Wood-turner carves his way back into the local scene

For long-time woodworker Roger Galbraith, originality is the name of the game. Ever since he first picked up the hobby in the 1970s, wood-turning has developed into a never-tiring passion, opening new avenues and ideas that keep each project one-of-a-kind.

Coastal Point • Submitted: Roger Galbraith has been woodworking since high school, and created these pepper mills..Coastal Point • Submitted:
Roger Galbraith has been woodworking since high school, and created these pepper mills.

“I first began wood-turning back in high school,” he recalled. “At first, I just needed a hobby, then it became a multipurpose vehicle.”

Galbraith jumped right in, purchasing a shopsmith, which he used to fashion his own kitchen cabinets, raised-panel doors and other home remodels, and the creativity soon followed.

After transferring to Bucks County Community College in Pennsylvania, Galbraith supplemented his woodworking experience with education, and he hasn’t looked back. At the start, many of his pieces were constructed for friends or his church, including the altar cross and baptismal font.

“I kept creating things, on the side,” said Galbraith, who also contributed four decades in the computer services department and four years in the Navy. “By 2007, I decided to go at woodworking, full-time.”

Galbraith said he wanted to ensure that his pieces were not only aesthetically pleasing but serve purpose, as well. He began creating decorative wooden lighthouses and replicas of the World War II observation towers recognized along the Delmarva Peninsula.

“I had a customer come up to me during a show in Lewes one Fourth of July weekend,” he said, “and they asked, ‘Is that a pepper mill?’ I told them, ‘Nope, but it might be, next year.’ I found the right mechanism needed, and now my lighthouse and watchtower pepper mills are easily my best-sellers. I’ve even sold as many as 14 to one person, before.”

For those who wish to stick with something that’s just for looks, he also creates lighthouses with lanterns or electric lights in them, too.

In addition, Galbraith also specializes in jewelry boxes, baby cradles, rocking horses, pull-along toys and wooden bowls.

“I really enjoy making bowls, whether functional or decorative,” he said. “People really seem to enjoy the bark-around bowls that still have the tree’s bark along the top edge.”

For those works, Galbraith searches for burls, or growths, on cherry or walnut trees.

“You give it a nice oil finish, and it makes a great centerpiece,” he said. “It’s food-safe and very practical.”

Now that he’s equipped with a cast-iron lathe, there’s little to stop Galbraith from thinking up something new. Wine-bottle stoppers and decorative ornaments are some of his popular creations, as well.

“Woodworking is a lot of fun,” he admitted. “I have a riot with it. I absolutely love what I’m doing, and I’m constantly finding more things to create.”

With new projects at his fingertips, Galbraith also has very little down-time. He still put his talents to work around the house, fashioning a butcher’s chopping block, an entertainment center, sofa tables and even bunk beds for his grandchildren.

“Every year, I try to find something new to do,” he said. “If I think long enough, I come up with something else, but a lot of times I get new ideas just from talking to customers.”

What sets his work apart, though, is attention to detail and getting the finished piece as smoothly as possible.

“That’s the one thing that people notice first about my work,” he said. “They can’t get over how smooth the finish is. Even guys who have been turning wood themselves notice it. It takes a bit of sanding, but the real trick is having the right tools and keeping them sharp.”

When it comes to the types of wood he uses, Galbraith said he likes to stick with tradition.

“I’m not very much into the exotic woods. I like to work with cherry, walnut, maple and mahogany. Those are the main ones. Every now and then, I’ll work with ash or poplar. It just depends on what I can find and what I’m making.”

Over the past six years, since he began turning wood full-time, Galbraith has tried to participate in 10 to 12 craft shows a year, typically throughout the summer. Next weekend, he will be returning to the Fifth Annual Millville Artisans Fair, taking place at the Millville Fire Hall, on Atlantic Avenue on Saturday, May 26, from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. It’s an event that he has been a part of since its inaugural year. The show features 40 artists and crafters throughout the Delmarva region and spanning four states.

“It’s really a great show to start the year out with,” he said. “The people are great, and it’s a nice way to welcome the season in.”

He will continue through the summer and fall months with shows around Milton, Lewes, Rehoboth and Bethany Beach.

The Memorial Day weekend show in Millville is free and open to the public, and proceeds from the show and fundraising efforts will contribute to the South Coastal Delaware AARP Chapter’s scholarship program. Two $1,500 scholarships will be awarded to two students at Indian River High School, while one adult student (25 or older) enrolled at Delaware Tech, will be awarded a $1,000 scholarship, as well.

For more information about Roger Galbraith and his craft, visit www.delawarebyhand.org/galbraith.shtml. For information about the Millville Artisans Fair, pick up next week’s issue of the Coastal Point, or review past issues online at www.coastalpoint.com.