Woodworkers to gather for an exhibition at Calgary’s Southcentre Mall
After learning the craft in junior high, Herm Stolte still works with wood today at 72.
Stolte was introduced to woodworking in junior high. Now at 72, he’s still working away in his shop. // Submitted
Fine woodworking is an art, and Herm Stolte could spend hours with a single piece of wood, turning it on the lathe.
As it turns, he shapes it with a chisel and watches as his idea for the piece turns into reality.
Stolte was introduced to woodworking in junior high. Now at 72, he’s still working away in his shop.
After graduating from high school, Stolte got an education degree and started teaching at an elementary school, but found it was not his fit. However, he did enjoy teaching the woodworking class.
Going back to university, he took some industrial education courses so he could teach shop full time. Stolte taught for 18 years but says he was tired of teaching basic woodworking year after year.
Under the trade name Herm’s Turn, Stolte started fine woodworking full-time. He also began restoring furniture by creating replacement parts and designing and building original furniture.
“[Wood is] a kind material to work with,” he says. “It's warm, it has great variety, it's a renewable resource, and I can access some of it locally.”
40 years ago
Stolte is one of the founding members of the Southern Alberta Woodworkers Society (SAWS), which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
“It came at a very opportune time where I could rub shoulders with other woodworkers and get to know what was going on in the woodworking world,” he says.
Although Stolte was confident in his skills, he knew he had much to learn from the other craftsmen.
“Before SAWS began, I was woodworking in a vacuum.”
Through SAWS, he began to bounce ideas off other woodworkers, take and give advice, as well as lend and borrow tools.
Stolte also joined the International Wood Collectors Society where he was introduced to about 60,000 different species of wood from around the world.
“I’ve got a small collection of just a little over 1 per cent of that,” he says.
SAWS members know that if they ever have a question about wood species, Stolte is the man to ask. In person, by phone, email, or at SAWS events, woodworkers are always coming to Stolte for advice.
New West Design
Matt Smith is a fine woodworker who’s been a member of SAWS for just over 15 years.
Smith got his start in the craft while working in construction. While doing home builds he discovered that he preferred the finishing work over the construction. Gradually, Smith began working on more furniture and finer pieces rather than house construction.
Ultimately, he started his own business, New West Design, so he could focus on woodworking.
“I particularly enjoy anytime I can meld wood with stone,” he says.
Smith will create unique pieces by sculpting woods to match the irregular surfaces of stone, making the two materials meet seamlessly. He also enjoys bending wood, creating unusual shapes and sculptures for his projects.
“If I know that I've [bent] a particular thickness of wood or species of wood before, I get excited about trying to push that limit a little bit further,” he says. “Sometimes it just takes more steps or more patience.”
Smith does custom work, building everything from tables and chairs to cutting boards.
He joined SAWS to meet and learn from local woodworkers.
“It’s often the case that a puzzle one of us is trying to solve is something that somebody else has done something pretty similar to,” he says. “We’re able to draw assistance from each other and everybody comes out a little bit stronger because of it.”
Fine Works in Wood
Smith and Stolte both have items featured in the upcoming Fine Works in Wood Exhibition. Presented by SAWS, the exhibition will take place at Southcentre Mall from Sept. 1 to 10.
SAWS holds the exhibition every two years and attracts people from across Western Canada.
“I’m really excited to see what was entered this year,” says Smith. “The exhibition is a good opportunity for us to try and pull out all the stops, see what we can do, and try something new.”
Smith will have three pieces on display this year. He has a dining table, a sculptural light fixture, and a wine rack.
Stolte has three turnings in the exhibition, a platter and bowls, all made from locally grown trees.
“I've had a pretty good look at all the pieces, and I think anybody coming to the exhibition will be happily surprised by the quality of work that is being done in Western Canada,” Stolte says, explaining that he’s on the standards committee for the exhibition.
Unlike some commercial furniture makers, Stolte says fine woodworkers put quality first.
“Their objective is to make something as quickly and cheaply as possible because too much of our society looks at price foremost and quality as an afterthought,” he says.
However, woodworkers pride themselves on quality, and the price simply reflects it.
“These pieces are meant to last a lifetime or two or three. They’re things that can be passed on to future generations. They're built to last.”
Stolte has no plans to quit woodworking any time soon. As long as he can manage the pieces, he’ll continue working in his shop creating new items and repairing old ones.
“It gives me a reason to get up in the morning and I thoroughly enjoy doing the work.”
A former SAWS member worked until his 90s before retiring from the craft, so Stolte believes he has another 20 years to go.