Officials expect more than 1,000 people to take in fine woodworking and listen to expert presentations at the Southwest Association of Turners’ silver anniversary symposium this weekend at the Waco Convention Center.

The woodworkers association began informally in 1992 with 75 people in a live oak grove in Columbus, said James Johnson, of Kerrville, a woodworker since 1983 and one of the first organizers. The group first became known as Texas Turn or Two, named for the lathes that are central to the production of their work.

“They asked me to find a place in Austin, but the best place I could find wanted my personal guarantee of thousands of dollars,” Johnson said. “So we moved to a place at Canyon Lake, north of Austin, a few years later. We had two or three buildings, and people stayed in tents. Then one year we had a big storm that covered the ground inside and out with water, and we were outgrowing the place, anyway.”

After one year in San Angelo in 2001, the group accepted an invitation to Wichita Falls and changed the name to its present form.

“Some people were put off by the acronym SWAT because it also stands for ‘special weapons and tactics,’ but it works because it’s easy to remember,” Johnson said. “But Wichita Falls was so far out of the way that people from distant areas like South Texas couldn’t get there, and we started holding conventions in Central Texas, eventually finding the convention center nine years ago. It’s given us room to grow.”

The organization has local chapters in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico as a nationwide affiliate of the American Association of Woodturners and boasts one of its largest regional conventions, Johnson said.

“We have plenty of room to stretch out and relax, and we feed people lunch,” he said. “I’ve been to national symposiums where you have to walk 10 blocks to get a tuna sandwich for $8.50. I’d much rather be here.”

President Buddy Compton, of Colorado City, talking with incoming President Stormy Boudreaux, of Willow Park, said he’s happy the convention has endured over the years.

“Most turners’ symposiums don’t last long enough for a silver anniversary,” Compton said. “Things get so complicated as they grow that they burn out. But we have 30 committees with carefully defined responsibilities that communicate through the year, and everything goes well.”

Amid all the works of art and equipment on display, Ken Mays, of Hewitt, who was in charge of vendor relations, said the group’s pride and joy is its annual Beads of Courage project for hospitalized children. A New Mexico company makes the beads and supplies them to hospitals, and SWAT members make wooden containers, called “boxes” though many of them are round, to give to the children. Every time a child goes through a procedure, he or she gets a bead to add to a collection.

This is the first year SWAT will deliver containers to the new Scott & White McLane Children’s Hospital in Temple, scheduled Tuesday to receive 50 of the 250 made this year.

Mays said John Tolly, of Austin, contributed 50 boxes. Mays himself made 10 and showed off one with a lid decorated by a 9-year-old granddaughter who lives in Austin.

“There’s nothing like seeing the face of a sick child light up when we present one of these,” Mays said.

The box Mays showed was made of spalted wood, a term for wood crisscrossed with squiggly lines created by mold that is beginning to rot a tree.

Such wood once was regarded as trash, but a few years ago wood turners began communicating with the lumber industry and asking for it because it adds to the wood’s beauty and can be chemically treated and stabilized. Several vendors also had products made from the substance or related to it.

Other vendors had wood from trees grafted from several varieties to blend big northern trees with southern heat-resistant strains. Also on offer are small, brightly colored blocks to make pen barrels and bottle stoppers. In all, vendors come from 26 states and as far away as Maine.

An art gallery displays small and large sculptures of painstaking intricacy. Experts give several presentations at 90-minute intervals while doors are open.

The three-day symposium began Friday evening and will be open 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free.

“A lot of people come to see wood turning. I come to see wood turners,” Johnson said. “I spend a lot of time visiting with friends I only get to see once a year, right here.”

Recommended for you