Far More Than Whittling
By Tom Adkinson | Photography courtesy of Tom Adkinson and William Moore
A Tupelo couple’s creativity — and a giving spirit — transform a hobby into a successful business.
Can a tree that fell in the woods in 1919 still be making noise today? The improbable answer is yes, if it was a black walnut tree cut down by William Moore’s grandfather in Leflore County, Miss.
Moore still is using wood from that tree for some of the artistic items that emerge from his Tupelo workshop destined for family members, and he uses plenty of wood from other sources to make many more items for other people.
Making gifts is what encouraged Moore and his wife, Kathy, to create a business called WilKat. Its name comes from the first syllables of their names.
Moore has worked almost 30 years in newspapers — and continues doing so at the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal — and says he always enjoyed making Christmas gifts for co-workers, whether that was something from the kitchen or from his workshop. He hit on a popular item when he crafted small wooden trays in the shape of Mississippi.
They are just the right size to sit on a bedroom dresser and collect pocket change at the end of the day and are attractive enough to be a holiday candy dish. They are even appealing enough to be displayed by themselves. Moore has one in his workshop that holds rulers, pens, pencils, screws, and other small items.
Moore’s workshop is attached to his suburban Tupelo house. It is compact and well equipped and certainly would be the envy of any woodworker starting out in the field. One of the few decorations is a wall clock made of the tools of the trade. Surrounding the clock face is a circular saw blade and a variety of tools such as a hammer, a C-clamp, pliers, and a screwdriver. A tape measure is the clock’s pendulum.
“I piddled around for years doing small woodwork, birdhouses, and stuff like that,” Moore explains. He has progressed significantly and now can make beautiful furniture pieces and decorative items such as multi-piece crosses for wall accents. “I’ll see something and think, ‘I can make that even better.’”
Wooden crosses were one of the early items he made for family members from his grandfather’s walnut lumber. He later started making pocket-sized crosses from cedar trees downed in a tornado. No two are alike. WilKat calls them comfort crosses and sells them with a Bible verse or other positive message inside a gingham-patterned sack.
“Kathy inspired WilKat,” Moore says. “She said we should make things and share the joy they contain. Both of us like to stay busy.”
Moore jokes that he’s in charge of WilKat production and that his wife is in charge of packaging, but she contributes on the creative side, too.
After two decades as a successful Realtor, Kathy Moore expands the inventory with numerous decorator and gift items. Those include sublimated tiles with images of butterflies, birds, and flowers; 120-piece jigsaw puzzles of images such as an iron bridge across the Yazoo River or a sunset scene of the pier at Fairhope, Ala. There are also small items such as Mississippi candles, jar grippers, and mouse pads.
The popularity of Moore’s Mississippi tray led to his making similar trays shaped like Alabama and Tennessee, and he’s meticulous with all of them. While maneuvering a band saw to cut out a Mississippi tray, he was almost finished when he paused to inspect it and then sliced a small nick off the upper right corner.
“I have to acknowledge where Pickwick Lake is,” he says with a grin.
Whether Moore is working on a piece for sale, an item for a family member or something for his own house, he says the exercise of making things is relaxing.
“Woodworking is something to clear my mind from the clutter of the day,” he adds.
While WilKat is a small, two-person operation, it has gone from pure hobby to an erstwhile business. Moore noted with a wry smile how he never realized how much time went into sanding and finishing each piece until he started recording the time investment.
“WilKat quickly evolved into a real business. People started seeing our products and asking for more. We began making sales, collecting sales tax, marketing — all the things that make a real business,” Moore says.
Until recently, all WilKat sales have been online, but the couple plans to attend a few events where they will display and sell, even though that is slightly out of character for both of them.
“We’re quiet and reserved, but WilKat is getting out there,” she says. “We like to share our dreams.”