Combining passion for wood-working and karate, father and son produce unusual artworks

photo by: Ashley Golledge

Steven Howe and his father, Mike, pose next to their wood art on Sunday, May 23, 2021.

Board breaking is a classic display of technique in karate. But what happens to the broken boards afterward?

For students at Premier Martial Arts, the answer is unusual: Martial arts instructor Steven Howe and his father, Mike, transform the boards into art: dragons, eagles, snakes, elegantly shaped names, phone stands, and hand-carved roses, among other creations. The Howes sell their projects, mostly made from repurposed wood, at local art shows, as well as through their online Etsy store, “Wood Two Art.”

Genesis of Wood Two Art

As with many endeavors, the wood carving started out as purely a hobby. Having just moved to Kansas from California in 2001, Mike Howe was looking for a replacement pastime for fishing. He’d always loved working with his hands, so he bought a scroll saw and started making small projects. This allowed him to combine the drawing skills he’d acquired while studying architecture at the University of Kansas with his love for woodworking.

Still a pre-teen, Steven wasn’t particularly interested.

“It was his hobby, his thing. I would watch him every once and in a while in the garage as I was passing by and move on,” Steven says. “One day I saw a picture of a wolf that I really liked, and I was like ‘I wonder how this would look on wood.'”

At around age 16, captivated by a black-and-white picture he’d found on the internet of a wolf howling at the moon, Steven grabbed a piece of wood and started drawing the image, trying to envision how to transfer the picture to the board.

At some point, Mike wandered into the garage and provided guidance, including saw safety rules.

“You’ve got to do it slowly,” he instructed.

But Steven didn’t really want to do it that way — not yet, anyway.

“The first time, I was trying to rush through it because I wanted to be like my dad. He would smoothly go through these things, so the first one, I cut the wolf’s head off completely,” Steven says.

When he finally finished his third attempt, Steven ambled to the belt sander to smooth out the splinters, but torque from the belt wrenched it from his hand, shattering the project. He persevered, however, and went through the whole process a fourth time.

Wood art

photo by: Ashley Golledge

Wood art is displayed at Steven Howe’s home on Sunday, May 23, 2021.

“The wood taught me patience,” he says. “It forced me to slow down. I took that patience and translated it back into martial arts. When I eventually became a teacher, I had to slow down how I taught students, learning new ways of explaining things to them.”

The process is cyclical: The wood taught Steven patience, he noted, while martial arts taught him perseverance, an essential trait that prevented him from abandoning the project after his first, second or even third failure.

Father-son collaboration

After Steven’s initial interest in wood carving began, it grew rapidly. He and his father embarked on project after project, covering their own walls and overwhelming the storage space in their garage.

“We were giving them as gifts. We didn’t even think about selling them,” Mike says. “It was just something fun to do. Alice, my wife, called up an art show we didn’t know about and said, ‘Well, we’re going to an art show.’ We went there and actually did pretty well.”

At art shows, they picked up customers who requested special orders. One person wanted an animal puzzle, so the Howes learned that technique and integrated puzzles into their output.

Jeff McPheeters and his wife requested a custom puzzle order for their grandkids, as well as images to display on their home walls.

Wood art

photo by: Ashley Golledge

Wood art is displayed at Steven Howe’s home on Sunday, May 23, 2021.

“They just do it all,” Jeff McPheeters says. “(Mike Howe) creates these real intricate things, and they have these really creative ideas. If you have an idea, they can make it.”

One year, a set of parents asked the Howes if they would construct a belt rack — to display belt ranks their child had earned through martial arts — out of the very boards their son had broken along the way. Steven accepted the challenge, as he’s wont to do, and created a new, highly personalized product that included space for pictures as well as a wood carving of the student’s name.

Steven recalls how one year one of his students developed cancer, and the martial arts studio hosted a fundraiser for the family. The Howes donated puzzles to the event. Seeing the puzzles, students’ parents learned that instructor Steven worked with wood, so they began to donate their children’s broken boards to him for future projects.

“Now I just tell parents, ‘If your kids don’t want their boards, you can leave them here, and I’ll turn them into art,'” Steven says.

photo by: Mike Howe

Steven Howe and his dad, Mike, made this tiger using the intarsia method.

The coronavirus pandemic shut down art shows, but it didn’t hobble the Howes’ creativity. Steven channeled the stress from lockdown into wood-working, using the time to take on bigger, more challenging projects. Right now he’s working on a Halloween costume that includes wooden stilts with hinges. It incorporates many of the skills he’s learned through the years, but because it’s so challenging, it’s also a frustrating project.

Still, he perseveres, just as he did with the original wolf carving that launched his passion nearly 15 years ago.

Since that first project, Steven has reduced the amount of time it takes him to make the original wolf from four hours to one, and he and his father are always learning new techniques, like dremeling, intarsia and glass cutting. A couple of years ago, Steven learned a technique called hydro-dipping, which involves submerging the wood carvings into a mixture of water and spray paint to create a visual effect. It’s a technique typically used for plastic. Since wood doesn’t sink, Steven thought of using fishing wire and sinkers to pull the wood into the water where it’s doused with a random blend of colors. The result is striking.

As COVID restrictions continue to ease, the Howes plan to eventually share their skills by offering woodworking workshops at a local retailer.

“This has been a hobby that’s paid for itself,” Mike says. “Whatever money we made with it, we bought more materials or more tools. It’s just something I really enjoy doing.”

Wood art

photo by: Ashley Golledge

Wood art is displayed at Steven Howe’s home on Sunday, May 23, 2021.


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.