St. Regis man has a passion for woodworking
According to Proverbs 16:27, idle hands are the devil’s workshop. In Keith Morris’ quaint woodworking shed outside his home in St. Regis, his hands aren’t idle and the things he creates are simply meant to be shared with others.
Walking around the sawdust-dusted floors of his hand-built shed, you would never guess that this woodturning novice was just weeks away from turning 80. It’s never too late to learn something new. having something like that to do every day, it gets me out of my chair and gets me moving.
After owning a wood lathe for almost a decade, Morris decided it was time to put it to use and try a new hobby. Or as he claimed, “It’s more than a hobby, it’s become a real addiction.” Morris has always had a passion for woodworking, over the years he has fashioned all the trim and molding work for his home. But when it came to turning wooden rounds into eye-catching bowls, cups, vases and platters, it was a whole new playground for him.
“There was a lot of trial and error. I made a lot of firewood,” Morris joked.
But since he’s learned over the past three years to spin trees and carve them into different shapes, sizes and uses, it’s often a guessing game. “When I glue a new piece of wood in here and start working on it, I never know what I’m going to end up with, often it’s much smaller than I’d like, or it comes out uneven.”
He admitted to looking at a collection of bowls displayed on the shelves of his studio: “I guess I’m my worst critic; I see flaws in each, something about it that I don’t like. A medium sized bowl turned from a piece of aspen looked perfect from a distance.
But Morris said as he stooped down and looked at him from eye level: “See how his sides are deformed, even that one would be considered a cull.”
The intricacies of woodturning are endless and fascinating. Morris’ first ride was Harbor Freight, it ran for a while, but then he looked for a better one. Soon he was buying a used one from Clark Stevens in the West End. “This one, I can run it for a lot longer, and it’s more capable of the projects I like to do.” In his workshop he even has a vintage 1940s Dunlap/Craftsman lathe that still works, he got it from a neighbor down the street, Jim Jensen.
Whatever machine he chooses, if it hadn’t been for his grandson Will, he would never have invested so much in this new quest. Morris detailed, “I think it was around Thanksgiving in 2018, he came to visit me and used my trick to turn bowls. He’s only in his twenties and I thought to myself, if he can do it, I guess I can too.
In addition to the machines in his workshop, Morris has rows of gouging tools used to tap wood as he turns on the lathe. Each gouge has a different tip, some are angled or grooved, some have a curved edge. When working on a new part, he places the heavy tools on a stand that is attached to the base of the machines. This helps to make the most precise indentations and cutouts.
A woodturner must pay particular attention to the saturation of the piece. Using his humidity reader, Morris scanned the bowl he was currently working on. The reader posted 18 percent. Morris said: “I think the ideal level is closer to 11%, if it gets too dry it can crack.”
Every day you’ll find Morris in his carpentry shop turning a new piece of wood from trees he gets from friends and family. He noted, “I don’t buy any wood I work with.” Locals who know of his lathing skills have offered bush branches or logs after clearing their properties.
A piece of aspen from Dave Jensen now sits proudly as a small bowl. Bob Clyde’s roots in St. Regis have been turned into mugs. Even Box Elder lumber from his late wife Mary’s childhood yard in Washington was spun on his lathe.
Morris recalls picking up a dark brown bowl: “This black walnut was from a cattle ranch I worked on in 1964. The kid who works there now asked me if I wanted limbs that had been cut down. In exchange, I made him a salt and pepper shaker set in wood.
This is typically the life cycle of Morris formations. Whatever unique trees he is given, he usually crafts a piece of wood and returns it directly to the source. He estimated, “I think I’ve probably donated around 150 pieces so far.” He added: “I don’t really care about making a lot of money out of it, I don’t need to sell it. It’s nice to make a little profit here and there to replace the carbide types on my tools, but other than that it’s just for fun.
Morris laughed, “That trick job isn’t what keeps me from being in a cardboard box.”
His daughter helped him sell a few pieces at the St. Regis Christmas Bazaar over the past holiday, but trying to build an online presence really isn’t for him. Merely having an interest that works both body and mind is profit enough for Morris. And so far, he hasn’t had too many problems because he gives himself time every day to master this new passion.
But there was this Morris who once laughed, “While I was working with my first lathe, the rest of the cutter broke while he was turning a piece of wood.” He smiled: “That thing ricocheted off the store and sank into the ground about six meters! I guess it was pretty dangerous.
“But other than that, I still have all my fingers,” he said, raising his hands.
Before Morris goes inside, he’ll pick up bags and bags of wood shavings and spirals, bits and pieces, and vacuum the sawdust. He remarked: “If I forget to button the pockets of my work jacket, they will end up full of sawdust.
He tries to shake himself off as best he can before entering the house. Morris thought to himself, “I’m probably tracking down more of that wood and dust in there than I should.” And if his wife Mary was still around, she’d probably agree; but more than that, she would be delighted that he found something he loves so much.