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A crowning achievement
Woodturners create art, even Stetson-style hats, out of nature
Joy Moss fashions a small chalice out of a piece of maple wood Thursday at her home in Clarkesville. Moss has been wood turning for seven years. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Chattahoochee Woodturners
2nd Tuesday of each month 7 p.m.
Where: Baxter's Belmont Shop, 3738 Anglin Dr., Gainesville
Contact: 770-534-2649

Mountain Laurel Wood Turners
2nd Thursday of each month
Where: Habersham County Fire Station 13, 2665 Habersham Mills Road, Clarkesville
Contact: 717-575-2130


Although his uncle made a living turning wood, John Moss never thought much about it until one fateful day when he was 16 years old.

"My uncle had a shop and one day, I turned a piece and just fell in love with it," said Moss, a Clarkesville resident.

"It was such a satisfying feeling turning a piece of wood into something useful."

He recalls the memory from his teenage years with a faraway look in his eyes and his voice a mixture of pride and wonderment.

The project that opened his eyes to the world of woodturning?

"A handle for an outhouse," said Moss, a retiree, with a chuckle.

"It’s not much, but that was all it took."

Although the tradition of woodturning started out much the way Moss did, centered around complete utility, today it has grown into an art with much more creativity and flare.

Using special gouges moving at incredibly high speeds, wood is whittled down into specific shapes until voilà — a piece of art materializes.

"Up until about 20 years ago, nobody would do woodturning as a hobby — it was just something they did to generate income," said Rob Patrick, a Sautee woodturner.

"It was just a task that people did to make things like spindles and balusters for railings. But around that time, the (American Association of Woodturners) was formed and that really turned things around."

The international nonprofit is dedicated to advancing the art of woodturning. Patrick himself didn’t begin woodturning until about six years ago, but he’s become quite an accomplished, and artistic, craftsman.

"I make platters and little boxes to put things in, but I like to inlay stone into them to create different patterns," Patrick said.

Although he uses a lot of native woods, he also likes to use exotic species to add additional coloring to his work. One of his more unique pieces is not only an attractive shelf adornment, it is also wearable.

"I like to make hats," Patrick said.

"I make a Stetson- and Panama-style hat. I start out with about a 40-pound block of wood and I end up with a hat that’s about 6 or 7 ounces."

Both Patrick and Moss have pieces showcased in museums and galleries all over.

For all of his accomplishments, Patrick didn’t get into woodturning until he retired. The same goes for Moss, who became a full-time woodturner in 2003 after retiring from a decades-long engineering career. His wife, Joy Moss, also took up woodturning around that time.

"He’d turned for quite some time, but I’d never been interested," Joy Moss said.

"I had been using a bandsaw and other tools to make things like nativity scenes and Noah’s Ark animals out of wood, but I wasn’t into woodturning. One day, we decided to try and see if people would be interested in buying some of the things that we make."

That first showing proved to be a turning point for the couple.

"I thought, ‘Well, this is kind of fun,’" Joy Moss recalls.

"My husband is a very good woodturner, but he doesn’t work fast enough. I knew what we needed to have to do more shows, so I took a weekend class in Toccoa, and that’s how I got into woodturning.

"I loved it so much. It’s such a wonderful hobby because it’s so creative and so fast. You can make a bowl in a few minutes really."

While her husband specializes more in bigger pieces like platters, bowls and chalices, Joy Moss likes to do the more delicate work.

"I like to make tiny things, like miniature plates and cups," Joy Moss said.

"I also love making jewelry, Christmas ornaments and spinning tops."

Although the natural pattern in certain pieces of wood is "art in itself," she has been known to add a few extra decorative touches when a particularly bland piece of wood crosses her path.

"I like to embellish with wood burning, coloring and texturing," Joy Moss said.

Even though he hadn’t been woodturning full time all these years, Moss says he’s been dabbling in the art since the 1960s.

"I was pretty much self taught until I joined a club in 1992. That was the best thing that I could’ve done," Moss said.

"You learn an awful lot through connecting with others and watching demonstrations of techniques that you can’t teach yourself."

Today, he and his wife are members of three woodturning clubs. There are more than 300 woodturning clubs all over the country, including the Gainesville-based Chattahoochee Woodturners and the Mountain Laurel Wood Turners in Clarkesville.

Over the years, Moss says things have changed a lot.

"The tools have gotten a lot better," Moss said.

His wife has also noticed changes.

"There are more women in it now," Joy Moss said.

"It used to be only men."

The materials for woodturning continue to evolve too. These days, acrylics, bone and talc are also prime candidates for turning.

Although the couple have a friendly competition going between them, both say they enjoy the time they spend together in their workshop — even if it requires his and hers workstations.

"It’s a good thing for us to do in our older years," Joy Moss said.

"We may be retired, but you have to keep active. It’s kind of unusual for both a husband and wife to like the same thing."

The couple also agree that individuals should join or visit a local club if they are interested in learning how to be a woodturner or want to brush up on their skills.

"There are a lot of mentors out there for people who want to learn. Woodturning is as much a social thing as it is individual," Moss said.

"Most woodturners will teach you everything they know, even their secrets."