Wesley Swartout’s retired now, but he’s been doing woodworking since he was a boy growing up on a farm near Brainerd, Minnesota. “Farmers are always nailing something together, and as a little kid, I was always nailing boards together,” he said.
Shortly after he and his wife, Mary, got their own place, Wesley got his first table saw. He now has six. Plus “five or six jointers, three band saws … I’m pretty much a power tool guy,” he said.
The band saws are set up for different applications, but not necessarily the table saws. And as for the jointers, Wesley says he pretty much only uses two of them: one for flattening, and one for edges.
At some point, even though he hasn’t done it yet, Wesley said he’s thought about gathering everything that has migrated from his wife’s kitchen out to his shop to take a picture of it. That includes items like a one-third cup measuring cup, as well as cornstarch – “you throw it on the bed of a tool if you don’t want to let it slide; it’s just like mini ball bearings,” Wesley said.
Much of the wood he’s working with in his shop is oak, walnut or cherry; sometimes poplar. “Pine isn’t my favorite. It doesn’t stain nice; it’s pitchy; it’s prone to cupping.”
Some of the woods he’s worked with came from an acreage his family owned in Georgia, where Wesley worked as the president of a packaging company before retiring. Cedar from that acreage made its way into cedar hope chests for his granddaughters. Of the 11 grandchildren, the eight grandsons get a tool chest when they graduate from high school, while the granddaughters get hope chests.
Other than the items for his own household, “Everything I make, I give away,” Wesley said. “Nobody’s ever complained.”
Over the years, the things he’s made have included a lot of toys, jewelry chests, urns and more.
He’s also made things upon request: once, his daughter was out ATVing in the hills of South Dakota and found some wooden heels that came from old style Adirondack chairs. She wanted to make something out them, and Wesley suggested an oxcart – which the daughter is now using in her living room as a place to store lap quilts.
Most recently, he’s been making a lot of items for the chuch he attends, Our Savior’s Lutheran in Spearfish, South Dakota. Among those items are wooden boxes given to families at the time of their baby’s baptism. Those boxes are presented without a finish, because a new baby isn’t finished yet.
Wesley has also recently built a sandbox cross for the church: the sand is held in six different boxes that rest on a base. The boxes can be removed from the base and the legs folded up for storage, while the cross hangs on brackets that allow it to be mounted to a wall.
Woodworking, says Wesley, has “always been a hobby.”