Wood-turner John Egbert transforms native woods into usable works of art
Written and photography by CHERYL FALLSTEAD
To see where wood artist John Egbert creates his bowls, I have to go off road, just a little. The home he shares with his wife, quilter Linnea, and two dogs, is secluded enough that they’ve had bobcats lounging on their patio and cougars wandering nearby. Native plants attract flying animals, from curved-bill thrashers that nest above the woodshop door to bats that hang outside their front door.
After retiring from a career selling agricultural and industrial chemicals in Washington state, the couple moved to Las Cruces where John began trying his hand at creating things from wood. His late friend, Lou Dee, taught him the basics of making spoons and bowls from a variety of native woods, such as white and black oak, mesquite, apricot, and pecan. He gets a lot of the local woods for free when someone cuts down a tree, but sometimes orders something more exotic from suppliers of bowl blanks, pieces cut into slabs for further work.
John says, “I’ll turn anything that looks good,” and proves it by showing me a table filled with bowls of many colors and grains that he has turned on his lathe.
In his shop, filled with stacks of wood and the equipment necessary to turn them into bowls, John points out that safety is a big consideration. He has devices designed to pull dust from the air and also wears a positive air-flow helmet which supplies filtered air while also protecting his eyes and face. Another consideration: Finding a way to work that doesn’t require him to spend more hours sharpening tools than turning bowls. To that end, he uses tools he can easily sharpen on a grinder.
A bowl begins as a prepared blank if he purchased it, or as a length of log if obtained from someone removing a tree. The piece of wood is then cut in half using his band saw. With a compass, he defines a circle to form the circumference of the bowl. This, too, is cut with the band saw. Now, he has a round piece of wood ready to attach to the lathe. A metal piece is secured to the wood, which in turn is placed on the lathe.
John’s creations vary in shape, size, and color depending on the wood. Thinner planks of wood become shorter bowls, while a thick piece may morph into something larger, like a salad bowl. John almost always leaves the foot on his bowls, preferring to have a stable base into which he can carve a little extra detail.
For the past year, he’s been offering his bowls for sale at Lulu gift shop in Mesilla. “It’s kind of hard to part with them,” he admits while gazing at the bowls he has displayed on the table.
When he’s not turning chunks of wood into lovely bowls, you may find John volunteering at Mesilla Valley Hospice, where he has performed a variety of roles over a dozen years. Or he may be on the road with Linnea and the dogs in their fifth wheel camper, exploring Colorado or Utah. He’s a strong believer in having activities to fill your days after retirement, and, based on the amount of wood he has stashed to turn into bowls, he won’t be bored any time soon.
See and purchase John’s work at: Lulu | 1800 Avenida de Mesilla | thisislulu.com