Mason County club members turn old trees into art

Steve Begnoche
Ludington Daily News

Ludington – — A gnarled, aged tree can be a thing of beauty.

When pieces of it are turned on the lathe of a crafter , an inner beauty unseen while the tree lived can be revealed in the form of a bowl, a spindle, a bead, a plate or whatever else the imagination and skill of the crafter can see and the wood lends itself to.

It’s a process of creation mostly by reduction.

The block of parent wood turns as the scrapers, gougers and other tools are placed in or against the wood fixed on the lathe to shave, gouge and scrape away unwanted material to shape the desired object.

“You have some idea of what’s in the wood, but you never know what the wood is going to show until you get into it,” said Dan Sleeman, a member of the Mason County Wood Turners Club. On a recent Saturday, club members demonstrated their craft at a workshop in Ludington.

Member Chris Egeler of Victory Township fashioned ebony into a pen. Shavings blackened his hand as he moved a scraper over the cylinders of black wood held in the lathe.

Dave Knudsen used the largest lathe present to turn a bowl from a piece of wood the club had acquired from a once-notably gnarly Camperdown elm that died behind Stearns Motor Inn and the Ludington Area Center for the Arts downtown.

Wood shavings flew out of the opening being hollowed into the wood, its exterior already turned and newly glowing, its grain twisting and turning with nary a straight line showing.

Turners sometimes seek out elbows, crotches and burls of trees or limbs that those making lumber might avoid because the grain isn’t straight. Curving and convoluted grain is not a flaw for a wood turner. Such grain is can be desirable. So can wood with stain lines in the grain from a dead or dying tree. These “flaws” add character to a piece, but working it can be tricky. A piece could break at any point during the process. That’s part of the challenge.

The turners take differing approaches to each of their pieces — pieces that reflect the individuality of the wood and the turner.

Paul Desmet showed how his father’s antique lathe could be used to fashion a spindle, ice fishing rod handle or candlestick out of a piece of sycamore.

Norm Letsinger said that “wood turning is one way of discovering and uncovering the beauty God has hidden in a piece of wood.” Letsinger spent much time explaining to visitors what was going on.

“We’ve been swamped,” he said. “No one has been anxious to leave.”