By George Gill 03/21/2006
Tom Boley's Red Oak Hollow Lathe Works produces anything from a single knob to match those on a chest of drawers, to hundreds of balusters for a restoration project on an old house.
"I love wood," Boley said. "I have been a woodworker since I was a kid."
Pallets of wood for future projects sit on the floor throughout his wood shop south of Purcellville, along with bags of wood shavings. One pallet contains mahogany, destined for a woodworker who's making gallery racks for photographs. The wood shop is a short walk from his home.
A cacophony fills the wood shop as Boley starts up a Centauro T5 copy lathe, which allows him to quickly do repetitive patterns in wood without having to reset the machine. This comes in handy for larger orders that require large numbers of the same patterned piece of wood, such as balusters in a large-scale restoration project.
A flashing light indicates when the wood shop's phone rings.
The lathe's motor spins the wood. A metal bar, called a tool rest, is positioned in front of the turning wood. Boley uses a variety of wood turning tools to carefully round and shape the wood.
He employs his right thumb to apply sandpaper to the spinning wood. As small wood shavings fly, the pattern takes its final shape.
Other lathes include an Australian-made Stubby S-750, which allows Boley to work on even the oddest shaped piece of wood. A small portable lathe called the Midi, made by Delta, can be taken out to use for demonstration wood turning at craft shows and club events.
"My dad used to call me a 'wood butcher' when I was a kid," Boley recalled, laughing. "I'd saw stuff up, nail it all together. It was awful."
Boley said he hopes he has improved in his skills with wood throughout the years and feels fortunate to be able to do it full time as a business now.
"I enjoy the kinds of wood that I use, and I enjoy shaping wood," he said. "Wood turning is fun."
When it comes to architectural work, many of his clients are lumber yards or stair companies.
"A lot of these companies, they don't want something stock," he explained. "They want something custom, something one of a kind."
Often his clients are people working in restoration of an old house or building. "I do a lot of restoration work, customer work and new construction work," he said.
Cochran's Lumber and Millwork in Berryville has used Boley's services. Larry Cochran, the company's president, said Boley's work has included balusters, turnings for stairs, and newel posts, which are the posts supporting the hand rail at the top of bottom of a stairway.
"Tom does a real good job," Cochran said. "We're really happy with him."
Boley said one of his largest jobs entailed making 116 balusters of a balustrade system for a Maryland company and making four 12-foot long, 6-by-6-inch-square cedar porch posts.
In 1998, Boley walked past a Capital Area Woodturners booth at a trade show at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly. Stopping to chat for a few minutes, he stayed nearly two hours just watching wood-turners at work and talking to some members of the woodturners organization.
Boley started attending Capital Area Woodturners meetings. He recently finished two years as president of CAW Inc., which is a nonprofit organization incorporated within the Commonwealth of Virginia to promote education in wood turning.
Initially, Boley got into artistic wood turning as a hobby. For some time he took his creations to small craft shows, selling enough to support his new interest.
Many of his artistic creations have been wooden bowls or plates, He has even created wooden eggs.
Recently, he seems to have developed a niche creating academic maces for colleges and universities. The academic mace, similar to a staff, is carried by the president or dean of a university at graduation ceremonies.
In April 2005 he completed an academic mace for Patrick Henry College in Purcellville. The 3-foot, 9-inch-long mace features an inset brass medallion with the college symbol.
The University of California Hastings Law School saw the mace on Boley's Web site and ordered a similar one.
About a year ago Boley heard from Don Maloney, a Bluemont resident who was a full-time architectural wood-turner. Maloney was looking to retire and sell his business, Maloney Lathe Works.
"I went up to see him, we talked quite a while and went through his equipment," Boley recalled. "So I told him I'd do it."
A Springfield resident at the time, Boley began looking for a suitable rental facility for the business. Unable to find a place there, he decided to look for a suitable home property elsewhere that would have a building he could use as a wood-turning shop.
He and his wife found a house in the Purcellville area with the frame and shell of a suitable building nearby, which he turned into his wood shop.
Boley's previous career included time in the U.S. Army and as a member of the Naval Investigative Service, which later became the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
For a couple of years after he started wood turning, Boley said he had a difficult time understanding why he enjoyed it so much.
"It's the instant gratification," he said of wood turning.
Boley explained that working on a cabinet or other items can require a considerable amount of time spent on measuring, cutting, and putting it together.
"It can take a lifetime to build a cabinet," he said. "In wood turning, I can put a piece of wood on the lather and in an hour have it be a bowl, a platter, a pen, a baluster, all sorts of things."
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