Places to go and things to see by Gypsy Bev

Posts tagged ‘Ernest Warther’

David Warther Preserves History of Ships in Ivory


This sign on Route 39 signals that you have arrived at David Warther Carvings.

Following in his family’s footsteps, David Warther excels as a maritime artist. The detailed work takes time and patience to create the beautifully finished ships that can be found at this exhibit. Three years ago, David decided to open a museum to display room after room of his carved masterpieces. David Warther Carvings is located on Route 39 between Sugarcreek and Walnut Creek.


David began making ships from scraps of wood when he was six years old.

His passion for carving began as a child. He wanted to do what his grandfather, Ernest Warther, did – make carvings. But his object wasn’t trains, like his grandfather, but ships instead.At the age of six, he took scraps of wood to make his first ship. His mother kept that ship all these years and it is on display in the museum today.


At the age of 17, he carved from ivory his first ship, a coast guard cutter.

As a junior in high school he finished his first carving the USCGC Eagle, using ivory, ebony, abalone pearl and walnut. The Eagle was used as a training cutter for officers in the United States Coast Guard. David’s love of ships continued to grow.


The Vikings used the Stallion of Rouen as a trading ship between France and the waters of the Mediterranean. David uses the world map to point out locations for his maritime stories.

Not only can you see impressive ships with scrimshaw engraving at this exhibit, but David tells the history of the times and points out special features on different carvings. The displays are grouped according to a time-line for the ships, from ancient history of Egypt in 3000 B.C. to modern times.


This carving depicts an early royal ship for an Egyptian Pharaoh.

A carving of the royal ship of an Egyptian Pharaoh recalls the story of its discovery in 1952 packed away in a box in the Great Pyramid of Egypt. It took twenty years to put it back together and it’s now displayed in a museum at the Great Pyramid. They buried the ship with the King as they believed it was needed to take him to the next world.


Visitors were shown this special hand-made tool, which is used for making strands of ivory.

When assembling the ships, the parts are held together with tiny ivory pegs. First David must make strands of ivory so he has ample pegs to hold the pieces together. This is a time consuming task as it takes over an hour to make a ten inch strand of ivory, which is about twice the thickness of a human hair.

The strand is filed in a handmade, wooden groove until it is just the right thickness. This is a tedious task as the strands are so thin that breakage often occurs. Once two pieces are fastened together, the end is sanded so smooth that you have to look closely to see the peg. His grandfather, a quiet and soft spoken character, used this same method for the ivory pegs in his steam engines.

It takes about six months to complete each ship and David tries to do two each year. Right now he is working on #85. Each ship is made of ivory with ebony highlights and abalone pearl in the base.


David is surrounded by his ships as he gives a guided tour.

The Warther family now has four generations of carvers: great-grandfather, grandfather, David and his son. David’s another Warther who does not sell his ivory carvings. They are for viewing only.


The third largest set of elephant tusks in the United States frames a doorway between timeline rooms.

But these ships are just a hobby for David. He earns a living by making parts for musical instruments from ivory of the wooly mammoth. Parts for violins and guitars are quite popular and are shipped around the world.


An attractive thirty foot high clock tower pavilion has an observation deck to view surrounding Walnut Valley.

The museum is located on Ohio 39 between Sugarcreek and Walnut Creek. Their winter hours are 10:00 – 4:00 Wednesday through Saturday. Ivory and ebony live together in perfect harmony at David Warther Carvings.




The Sharpest Edge Around – Warther Cutlery

Warther's signature Single Pliers

Warther’s signature Single Pliers

World’s Master Carver Ernest Warther spent a life-time in Dover, Ohio. When Ernest was three years old, his father died leaving the children to help support the family. While the youngsters were unable to attend school regularly, Ernest’s inborn abilities surfaced by chance along life’s path.

For a penny a day, young Ernest did his part by driving neighborhood cows outside of town to pasture, then returning them home in the evening. When five-year-old Ernest was driving cattle, he spotted a treasure on the ground. A pen knife! His life’s adventure was about to begin.

A few years later Ernest met a whittling hobo at the local train station. This hobo could form a small piece of wood into a moving pair of pliers by making only ten strategically placed cuts in the small, rectangular, wooden block.

Ernest, called Mooney by his friends, watched the hobo carefully before he headed off to another town. Soon Mooney was making these magical pieces with ease. During his lifetime it is estimated he made nearly 750,000 pairs of pliers, most of which he gave to children. His fastest time for carving a pair of pliers occurred on the Johnny Carson “Tonight Show” when Mooney finished in 9.4 seconds.

Whittling became Mooney’s favorite pasttime, now making double pliers and more. But as is often the case, one thing leads to another. What do you need the most for whittling, especially ebony and ivory? A sharp knife! That was something Mooney could not find. Sometimes the best way to do something is to do it yourself, so Mooney developed a knife that would keep its sharp edge.

These are the knives Mooney used himself with  their accompanying 139 blades.

These are the knives Mooney used himself with their accompanying 139 blades.

