Beyond the Blueprints: Construction Administrator Don McReynolds

Welcome to Beyond the Blueprints, where we get to know RTA staff beyond their work lives. Join us in discovering the passions and interests of our amazing team!


When did you first begin woodworking? Did someone teach you?

I’ve always built or made stuff with my hands as long as I can remember. I probably got started working with wood in the early 80’s, primarily as a hobby. I never really did much beyond building small projects for friends and family. My dad was a trained and educated as an artist. Being raised by a single mother I did not spend much time with my Dad until I was out of college. That is when I started spending my vacation with him. We would draw and paint all the time when we were together. My dad specialized in Western/Indian themed art, so that’s the art I did at the time.

In ’96, when my dad passed away, I inherited his carving tools: power carvers, bits, knives, and chesils which I always wanted to do, but could not afford it. Being busy with work (farming) it took me about a year before I started to experiment with the tools. That Christmas my mother gave me a book on carving and since I had more time in the winter, that’s when I started experimenting and carving birds. I think that is when my love for birds started influencing my art and I’ve been doing it ever sense.


How did you choose to start carving birds?

I’ve always been interested in birds; I think they are one of God’s greatest creations. Think about it, they fly! I just think they are fascinating and beautiful.

Tell me more about your photography-birding habit?

Photography started as need for reference photos for my carving. While hiking and taking pictures of birds, I got into taking photos of butterflies because those are around when you are looking for birds, and then that led into learning about plants, and knowing what kind of plants that attract birds and butterflies during the year, it’s a vicious circle. It got to a point where I would go hiking every weekend (spring to fall)- I call it hiking but it is really birding; a lot of stop and go. I love it so much that when I travel and I’m not in a rush, I look for parks and hiking trail so I can go birding.

Eastern Screech Owl red phase

And you use those photos for reference?

Yes – mainly for referencing colors, poses, feather layout, and habitat. Before I start a carving, I research different profiles and colors. When I enter a contest, I produce everything myself except the eyes. So, the mount, legs, feet, everything I have to manufacture myself and I need those photos to get it right. It takes a while. I normally spend anywhere between 100-150 hours on a carving. The carvings are always to the same size as the actual bird.

What tools do you use?

I do the rough out mainly with knives, because it’s more fun and I can get a good idea of the overall proportion of the carving by roughing it out in my hands. Knives and rasps get me the general body shape, then I’ll use power carvers to smooth and refine the shape. I have a Gesswin power carver that uses diamond carving bits which I use to get the final refinement of the sculpture. Then I use detail knives to cut out feather and feather groups and then the tedious work begins by using wood burners to create the feathers shaft and barbs. When the sculpture is finished, I normally paint it with multiple washes of acrylic paint, but I have used oil paint also.


How would you describe your style?

I’m a realist. I have done some stylized carvings but, I just don’t enjoy them as much. I like the detail and accuracy of realism, it’s more fun to make them look real and to try to duplicate what God has done.

What do you love the most woodworking as a hobby?

It relaxes me, even with all the tedious detail work, research, painting schemes, and the precision. The focus really helps me unwind. It can relax me so well that if I have a hard time going to sleep, I can literally imagine burning in feathers on a sculpture and that will actually help me go to sleep.

What are the competitions you have entered? Have you won anything?

The first competition was right after I moved to Colorado. I didn’t know much about them or which level to enter into. I knew I would not go into the advanced level. The rules typically say if you never won anything you go in beginners and if you have won two or three first place prizes, you go into intermediate. Well, I had never won anything before so for my first competition, I put in three birds and a stylized buffalo I had carved and painted to look like a bronze into the intermediate class. I won three firsts and one second, so I automatically jumped into advance after my first competition! There’re only four competitions here in the state, one here in Colorado Springs, one in Denver, and one in Loveland. I’ve also entered national competitions, primarily through Woodcraft Stores. For those, you send your carving in and then it gets judged and then sent back. For that I have I sent in full bodied cinnamon teal hen, and it won second. I also did a competition through Wildfowl Carving Magazine. They have a competition you enter by sending photos.


What is your favorite piece and why?

I saw that question and I knew it was going to be hard to answer. The one I will probably never sell is the first duck carving I ever did of a pintail hen. Now, it’s a nice piece, and pretty well done, but it’s not even close to the type of work I do now. I think it just has that place in my heart of being the first one I ever did.

What resource would you recommend for anyone interested in getting started?

Just pick up a book, I’m really self-taught. My mother gave me a book by Bruce Burk “Game Bird Carving” which I reference often. There are all sorts of books on carving wildfowl or bird carvings. Another good idea is to find someone who is willing to spend some time with you showing how it is done. If anyone is interested, I’ll help anyone who wants to learn.