Woodworking is something of a family tradition for Kingsland resident Barb Hahn.
“I started in woodworking in, oh my golly, way way back. I dabbled in woodturning, but I dabbled in everything because I was raising the kids,” Hahn said. “My father and grandfather were both carpenters, but I’m old enough to be in the generation when girls weren’t allowed in the shop.”
It wasn’t her first choice, however. Along the way, she also tried baking, tailoring, upholstery, knitting, quilting, cross-stitch and more before trying her hand at woodturning.
At the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts in Tampa, Fla., she saw her first example of the trade.
“I went to the festival and saw my first woodturning, and I was mesmerized,” Hahn said. “I left everything else and have gone into woodturning.
“Women, I think, have a different eye for wood than men do. It’s more artistic than technical. I’m not saying men aren’t artistic, but we see things differently.”
For a while, woodturning remained something to simply dabble in, said Hahn, a retired nurse. After her kids — of which she had three, each five years apart — left the house, she moved from Florida to Kingsland and finally found an opportunity to take the hobby further.
“It took a lot of years. You know, single mom and all that stuff, but when I moved to Georgia and had my house built I told the builder I wanted a small house but a big workshop,” Hahn said. “I had to have another building to store my wood in because it’s an addiction.”
Early on, however, she found it hard to make time for her new woodturning hobby and taking care of her family.
“It is a big challenge, trying to take care of a child, maintain a house and then go through the aftermath of a spouse dying,” Hahn said.
Finding someone to show her the ropes also proved difficult.
“At that time there weren’t many women doing it and most of the guys were very resistant to taking on a woman to teach them how to do it,” Hahn said. “It took me a while to find a mentor.”
Eventually, she got into a four-week course at a school in North Carolina.
“That’s where I really got into it,” Hahn said.
In further exploring woodturning, Hahn said she’s only come to love it more.
“I just love working with it. I love the grain, I love the smell of it. I love the different kinds of wood,” Hahn said. “You can take a piece of wood destined for a fireplace and turn it into something really sharp. You can take a piece of rotten wood and do something with it … I don’t call it my shop anymore, now it’s my toy shop. And that’s what it is. It’s not just my hobby, it’s what I do.”
Woodturning, more so than some other hobbies, allows for variety and rewards creativity, which is another reason the craft appealed to Hahn.
“What do I really, really like? I like doing platters. I like doing bowls. I like doing hollow form. And I’m starting to really get into the embellishing. Whether you’re painting it, or finishing it or carving it, that’s where I’m going,” Hahn said. “But I don’t want to cover the wood, I want to make sure there’s some paint and embellishing but that you can also see the wood. I like to combine them.”
It’s become quite an obsession, she said.
“There’s wood all over. There’s wood inside, there’s wood outside, there’s wood in the garage, there’s wood in the shop, there’s wood in storage, it’s all over,” Hahn said.
She’s also taken a great interest in preserving the trade and regularly visits the Safe Harbor boarding school in Tampa to teach the skill.
“That’s really special because you get to meet and work with these boys and that’s really special. They just need a little extra help,” Hahn said. “These kids have gotten into kind of troubled situations or unruly situations. I don’t want to say they’re delinquents, because they’re not.”
Helping the kids complete projects and seeing the effects of that sense of accomplishment from working with their hands is a great thing, she said.
“To see the progress they make when they get finished with the class, and they go on to the (Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair), is special,” Hahn said. “They get to display their stuff, and they get first, second, third place there, and it’s an accomplishment. You turn a negative into a positive and you get them on their way. It’s just one step along the way.”
For Hahn’s family, woodworking has become a generational tradition and is one more thing that ties the family together. She said it can be something similar for kids who don’t have that kind of familial bedrock.
Organizations devoted to woodworking, such as the local Golden Isles Woodworking and Woodturning, are welcoming to newcomers, Hahn said, and many share the desire to pass on knowledge whenever possible.
“The woodturning community is very giving and a very sharing community,” Hahn said. “If someone wants to know something, there’s no holding back. There’s no fear of if you tell someone too much they’ll figure out how you do it. So I’ve mentored a lot of men and women in the community.
“I think it’s important that we keep these arts alive.”
Coastal People appears Tuesdays. Contact Taylor Cooper at email@example.com or at 912-265-8320, ext. 324 to suggest a person for a column.