Making pieces of wood come to life

Posted on Dec 02 2020


Eric Atalig poses in his shop where he makes out-of-the-box wooden furniture for his family and clients. (Bea Cabrera)

Eric Atalig, 52, started woodwork and carpentry just a couple years ago. What started off as a hobby later turned into a passion that then became E’s Custom Made Outdoor Furniture.

Surrounded by nature all his life—having been born and raised on Saipan—he discovered a passion for giving new life to trees that had been cut down and found them good wood to work on.

“It started out as a small hobby where I would collect trees that were cut down, turn them into a post, sand it to make pala-pala [pavilion]. …I started in my 40s because I just wanted to do something different. …It evolved into making small coffee tables for my daughters and family,” Atalig said. “As I got better and more comfortable with this skill, I started investing in power tools and studied more. A lot of it came from YouTube and I commend the people who share their skills and knowledge on the net…just unselfish. Eventually, it just became natural that you don’t realize until months down the line and finally I said to myself, ‘Okay, I have a knack for this.’”

Armed with no woodwork education, a $20 Makita sander and a $30 drill, Atalig said that even with simple tools and as long as you keep at it, one will understand how the tools work and develop techniques along the way. “I am self-taught and I am still learning,” he said

Atalig distinctly remembers the first piece he created: a coffee table so unique that the wood pattern appears to change or move. “…It was an accident that turned out to be my best pieces and that became one of my unique approaches in making wood furniture. I look at the material and then think of something that I can do with it. I developed this knack where I look at the grain in the wood, then I could see how it connects to make into a whole piece of furniture,” he said.

Atalig’s eye for detail is his unique selling point. “When I work on something, it’s never the same as I always have something different because I want to keep pushing the limits. …Each woodwork becomes a nice controversial piece where you don’t have to put anything on it because it’s art. This is why I keep making more,” he said.

“I also like mixing different kinds of wood. …Be out of the box, like, ‘What if I mix ironwood with monkey pod wood and then make it into a cutting board?’ ‘What if I made a 7-foot x 3-foot picnic table out of 1 x 2 where you could actually lift it and not struggle with it?’ or an outdoor dining table that has character, something nice to just display for visitors. …I like doing the uncommon,” he added.

Atalig’s business, E’s Custom Made Outdoor Furniture in San Vicente, was established three years ago and is where people go to have their furniture repaired, refurbished, or custom made. “It’s a small shop and if you expect ready-made pieces or mass production, I am not yet ready or comfortable with that. Plus, it is hard to display them. …I can work on a picnic table in less than a week, a hardwood coffee table can be done in two to four weeks. …The finish date is based on the availability of the piece, like if it is not dry, I am not going to sell it to you because I don’t want to sell a bad item,” he said.

“I like brainstorming with the client. …We sit down and talk: What do you like? What is your style? Sometimes they would show me a picture of an idea, then determine measurements on how it will fit in a room. …Sometimes I have ideas and show a different perspective: ‘What is we do it like this?’ …I make it clear that I do rustic, not fine woodwork, and they end up understanding it and we just work around what they want,” he added

One of Atalig’s goals is to join the Flame Tree Arts Festival where local talents and artists are highlighted. “If the pandemic is over and we have the Flame Tree Arts Festival back, I plan to join and showcase out-of-this-world pieces for display. It might be pricey but it is something that I want to put out there and share with the community. If someone wants to learn from it and take it, I will say do it. I do not worry about sharing ideas because each person is unique and my imagination is where my work comes from,” he said.

“I want all my clients to be able to use and display the furniture I make for them and not regret it. Part of island living is that sometimes we don’t have a choice but to take whatever is available. I want to make a homeowner happy knowing that he or she has a unique piece in the house. …I do not really care about mass production because that makes fast money. I create according to what the client likes and make sure to get as close as possible to what they envision,” he added.

Bea Cabrera
Bea Cabrera, who holds a law degree, also has a bachelor's degree in mass communications. She has been exposed to multiple aspects of mass media, doing sales, marketing, copywriting, and photography.

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