Woodworking art with a twist

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Dr. Andy Woodard only got hooked at the suggestion of a friend. For Tim Thompson, it was a natural progression. Katie Stoffel got the tools from her grandfather. For Gin Rice, it became a lifelong addiction.

They meet once a month to share their stories, teach new skills and show off the products of their hours of work. It’s part of what Duck River Woodturners meetings are affectionately known as “Show and Brag.”

The members represent different cities, age groups and genders, but share a passion for transforming blocks of wood into bowls, plates and vases that are so well-crafted they could be considered works of art.

A lathe is an essential tool for any woodturner, as without it shaping and smoothing the work would be difficult or impossible.

The lathe clamps and spins the raw material, and the woodworker uses special tools to cut its surface at precise angles to create the desired shape. The tighter the tool is against the wood, the sharper the shape will be.

“I thought it would be easy, but it’s not as easy as it looks,” said Everett Campbell of Lewisburg, one of the few club members who spoke with a reporter at Woodard’s store last week.

The impromptu meeting came just days before the Tennessee Woodturning Association’s 28th annual Symposium in Franklin, an event that features demonstrations, critique sessions and numerous exhibits and that members look forward to each year.

Woodard, a Columbia dentist who is one of the state organization’s directors, credits his friend Ivor Moadock for mentoring him when he first got into the wood-turning hobby.

“He invited me in and let me look over his shoulder while he worked,” Woodard recalled.

One of his latest pieces is a flared bowl made from a piece of box elder wood, with the entire rim looking like an intricate pattern left by wood-carving insects—a detail that, in fact, Woodard explained, was intentional, created using a technique called piercing.

He used dental tools to cut wavy, slotted holes in the thin layers of wood.

“The trick is, if you can get it thin enough, the rest is easy,” he said.

Woodard said a look at the pile of discarded bowls in the corner of his workshop shows just how difficult it can be.

In Tennessee, wood sources are easy to find: roadside chips, incinerator leftovers, fallen trees – anything can become a future work of art. Popularity varies: some prefer Bradford pear, maple, hackberry, or more unusual woods like cocobolo, a tropical hardwood native to South America.

“There are no imperfections in wood; imperfections just add character,” Woodard said, pointing to a large wooden bowl with a natural hole just below the rim.

Despite being soft-spoken, Stoffel stands out among the group.

The 16-year-old Carioca student is likely one of the youngest at the Maury County club and one of the few women, and her interest in the hobby was sparked one day by her grandfather, who proclaimed that she could turn a piece of wood into a baseball bat.

“I couldn’t believe it at first,” Stoffel said, though she admits that watching the transformation is her favorite part of the process. “It’s so much fun to see something take shape.”

She doesn’t mind being part of a club dominated by older men, because to her they are all teachers.

Thompson started out making furniture, but took to wood turning as a hobby after buying a lathe about four years ago. One of the pieces he’s most proud of is a plate made with swirled beads and lightly colored trim.

Although the finished pieces look worthy of a hefty price tag, club members agree that no one can quit their day jobs to take up woodturning.

“It’s a swirling hobby that’s taking all my money,” Thompson says, “and I’m just selling stuff to make room for something else.”

Woodard agrees, saying giving a finished piece as a gift gives it more “value.”

“It makes a lot of people happy,” Campbell added.

The Duck River Woodturners meet the second Tuesday of each month at the Pentecostal Church on Baker Road. For more information, contact Rice, the club president, at (931) 626-0959.

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