Region’s wood-turners display their handiwork

By Wayne Bryan Published March 9, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Nick Hillemann

Above: A bowl made of white oak and walnut, left, and a container turned of dogwood that holds a couple of pens are a few of the items on display at the Bob Herzfeld Memorial Library in Benton as part of an exhibition of pieces produced by members of the Central Arkansas Woodturners.

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

Tony Williams of Bryant said that is much the same way he produces bowls, cups, even lawn furniture, by turning wood on a lathe, cutting away slivers of wood until the object he wants to make remains.

Williams, a former president of the Central Arkansas Woodturners, said he usually has a plan for what he is making out of a piece of wood, but then plans can change, he admitted.

“I normally have an idea of what I want to make,” Williams said. “But as smooth as you work, wood is not always forgiving, and things can happen, and you either change the idea or get another piece of wood.”

He said he also enjoys just playing around and seeing what kind of piece evolves as he goes along.

“The process is called run and scrape, when you can grab a piece of firewood from the woods and go to work on it at the lathe,” Williams said. “Then you can just start and see what comes into being. That is where we get a lot of free-form bowls that keep the general shape of the piece of wood but can be used to hold almost anything.”

That’s what wood-turning can do, with something like firewood. Using a rare or expensive wood keeps the wood-turner carefully keeping to a plan.

“With an exotic piece of wood, you don’t want to make a big mistake, and you probably have it all planned out before you start,” Williams said. “I go to Brazil on mission trips and bring back pieces of wood to make pens for my team members. I don’t have a lot of that wood, so I follow my plan.”

Pens are just some of the items included in an exhibition of pieces produced by members of the Central Arkansas Woodturners and now on display at the Bob Herzfeld Memorial Library in Benton. A glass case on the library’s main floor includes more than a dozen items made by Williams and other members of the regional organization.

“We have about 50 to 60 members come to our meetings in Hot Springs on the second Saturday of each month,” he said. “We meet at National Park Community College. We usually start with a show-and-tell and then have a teaching demonstration by one of the members.

“We also have books and DVDs available for our members to check out that tell us how to make certain things.”

Williams said turning and drilling pieces of wood to make writing pens is a common beginning for wood-turners. After mastering pen making, they can turn to larger, more complex projects, he said.

“One of the favorite things for wood-turners to make are kaleidoscopes, along with bowls and vases,” he said. “A wood-turner can also glue together pieces of wood in a pattern, even leaving spaces, and then turn the piece once it’s dried for a segmented-turned work.”

Another popular item is a turned bowl where the rim is still natural, even including some of the bark of the wood. The finished piece can have an uneven rim, a feature Williams said comes after the bowl is made.

“When the bowl is finished, it is round, that is the way the lathe works, but as the wood dries, it can change shape,” he said. “What was round can become boat-shaped sometimes.”

Williams said he first turned wood in a shop class at Bryant High School but that he did not do it again for 20 years, until he retired about 10 years ago.

“I had an outbuilding, and I was looking for something do with it, and I decided to work with wood,” he said. “I read about the wood-turning group and tried to go to a meeting, but it was the wrong time. A member was there to tell people when the meeting would be, and he invited me to his workshop to play with his tools.”

Williams said he turns out all kinds of objects, some of which he sells. His specialty is reproducing architectural features.

“I have a friend in the Quapaw District in Little Rock that will bring me pieces from a staircase or a plant stand from one of the old homes and ask me to make another one just like it,” he said. “I will copy it just like it looked in the 1800s, and it will go back in the house for another 100 to 150 years. I like that.

The wood-turners’ display at the library in Benton will remain through April, Williams said. For more information about the wood-turners’ organization, call him at (501) 317-8524.

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

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or

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