On a cold, rainy February afternoon some 12 years ago, John McAllister did something he had been thinking about for a long time. He picked up a piece of wood and an X-ACTO knife and started carving a miniature boot.
“I told myself, if I can do this, fine. If I can’t do it fine. But at least I tried,” he said.
It took him about two or three weeks working afternoons and weekends to finish the boot.
“Well, nobody has one boot,” he said. “So I went back and got some more wood and did the second boot.”
He figured if you have a pair of boots, you would need a carved wooden hat, and then you would need spurs.
“One thing progressed into the next over time,” he said.
McAllister ended up carving up a full-fledged hobby as well as a miniature cowboy campsite scene inside a wood and glass box. That was in 2001.
Even after the campsite display was completed, McAllister kept carving. He began making items for a 3-foot-wide 19th-century rancher’s cabin he constructed.
The cabin is made of logs McAllister hand-carved.
Inside is a wood fireplace that looks as if it is made of stone. He has carved a bed, rocking chair and all sorts of hunting items including a gun, a Union sword and a knife.
On a tiny wooden table is a miniature kerosene lamp, a plate, a cup and a ledger, all handmade. The cabin contains a wooden barrel for water, a rack of rancher’s clothing and a black-iron pot. Hanging on the cabin wall is a picture of McAllister’s grandmother.
He has carved tiny books, a Bible, vintage tin cans, a guitar, a hunting dog and a mouse.
In the past seven years, McAllister has made everything in the cabin except the linens for the tiny bed.
“Sitting down trying to do this was running me crazy,” he said. “I can sit for hours with the other stuff like the rifle that took 10 to 12 weeks to carve, but I couldn’t cope with the linens.”
McAllister’s wife, Glynda, is a quilter with her own quilting room. She made the tiny bed linens.
“If you do this as a hobby, you have to have a wife who is incredibly patient,” John McAllister said.
One of the interesting carvings is of a cow skull on the wall of the cabin.
“Glynda’s cousin’s husband lives in Tennessee and raises longhorn steers,” McAllister said. “I called him and asked him to take some pictures of a skull with a ruler over the skull. With a? ruler over the skull, I can scale my cow skull to any size.” McAllister carves everything to one-fifth scale.
The one thing McAllister says he will never carve is the person who “lives” in the cabin. That he leaves to the imagination of the observer.
“What you find in somebody’s house depends on who lives in the house,” he said. “When you look at what’s in a house, you should be able to determine what kind of person is in the house.”
McAllister grew up in Baton Rouge, graduated from Istrouma High School in 1966 and from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches in 1970. He retired from Exxon five years ago.
He has always enjoyed tinkering in his 20-by-30-foot shop.
“If he wakes up at 3:30 (a.m.), he goes in the shop and starts working,” Glynda McAllister said.
John McAllister said he gets completely engrossed in his woodworking. Hours pass quickly.
“I get into my world. I get absorbed,” he said. “Time gets immaterial, and failure is acceptable. You see my successes. My failures are in the trashcan.”
He carves with X-ACTO knives and tiny tools, including a set of dentists’ drill bits. He is an accomplished draftsman who draws detailed plans for most of the items he carves.
McAllister often copies his miniatures from life-sized items.
He used his brother’s rifle as the model for a rifle in his rancher’s cabin. He borrowed a fiddle from his air-conditioning serviceman to make a miniature fiddle.
Although the cabin is filling up slowly, McAllister still has things he wants to make, like a tiny pipe. That’s his next project.
“It’s OK to take your hobby seriously, if you don’t take yourself seriously,” he said.