailing. Measuring. Cutting. He is always engineering on the fly and cleaning as he goes. Not much sawdust gets a chance to build up in this shop. He’s as cool as they come, never a hair out of place. He seems to make his job appear as though everything is easy. For him, as far as anyone knows or can tell, it probably is. As for the rest of us, well that’s why his skill is called a gift.
4 PM – With an eye on tomorrow, he finishes crafting the cabinet that had vexed him the day before, but will trouble him no more. Each new day will bring another challenge, but after another good night’s sleep, those challenges will be no match for this wizard of woodwork.