Art Bodwell

I think I was born to build things. Growing up in the 40’s and 50’s my early toys of choice were Lincoln logs, erector sets, tinker toys and anything I could build with. My dad was a construction electrician and I worked with him several summers to earn money for college and find my way around a construction site. I went to engineering school, earned a BS in civil engineering, an MS in structures and later became registered professional engineer. I spent my entire career in the construction industry. The first 20 years were as a project manager with a small, employee owned general contractor and later as a vice president of an even smaller general contractor, both in Northern New Jersey. The work for both was all industrial and commercial projects.
My wife and I were native New Englanders, having grown up in Connecticut. New Jersey was not our first choice, but when I graduated in the mid 60’s, there was nothing construction wise going on in New England, so we ended up in Jersey. The plan was to stay a few years and move back to New England. Well, as life goes, a few years became eighteen years. Professionally, the two jobs mentioned were enjoyable and a great learning experience for what I really wanted to do. As soon as our two daughters were settled in college, we were ready to head north.
About that time design-build was starting to grow in popularity. I had enough of competitive bidding and wanted something that was controllable that didn’t involve cutthroat bidding. As they say, in life timing is everything. I found something exactly what I wanted and in central Massachusetts where I went to college.
It was a relatively small family owned firm (see the pattern here, I never had the desire to be in a big corporate atmosphere). Anyway, it was owned by a very creative guy who, and had been successfully doing various forms of development and building. This was 1985 and the fitness craze was starting to hit colleges. He decided getting into it early was the thing to do, and he was right. He also developed a system where we would negotiate with the college do the entire project, from preliminary planning to final construction for one fixed guaranteed price. He was looking for someone to run this for him and I turned out to be that guy. Not only was it design-build, but it was developing athletic/recreation centers and arenas nationwide. Here’s where I mention my other passion in life is sports. Played all through high school and college, avidly watch most everything and still golf several times a week. I was there 23 years with a job that combined construction and sports. Truly a dream job. I retired in 2008 having had a very enjoyable career.
Getting to the point of this, like most of us, I started building furniture when we bought our first house in 1966 and didn’t have a lot of money. Our house had two living levels, no basement and a one car garage that barely fit one car. I started with a small bench, a Sears radial arm saw and some hand tools and did assembly in the garage. Sears sold an attachment for the saw that was a planer, and you tipped the head down to plane wood. Sounded like something I could use, but I only used it a few times. It was probably the most dangerous tool I ever used. It was either going to take a finger off or throw back a piece of wood at me. Eventually I added a 10’ x 12’ shop to the back of the garage and purchased a Shop Smith because of the ability to get several tools in a small space. I was self-teaching all along and as time went on was able to build bedroom furniture for the girls and eventually a full bedroom set for my wife and I that I still use some fifty years later. That project took over a year since I could only build one piece at a time and assemble and finish in the garage.
When we moved to Massachusetts, I had a full basement and was able to add equipment. Among those was a Shop Smith bandsaw with its own stand and motor, a Shop Smith belt sander also with its own stand and motor and a Shop Smith dust collector. The Shop Smith was a good tool, but I got tired of continually changing it around for the various uses and the table saw was too small. I did do my first turning on it for some bed posts, but that was about the extent of using it for turning. I sold the Shop Smith and bought a table saw and later sold the band saw and replaced it with a 14” Rikon. I still have the belt sander. The radial arm saw was sold several years ago and replaced with a Milwaukee sliding miter saw. During all this I continued to build furniture, coffee tables, occasional tables, TV centers, whatever. But as time went on no one needed furniture anymore.
As I was nearing retirement, I started thinking about woodturning around 2006. Somewhere, probably a magazine, I saw an article about segmented woodturning and a book that recently came out by Malcolm Tibbets. I bought the book and was immediately intrigued by segmenting.
