Uneven stacks of old, broken down wood pallets sit outside Eric Kruse’s Ahwatukee backyard.
But they aren’t headed for the scrap heap.
Instead, each section of scrap will be transformed into a unique work of art.
Kruse rescues wood pallets from a few nearby stores and uses them as tools for his woodworking trade. Otherwise, the pallets would be discarded and thrown out.
His business, Signed in Wood, offers customers hand-carved works that range from portraits of family pets to landscapes.
Kruse, who works full-time for a furniture-manufacturing business, gets his ideas from pictures he takes while on business trips.
Some ideas for his work come from landscapes in Iowa and Buffalo, N.Y.
“As I’m driving around, I always stop and take pictures.” Kruse said.
The woodcarver’s work is already attracting attention.
He carves, sands and stains the repurposed wood in a hobby that started with carving out a single bean-bag toss board for the popular tailgating game Cornhole. He also did a 5-by-4-foot landscape scene of a cabin in the woods for a family friend.
In less than a year, Kruse has made 50-some pieces and some of his work has been put on display at the Ahwatukee Foothills Family YMCA.
“One, it’s not going to the landfill,” Kruse said. “It’s not getting thrown away because all those pallets are sitting there to be picked up by the garbage man.”
Creating art is a family tradition for Kruse.
He learned from his father and grandfather, who were both woodworkers. In the past, he has done drawings and sketches of landscape scenes.
He said he likes the unpredictable element of working with wood. He goes through trial and error depending on the type of wood and whether the specific piece has some sort of residue on it. He said he works with wood types that include everything from oak to pine.
Kruse picks out pieces of wood and uses self-taught methods to stain woods in organic pigment types such as cayenne pepper and vinegar depending on whether he wants the work to be dark or of a lighter color.
“What’s cool about it oftentimes is that sometimes, it surprises you,” Kruse said. “You have a piece of wood and on the top it’s just gray. But you start cutting into it and there’s reds and different colors for each pallet.”
Custom works take about 10 hours and prices range from $40 to $500.
Customers can expect Kruse to labor over how each piece turns out. He often makes adjustments midway through - like sanding surfaces down or lightening or darkening the wood. He uses computer-aided drafting tools and programs like Photoshop to give himself a starting point.
“I like to see what I’m doing before I do it,” Kruse said.
Signed in Wood has been featured in the Ahwatukee Foothills Festival of Lights and Kruse plans to display his work in a few more similar events this year.
He looks forward to creating more custom pieces for his clients. In some cases, he does an unveiling where customers see their artwork for the first time in dramatic fashion.
“The fun part is when someone has an idea and I can bring that to life for them,” he said.