Red Oak Hollow

Woodturning, a joyful hobby making round things out of wood

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Tom's Woodworking Background

From kid to adult

I started out as a child. Even then, I was interested in woodworking. Dad had a sturdy workbench in the basement of our home in Kewanee, IL, and I used to spend hours there sawing, drilling, sanding, hammering, and generally cobbling things together. Some of those early things were pretty grim, but I sure enjoyed making them. As I grew, I slowly became more skilled. Very slowly! But then when I graduated from Kewanee High School in 1965 and moved away from home forever, the woodworking came to a screeching halt. I just didn't have a place or the means to buy the equipment.

When Judi and I married in 1975, one of the first projects we tackled was to make a coffee table and two end tables out of 2x4s and 2x6s with Judi sitting on the "2" edge of the boards on a kitchen chair as my vise and I hand-sawing a mitered edge at the end of the board for the outer rim of these tables. My "workshop" at the time was our apartment living room with its avocado shag carpet in Alameda, CA. We loved it. But it was there we bought our first house, an 85 year old Victorian. It looked like three floors, but the ground level was actually the basement, including a one car garage. What appeared to be the second floor was actually the first floor but you had to go up the front or back steps to the porch in order to get in. Even from that basement, we had to go outside to get into the upstairs part of the house. There was some sort of attic space, but we never used it for anything.

There is a funny story about my working in the basement one day soon after we had moved in. We had contracted to have some work done on the house, a new forced air natural gas furnace, new wiring and outlets, and some carpeting and linoleum work made the place really look nice. I was thrilled to have a basement and even more thrilled to have a workbench already installed. But it needed a light. I bought the requisite parts at a local hardware store and set to work installing a standard two-bulb 48" shop light over the workbench, hard-wiring it in with a switch and a couple of outlets there at the workbench. I had been moving around the basement, drinking an Olympia beer which tasted mighty good that hot summer day. I picked up the beer and took a mouthful, but something wasn't right. It just didn't feel right in my mouth so I moved quickly to the deep sink and spit it out. Well, out came a huge gob of mold! It turns out that one of the workmen must have been drinking an Oly, too, and had left his half-done can of beer where I picked it up. That was a couple weeks earlier and that mold had found a home! I rinsed my mouth out with water over and over and then went upstairs to the bathroom and brushed my teeth for a loooooonng time. Nothing ever came of it, but I was sure careful about what I drank after that. But that project launched me back into woodworking.

We transferred to Japan in 1976 and then to San Diego three years later. We bought a house there and that was when my woodworking really got back on its feet. I bought a radial arm saw and slowly acquired a few other power tools, and made shelves for the living room as well as other things for the house. It was great fun. Two more assignments in Japan and one in Virginia Beach, VA brought us to Springfield, VA in 1992. That house had a full basement and a great room for a shop, so I started filling it up with power tools such as a table saw, router table, and drill press. I continued to make flat and square stuff until March 1998 when I walked past the Capital Area Woodturners booth at a big woodworking show at the Dulles Expo Center here in Northern Virginia. I stopped to chat for a few minutes and stayed nearly two hours, just watching the guys turn wood and talking to some of the members. They invited me to a meeting. A couple months later, I found a used lathe in the newspaper classifieds so bought it, but didn't know what to do with it. A couple of adult education classes helped a lot and a few years later, I became president of CAW, Inc., a non-profit organization incorporated within the Commonwealth of Virginia to promote education in woodturning. It has been great fun and I invite you to click on Capital Area Woodturners, Inc. for more information about this great organization. Contact me, too, if you wish.

And now we are living in Loudoun County, Virginia, where we came to open my custom architectural woodturning business. I was making balusters, newels, porch posts, rosettes, table legs, and so forth, including something which has turned out to be a very enjoyable niche market, academic maces. As of January 2013, I have sold the architectural side of the business but still make academic maces as well as the usual woodturners' products like bowls, bottle stoppers, and wood pens. There are other articles in my web site about maces so look under both News and Other Information to find out more.

I came to the Washington, DC area as a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in 1992, but have now retired from that great agency to pursue woodturning as a full time job. My wife, Judi, keeps saying, "Well, now that you are retired..." but I stop her and say, "Honey, I am not retired. I just changed jobs. I am now a full-time self-employed woodturner." She lets me think that, and it feels good to say. I love this work and very much enjoy the people I meet as I pursue the craft. Some call it art and some craft, but it is great fun and I encourage you to see some of the pictures I will post here from time to time. You decide.

Thanks for coming to this web site. Please contact me if you want more information about woodturning or would like to purchase one of my products for a graduation, anniversary, wedding, birthday, or other special occasion.