In his workshop, Mooney developed techniques for tempering and sharpening steel blades so they would hold their sharpness. For whittling purposes, the knife had to have a big handle with small blades – shorter than his thumb. His knife had 139 interchangeable blades so he could work easily with any material of any size.

Warther Cutlery knife shop

Warther Cutlery knife shop

When his mother needed a sharper paring knife in the kitchen, seventeen-year-old Mooney created a small kitchen knife for her. Soon the neighbors were all wanting a knife just like Mooney’s mother used.He added a distinguishing trademark swirl on the blade so his knives were easily recognized. Thus began the business of Warthers Cutlery, handcrafted in the USA since 1902.

Realizing his real riches laid at home, his five daily hours of carving were scheduled for early in the morning before the family awoke. After breakfast, Mooney would ride his bicycle to work at the steel mill, then spend time in the afternoon playing with the children he adored. He didn’t really care much for money; however, when the family needed something, Mooney would make knives. He never sold his carvings.

In 1912, Mooney ended his whittling with a plier tree that can be seen in a glass case today.The tree was made with 511 cuts and was featured at Ripley’s Believe It or Not. This is the point where his whittling turned to carving as he began his history of the steam engine in walnut, ebony, and ivory.

Commando Knives made during WWII.

Commando Knives made during WWII.

During WWII, a lady asked Mooney to make a knife for her son to carry with him during conflict. Mooney made 1100 Commando Knives during this time and carved the names of the military men into the handles.

Family member, Steven Cunningham, makes pliers for children today.

Family member, Steven Cunningham, makes pliers for children today.

Today the knives of Warther Cutlery are still made in Dover, Ohio with all USA products by third and fourth generation family members. They continue demonstrating Mooney’s signature pair of pliers for visitors, with children usually receiving the newly carved pair.

Before you leave, stop by the gift shop and purchase one of the Warther Cutlery knives with swirl trademark. My little paring knife, “Old Faithful”, was purchased there over twenty-five years ago and is still like new. Whenever you happen to be in the area, visit their knife shop where they will sharpen your Warther knife for life at no cost. When you stop by, they will ask you which hand you use to cut with, so they can sharpen the blade accordingly. They strive for perfection!

Older residents still remember Mooney riding his bicycle down the middle of the road with his white hair flying. The basket on his bicycle was always handy for items he found or was given along the way that eventually might become part of his carvings, either mechanically or in their design. While Ernest Warther worked at his passion nearly every day for 83 years, he died almost penniless, but happy beyond imagination.

Warthers can be found easily off I-77 in Dover, Ohio. Take Exit 83 to the east and follow the well placed signs to Warthers.

Warthers Woodcarvings

Ernest and Freida Warther were two hard working individuals, who loved their family above all else.  Their life and accomplishments can be seen in Dover, Ohio at the Warther Museum.  Ernest had only a second grade education but that never stopped him from being curious about how things were made.  Sometimes we think we just don’t have enough time, but Ernest made time by working from 2-7 every day before the family ever got up.

His fantastic creative abilities were inspired by a man who was making a pair of small pliers from a single block of wood.  This fascinated him and led him to make multiple pliers and designs from one block.

If you are going to carve, what is the thing you need the most?  A good knife!  Ernest, called Mooney by his friends, couldn’t find a knife that stayed sharp and had lots of strength. Thinking sometimes the best way to get something done right is to do it yourself, he developed a knife that would keep its sharp edge.  Those knives today are the finest kitchen knives you can find.  Furthermore, a knife was needed to be strong enough to carve ebony and ivory.  So Mooney developed quite a few different knives that can be seen and purchased at the museum.

His carvings of trains are something you have to see firsthand to understand their intricacy and detail.  Smithsonian Institute says this collection is a “priceless work of art.”  A favorite of young and old alike is the Funeral Train of Abraham Lincoln, which has fantastic details both inside and out. There are 64 ebony, walnut, and ivory train carvings on exhibit.  Remember that every piece is carved by hand.

Even a stop at the restroom is interesting as the walls of the Ladies room displayed many of Freida’s button designs. Had to ask what was on the walls of the Men’s restroom, and the answer was framed designs of Mooney’s arrowhead collection.  There is beauty everywhere.

Don’t forget to also check out Freida’s Buttons.  The lady of the house made beautiful designs out of 73,000 buttons that are displayed in the original workshop. Some are just for beauty but many have a story to tell.  All are quite lovely.

Outside the workshop is a lovely Swiss Style Garden.  This is a peaceful place to relax as there are plenty of benches for visitors.

Just this year, the Warthers’ original family home has been opened and is part of the guided tour.  You can just imagine the family with five children working and playing within its walls.  Many of Mooney’s early carvings are on display here also.

Before you leave, stop by the gift shop and purchase  one of the Warther Cutlery knives.  My little paring knife was purchased there nearly twenty years ago and is still like new.  Whenever you happen to be in the area, visit their knife shop where they will sharpen your Warther knife for life at no cost. When you stop by, they will ask you which hand you use to cut with so they can sharpen the blade accordingly.  They strive for perfection.

This is a great place to take family or friends as there is something to interest all ages.  Also their story is an inspiration to organize your time so you can create something special and still leave time for your family.

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