Wineka column: As the wood turns
Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 10, 2011
RICHFIELD — Jerry Measimer starts with a 65- to 70-pound chunk of wood. By turning, shifting and digging into that piece of wood, he winds up less than two hours later with a cowboy hat.
Yes, a cowboy hat.
The finished product actually takes longer, up to a week. The wood has to be bent and dried. Measimer adds a band of padauk, a reddish wood that he burnishes to look exactly like leather. He applies many coats of lacquer and hand-rubs each hat with 12,000-grit sandpaper.
He can even include laser engraving if you want.
You pick it up, expecting a wooden cowboy hat to be heavy.
But it’s surprisingly light. That chunk of log that he hefted into his woodworking studio has become a fashionable Stetson-styled hat of only 7 to 9 ounces. The brim is an eighth-inch thick, maybe thinner.
Put one on — Measimer can custom make them for your head — and you resemble any Indiana Jones-type dude ready to whip the world into shape.
In recent years, Measimer has made close to 130 of these hats — most of them Western-styled, but some derbies and top hats, too.
“I’m kind of possessed with it,” Measimer says.
The full-sized cowboy hats start at $450.
Measimer, 51, is a wood-turner — a craftsman, if you will. Self-employed since 1985 and the owner of Jerry’s Drywall and Tile, he has another description for himself:
“I’m a piddler,” he says.
But the things he can do on a lathe are pretty impressive. While the hats have become a specialty, Measimer also makes things such as urns, bowls, frames, pens, toys and bracelets. He has “turned” wood into a guitar, a teapot or ornate vessels.
One of his hats is on display at the Charlotte Mint Museum. And he’s supposed to make one for Miss America, except he’ll have to measure her head first.
“I might put my arm around her, too,” he laughs, out of earshot of his wife, Tammy.
Measimer has taught at numerous workshops and given many demonstrations of his wood-turning prowess. His work also has appeared in several exhibits.
An obsession starts
An Ohio native and ex-Marine, Measimer and his family moved to Richfield about 30 years ago. Over time, he and Tammy have beautifully transformed the inside of their 100-year-old farmhouse off Main Street into the envy of any “Southern Living” subscriber.
But Measimer spends more time out back with golden retrievers Libby and Woodrow in a workshop crowded with lathes, grinders, benches and tools. The woodworking retreat is carpeted with curly, heavenly smelling shavings that the dogs love.
“I have fiber,” Measimer says, brushing some of the dust and shavings from his jacket. “I get all the fiber I need.”
Measimer’s obsession started only four years ago when he picked up a woodworking book that had hollow, ornamental Christmas balls on the cover. He couldn’t believe they were made from wood.
He bought the book and met and talked with the author. Later, he sought out and paid for lessons from expert wood-turners. He learned the important techniques for the cowboy hats during a weeklong class taught by Kentuckian Chris Ramsey.
Ramsey made a cowboy hat for President George W. Bush in 2007.
Measimer remembers the lost-in-the-woods feeling he had at the beginning, trying to determine where he would find the big logs he needed. He ended up visiting Joe Stirewalt’s saw mill in Mount Pleasant and telling Stirewalt he wanted to buy a log.
He then explained how he intended to make cowboy hats out of the log.
“He thought I was a nut,” Measimer recalls, but Stirewalt took him out back and showed him some of the felled tree logs destined for disposal. “I didn’t have a clue how much a log would cost,” Measimer says, but Stirewalt told him to choose anything he wanted for free.
In exchange, Measimer made him a hat. On subsequent visits, he also delivered hats for Stirewalt’s daughter and son and an office secretary.
Cut down sycamore
Now Measimer’s back yard has its own stockpile of wood. He points to a trunk piece of sycamore, 40 inches wide on the butt end. It’s too dry for a hat, but will make nice bowls or urns, Measimer says.
He also nods to the cherry and delights in showing the maple, which has been scarred by ambrosia beetles. The damage left by the beetles actually becomes quite attractive in the turning of the wood, Measimer explains.
With a chain saw, Measimer carves out the heavy “blanks” that he carries into his workshop for the turning that will shape them into hats. Sometimes so many shavings are sent into the air and over his shoulder, it seems as though streamers and confetti are falling from the ceiling.
One hat, from a 65-pound blank, translates to about 80 gallons of shavings.
Measimer keeps his “gouges” sharp on a nearby grinder, which includes a diamond wheel. His strong wrists and forearms reflect the power needed in constantly holding steady as the tools bite into the wood as it turns.
It can be a dangerous pastime. In July, Measimer was turning the bottom to an urn when it exploded and a flying piece broke his nose in three places.
“It hit me dead center,” Measimer says.
Only two weeks earlier he had broken a finger. In all, he has had seven broken bones, 12 stitches and a cracked cheekbone during his brief wood-turning career.
Measimer now wears a clear-plastic face shield.
Don’t break it
A wood-turner must expect some failures. The final stages of making the cowboy hats can be dicey, as the wood becomes thinner and thinner.
“I think Jerry’s goal is to get it done without breaking,” Tammy acknowledges. “… Sometimes I have to leave and hold my breath.”
Measimer is president of the South Piedmont Woodturners, based in Concord.
There’s a chance you’ve seen Measimer or his wood-turning friends demonstrating their craft at the Cabarrus County Fair or, most recently, at the Carolina Mall, where they are raising money for Hospice.
Measimer tells his wood-turning students — he loves to teach — to quit expecting to make museum pieces every time they turn on the lathe. More than 99 percent of their pieces, he explains, will not end up in a museum. He wants them to learn and have fun with every new piece.
Next June, Jerry and Tammy Measimer will be the hosts over two days for a wood-turning symposium, which will include a special instructor with English roots. The couple expect to have 20 to 30 people on lathes, and when they’re not turning, they’ll be enjoying a live band and pig-picking.
As for the cowboy hats, Measimer figures he has given instruction on making them to about 12 people.
“I really like to teach other people,” he says. “I want to keep the art of wood-turning going.”
Jerry Measimer, who owns Shop II Woodworks Studio, has pieces available for purchase. Measimer also is available for instruction or demonstrations. Contact him at 980-521-3787, or email@example.com. His website is www.jerrymeasimer.com.
Contact Mark Wineka of the Salisbury Post at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.