Timeless craft: Plainfield man has mastered the art of wood turning

  • A picture left by a client of table legs that Don Kelly will copy. Kelly has also made bed post for this same client. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Ball and Claw legs that Don Kelly is in the process of hand carving at his studio in Plainfield. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Don Kelly works at the Centauro Duplicator, a lathe that allows you to copy a design or shape, on a job he is in the process of finishing up. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Don Kelly looks at a variety of table legs, balusters and other items he has turned in his work shop in Plainfield. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Hand carved balusters done by Don Kelly in his woodturning studio in Plainfield. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Don Kelly looks at a variety of table legs, balusters and other items he has turned in his workshop in Plainfield. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Don Kelly works at the Centauro Duplicator, a lathe that allows you to copy a design or shape, on a job he is in the process of finishing up. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Don Kelly works at the Centauro Duplicator, a lathe that allows you to copy a design or shape, on a job he is in the process of finishing up. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Metal Calipers in Don Kelly's wood turning studio in Plainfield. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Hand carved rosettes done by Don Kelly in his wood turning studio in Plainfield. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/10/2021 4:32:38 PM

PLAINFIELD — For more than 40 years, Don Kelly has worked alone at his business, Blueberry Woodworks. Yet if this has done anything to stunt his productivity, you wouldn’t know it.

From his workshop in the hills of Plainfield, Kelly, a wood turner and carver, has produced items ranging from artisanal bowls, to balusters to miniature items used in dollhouses.

Kelly’s shop is packed full of machines, wood, finished pieces and tools that in some cases date to the 19th and early 20th century.

“The place is somewhat chaotic, I say, because it’s a wood-turning shop,” he said.

Kelly’s workshop is an old wheelwright’s shop and, like his attached home, it dates back to the late 18th century.

“I love it,” said Kelly, who said that he feels the presence of those who’ve worked in the space before him.

Kelly first moved into the home he shares with his wife in the late 1970s.

“We came here for the warm climate and the cosmopolitan atmosphere,” he joked during an interview in his shop last week.

He started his wood-turning business in 1979, initially focusing on creating bowls and sculptures. Wood turning involves taking a piece of wood and shaping it as it rotates on a lathe.

Kelly was inspired to take up wood turning after watching a friend work, who at one point told him that he made $10,000 at a craft show. This made Kelly think he could make a living at the craft, although later Kelly would learn more of the story.

“He did make $10,000, but he was selling coke,” Kelly said.

Kelly said that when you’re making cabinets or building a house, you have to know multiple steps. By contrast, Kelly said that when he works, “I’m making a single object.”

“It just feels like one process,” he said.

Kelly also uses a duplicator, which can make copies of pieces he’s turned by hand.

The website for Kelly’s business is not functional, and he doesn’t advertise. Nevertheless, his work in the shop has been his full-time job for more than two decades, with clients that include businesses and individuals.

“I’ve never advertised,” he said. “It’s word of mouth.”

Before the business became his full-time job, Kelly also did part-time work doing such things as timber framing and working for a glass artist.

“The business just slowly picked up,” he said.

He also said that the pandemic has effected him less than most people as, aside from a two-day period in 2007 where he worked alongside another wood turner, he has always worked alone.

“Here I am, and this is it,” he said.

And while he said that being a wood turner won’t make you wealthy, he did say “It’s a nice life.”

One of Kelly’s upcoming jobs involves crafting the bases of three columns that will be installed at Smith College.

And in the past, he’s made dollhouse miniatures.

“It’s amazing the collectability of 12-1 miniatures,” he said.

He’s also made the dinner table that he uses in his home.

Asked to identify what type of job he likes best, Kelly could not.

“Every job has its little differences,” he said.

Nevertheless, Kelly said that he enjoys reproducing old pieces, and he noted that the tools in his hands are virtually the same as those used in Victorian factories, and those used by farmers who made Windsor chair legs.

“It’s a continuum,” he said.

Kelly has two grandchildren, ages 5 and 9, and before the pandemic there were plans to introduce them to the shop.

“It was scheduled,” he said.

He also said that when they were younger his adult son and daughter made pieces in the shop.

Kelly, 71, said that he has no intention of stopping his business any time soon, saying with humor that his retirement plan involves going facedown on his shop floor, followed by an auction.

“It’s going to be a good auction,” he said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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