Like many woodworkers, John "Sam"
Sammarco decided to take up a hobby after he retired: golf.
"I retired about three years ago,
and took up golf. I played golf during the summer, and then it got
cold in the wintertime. Traveling to play golf only took a little
time, so I decided to take up the woodcrafting thing."
It was yet another hobby that brought
him to woodworking -- this one, a long-term interest. Sam owns
motorcycles and has been an avid rider since I was 16 years old. "I
was out in the backyard cleaning up leaves, and seeing the wood, I
thought, 'Why don't you pick up that wood and glue it together and
make a little motorcycle?'"'
That, Sam said, resulted in him forming
"a little thing that looks like a motorcycle. After I built my
first bike, I said to myself, 'You could do this. It resembles a
bike, even if it doesn't have any details.'"
Sam had done some carpentry work as a
young adult, but otherwise was not a woodworker. As he started making
his wooden motorcycles, the majority of his work was done with a
Dremel rotary tool. That's still the case, but he's also added a belt
sander, disc sander, band saw, drill press, oscillating sander and
battery-powered drills to his tools. "The band saw and drill and
stuff help with not having to saw as much," he said.
He's also changed his approach to his
sculptures: the individual components have increased -- he's now up
to 300 or 400 pieces per sculpture, as opposed to about 100 in the
earlier models -- and he's now more likely to glue on the details
rather than carving them.
After he'd created that first
motorcycle, the inspiration for Sam's second came not from his
backyard, but from inside his house: the walls of the spare bedroom
are covered with photos of motorcycles from old calendars. Sam picked
out a picture of a 1927 Harley-Davidson and built bike number two to
scale off the photo.
For that bike, he created a jig, which
he's still using for center points and heights. His creations are now
made to a 1:7 scale, with 1 foot between the centers of the wheels,
as compared to 7 feet between the centers of the wheels on a
standard, commercially produced motorcycle.
That scale is something else that Sam
has come to gradually as he's made his different models (he's on
motorcycle number nine at the moment). He does occasionally observe
his own motorcycles for dimensional inspiration: "I don't take a
tape measure; I just eyeball 'is the motor bigger than the fender?'"
Both of those bikes are Harleys, but
Sam's wooden creations are now of his own design rather than being
reproductions of a particular model. "It's picking the motor I
want to go in it, or the body style I want," he said. "I
build it piece by piece and assemble it at the last stage, after I've
put all my clear coats on it."
He did once use a stain to achieve the
red color he wanted for flames on the side of a bike, but has since
decided that he won't be going that route again. Instead, Sam wants
to look for woods in particular colors. For instance, in his current
project, he's using purpleheart received in a recent order from
Rockler Woodworking and Hardware for the tanks and fenders, with
black walnut as the frame. Black walnut, yellow cedar and white oak
have featured prominently in his previous models.
Sam works about 20 hours a week on his
wooden motorcycles, with some models taking up to six months to
complete; the more detailed models can total up to over 300 hours of
work. "As soon as it gets cold out, I stop golfing and
concentrate on my woodworking," he said. "The converted
garage is quite comfortable." Although he does not have a
background as a mechanic, since he builds his motorcycles by
individual piece, Sam said, "Building it is almost like if you
bought parts at an auto store."
Overall, he said, "I feel
comfortable, and I'm having fun. The most important thing I've
learned is it's just a hobby. If I drop something and it breaks, I
don't cry about it, because I've just built it and I could build it
again. Sometimes, if I'm almost done, I have no problem taking a saw
to it and cutting it in half if I see something and think, 'I don't