The Art of Making Art: Chuck Larson

Ornamental walnut bowl (photo submitted)

As a tree grows, its trunk widens and lengthens. Chuck Larson’s interest and energy in woodworking has also grown over time, but is now narrower and more focused. Now that he’s retired, he spends time spinning his wood lathe to make beautiful bowls, vases and candle holders day and night.

Growing up, Chuck worked with his father using woodworking tools to make a wide variety of functional items large and small. For the past 15 years, through YouTube videos and other media, as well as his own experimentation, he has focused on the difficult craft of creating wood products using a lathe. He notes, “It’s fun to be creative. This is why I do this, and I take pride in what I do.

Chuck’s passion for wood has invaded his garage. He’s bolted his lathe – a piece of heavy mechanical equipment for turning wood – to the ground and is now heading to the garage to work on his designs whenever he feels like it throughout the day. It can start and stop at will, leave the job as it is and pick up exactly where it left off without much tidying up and cleaning.

What is woodturning? It is the process where the raw and seasoned wood is placed and fixed on a lathe. Then the lathe spins the wood at high speed, and an operator drives the edge of a metal gouge – a chisel with a shaped edge – into the rotating wood that carves parts of the wood to create symmetrical shapes. A common example of an item created on a lathe is a decorative table leg. But turning wood is just one of the middle steps in Chuck’s overall process of finishing a new wood craft.

Its first step is to obtain wood. He might find a fallen log near his house. He paints a waxy substance on the ends of the log to protect the open surface and dries them in his garden for a few years. Chuck purchases additional lumber from a lumber company specializing in global hardwoods. His favorite wood is walnut, but he has developed “a real fondness” for cherry. Oak is another wood he often uses, prized for its rough and sturdy nature.

Tray (Photo submitted)

When he chooses a fallen log for a project, it is usually in “dreadful shape.” He usually needs to round it off a bit with a saw before putting it on the lathe. The danger of splitting the wood is always present when shaping the wood, so a face shield is essential. Once on the turn, it will stay there until the entire turn operation is complete. As a result, Chuck only completes one piece at a time.

Segmented bowl (Photo submitted)

If he starts with purchased wood, he will cut out flat layers and shapes of different woods and glue them together in patterns, like a checkerboard, before putting it on the lathe.

Whether it’s a single, dried piece or a piece made up of layers that are glued together, once on the lathe, Chuck spins the piece to make it smooth. His pieces are up to 12 inches wide, which is the size limit for his tower. It is only at this point, after smoothing the object, that he decides what to make based on the unique characteristics of the wood that are revealed. If the wood is long, it may be a vase. If squatting, a bowl. Using a variety of gouges, he shapes the wood inside and out as it spins on the lathe.

The next step is to sand the item with increasingly fine grit sandpaper while remaining on the lathe. Then it is polished with a paste containing grain to prepare it for a finish. Chuck does not stain the wood so natural colors will shine through the finished piece. It creates a hard finish with two to three coats of a wax emulsion with a drying time between each coat. Finally, Chuck removes the coin from the lathe. It’s complete and ready to add some beauty and utility to someone’s home.

When you buy any of Chuck’s wood craft products, you know they’ve received their undivided attention because they only craft one at a time, each with their own unique wood style and characteristics.

If one looked around his studio right now, you would see objects at several different stages of the process. He’s got new wood he’s making for vases and bowls for upcoming art fairs and Etsy. While some items take longer to create, it can usually complete one item per day in a good week. And if you looked into Chuck’s kitchen, you would see his wooden bowls being used in a functional way, not just sitting on a shelf.

Bowl with checkered inlays (Photo submitted)

If you’re interested in Chuck Larson’s woodworking craft, look for him at

This article first appeared on the Evanston Made website.

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