Before we even talk about that mahogany football, let’s get a definition straight: Ralph Wilkes is a woodworker, not a carpenter. “I started with straight carpentry at age 19. That means I was working on-site, building things. Now I’m a woodworker and I work in my own shop.” Wilkes creates fine cabinetry, entryways and stairwells, doing very custom woodworking for high-end homes. The work involves a lot of artistry, a 3-D imagination. He also, like we said, makes wood footballs.
Although he played football when he was younger, Wilkes is not a football fan. “I don’t watch TV—I think it’s a waste of time. When football is on TV, I go out to the shop and make a football.”
He’s made about 60 footballs over the years, often for auctions or charitable causes like KSL’s Footballs for Charity, some for corporate gifts—he’s made about 30 footballs for Nike to give as corporate awards—others for personal gifts, representing all kinds of teams and organizations. At auction, Wilkes’ footballs may go for $450. They’re made from laminates of mahogany, slightly hollowed out, and he’s worked on the finish until it’s almost exactly the color of a football. In total, it takes about 12 hours for him to complete a non-pigskin, stand included.
Right now, there is no Salt Lake magazine football team. But thanks to Ralph, we’ve got the ball.
“I love to do this,” Wilkes says about making footballs. “And there’s a need in this world for people who love what they do.”
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