A few years ago, Kings Mountain resident Gene Frantz went out to find a lathe for his wife Susan, who was interested in turning wood.
He got her the lathe and she mastered using it, but in time, he was the one who took to it.
At this weekend’s Kings Mountain Art Fair, Frantz will be found in the Mountain Folk section, which this year will spotlight an estimated 30 fine artisans who live on the mountain. He’ll be selling his salad bowls, platters, pepper mills, vases or more made of gracefully turned walnut, oak, maple, carob, ash, elm, juniper or more.
All of the woods he uses, said Frantz, are found woods, from trees that have dropped for natural reasons, in Northern California.
“It’s something I truly enjoy,” said the 40-year Skyline area resident. “Each time (I turn wood) I learn something. I look at it and wow, isn’t that pretty.”
His Kings Mountain Art Fair tenure started with another form of woodworking — making birdhouses. But his woodworking life branched off into a new direction when he got the lathe.
Frantz starts with a raw piece of wood — perhaps a branch — and lets the wood guide him as to what final product best suits it.
“I might get a branch that’s six inches across and wind up making a pepper mill, or I might get a branch that’s 18 inches across and wind up making a salad bowl,” he said.
He will draw a circle across the top of the branch or log to define the shape of the bowl-to-be, cut out the circle and put it on the lathe. A little whirring later, and he has the bowl.
Different woods produce different shades and effects, and sometimes the end result surprises even him, he said. Walnut pieces are dark brown, carob is “gorgeous” with effects from a little sap in the wood, maple contains a material he calls “spalding” which affects its color, ash is a light-colored wood, and with oak he might leave some of the bark on the piece for added effect.
But the bottom line is, no one piece looks like another.
“The neat thing is, each piece is unique,” he said. “Each tree is different.”
Retired from a career as a sales representative in the clothing industry, Frantz now maintains a home studio where he turns his found branches into long-lasting home or gift items. They should be washed in hot water and air-dried, he said.