Turning younger generations onto a time-honored craft

The North Coast Woodturners help artisans learn new techniques

By Sara Hill

In many ways, the skilled arts and crafts world is still very much word-of-mouth – someone knows someone who knows someone who can make this, or specializes in that, or is good at working with this, and shares their hobby with family, friends and visiting local craft shows.

Woodturning, the art of shaping wood with a lathe, is one such trade that continues to draw interest and attention.

“Often, somebody will call me and tell me a tree came down in their yard and ask me if I want it, then I’ll go haul it and make something for them as a thank-you. Then they can tell people this came from a tree in my yard,” said Ron Tomasch, president of the North Coast Woodturners, a nonprofit club that meets monthly in a section of the Brecksville Horticulture Building on Stadium Drive.

The North Coast Woodturners, a chapter of the American Association of Woodturners, is one of the largest clubs in the nation, with more than 170 registered members who regularly donate their creations to various charities and fundraisers, sell their work and educate future generations. They meet the first Saturday of each month at 9:30 a.m. Meetings always include time for socializing, show and tell, demonstrations and opportunities for continuing education.

At the club’s July meeting, members were invited to tour various learning stations that provided turning tips and tricks for a range of applications. Tomasch hopes to incorporate more stations into future meetings.

Tomasch, who joined the local group more than 20 years ago, has served as vice president and, most recently, as president. He also started a local chapter in his Geneva community, teaches technique classes and has pieces displayed in stores and online. At 74 years old, he’s been woodturning for 65 years and has seen the trade evolve to include greater efficiencies in tools and techniques. 

“There are many new turners,” he said of chapter membership. “When I took over, my goal was to attract new and younger members. When I first started out, our average age was folks in their 60s, now our club’s average age are people in their 40s. We’re also connecting with kids as well. Kids love to see the shavings fly off the wood as you’re turning. More often than not, it’s the parents who approach us and want their kids to learn how to use their hands. Many schools aren’t offering the industrial arts and woodworking courses anymore. This hobby attracts people who want to think outside the box and want to create for themselves. The trade is definitely expanding.”

The North Coast Woodturners formed in the late 1980s and first began meeting at Rockler Woodworking & Hardware in Parma, then later at Blossom Hill School on Oakes Road in Brecksville and then found their current Stadium Drive home about five years ago.

Woodturning is an art that has never stopped or lost momentum, Tomasch said. The most popular wood turned items artists create are bowls, platters, vases and replacement spindles for staircases.

About eight years ago, Tomasch discovered he had a talent for something totally outside the box – wooden hats, as shown on his retail website, ijustmakestuff.com. His popular wood outback hat, which sells for $299, is made from maple, while his cowboy hat is made from hickory and finished with a clear satin lacquer. His wood baseball cap is created from sugar maple. Tomasch, who can work with just about any type of wood, also makes clocks, urns, bowls and other popular items. Each project takes a different amount of time, depending on its complexity.

“I can make a bowl in about 45 minutes, but some projects could take months, like my cremation urns, where I use mathematical equations and calculations, so I know how large to make it,” he said. “When I first started woodturning, everything was done by hand and by hand memory and I just prayed for the best. The technology has greatly changed and come a long way. It’s usually the people who do the turning who come up with an idea and get somebody to manufacture it for them, thus continuing the word-of-mouth tradition. It’s very grassroots, and when it’s all said and done, woodturning is a hobby anybody can do, and you’ve got a beautiful piece of art. I never paint my pieces. I want you to see the wood, the natural qualities, and I leave the knots in there.”

To learn more about the North Coast Woodturners, including a meeting and events schedule, visit northcoastwoodturners.net.