By William J. Dagendesh
Working with wood not only produces beautiful hand-created works, but also saves money and relieves stress, said Russ Meyer, provost for CSU-Pueblo.
Meyer took up woodworking 35 years ago as a way to relax, create something out of nothing and save cash, he said. Watching a project materialize from wood is a magical process, Meyer said.
“Most of the things I deal with in my job take a long time to come to fruition, but progress on a chair or desk is easy to see hour by hour,” Meyer said. “I relax when I create with wood, and it doesn’t matter if I’m building a plaque or stereo cabinet.”
In fact, a photo of a stereo cabinet inspired Meyer to take up woodworking, he said. At the time Meyer was employed at Emporia State University, Emporia, Kan., where he sought the advice from an English professor who built lutes for professional musicians.
“I talked about how much I liked the cabinets and he offered to show me how to make them,” Meyer said. “Over a period of several weeks, I got them made.”
In addition to saving money, Meyer works with wood because it helps him to focus on something other than work and forget his troubles, he said.
“When you’re dealing with a table saw blade spinning at several thousand rpm, it pays to stay focused,” Meyer said. “If you don’t, you lose body parts and I’m very fond of all of them.”
Meyer is also fond of developing his skills through trial and error, he said. On-the-job training is the best teacher, Meyer said, because it forces the worker to pay attention to detail when preparing a sketch of a project they plan to create.
Sketching an idea for a project is the most challenging facet of woodworking, Meyer said.
“I enjoy the mental challenge of sketching details and trying to figure out what will work,” Meyer said.
A massive oak desk Meyer built for his office at CSU-Pueblo is one of his favorite challenges, he said. It took Meyer six months to build the desk which has a roll top, no nails and disassembles into five pieces, he said. This proved handy when Meyer transported the desk from his home workshop to his office, he said.
“I took it from my house to the office in one trip in our Jeep Grand Cherokee,” Meyer said. “It can pass through a metal detector because it contains no steel parts,”
Also, Meyer enjoys working with cherry because “It grows more gorgeous with age.” Furniture, cabinets, jewelry boxes, and bowls and trays are among his cherry wood creations, he said. Meyer uses walnut for trim work and exotic woods for trim on special items, he said.
“I use an attractive red wood, paduak, on some boxes and trays I built,” Meyer said. “I’ve made a bunch of trays and cutting boards using a wide variety of exotic, zebra and canary woods.”
Meyer buys most of his wood from local hardware suppliers, and exotic and cherry wood from a Colorado Springs outlet, he said. Wood is costly, he said, and it’s best to know what type of wood you want and how you plan to use it before you buy it.
“Good wood isn’t cheap,” Meyer said, “so it’s better to plan in advance rather than waste a lot of it.”
Working with good wood also requires working with the best tools, Meyer said. Expensive table, band and hand saws, drills, a drill press, planer and an assortment of chisels are among the hundreds of tools that have a home in his workshop, he said.
Meyer considered opening his own woodworking business, he said, but believes building for profit would take away the pleasure he gets from creating for fun.
“Even if I devoted full time to making furniture, I’d be lucky to make five bucks an hour, not much for a guy my age,” Meyer said. “It’s hard to be a provost as a hobby, so I’d better stick to the current arrangement.”