Each piece of wood has a story. There are the years of growth shown through its rings, but a closer look might detail a broken limb or branch, or a split.
“That’s what the wood shows,” Felix Maull said. “Its life.”
For Maull, the true love of his craft boils down to taking a raw, unfinished piece of wood and transforming it into something far beyond it.
“To some people, it's a stick, but once you put all those sticks together, it turns into something else,” Maull says pointing to a finished box in his workshop at home. “This box right here was a couple of sticks, and you put them together in the right combination and it becomes something the mind just can’t imagine.”
Maull is a math teacher by day at the Conway Junior High School but spends many nights and weekends tinkering in the shop next to his home on a bevy of woodworking projects.
The shop’s conventional brick exterior gives way to an interior with walls barren to the frame. The back wall is covered with dozens of pieces of lumber of all shapes and sizes waiting to be crafted into a piece that only resides inside Maull’s mind.
But what outstrips the untouched lumber and half-finished projects are the finished pieces Maull calls his mistakes.
“Every piece I've ever built, there are mistakes in them, and I know what the mistakes are,” he said. “I know what I went through to try to fix the mistakes, and I reach a point to where it's okay to have mistakes there.”
His favorite example is an ambitious project. He tried to incorporate things and processes he’d never done before. There were fancy half lap joints and inlay strips to name a few. Halfway through the project, Maull realized he was clueless as to how to tie the project together.
He grew frustrated and threw the piece down on his shop floor, smashing it into dozens of pieces.
“I remember looking at those pieces on the floor, and this voice in my mind was saying, ‘This is not how you do things. You don't give up,’” Maull said.
He picked the pieces off the floor and ultimately made a box that was given to a friend.
“And the box actually came out nicer than I thought it would,” he said.
Keeping those failures around reminds Maull he always has room to grow. It ties back to the biggest lesson Maull says he has learned from woodworking — nothing is ever perfect.
“There’s beauty in mistakes,” he said. “When you can see a mistake, you can appreciate the mistake you made and you can learn from it and grow, that's a beautiful thing.”
Not only does Maull have a multitude of mistakes pieces, he also has several stress pieces. These are the ones he completes on nights he comes out to his shop to escape frustrations and headaches.
“I'll come out here, I'll put music on and I just build something,” he said. “I just completely forget about everything that's bothering me while I'm building, because I get so locked into how do I want this to look."
His shop is a place of solitude.
“It’s where I can get away from the cares of the world, the stresses,” he said. “I can come out, spend time with God, not think about the things that have bothered me, and just take those stresses, that anger or whatever it may be, and sit and build something.”
For such a sacred pastime and place, Maull has worked to find the right balance to keep his love for woodworking from turning into work.
“You have to have balance and you have to know your limitations,” he said. “You have to know what you can do and can’t do and be okay with that. Finding that balance is finding something you love to do. If you make it something you have to do, it becomes work.”
He has plenty of ideas for future pieces, too, including dining room tables, headboards and more.
“If you have a passion for something, get out there and try and see how it turns out,” he said. “If you make a mistake, don’t let that one mistake keep you from trying.”