Daniel Bucksbaum has established a customer base by displaying his projects on social media and opening a store on Etsy.
Daniel Bucksbaum did not know much about his late great-grandfather until he started transforming wood into art objects. Then, he remembered learning about the artistry of Louis Sher, a tool and die artisan whose woodworking hobby brought about the ark still displayed at Congregation Shir Tikvah in Troy.
In a family of known fabric and print artists, Bucksbaum ventured into woodcarving last fall, when he wanted to make a commemorative gift for his grandmother, Barbara Gash, who had recently traveled to Israel for the first time. He carved a menorah in the shape of Israel.
“We have a few of my great-grandfather’s pieces, bowls and cutting boards, around the house,” said Bucksbaum, 24, of Rochester Hills. “After I got into woodworking, I started to appreciate his abilities more, and my grandma has since taught me a lot about him and loves that I’ve inherited his interest.”
Bucksbaum, a political science graduate of Western Michigan University, had been looking for a job that reflected his academic studies when he found temporary work with a handyman who taught him carpentry. With that training and a home workroom of repair tools used by his dad, David Bucksbaum, he decided to try building the menorah.
“I soon got the idea to make more of those kinds of menorahs, thinking I could sell them,” said Bucksbaum, whose artistic instruction came through area wood artists and YouTube videos. “Then I added Shabbat candlesticks to what I was doing because I thought there could always be a demand if I played it right.”
After buying precision tools from internet sellers and finding unique woods through local traders, Bucksbaum established a customer base by displaying his projects on social media and opening a store on Etsy.
“I’ve been focusing on menorahs of exotic woods and more interesting designs,”
Bucksbaum explained. “I love using my saw to make Hebrew letters out of wood, and I’m trying wall art. I’ve been making cutting boards lately, and I’m going to be doing them in larger numbers. Another project I’m getting into is challah serving boards with Hebrew words.”
Mezuzahs and seder plates will be next on his creative list.
Bucksbaum’s interest in Judaism developed in college. Although his family celebrated Jewish holidays and involved themselves with Jewish culture, they did not attend synagogue or become active with religious organizations. He did not have a bar mitzvah.
“I got involved with a Hillel chapter immediately after entering college and loved having Jewish friends,” said Bucksbaum, who was elected to various Hillel offices and chosen chapter president in his senior year. “I joined Hillel to have a sense of community.”
Those feelings of community directed his political attention to Middle East studies with Israeli interactions at the center of his curriculum.
“I became more serious about selling my work in February and March,” said Bucksbaum, a Stoney Creek High School graduate. “In March, when I was forced to stop working for the contractor because of the pandemic, I tried to put as much time as possible into what I thought I should do when everyone was forced to stay home.
“That’s when I was able to get my Etsy store up and provide myself a small income, but this is becoming my main source of income. As I expanded my products with more diversity, I got to see what my customers liked and what routinely sold, and I focused on those.”
Bucksbaum roams the web looking at various kinds of woodworking approaches and creatively adapts them using Jewish themes and ritual objects. He saw some beautiful candlesticks with crosses and decided to carve very different candlesticks with Stars of David. He also accommodates custom orders, religious or not.
“I like creating things that other people can enjoy,” he said. “For example, when people buy my candlesticks, use them for Shabbat and say they love them, I have great satisfaction knowing that something I made is part of someone’s home.”
Daniel Bucksbaum’s wooden artistry is available through Etsy at WoodcraftingByDaniel.