How long has Brad Stave been a woodworker?
“That depends on how far back you go,” the Gig Harbor man said.
Stave, who operates Heartwood Fine Wood Turning from his home and garage that overlooks the Tacoma Narrows Bridges, has had his wood pieces featured in galleries, craft shows and in the homes of the buyers of his commissioned pieces.
It all began when he was 5, when he received a carpenter’s set as a Christmas present. Soon afterward, Stave was in business. He repaired wood pieces in middle school and began to work for hire as he created furniture and burned wood sculptures when he was in high school.
He was featured as an up-and-coming artist in 1969 in his hometown at the Edmonds Art Festival. The wood bench he created for that festival, with an inlaid design of a Viking ship on its seat, still sits outside his back door.
Stave retired from his career in aerospace software production on July 1. The job had brought he and his wife back to his native Northwest six years ago after over two decades in southern California. Prior to that, he had a stint teaching woodworking on a Native American reservation in Wyoming.
Now, Stave hopes he’ll have more time to devote the craft he’s sustained throughout each stage of his life.
“I’ve always loved to make things,” he said. “And I’ve always been task-oriented. I get a lot of satisfaction in completing things.”
It was that sense of satisfaction, coupled with the realities of a demanding job, that drew Stave toward the art of wood turning in the first place.
Wood turning, which can only be performed on a lathe, creates new and refined objects from spun, chiseled pieces of wood. Stave places a raw piece of wood, usually wet or boiled, on the lathe, and he carves away at it with tools known as gauges.
Turned wood looks natural -- the patterns of the wood’s grains, or the black line remnants of mold called “stants,” remain after carving, and bark often is left around the edges -- yet also refined.
Turning wood on a lathe also doesn’t take long, something that appealed to Stave when he worked in Los Angeles but lived 75 miles away in southern California’s high desert. His lengthy commute left him feeling drained, and he told his wife he needed something to look forward to after work.
“She said, ‘It sounds like you need a new tool,’ ” Stave remembered.
Intrigued by the idea of a woodworking tool that he could use for an hour or two at a time in his shop after dinner, Stave bought a lathe and enrolled in a wood-turning class. Twenty-five years later, he’s created a business out of his home and features all manner of turned wood art pieces, bowls, furniture and more.
Wood turning also has introduced Stave to master craftsmen from all over the world, pieces by many of whom decorate Stave’s homemade cabinets in his den. He’s taken classes from some of those friends and colleagues across the globe, including a recent “wood turning cruise” along Norway’s western coast.
“I’ve been very blessed,” he said.
Stave’s pieces often take months to finish, requiring turning at first when they’re wet, and then several months before they’re put back on the lathe to be completed. When they’re finished, the results are smooth, polished wood objects, often bowls or round, hollow boxes, that retain the look of their grain.
“I try to combine art with function,” Stave said. “And people gravitate toward wood (art), because it can also be functional.”
Stave adds painted designs or inserts cast glass pieces he creates in his workshop to some of his bowls, boxes and pieces of furniture. He said he enjoys the intersection of creativity, functionality and natural feel.
“I like to get unusual wood, and then add something to it,” Stave said as he examined a large, moldy piece from the crotch area of a tree that he’d kept wrapped in a plastic bag in his workshop to preserve its dampness.
The piece was given to him by a woman who needed to cut down a maple in her yard to make way for a septic tank, on the condition that he fashion her a bowl from its wood. He hopes to complete more of those types projects in his retirement.
Stave’s work can be seen in Gig Harbor at Gallery Row, 3102 Harborview Drive, where he is a member of the gallery co-op. His work also is on display at Urban Alchemy in Tacoma and Millstream Gallery in Winslow. For more information, visit www.bstave.com.
How long has Brad Stave been a woodworker?