BY WENDI WINTERS, For The Capital
It's 7 P.M on the second Thursday of the month, and the meeting hall at Parkwood United Methodist Church in Edgewater is jumping. The room is filling up to capacity, almost 100 people. The audience is mostly men, many middle-aged or older, a blur of flannel plaid shirts and baseball caps. The air is scented with the telltale smell of freshly carved wood and furniture oils.
Here and there, a few fingers are missing. This is not your typical wine-and-cheese crowd. It's the monthly meeting of the Annapolis Woodworkers Guild, a 230-strong group of area wood lovers committed to sharing the secrets of their craft and preaching common-sense safety techniques.
Richard Valentizh, guild president, said it exists “to get people interested in woodworking, help them along.” Shave away some of the guild's bark, and you'll find the group has hearts of gold. “The woodworkers are more than giving of their time”, said Mr. Valentizh.
For First Night Annapolis, Mr. Valentizh convinced a number of members to spend New Year’s Eve in the storefront window of the Maryland Teachers Association offices on Main Street, where they jovially displayed artworks and furniture pieces. Members also made jigsaw nameplates for many of the children who dropped in to watch them work with chisels and various electric tools and gadgets.
The guild also performs charitable services for nonprofit organizations throughout the county. Michael Arndt, a Severn resident, and several other members are building copies of the original gates for Hammond-Harwood House and have just finished making benches for the William Paca House in Annapolis.
Pete Evanoff, a Friendship resident, described how his volunteer group makes wooden educational aids that have been requested by the county school system’s Department of Special Education. “A group of four county teachers visits preschool autistic children and tries to get them ready to mainstream,” he said. “When they asked for our help, we designed and built different-sized trays with dividers that contained scroll saw puzzles, counting shapes and teaching aids.” Part of Mr. Evanoff’s thumb is missing. “It was an accident on a jointer. It was six months before I could woodwork again,” he said ruefully.
Another group, including Annapolis resident Sue Sherwood, a guild member for seven years, makes wooden toys for the children at Sarah’s House, a shelter near Fort George G. Meade. “Our big focus is on making toys for Christmas,” Ms. Sherwood said. “But we also do year-round projects. We make doll beds and cradles, trucks, cars, rocking horses, pull toys for babies and toddlers, and jewelry boxes wide enough for CDs or trinkets.”
On Palm Sunday, a local church will have 1,200 new wooden crosses for its parishioners to carry in a processional, thanks to Robert Berry. He initially made a batch of mahogany and poplar, he explained during the group’s “show and tell” session. But something in the glue caused the poplar to streak unattractively and he turned to a maple and walnut combination. Mr. Berry added dryly: “The fellow who used to do this stopped because he cut his finger off.”
Safety issues are a hot topic for members during the show and tell sessions. In a well-paced, professional-looking video photographed and edited by member Jerry Lacey, Halsey Tribble demonstrated how to turn wood. He first made a natural-edged bowl (one with a very visible rim of bark) and, by spindle turning, showed his audience how to create a wooden martini glass. Mr. Tribble pointedly pulled his safety mask on each time he picked up a chisel and turned to his machines.
Jim Francis’ wife wanted a reproduction of a colonial era knife box. When she couldn't find one, he made it and brought it to show and tell. It's a beauty, made of mahogany and glistening with many coats of shellac, polishing compounds and elbow grease.
When Earl Seboda announced he'd built a nautical clock to sit atop his computer, there was a collective yawn – until he pulled it out.
In a satin-finished mahogany, it features a filigreed silhouette of a sailing vessel, circa 1800. Stunning.
“I don’t think I’ve ever come to a meeting that I haven’t learned something,” mused Mr. Arndt. “No matter what woodworking problem comes up, somebody has an answer.”
Wendi Winters is a freelance writer in Arnold.
Published 03/01/04, Copyright © 2004 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.