Area woodworkers show off their craft | Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

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Legend has it that when the Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo was asked how he created his famous statue of David, he replied that he simply chipped away all the marble that wasn’t David, until a brave shepherd-king showed up.

Tony Williams of Bryant said making bowls, cups or even lawn furniture is much the same way: turning a piece of wood on a lathe and cutting away pieces of wood until you’re left with what you want to make.

Williams, a past president of the Central Arkansas Woodturners, said there is usually a plan for what to make from the wood, but acknowledged that plans sometimes then change.

“I usually have an idea of ​​what I want to make,” Williams says, “but no matter how smoothly I work with it, wood isn’t always forgiving, and something can happen, and I’ll either change my idea or get a different piece of wood.”

He also said he enjoys just playing around and seeing what emerges as he goes along.

“This process is called run and scrape, and it involves taking a piece of firewood from the forest and turning it on a lathe,” Williams says, “and then just getting started and seeing what comes out. This process results in a lot of free-form bowls that can be used for almost anything while still retaining the general shape of the piece of wood.”

This is exactly what can be achieved by turning a wood with firewood etc. Using rare or expensive woods allows the woodturner to carefully stick to the plan.

“When you’re working with exotic woods, you probably have it all planned out before you start because you don’t want to make any big mistakes,” Williams says. “I’m going on a mission trip to Brazil and I’m bringing back wood to make pens for my team members, and there’s not a ton of that wood, so I’m going to do it with a plan.”

The pens are just some of the items in an exhibit of artwork made by members of the Central Arkansas Woodturners that is currently on display at the Bob Hertzfeld Memorial Library in Benton. Glass cases on the library’s main floor display more than a dozen pieces made by Williams and other members of the community organization.

“We have about 50 to 60 members who come to our meeting in Hot Springs on the second Saturday of each month,” he says. “The meeting takes place at National Park Community College and usually starts with a show and tell, after which one of our members demonstrates a teaching technique.

“We also have books and DVDs available to members that show them how to make certain things.”

Turning and drilling wood into writing implements is a common starting point for woodturners, Williams said. Once they’ve mastered making pens, they can move on to larger, more complex projects, he said.

“One of the favorite things woodturners make, along with bowls and vases, is kaleidoscopes,” he says. “Woodturners can also glue pieces of wood together in a pattern, leaving gaps, and then turn the pieces after they dry to create segmented lathe pieces.”

Another popular item is the turned bowls, which have natural edges and exposed bark. The finished product may have uneven edges, a feature that Williams says occurs after the bowl is made.

“When the bowl is finished, it’s a round shape. That’s how the lathe works. But as the wood dries, it changes shape,” he said. “Sometimes it goes from round to boat-shaped.”

Williams said he first tried wood turning in an industrial arts class at Bryant High School, but didn’t try it again for 20 years, retiring about 10 years ago.

“I had an outbuilding and was looking for something to use it in, so I decided to try woodworking,” he says. “I read about a wood-turning group and tried to go to a meeting, but the timing wasn’t good. One of the members there let me know the date and time of the meeting and invited me down to his workshop so I could play around with the tools.”

Williams said he makes all kinds of things, some of which he sells, but his specialty is recreating architectural features.

“I have friends in the Quapaw neighborhood of Little Rock who bring me pieces of old stairs or flower pots from their old houses and ask me to recreate them,” he says, “and I’m copying the look from the 1800s and keeping them in their homes for another 100 to 150 years. I love that.”

The woodturners exhibit at the Benton library will continue through April, Williams said. For more information about the woodturners organization, call (501) 317-8524.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or Email:

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