Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 144, August 2017Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
 
A Master Craftsman
Story and Pictures by Kelli Teipel

At a young age, Ernest Patillo learned to appreciate the beauty of wood from his father, an expert woodworker. He learned the origin, characteristics, and a general appreciation for it. When Ernest was 15 years old, his father came home with a rather inexpensive and plain rifle needing repair. Showing Ernest a butt stock and trigger guard, both made from brass, his father asked, "Would you put these on there for me?" Armed with only a pocket knife and the will to succeed, Ernest inlaid the brass pieces into the wood rifle stock, filing and polishing until everything was flush and smooth. In the end, Mr. Pattillo was impressed, and so began Ernest's lifelong passion for woodworking.

While in college, Ernest continued to work with wood. A friend of his father's owned a heavily engraved, Belgium made Francotte shotgun, which needed a new stock. Mr. Pattillo asked Ernest to do it, causing him to read and research how to make one by hand, as he didn't have access to machinery. Per Ernest, using Triple A fancy walnut "with flames all through it", the action had two tangs and intricate woodwork so flush that you couldn't put a needle between them. "That's what I was doing, when I should've been studying at Auburn," he said with a laugh. As to be expected, the owner of the shotgun was thrilled with the results.

In 1965, Ernest graduated from Auburn with a degree in business. He was to heed the call "into Uncle Sam's Navy" only two years later, where he served with someone who made guitars. Ernest was thrilled at the prospect of not only learning how to build one, but also becoming a better player. He told his buddy, "I want to build one, show me what to do." Robert took him to a hardware store to buy five good tools, such as a back saw, hand plane, square, etc. He offered to get Ernest a nice chisel from Milwaukee, and told him where to order the wood to make his first guitar. He had to learn the placement of frets, fret boards, bridges, and strings, among other things. Although it took him months to create this musical instrument, admitting his first effort wasn't the greatest, he considered it a good learning experience. Since then, Ernest has gone on to build beautiful guitars with great sound.


He had much to learn at the time, saying it takes a lot of experience to make a good guitar. For instance, humidity control - wood will swell in humid conditions, then shrink later in the dry season; the thickness of the wood being manipulated, or even its porosity. He found pecan wood to be porous and difficult, sadly having to (later) discard a desk he had painstakingly made for his daughter. According to Ernest, "You have to have a few failures before you know what you are doing." When He once asked a carpenter why they call it a tri-square, since its name doesn't match its shape, the man jokingly replied, "Cause you just TRY and get it square!"

Years later, Ernest went on to read a book about building violins, and studied the work of Antonio Stradivari. These famous and costly violins are more commonly known by the Latin form of his name, Stradivarius. The well-known Italian artisan made violins and other stringed instruments, such as harps, guitars, violas and cellos, until his passing in 1737. This inspired the indomitable Ernest to set the bar higher by building yet another stringed instrument by hand, with exquisite beauty and sound. Six violins later, he turned his sights to the mandolin, after hearing about someone purchasing a fancy bluegrass mandolin for $8,000. Although Ernest made five of them, he decided to sell only two. He became a part of a music trio for five years, with one guitar and two mandolin players. They performed for restaurants, weddings and private parties, until the passing of one of its members. Ernest continued to make guitars over the years, selling two of them to musicians. One is a famous singer and songwriter in Nashville, and the other a classical music artist who has performed in New York City.

The Patillo home holds many of the artist's creations, from the many beautifully detailed pieces of furniture, to a vase; decorative eggs the size of ostrich eggs; guitars and violins; a medium sized wastebasket; a trinket box with a carved cat on the lid; wooden bowls; handmade bows for archery; serving platters, and cutting boards for the kitchen. His workshop and garage showed his latest venture - a boat, which will be named after his wife Meg once it is completed.

If there is one thing to be learned from Ernest Patillo, it is how the hands can achieve what the mind can conceive.










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