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One Good Turn Deserves Another

Larry Taylor gives dead wood a second life

     There’s nothing like the sound of a chainsaw to catch Judy Taylor’s attention.
     That’s because following it may lead her to an opportunity that could keep her husband Larry Taylor happily engaged for hours at a time. When he disappears into his woodturner’s equivalent of a man cave, magic happens.
     A bear of a man at 76, he launched Taylor Turnings (www.taylorturnings.com) in 2008 to have an outlet for his hobby. Turning old wood into prized bowls and other practical and artistic objects complements his day job at the Tilghman Company in Annapolis, where this month he marks 51 years at the jeweler’s bench.
     “I still enjoy working on beautiful things,” says Taylor, whose home in Admiral Heights is filled with examples of his woodworking and stained glass alongside photos of the couple’s three children and seven grandchildren.
      Where others see a rotting stump, Taylor sees possibility. Wood with a history, or at least a good story, is his quest.
      “The exciting thing is when I get a piece of wood no one else has,” he says.
      Taylor lucked upon a maple tree that was cut down at the Naval Academy when King Hall was renovated in 2010. He produced several bowls from it for former midshipmen who remembered congregating under the tree’s branches to smoke years ago.
      He’s still working on projects from a huge white oak that once shaded the brick church of All Hallows Parish in Edgewater. The tree was estimated to be almost 300 years old when it was felled in 2015. He’s made not only 15 to 20 bowls from its massive trunk, but also letter openers, fountain pens, ice cream scoops and decorative boxes.
     The process takes patience.
      Taylor uses steel gouges to shape a bowl from raw wood as it spins on one of his two 900-pound electric lathes. He then labels it and puts it in a storage shed for a year to dry. Drying warps the bowl’s shape, so it must be turned a second time. Then he sands and oils the bowl to finish and preserve it. He uses a woodburning tool on the bottom to add his signature and date and to note the species of wood.
      Taylor especially likes working with tree burls — outgrowths caused by a virus or fungus — and beetle-eaten wood, as the imperfections give the finished pieces extra character.
     Most of his bowls are salad-ready and can be hand-washed and reconditioned with mineral oil. Others have a natural edge where the bark still clings and are used mainly for decoration.
     Each kind of wood has its own characteristics, Taylor says. He has worked with native species to exotic woods and prefers hardwoods like cherry, oak and maple to softer woods, such as cedar and pine.
      Taylor’s bowls sell for $45 to $300, depending on the size. He exhibits his work at fine arts festivals and craft shows in Maryland and Delaware.
     Annie Small, who has known Taylor for years, has several of his bowls, including one made from a decayed dogwood tree that once stood on the State House lawn.
      “Somebody else might consider that the pieces of wood had no value,” she said. “He turns them into beautiful objects of art.”
      As for Taylor, he plans to keep his workshop humming. He’s been known to rent a U-Haul on the spot when a tree he’s been monitoring suddenly drops a big limb. An old chestnut he missed out on that became firewood added to his vigilance.
     “There are always trees somewhere,” he says.
 
 
Diane Rey is an Annapolis-based freelance writer who keeps history alive in her own way by portraying ­Colonial Annapolis newspaper publisher and Printer to the Province Anne Catharine Green.