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EXCHANGE: Woodworker carves out a niche with patience

March 16, 2018

DECATUR, Ill. (AP) — Glenn Spain doesn’t need a fancy studio to fashion his intricate wooden creations; a simple 10-foot-by-20-foot room behind his garage suits him just fine.

“I have all the tools I need: the radial arm saw, band saw, scroll saw,” said Spain, who took up woodworking with a scroll saw 35 years ago, a few years before retiring from Caterpillar Inc. in 1990.

The ornate pieces he creates today, many by request but sometimes just a subject that catches his attention, are a far cry from the early years, when he sharpened his skills with hours of practice.

“I threw a lot of pieces in the garbage,” said Spain, whose favorite subjects for his scroll saw have religious and patriotic themes. Spain’s projects include clocks, murals, signs, cradles, frames, and even a guitar. He spent four months making a guitar to replace one that he sold nearly 20 years ago fund a trip to Alaska.

“It turned out pretty well,” he said.

Spain said he uses hardwoods such as maple, walnut and oak, and, depending on details, a typical wall decoration can take 15 hours. Spain’s interest in scroll saw designs led him to work with the harder material, and he purchased a jeweler’s blade, “which is super small,” he said.

He has been known to spend most of the day in his workshop, the objects of his desire emerging from the wood.

“It may be something that catches my eye,” he said of the patterns he pursues with his saws. “If somebody puts something on the table, I want it to look nice.”

Such attention to detail and commitment to his craft has made many fans of Spain’s work, Dick Kramer among them. The two men are members of a Caterpillar retirees club.

“At our club, we have a table used for donations, food, crafts,” Kramer said of the monthly meetings. “All the profits are donated to charities, and Glenn makes an article once a month for the club.”

One of Kramer’s favorite pieces was created for him by Spain, who, with only a photo to go on, made a scroll saw plaque of an antique car once owned by Kramer.

“Not just anybody can do that,” Kramer said. “It is intricate work.”

It was such admiration for his skill that helped Spain get through a prostate cancer diagnosis about a year ago. When he began receiving treatments, his interest in woodworking waned, and he didn’t enter his workshop for a few months, he said.

“He didn’t have the enthusiasm for it,” remembered his wife, Vivian.

But the requests for some of his signature pieces kept coming, and Spain, appreciative of his customers’ high regard for his work, found the energy to re-enter his workshop and start the saws again.

“He is starting to enjoy it now,” Vivian Spain said.

Spain said that while he loves his work, he can get frustrated when a piece falls apart. It can seem like the hours already invested have gone up in a cloud of sawdust.

“You don’t see the void in the wood while you are prepping it, then you are cutting on it, and there goes a piece,” he said. “It may be critical to the piece.”

But he is willing to start all over, he said, because although the pieces may take a lot of time to make, they are designed to be enjoyed.

It’s also not something he puts a hard price on, either. He charges anywhere from $20 to more than $100, although his wife confers a slightly higher value on his work.

“She gets after me for not charging enough,” he said. “I just sell it enough to buy me some more wood; I don’t do it for the money.”

“All the time he puts in, for what he sells it for, he is making about 10 cents an hour,” she said. “But he enjoys doing it and gives a lot of it away.”

Case in point: One of his prize creations was a 48-inch cathedral clock he made with scroll saw designs and donated to a fundraiser 20 years ago. The piece, which consisted of three highly detailed sections, took Spain more than 300 hours to complete. Event organizers charged 50 cents apiece for tickets to have a chance to win.

“For 50 cents, they got a deal,” Vivian Spain said. “You couldn’t even buy one board for that.”

“But it was fun to do,” her husband replied.

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Source: (Decatur) Herald & Review, http://bit.ly/2FXqMnk

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Information from: Herald & Review, http://www.herald-review.com

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