Manuel, who is 68, tried displaying and selling his work at festivals but didn't care for it.
"I'm not much on going and sitting around," he says.
People aren't as interested in wooden decor as they used to be, and pieces that used to sell as quickly as they were made aren't in demand anymore. However, one item he makes has become more popular with time.
You might see Manuel's handmade canes on display at Crab Orchard Mayor Bill Dyehouse's home. State Sen. Ed Worley and U.S. Congressman Ben Chandler both have an original Manuel cane, also. And Lincoln County Clerk Sonny Spoonamore has bought seven or eight and donated them for auctions. He says people love them. "They are one-of-a-kinds, handmade right here in Lincoln County," Spoonamore says. "You get one, you got the only one like it in the world."
Manuel's canes are original for a couple of reasons. First, he identifies each cane he makes with an engraved piece of metal with his initials and a number.
"I thought it would be neat to keep track of them," he said.
Second, the marbles he uses make each cane unique. The color, design and the order in which each marble is placed makes each cane different from the next.
Manuel is known to give away canes or donate them for the purpose of auctioning off. Each February, he donates a cane to help restore Turtle Cove, a Florida neighborhood damaged by hurricanes.
His canes have brought more than $300 each in auctions, which surprised him.
Spoonamore said one of highest prices came at an auction at Cedar Creek Sportsman's Club.
Although making money off his hobby is nice, it doesn't mean Manuel wants to do it full time. He is not interested in trying to sell them in stores or become a regular on eBay. Taking cane orders and selling them wouldn't feel like a hobby anymore to this retired tractor-trailer driver.
"That would be like working," Manuel says. "If I want to sell them, fine, but I'm going to make them because I like to."
He has to be in the mood to take on a new cane project because it's a long process. He starts with a slab of walnut wood, cuts it into cane-length strips, and marks where he wants to cut it to insert marbles, then cuts that section out.
The next step takes about two weeks. He soaks the premature canes in water to soften them. This is how he is able to squeeze marbles inside the wood. After the canes dry for another couple of weeks, he starts the sanding and shaping process.
The final steps include a few coats of gun stock oil, either a bronze or wooden handle, and a small piece of metal that marks it as a James Ray Manuel original.
His favorite part is the marbles. That's what makes his canes different. "The first time someone sees it, they ask, 'How do you get the marbles in?'" Manuel says.
That's because the marbles sit inside a hollow part of the cane and are held in place by surrounding wood.
"He really makes a neat cane," Dyehouse says.
Dyehouse, who recently became Crab Orchard's mayor, has four he either bought at auctions, won or was given as an outgoing county magistrate. Dyehouse's canes are merely for display. "If you needed to use them, you sure could," Dyehouse says. "Hopefully it will be a while before I have to start using them. For now, they are hanging in my den."
Manuel's goal with his hobby isn't to make money. Actually, he said making money from woodworking is difficult when it's not a full-time focus. "You have to enjoy it," he says.
To see about purchasing a cane, call Manuel at (606) 355-7505.|1/31/07|***