Eugene King is a woodworking genius

What began as a hobby has turned into a business — T&G Design — for Eugene and Tina Damron. They will be selling their works at the Kentucky Crafted: The Market, March 4-6 at the Lexington Convention Center.

META — Eugene King, a juried craftsman, was born and raised at Meta, the son of Eugene King and the late Dorothy Stevens King. He graduated from Johns Creek Elementary and Mullins High School and attended Kentucky Christian University for one year.

“I thought I wanted to be a minister,” he says. “But then I decided to join the Navy.” Eugene made a career as a radio operator in the Navy, retiring after 30 years.

And that’s when he began his next career.

Eugene says he came into woodworking naturally.

“I grew up with it,” he says. “My dad and my grandfather both worked around wood. My dad was a diesel engineer, but he always worked with wood. I picked it up from him. My mom was always a homemaker and very artistic, so I learned a lot from her.”

He splits his time between two workshops, one at his father’s house at Meta and one at the house in Stanton that he shares with his wife, Tina Martin King. Their business, T&G Design (Tina & Gene), was formerly Appalachian Mountain Crafts.

“When we set it up as a company, we actually set it up to hire veterans, but by the time we got everything ready, the economy dropped out, so we never could,” Eugene says. However, the Kings do a lot of volunteer work with the disabled veterans. 

Eugene and Tina are juried artists. As Eugene explains it: “You take your product in front of a group of people who jury it and say whether you’re good or not. They’re professionals. To be accepted into the Kentucky Crafted program your quality of work has to be of a certain quality. And being a part of the Kentucky Arts Council allows us to be in the Kentucky Crafted: The Market. We go every year. We have a 10- by 20-foot booth and it’s as full as we can get it.

“We’ve got a lot of good artists, good craftspeople in Eastern Kentucky,” Eugene says. “Most of them just sell for the local market. They need to get juried so they can actually make a living at it. I read a survey that said artists and craftspeople employ more people in the state of Kentucky than the automobile industry. 

“There’s more to be made at being an artist or a craftsman … you’ve just got to get out of your region. You can’t just sell local and get by. The Kentucky Crafted: The Market opens the doors that you can’t open on your own.

“We’re building a shop in Stanton,” he says. “I work on the shop on the weekend and we’ve got it under roof. It’s going to have a classroom. The schools, not just in Kentucky, but nationwide, do not teach woodworking or art classes like they used to. They’re dropping them. If we’re not careful, we’re gonna’ lose all of our artists and craftspeople because they’re no longer being taught. So, I teach a free on-line class on how to use certain equipment. But we need a hands-on class so they can see how it’s done.”

Tina is a retired teacher. She taught music and English in elementary and high school, and still gives private piano lessons. “She writes music and used to perform,” Eugene says. “She’ll play at church and sing, by special request. She’s been to Nashville and done recordings and occasionally, on Christian stations, you’ll hear her music.”

Eugene says his first love is design.

“I make my own patterns. I’m getting ready to come up with a way to turn this (a wasp nest) into an ink pen. What I’m going to do is slice it down and put a special epoxy on it and mold it. We turn (make) wooden ink pens. I hand-turn them on a lathe. We hand-turn little baby bottles, also, and engrave the baby’s name and birthdate on them. I turn probably 300 of those a year.”

Other items made by T&G Design include: a horse head cutting board, pie and apple cutting boards, a large assortment of kitchen utensils, towel racks, coat racks, wine racks, lazy Susans, carved whiskey barrel tops, Christmas ornaments, checker boards, games, hair barrettes, treasure box, walking sticks, book marks, framed hymns, key rings, praying hands, tributes to veterans, different branches of the Armed Forces, schools, sports teams and so on and on and on. Eugene also will make furniture pieces … but these must be custom ordered.

Eugene says computers play a big part in his business. A CNC (computer numerical control) router is a computer controlled cutting machine related to the hand-held router. Eugene writes the design program on the computer and the CNC cuts it out. Another machine, a laser, draws and cuts out intricate designs that Eugene has written on still another computer.

“I’ll do this until I die,” Eugene says. “I enjoy it. I enjoy working with wood. My wife enjoys it probably more than I do. She likes to sand. She’ll sit for hours on end and just sand on stuff.”

Eugene says he’s started designing things for other companies, too. “We make things for Berea College. I make it … I do the rough part, and they do the final sanding and coat it. Among others, I make their honey dippers and their Skittle games.” He also made a pig cutting board for the Paintsville Pig in a Poke Restaurant and paper towel holders shaped like pigs for Pikeville’s Pig in a Poke.

Eugene says he started out doing woodworking as a hobby.

“I was making bird houses. I’d load them up and set up beside the road on Saturday … and sell everything. A lady from the Kentucky Arts Council stopped by and bought one. She came by the next week and said I should apply to be juried by the Kentucky Arts Council. And I did. That was in 2002. Before I was juried, I had a hard time selling things. Now, it’s hard for me to keep products in stock!”

Editor’s note: Kentucky Crafted: The Market 2016, will be held March 4 through 6 at the Lexington Convention Center. The hours are: Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. One-day tickets are $10 and two-day tickets are $15.

If you go, be sure to stop by the T&G Design booth!

Nancy M. Goss may be reached at (606) 437-4054 or aneeveryday@gmail.com.