Ra’anana carpenter with a mission

Eliezer Gilboa displays over 700 tools in a museum in his home.

Eliezer Gilboa (photo credit: Barbara Bamberger)
Eliezer Gilboa
(photo credit: Barbara Bamberger)
Eliezer Gilboa is a carpenter with a mission that has nothing to do with saving souls – and everything to do with saving tools.
He would like to bring to Israel at least one of every kind of antique carpenter’s tool from around the world. To this end, he’s invested many hours and significant resources to build what is now an extensive and well-represented collection of over 700 tools.
Upon entering Gilboa’s Museum of Carpentry Tools, located on the light-filled top floor of his home in Ra’anana, one is struck by the sheer number and the graphic aesthetic of the tools displayed on almost every inch of visible wall space. Tools are displayed on “invisible” wall space, too. The museum, which was designed for maximum efficiency, has walls that slide to reveal additional wall space. Cabinets containing tools slide under counter tops that hold tools. Fitted drawers filled with tools slide under the six carpentry tables arranged down the center of the room. Even the windows are fitted with shelves that hold tools. It is immediately clear to any visitor that, for Gilboa, this is a true labor of love.
The big question Gilboa is asking himself is whether there is anyone else who will value the collection as much as he does. His children do not share his passion, so he is looking for an interested museum or venue that will agree to take over the collection and ensure its future.
Now 66, Gilboa, a native of Tel Aviv, has been passionate about carpentry all his life. He says, “It was born when I was five. Starting from that age, on every birthday my mother would take me to buy a tool.” He studied carpentry at an ORT vocational high school; in the army, he found time to study graphic design in the evenings.
One teacher was particularly encouraging, and Gilboa decided to make a living doing the thing he most enjoyed.
Eliezer Gilboa carving a sculpture in the museum workshop.
At the same time, he continued to expand his knowledge of woodworking and crafting in other mediums as well.
Over the years he has studied interior design, drawing, art, jewelry-making and sculpture.
CREATIVITY, IT seems, is in his genes.
Both of Gilboa’s parents were musicians. His mother, Varda, born in Poland, was a musical prodigy, giving violin recitals at the age of four. Later, in Israel, she gained fame and fortune as the composer of the tune to the traditional birthday song, “Hayom Yom Huledet.” (The lyrics were written by Benzion Raskin.) His father was a copyist, handwriting musical scores for some of Israel’s most famous performers.
Now, of course, there is computer software that notates music, but until the 1990s this was a profession that required in-depth knowledge of musical notation, music theory and an understanding of a musician’s particular style. A copyist also needed a steady hand and an artistic eye.
The many pen nibs used by Gilboa’s father are displayed high up on a wall in the museum.
In his Tel Aviv carpentry shop, Gilboa likes to put his creativity to the test. His drawing skills and knowledge of interior design help him find innovative solutions to problems of furnishings or space that are aesthetically pleasing, practical and functional.
One example is a recent request from a large orchestra. Gilboa was asked to design a chair that would seat the musician and also hold a variety of musical instrument cases. He came up with some ideas and is building a prototype.
The tool collection began 14 years ago, when Gilboa received four tools from an elderly couple for whom he’d done some work. “I hung them on a wall, but they looked silly hanging there by themselves,” he says.
He began to scour the flea market in Jaffa, buying up whatever he could find. Today, he’s pretty much exhausted that outlet; he does most of his buying online. Books on antique woodworking tools help direct his collecting.
“The oldest tool in my collection is from the third century, but it’s not very valuable,” he says, pointing to a tong-like object called a caliper, used to measure the thickness of an object.
Gilboa has a whole wall display of calipers. Some are surprisingly whimsical, like the female “dancing legs” from the 19th century.
Among the oldest are a saw and a bow drill, both manufactured in 1700. Besides drilling, bow drills were sometimes used to make fire. “When I get a piece of equipment I want to know how it works,” Gilboa explains.
“But I don’t feel I have to use it.”
Along with some of the larger and heavier pieces of equipment, a treadle-operated lathe, manufactured in 1876 by W.F. & John Barnes of Rockford, Illinois, sits in a glassedin “atrium” outside the studio’s side door, on a sunny balcony overlooking the street.
One of the rarest tools he owns is a level known as an inclinometer, patented in 1889 by W.B. Melick.
Rather than the more common air bubble, this level measures the degree of tilt with a system of weights. And one of Gilboa’s favorite tools is decidedly untechnological.
It’s a simple cane from 1890, used to measure the height of a horse.
LONG-DISTANCE collecting is not for the faint of heart. “This machine has no value. I bought it for $22 on eBay,” says Gilboa, pointing to a freestanding iron scroll saw, manufactured in 1898 by Millers Falls Co. of New York. “But it cost me NIS 7,000 in shipping,” he adds, laughing.
“There are bigger collectors than me, but I buy from the best.
Sometimes a tool will arrive broken, or not as advertised. There have been a few times where I’ve gotten my money back, but because the shipping was so expensive I was allowed to keep it. In general, eBay is pretty reliable; no one really makes false claims,” he notes.
He also buys accessories. For instance, Gilboa has a collection of whetstones, used for sharpening.
Today, most are made of a synthetic abrasive, but the stones in his collection are made of a hard-to-find, natural stone quarried in Arkansas.
Two evenings a week, Gilboa teaches carpentry and sculpture in the museum, which doubles as a workshop. He is able to accommodate up to six students at a time.
“A beginning student of carpentry usually makes a stool or chair. A beginning sculptor will start with carving exercises,” he says.
Power tools are not part of the collection but they are part of the curriculum.
Students learn on and work with modern equipment. So does Gilboa.
AN INVENTIVE sculptor, Gilboa spends time in the studio working on his own projects. “I see in 3D,” he says. “Usually I let the wood tell me what to do.”
His wood of choice comes from the Dalbergia sissoo tree. The common name is Indian rosewood; in Hebrew it’s called saysam. This wood has a distinctive two-toned color. The heartwood, or the interior part of the tree trunk, is golden to dark brown in color. The few inches of exterior sapwood are white or beige.
In his living room, a sculpture of hands playing an accordion was carved from this type of wood. In this case, Gilboa worked from a photograph. The darker-colored hands were carved out of the heartwood. The lighter-colored keys and the body of the accordion are part of the sapwood. Here, Gilboa used the wood’s natural coloration to full advantage.
In the studio, he has just finished a sculptor of a Holocaust survivor looking back on his life. A montage of shapes – bones, hands, flames and stars – is carved in incredibly high relief. A chain with interlocking links dangles from the side. Even up close, it’s hard to believe it was carved from a single piece of wood.
Somehow, Gilboa also finds time to write. In the past, he wrote a regular humor column for a local Hod Hasharon newspaper. One of his articles attracted the attention of industrialist and philanthropist Stef Wertheimer, who visited the collection. Wertheimer is said to value skill that brings craft to the same level as art. He and Gilboa spoke about the importance of teaching children to make something with their hands.
“There are few high schools that still teach carpentry,” says Gilboa. “I would love to teach in a school.”
But, for the time being, he has enough on his plate – and he shows no sign of slowing down. The search for a future home for his tool collection continues.
In the meantime, Gilboa is already planning his next sculpture.
Eliezer Gilboa’s website, www.gilboastudio.co.il (Hebrew only) features photos of some of his commissioned wood pieces, student works and views inside the studio/museum. The museum is open by appointment and there is a small entrance fee.