My wife, who was an accomplished photographer, was taking photography classes at the Worcester Craft Center. They had classes in all arts and crafts, including wood and she alerted me to a wood turning class. I signed up for an eight week turning class. It was excellent and really got me started in turning. The final class project was to turn a natural edge oak bowl. I completed it and to this day is the only chunk turned bowl I ever did. Still have it. As the classes were coming to an end, one of the guys in the class told me the Central New England Woodturners (CNEW) held their meetings in the Center and welcomed guests and did I want to go. I had never heard of them, but it sounded good, and I said yes.
It turned out they were having a guest at the next meeting. It was Malcolm Tibbetts. Another example of fortunate timing. He spent the entire meeting talking about and demonstrating the theory and methodology of segmenting. I was totally hooked, got him to sign his book, and never looked back. I joined CNEW and was an active member until I moved. Later I bought Bill Smith’s book on open segmenting and added that to my work.
In 2010, I had a weeklong class with Malcolm and one with Curt Theobald, both at Mark Adams School in Indianapolis.
When I first started, all the design work was done with pencil, paper, an excel spreadsheet and colored pencils. Which was ok for me, since doing it that way you learn the theory behind the system. Besides, when I was in college, way before computers, everything was done by hand. I still have some of the drafting tools I used in college. Bill Kandler had a book that came out just before Malcolm’s, that was pretty good about the theory, but didn’t have the depth of detail and explanations that Malcolm’s has. He also had some software that I tried but never was able to get it to fully work, so I kept doing it by hand. Lloyd then came out with his first software and eventually changed everything with his suite of software that lets you do just about anything in a fraction of the time.
Our basement had no outside entrance and getting heavy tools down there through the inside was awkward. I started turning on a Penn State mini lathe and later a Delta Midi lathe. Like most everyone I started with small things, pens, bottle stoppers, pepper grinders, etc. but with these lathes I was able to do most anything segmented, just was limited in diameter. Over the years I was able to do a large number of segmented projects, some very involved, both open and closed segmented.
Life took a cruel turn in March of 2017. I lost my best friend and wife of 54 years to cancer. She was diagnosed with a very rare form in 2014 and was told it was terminal and statistically she had six months to a year. Thanks to faith, her determination and the good doctors at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, she lived three years with for the most part a very normal lifestyle.
One of our daughters and her husband had purchased property in North Carolina about twenty years ago with the idea of eventually living there. They were both attorneys, living in Fairbanks, Alaska and getting tired of the cold. As it turned out, they planned on moving in 2017. All things considered, warmer weather, lower cost of living, ability to build a house of my design on their property, ACC basketball, year ‘round golf, and yes, a Jack Nicklaus design course across the street, I moved to North Carolina at the end of 2017. Bonus points, she’s a good cook.
When I moved to North Carolina, with a garage door entrance to my shop I finally upgraded to a Jet 1640 lathe. I still have the two small ones, use the Delta as a second lathe occasionally and for some finishing and the little Penn State is set up with buffing wheels. With the new shop I installed the Oneida Super Cell and a whole shop dust collection system. In addition to the tools mentioned, I have a disk sander, oscillating spindle sander, drum sander, planer, scroll saw, the Lohman jig and recently added a Shapeoko Pro CNC router. At 81, I’m probably done with major tool purchases, unless of course, something new and hot comes out.
We’ve all done lots of bowls and the like, but I always wanted to do more unique, one of a kind things and have done so over the years. Below are a few examples. The first three pictured and the clock were done on the Delta midi lathe. There are more in my gallery on the web site. Thanks for reading.

Art’s SWT Gallery

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2 Responses to “Art Bodwell”

  1. Russ Braun says:

    Great Story Art. I would point out that you neglected to state that you are a major contributor to the SWT website and a good friend/ brother of Russ Braun!!

  2. Robin Costelle says:

    Thanks Art. Fun romp thru the past with you. I think you may have been right not to mention you’re affiliation with Russ. Thanks for sharing with us.-Robin

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June 2024