These days, Shane Deruise, 38, the owner of The Noble Woodsman in Raleigh, is a regular on the local craft-market circuit, selling a variety of handmade items – axes, cutting boards, beard oil and more. But just a few years ago, he was involved in a much different circuit.
For 12 years, Deruise, who grew up in Beaufort, was a professional wrestler, and for the last of those years, he played a character named Crumb the Bum. He would travel around the country taking part in matches as a homeless wrestler guided by his manager, Mr. Chips (Deruise’s Chihuahua).
But he also liked photography. “I had shot my whole life,” he says. “My dad gave me a camera and a guitar, and those are the only two things he gave me.”
Deruise finished an undergraduate degree in photography and eventually earned his MFA. He opened a studio in Raleigh, where he shot commercial jobs for publications such as Make magazine and companies like Cone Denim.
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Then, in 2014, after a directive from an emergency room doctor, he found himself rehabbing axes and started The Noble Woodsman.
When Deruise says “this company saved my life,” he means it.
A divorce and custody battle for his now 6-year-old son sent Deruise into a tailspin.
“I quit everything,” he says. “I didn’t come up for air. For probably six months, I was straight drunk.” One night after a snowstorm, his neighbors found him unresponsive on his porch and took him to the emergency room. It was there a doctor told him he had alcohol poisoning and advised him to get a hobby.
Deruise began spending time in the 4-foot by 8-foot shed behind his house, tinkering with his tools.
“I went into the shop and I started hand-carving, just messing around at first,” he says. One day a friend saw what he was doing and said, “I need a handle for my axe, can I bring it over?” Then his friend’s relative needed an axe handle. Soon, Deruise was carving 10 to 15 axe handles a week. He would go to flea markets for vintage axe heads, and he would “clean them up, sharpen ’em, put a handle in ’em. And I was like, ‘I want to do this as a business.’ And that’s what I started doing.”
A noble endeavor
For Deruise, the word “noble” in his business name represents living a life of high moral standards; the “woodsman” comes from a children’s tale.
“The honorable woodsman didn’t sound very good,” he says. “The noble woodsman actually came from the ‘Red Riding Hood’ stories where the woodsman comes in and slays the wolf and saves the grandmother. That’s sort of a rough sort of vibe from where I started getting the idea.”
Deruise now has his shop in his two-car garage, many times bigger than the shed where he began. A regular on the craft-market circuit, he’s come a long way from his first show at Durham’s Patchwork Market, where he didn’t want to put out his axes out at first because he didn’t want people to think he was weird.
But he found he filled a niche, and has begun to add other products ranging from cold-brewed coffee to restoration and custom-designed wood tables.
When one of his regular customers, Thomas Mielcarek of Apex, injured his foot in a motorcycle accident, Deruise made a cane for the 26-year old. Mielcarek says he “didn’t have a clue” about the style he wanted, but that Deruise “kept communicating with me and just by talking with me, (he) came up with an idea and rolled with it. And (it) turned out amazing.”
Deruise is also planning on opening a brick-and-mortar shop that sells his products, and a “creative speakeasy,” which would serve as a resource to help other makers through access to equipment such as a 3D printer, communal support, workshop opportunities and more.
“There’s nothing like that in Cary,” says Deruise. “There’s no maker-space either. There’s a couple maker-spaces around here, but they’re not doing what I want to do.”