If you're not familiar with the stunning Tak boards crafted by Aaron Schemersal - known in the community as EssenceOfAaron - then you have been missing out. He is known largely for his generous efforts to donate a specially made Tak board to the Worldbuilders end-of-year fundraiser in support of charitable organizations like Heifer International. And every year since 2017, his boards have helped raise thousands of dollars. Beyond that, he has carried the mantle of producing heirloom quality boards ever since Wyrmwood ended its line of Tak products.
Aaron kindly agreed to an interview with the Tak Times to give our readers some insight into his history, inspirations, and skill.
Tak Times: Looking over all these pictures of your work, we are stunned by the creativity and undeniable beauty of your Tak boards. All the more amazed that these boards are produced in a one-man shop. But first, tell us your story - how you first discovered Tak and got started in woodworking?
Aaron Schmersal: I discovered the The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear around 2012. That was a pretty dark year for me. I had been misdiagnosed and my doctor told me I could be dead in a year. Shortly after that is when when I found the books. The books helped me get through a really rough time. A quote from those books helped me a lot, and inspired me to go hike the Pacific Crest Trail a couple years later.
"No man is brave that has never walked a hundred miles. If you want to know the truth of who you are, walk until not a person knows your name. Travel is the great leveler, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, crueler than mirror-glass. A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet introspection."
My goal was 100 miles; I made it 114. I earned the trail-name of "Wise Man" while out there.
I hurt my ankle at mile 74, but nothing was going to keep me from 100 miles.
It was right after getting home from that hike that Tak was introduced to Kickstarter. Tak was pretty much the perfect thing for me to want to build. It was a tangible piece of the world that helped get me through one of the roughest patches of my life. And it came about right after hiking 100+ miles and finally feeling like I was able to get my head on straight.
I couldn't warrant the cost of a fancy "Devi's board", but I knew that I'm a bit of an artist and perfectionist and I thought it would be fun to make my own. So I took some of the money that I was planning on using for the rest of my hike and bought some exotic woods to try my hand at building my own.
TT: That's an amazing story of persevering through a difficult time of hardship, and 100+ miles of hiking is quite the feat! What inspired you to start donating a board to Worldbuilders for their yearly charity fundraiser?
A.S.: I had donated to Worldbuilders before. But only money, and only about $50 - just what I could afford to part with. But during one of the following Worldbuilders fundraisers, I wanted to give more. I couldn't really afford much, but I did have some time and decided I was going to build them a board.
It was almost a clone of the first board I made. Blood wood, yellow heart, purple heart, jatoba, copper inlays with iron nails on the 7's. That board was meant as a thank you to Pat for writing a book that helped me get though a such a deep depression.
I've since gone to grad school for orthotics and prosthetics. I build new limbs for people who've lost theirs, and make braces for people whose limbs don't work quite as well as they ought to. I get to help people stand and walk nearly every day, and I love it.
I've had two patients and one colleague recognize me at my day job from my Worldbuilders Tak board donations. The first time it happened was an exceedingly odd experience for me.
TT: You clearly have an altruistic character, and being recognized for your charitable efforts is well-deserved! Let's go back and talk about the first board you created. What inspired you?
A.S.: It was back in 2016, right after I went to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. It was the very first time I'd ever worked with any exotic woods, first time I'd ever done any inlays - metal, wood, or otherwise. Here is a picture of my first board with my Kickstarter edition:
I don't have any formal woodworking training. I helped my dad a lot when I was a kid cut plywood, and build a cabinet or three, but nothing that could be considered "fine wood working". When I was figuring out how to build my first board, I watched a lot of YouTube crafters making chess boards and such. One in particular is mtmwood. He makes chess boards, cutting boards and the like. It was very helpful to watch his process while I was still trying to learn my own. My first board was all about what colors of wood I thought would look good together, plus taking the chandrian into account with the iron nails. Pretty much all of my boards have had some sort of inspiration from the Kingkiller Chronicle books.
A couple years later I was at PAX over here in Seattle. Pat was there and I was waiting in line to see him holding my Tak board. I had only a few minutes to talk to him. I said, "Hi Pat, my name on Aaron. You might know me better as 'Essence of' (EssenceOfAaron is my general internet handle). I was hoping you might sign this thing I made" and he just had this moment of putting his hand over his mouth and making a small gasp at the sight of it.
Then he reminisced about seeing the board I had originally donated a couple years prior. He rubbed his hands over the top of the nails and the Tehlu's iron wheel pendants that I had inlayed in the board, asking if they were the pendants from the Tinkers Packs (now WorldBuilders Market). Then he said he didn't want to sign it because he thought his signature would be too obtrusive on the wood and might ruin the look of it. I assured him that it would be much appreciated and it could never ruin the look of this board.
TT: What are you working on now or what future plans do you have for your Tak boards?
A.S.: I started out wanting to do big 8x8 boards with copper and steel inlays. I loved my forged iron nails in the 7x7 rows, and definitely think they added something to the boards. But I've been working sightly more minimalistic now. I've also been working on a short series of boards that I can produce in a faster and more effecient way to make them sightly more accessible to people who may want to purchase them. Most of my commissioned boards would sell for between $900 and $1500. That's a lot of money and not everyone can afford to spend that much on a fancy slab of wood. I wanted to make something that people could more readily enjoy. I still feel like they are too expensive and would prefer to sell them for less so more people can obtain them, but unfortunately the math doesn't add up that way.
I would love to double the size of my shop, my whole work area is just a touch smaller than a one car garage. I also have a bunch of ideas for future donations and different projects. Some are Tak related, but a few others are not. One of the projects I currently have in the queue for my website are dice towers, I would love to get those up and moving. I also have an idea for next year's donation that I'm going to keep under wraps for now. But here's a hint. It's box shaped.
TT: We will be closely following your work, especially any new lines of Tak boards or a Worldbuilders donation. Thank you for your time Aaron!