Mercer employees find beauty, joy and divinity in woodworking

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A man is standing next to a bookshelf loaded with objects made from wood and prize ribbons
Ben Andrews, assistant director of auxiliary services, has been doing wood turning since 2015. Photographer: Matt Smith

When Ben Andrews looks at a block of wood, he doesn’t just see a block of wood. He understands its full potential. It could be a pen, a small bowl, a vase, etc. Or it could be a bottle stopper, a salt shaker, or a decorative item.

He uses his hands and a lathe to transform wood and other materials such as deer antlers, pine cones, and gumballs into something new.

“I’m using what God made because God has blessed me to do this,” said Andrews, assistant director of Mercer University’s Department of Auxiliary Services. He calls what he’s doing a “humble pivot.”

Andrews has worked at the university for 24 years, overseeing repairs to alarm systems and restaurant equipment. In 2015, he decided to let go of the small alarm company he was running on the side.

He wanted to find something that would fill his free time but wouldn’t take away from his family’s time. Prayer led him to woodworking.

A chance sale of things I no longer use and some overtime money gave me the exact amount I needed to start my business. He attended a woodworking club, took classes, and taught himself by watching YouTube videos. He bought tools at an estate sale and received a gift card for his hobby from his family for Christmas.

He began making pens and expanded his repertoire as his skills and tools improved. He rarely adds color to his projects, but lets the beauty of the wood speak for itself. The fiery boxelder gives his work stripes of red and pink. For orange and black, he looks to padau and ebony.

A pen made to look like a cigar is placed on the ashtray.There is a blue ribbon on the back
Ben Andrews, assistant director of auxiliary services, won first place at the Georgia National Fair with this cigar pen and ashtray.Photo credit: Matt Smith

He often gives his works as gifts or sells by word of mouth. A cigar-shaped pen and ashtray, a birthday present for his colleague Jay Bonney, assistant director of auxiliary services, won first place at the Georgia National Fair.

“It’s a piece of koa from Hawaii, and we put a label on it, used resin and paint, and put ash on the tip, so it looks like a burning cigar,” Andrews said. . “Unscrew it. There’s a pen in there.”

Black chess pieces on the left, white chess pieces on the right
Ben Andrews, assistant director of auxiliary services, used walnut to make the dark chess pieces and maple to make the lights.Photo by Ben Andrews

His favorite and most challenging project was a walnut and maple chess set he made to give to his son as a high school graduation gift. JT Andrews is currently in his second year at Mercer University.

“It took nine months of mental preparation and research,” he said. “It took him a little over three months to make the chess pieces. Neighbors helped him make the boards and boxes.”

Replicating chess pieces was a difficult task. If you make one wrong move with your hand, the entire shape may change. Andrews said that is an area where he is looking to improve his skills. Learning is one of his favorite things about wood lathes, and he hopes to one day teach others how to do it.

“It’s like life. It never ends,” he said. “As long as you don’t give up, you keep growing. That’s the one thing in life that I ultimately found that I wanted to keep learning and keep doing.”

blue, purple and green pens
Ben Andrews, assistant director of auxiliary services, created this pen using sweet gumball and resin.Photo by Ben Andrews

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