All it took was an invitation from a friend to hook Dr. Andy Woodard. For Tim Thompson, it was a natural progression. Katie Stofel’s grandfather gave her the tools, and for Gynn Rice it’s been a lifetime addiction.
Once a month they meet to share their stories, teach new techniques and display the results of hours of work — a part of the Duck River Woodturners meeting affectionately known as “show and brag.”
Members represent different cities, age groups and genders, but they share a passion for turning chunks of wood into bowls, plates and vases — creations so refind they’re considered pieces of art.
In a woodturner’s world, a lathe is a vital piece of equipment. Without it, shaping and smoothing would be difficult, if not impossible.
The lathe secures and spins the raw material while the woodworker uses special tools to skim its surface at precise angles to create the desired shape. The firmer the tool is held against the wood, the more pronounced the shape.
“I thought it might be something easy, but it’s not as easy as it looks,” said Everett Campbell of Lewisburg, one of handful of club members who met last week with a reporter in Woodard’s shop.
The impromptu meeting came just days before the 28th annual Tennessee Association of Woodturners symposium in Franklin. The event features demonstrations, critique sessions and numerous displays — an event these members anticipate every year.
Woodard, a Columbia dentist who is one of the state organization’s directors, credits his friend Iver Moredock for mentoring him in the beginning stages of the wood turning hobby.
“He invited me to his shop and to look over his shoulder while he worked,” Woodard recalled.
One of his latest creations is a flared bowl made from a piece of Box Elder wood. The entire rim looks like an intricate pattern left by a wood-burring worm. Actually, the detail is intentional, created by a technique called piercing, Woodard explained.
He used a dental tool to drill wiggly, elongated holes in a thin layer of wood.
“The trick is once you get it thin enough, the rest is easy,” he said.
Woodard said he can prove just how tricky it is by looking at the pile of discarded bowls in the corner of his workshop.
Finding a good supply of wood is easy in Tennessee. Any piece of wood on the side of the road, left-over pieces in burn pits or a felled tree could be a future piece of art. Favorites vary. Some like Bradford pear, maple, hackberry or more exotic wood like cocobolo, a tropical hardwood found in South America.
“There’s no such thing as a defect in the wood. That only adds character,” said Woodard, pointing to a large wood bowl with a natural hole located just below the rim.
Despite being soft-spoken, Stofel stands out in the group.
The 16-year-old Culleoka student likely is one of the youngest and one of the few females in the Maury County club. Her grandfather piqued her interest in the hobby by one day proclaiming he could turn a piece of wood into a baseball bat.
“I didn’t believe him at first,” said Stofel, who admits watching the transformation is her favorite part of the process. “It’s pretty neat to watch something take shape.”
She doesn’t mind being part of club dominated by older men. To her they are all teachers.
Thompson, who started out making furniture, said he gravitated toward wood turning as a hobby after acquiring a lathe about four years ago. One of his most prized creations is a beaded plate arranged in a swirl pattern with a bit of added color.
Their finished products look worthy of a hefty price tag, but club members agree they can’t quit their day jobs for a career in wood turning.
“It’s a hobby with a vortex hole that takes all your money,” Thompson said. “And I only sell something to make room for something else.”
Woodard agrees, saying he receives more “value” out of his finished works by giving them as gifts.
“It makes a lot of people happy that way,” Campbell added.