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Lake County wood artist's Viking-inspired cradle wows

Inside an ordinary garage in a Lake County subdivision is an extraordinary workshop in which whole logs are metamorphosed into stunning pieces of furniture that are as artistic as they are functional.

Among the clutter of tools, tables and wood in his modest workshop in Hidden Valley Lake, former software engineer Jim Heimbach carefully researches, maps and executes his award-winning furniture, which includes a unique cradle with a design inspired by a Viking longship.

“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Scott Morrison, a well-known Montana woodworker wrote in an email to Heimbach after seeing pictures of the cradle. “To say that I am completely blown away by your truly astounding cradle would be an understatement.”

It was encouraging praise for Heimbach, who was still relatively new to fine woodworking.

Heimbach, 58, studied physics at Wheaton College and theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School before beginning a career in telecommunications in 1979.

He had dabbled with small carpentry projects while working for Sprint Nextel in Irving, Texas, but in 2004 he was motivated by the desire to build a rocking chair and began taking fine woodworking courses at Homestead Heritage, a community of craftsmen in Waco, Texas.

“I really thoroughly enjoyed it. I made a rocking chair and a couple of other pieces of furniture,” Heimbach said.

He also studied and was inspired by furniture designers like the renowned Sam Maloof.

Following a voluntary work layoff in 2009, he and his wife Debra moved to Lake County, where she once taught school. With Debra’s encouragement, he dedicated himself to wood crafting while she resumed teaching.

“She’s amazing,” he said.

Heimbach began entering his work in competitive exhibits, earning awards, praise and a commission for a 10-chair, two-table dining room set. He also joined a like-minded group with whom he could exchange ideas: the Sonoma County Woodworkers Association, which has about 120 members from throughout the state.

Heimbach was between furniture projects in 2012 when he learned his stepdaughter, Cody Baker, was pregnant with her first child, Josey. He offered to make a cradle.

After thoroughly researching and rejecting other designs, they agreed that it should be based on a Viking long ship, an idea stemming from her Norwegian ancestry.

Heimbach said his first attempts to create a shape that was both cradle and ship failed miserably.

“A Viking ship is not a cradle,” he said, but he eventually hit on a design that evoked the ship and made it a viable cradle.

He also spent a lot of time researching the spirals he wanted at either end. The final design uses a chameleon’s tail as a model.

The trials and errors eventually paid off, but the cradle, made of Claro walnut and sanded to a silky finish, took seven months to build, much longer than expected.

“A neighbor who was closely following the progress of the cradle gave me a lot of grief about being late, telling me, ‘By the time you get the cradle done Josey is going to write you her own thank you note.’ Fortunately that didn’t happen,” Heimbach said.

But the cradle was late for the birth, allowing just two months of use before Josey outgrew it. But soon it will get more use.

“Another baby is coming,” Heimbach said.

In the meantime, the Viking cradle design received the People’s Choice award at the 2014 Artistry in Wood show, First and Second Place awards at the 2013 Design in Wood show, and a First Place and four industry awards at the 2014 Orange County Fair Woodworking Exposition. It is priced at $9,750.

Despite the accolades for his beautiful cradle, Heimbach is working to perfect the design.

“There were significant aesthetic issues that I saw,” he said. The next version will have a different suspension system with magnets that can keep the cradle from swinging when the baby rolls over in the night.

“Jim is a very meticulous, very thoughtful, calculating person when it comes to his woodwork,” said Bob Moyer, chairman of the Sonoma County Woodworkers Association. “He does very fine work.”

Additional information about Heimbach and his work can be found at his website, workerinwood.com.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MendoReporter.

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