Woodworking from Anywhere with Lou Sarg

Welcome to “Stay Dusty!”

Have you ever wanted to dive into woodworking but didn’t know how? Or you don’t have a big woodshop or lots of tools? Today, we’re offering a clear solution to that! I’m introducing you to one of our favorite wood carving artists who doesn’t need a workshop, who discovered woodworking from anywhere, is possible!

Our mission is to make the world a better place through the power of trees. We know that trees give us more than just oxygen; they are essential in providing a positive environmental impact on our world. All trees have a life cycle. Here at Street Tree Revival, we save trees from ending up in landfills. We preserve city trees that need to be removed and limit carbon emissions from trees lost to natural causes. 

My name is John Mahoney, and I’m with Street Tree Revival, an urban wood recycling program born out of West Coast Arborists. West Coast Arborists has been trimming trees for municipalities for nearly 50 years. Over the past few months, we’ve recognized the need for connection within our community. The Makers Market was such a fun way to bring everyone together last year in person, so we thought we’d do the same virtually every week.

This week we will be chatting with Lou Sarg, who not only works with us at Street Tree Revival but is a maker and woodcarver. She has such a passion for creating as well as, of course, Trees! The work she does is fun, unique and has a story all it’s own.


Meet Lou Sarg!

I first met Lou at a trade show in Costa Mesa, and I was enthralled by her work.  Lou began her woodcarving journey in the summer of 2015, when she took a permaculture design class in Spain; for those who don’t know, permaculture is the design of permanence culture, how to design land to maintain itself. They lived off the grid during this class, so to kill time, her friends would carve branches into spoons. They found entertainment through carving.

Lou was intrigued! She loved how focused they were and she loved the sound and smell of it, so she asked them to teach her. Eight months after that trip, she purchased her first pair of whittling knives/hook knives and began carving spoons. 

When she was starting out, like a lot of beginners, she didn’t have a wood shop. She simply had the desire to whittle and create! She started by carving in her bedroom with a makeshift work desk, a coal lumber tabletop, and six cinder blocks from her parents’ garden. It wasn’t bolted into anything, so she would have to put weights on the ends so the slab wouldn’t fall over. 

Eventually, she made her own space in her parents’ garage because she knew woodworking would be special for her. Woodworking was the first time she felt that amount of peace, serenity, and joy. It was the first time she got lost in a craft. Once she carved for eight hours straight with no water breaks or restroom breaks. Muscle cramps finally awakened her.

The first piece Lou ever carved was a spoon made from a fallen plum tree in Spain. International woods. She does still have that spoon. It’s usually on display at Salon Benders in Long Beach. It’s purely decorative; she’s never actually used it as a spoon. 

Lou admits to having had a crush on a piece of wood. I can say the same. But she is learning to work with what she has at the moment, which is still plenty. 


Making Bow Ties

Back in 2015 Lou didn’t know a lot about wood, where others would see a piece of trash wood, she saw a gem. She didn’t have a band saw at the time, which is what she now uses to cut out her complicated shapes. Instead, she would sit there for hours or days with a blunt knife to block out a rough shape in a chunk of wood.

When Lou decided to turn Lou Sarg Woodwork into a business, she needed access to certain tools like a band saw, a sander, and a saw-dust friendly space to crank out production. She eventually discovered Urban Workshop in Costa Mesa, which is a 27,000-square-foot maker space that has a wood shop, metal shop, body shop, and assembly area; she’s been a member for two years.

When creating a bowtie she starts by cutting out the shape on a band saw. It’s flat, two-dimensional. Then she often goes to the beach to sit and carve; it’s like a meditation space for her. She uses her whittling knives to finish it. She has a Mora 120 knife with a round blade. Carving it to the point where she has to sand it will take up to 10 hours, all by hand. 

After she sands her bowtie, she uses a walnut wax called Mahoney’s Walnut Wax & Oil to finish it. The wax gives it a satin finish. She sometimes burnishes it with a pebble to compress all the loose fibers.

Lou often uses recycled wood to carve her bowties, so they end up being twice recycled, which is super cool. She’s used broken serving trays and cabinet doors. For the cabinets, she cut out the center panels of the cabinets, cut out the shape, and whittled from there.


The Traveling Bowties

Travel has been a theme in Lou’s woodworking journey. When Lou decided she wanted to turn her woodworking into a business, she set a plan in motion. She decided it would be cool to create content of herself or others wearing her work in front of her favorite landmarks to help launch her website. So in 2016, with this vision in mind, she took trips to Spain, France, and the UK, where she asked strangers to wear her bow ties in front of famous landmarks! 

There are photos of her bow ties in tons of beautiful landscapes on the gallery page of her website, which you should definitely go and check out HERE!  With recycled wood, it’s all about the story, and her photos go with each piece perfectly to tell HER story. 

Her favorite type of wood is Carolina cherry. Her favorite bow tie is made out of this wood; this bow tie is symbolic for her because she had a specific vision for how she wanted it to look,  But it has a lot of natural fractures through it. She had already broken a bow tie in her hand, made of spalted silver maple, so she wanted to avoid that. But this one is one of her favorites, and she will keep it forever. It’s a piece of her.


The Impact of Street Tree

Lou works for us here at Street Tree Revival. When she first started, she wasn’t sure what she was getting into. She knew she loved the story and the mission behind recycling wood. She feels like she walks into an indoor forest every day and gets attached to certain pieces of wood (she even hides the ones she likes sometimes, particularly spalted maple). 

Before she arrived at Street Tree, she was familiar with five types of wood. Now she knows somewhere between 30-45 types, and she even spends her lunch breaks looking up more info on wood.

    • Fun Fact: Grevillea robusta, aka silky oak, is the newest wood Lou is using to make a line of bow ties. I am highly allergic to that wood, but they sound super cool. 

Lou has always had a respect for trees, always being aware that the scope of what they offer is so more than what you learn in school. She has since learned about the Wood Wide Web, how trees communicate through the root systems through mycelium in the soil. 

    • If you have a series of citrus trees and one isn’t receiving nutrients, the others connect and send nutrients to that tree through the root system. They work and thrive in a community.
    • That same mycelium can also cause spalting inside wood.


Creating a Woodworking Community

When you first are getting started you may not realize the woodworking community that is out there! Find those makers that are close to where you live, and you will make some really awesome connections. 

Lou is based in Long Beach, and she has met other makers in the community. She now has a few friends, like Rachel from Raw Designs; Sarven, a woodworker and guitar marker; he makes cigar box guitars; Noah from NJW Woodworks, who likes the same type of maple wood as Lou, but he does these layers of resin which give his pieces character.

We have a friend of Street Tree Revival, Andrew Soliz from Tatankamani Woodworks, and he has this really awesome natural style. We see animals in a lot of his work. The other day, Lou saw this piece of wood we had from a piece of elm with a crazy crack in it. There was some decay in it, so the slab popped apart, and it looked like an elephant, with a trunk and everything. Behold an ELMaphant. 

Now that she is getting to know more makers in this particular space, she knows what they’re looking for. She wouldn’t have offered the elmaphant to anyone else but Andrew; she knew he was the one to use that wood.

It’s not about how you get started, but why you want to tell your story. you can begin your woodworking journey from anywhere. Need motivation check out our post about finding your woodworking inspiration. 


Contact Lou

Additional Resources