How much wood would a woodturner turn if a woodturner could turn wood?

That variation of the woodchuck tongue twister doesn’t have a definitive answer either.

But based on the enthusiasm of the Great Plains Woodturners members, a lot of wood is taking on new shape and uses.

Woodturning, for those who aren’t familiar with the term, is a form of woodworking that uses an electric lathe. The wood, while turning on the lathe, is shaped and defined by a hand-held tool.

That is the simplistic definition. There are all kinds of tools specific to the hobby, skills to be honed (as well as wood), and it is not something a hobbyist just decides to pick up casually.

The local group was officially formed in 2002 by two current club members, Theo Alles and Mike Ferris.

Alles had been turning wood for many years and wanted to meet others in the area with similar interests. He applied for the official “chapter” designation, and the group was up and running with seven members.

The first few years, they met at his house, he recalled. “As we grew, we had to move to a bigger workshop,” he said of the monthly meetings.

Alles is both a commercial and recreational woodturner, he said. Over the years he has had several contracts to make custom items. But when he has some free time in the shop, Alles prefers to make gleaming, beautifully grained bowls from different varieties of wood. “Over the years I’ve made everything," he said, "but bowls are what I love best.”

Currently the club has about 50 members,  and at least 30 may show up for the meetings.

At a recent gathering, there was lots of talk of different gouges (the tool that rounds and details a wooden spindle while shaping) -- spindle gouges and bowl gouges. Then there are chisels, hollowing tools, jigs, scrapers and chatter tools, just to name a few.

But don’t think that the tools take the spotlight away from the wood itself.

Members of the club talk affectionately about the strengths and qualities of different woods they have used in various projects. As they show off a recent finished project -- show and tell is a regular part of the meetings -- each member begins by stating what kind of wood was used.

The list goes on and on, from walnut to basswood, elder and poplar, black locust, then elm and mesquite. Maple, cherry and rosewood get a shoutout. And kudos for kentucky coffee and gingko.

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Current club president Rob Otte challenged members to turn a lidded box and bring it to the meeting, and many members obliged. Round, oval, square and rectangular lidded boxes are displayed. Making the box, then adding a lid that fits snugly -- but not too snugly -- on top is not an easy feat and many were tackling it for the first time. “This is the first lidded box I have ever made,” one member said. “And it is actually my third try.”

Although there are several beautiful entries, the winner of the challenge is Kevin Elge. His piece was made from a combination of walnut with a box elder lining and osage orange finial.

An integral part of the club’s purpose is learning -- either new techniques or about unusual tools or just sharing tips with each other.

Next month, on Saturday, July 11, they are having a formal workshop presentation from Jimmy Clewes, a nationally known woodturner from Las Vegas. To make this happen the group has divided into committees, reserved space at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s new Innovation Campus and set up a program of woodturning demonstrations -- some of which are open to the public as well as club members. Clewes will be demonstrating four turning projects during the 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. event.

There are still some spots available at the demonstration which costs $65 in fees and includes lunch. Preregistration is required. Contact Elmer Miller at

More information about the Great Plains Woodturners Club can be found at its website,

Reach the writer at 402-473-7214 or On Twitter @LJSkcmoore.


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