Ornamental walnut bowl (submitted photo)

As a tree grows, its trunk gets wider and longer. Chuck Larson’s interest and energy in wood craft has grown over time as well but is now narrower and more focused. Now that he is retired, he is spending time spinning his wood lathe making beautiful bowls, vases, and candleholders day and night.

While growing up, Chuck worked with his father using woodworking tools to make a wide variety of functional items, large and small. Over the past 15 years through YouTube videos and other media, along with his own experimentation, he has focused on the challenging craft of creating wood products using a lathe. He notes, “It is fun to be creative. It’s why I do this, and I take pride in what I do.”

Chuck’s wood passion took over his garage. He bolted his lathe—a motorized piece of heavy mechanical equipment for turning wood—to the floor and now heads to the garage to work on his creations whenever he feels like it throughout any given day. He can start and stop at will, leave the work as is, and pick up exactly where he left off without a lot of extra putting away and cleaning up.

What is woodturning? It is the process where raw, dried wood is placed and secured on a lathe. Then the lathe spins the wood at high speed, and an operator presses the edge of a metal gouge—a chisel with a shaped cutting edge— into the spinning wood which carves out portions of the wood to create symmetrical shapes. A common example of an item created on a lathe is a decorative table leg. But turning the wood is just one of the middle stages in Chuck’s overall process to complete a new wood craft.

His first step is to procure wood. He might find a fallen log near his home. He paints a waxy substance on the ends of the log to protect the open surface and sets them in his yard to dry for a few years. Chuck buys other wood pieces from a lumber company that specializes in global hardwoods. His favorite wood to use is walnut, but he has developed “a real fondness” for cherry. Oak is another wood he often uses, prized for its rough and sturdy nature.

Platter (Submitted photo)

When he chooses a fallen log for a project, it is usually in “terrible shape.” He typically must round it off a bit with a saw before it is put on the lathe. The danger of splintering wood is ever present when shaping wood, so a face shield is a must. Once on the lathe, it will stay there until the entire lathe operation is complete. As a result, Chuck only completes one piece at a time.

Segmented bowl (Submitted photo)

If he starts with purchased wood, he will cut flat layers and shapes of different woods and glue them together into patterns, like checkerboard, before he puts it on the lathe.

Whether a single, dried piece or a piece made up of glued layers, once it is on the lathe, Chuck turns the piece to make it smooth. His pieces are up to 12 inches wide which is the size limit of his lathe. It is only at this point, after smoothing the item down, that he decides what he will make based on the unique features of the wood that are revealed. If the wood is long, it may be a vase. If squat, a bowl. Using a variety of gouges, he shapes the wood inside and out as it turns on the lathe.

The next stage is to sand the item with an increasingly fine grit sandpaper while still on the lathe. Then, it is polished with a paste that has grit in it to make it ready for a finish. Chuck does not stain the wood so the natural colors will glow through the finished piece. He creates a hard finish with two to three coats of a wax emulsion with drying time between each coat. Finally, Chuck removes the piece from the lathe. It is complete and ready to add a little beauty and utility to someone’s home.

When you purchase any of Chuck’s wood craft products, you know it has received his undivided attention as he makes just one at a time with each unique in style and wood features.

If one were to look around his studio right now, you would see items in several different stages of the process. He has some new wood that he is prepping for vases and bowls for upcoming art fairs and Etsy. While some items take longer to create, he can usually complete one item a day in a good week. And if one were to look in Chuck’s kitchen, you would see his wood bowls being using functionally, not simply sitting on a shelf.

Bowl with checkered inlays (Submitted photo)

If you are interested in wood craft by Chuck Larson, look for him at woodcraftbychuck.com.

This article first appeared on the Evanston Made website.

Jean Cunningham

Jean Cunningham retired from the business world and is now enjoying the next phase, including writing about local artists to increase awareness of Evanston’s amazing art community.