Richard Coers of Peoria has loved working with wood for nearly as long as he can remember. Over the years, woodworking grew from an interest to a passion and eventually became a full time business. Richard left his job in the engineering department at Caterpillar to open Coers Custom Woodworking. After eight years in business, he decided that he was a better craftsman than businessman and closed the business to become a project builder/designer for The Woodworker’s Journal magazine. Ultimately, turmoil in the magazine business eliminated his position and he retuned to Caterpillar where he’s now a professional model maker.
Initially, Richard’s woodworking was traditional cabinet and furniture making. When he acquired his first lathe 27 years ago he began learning the art of woodturning. He quickly found that much of his knowledge of traditional woodworking didn’t apply to turning, so he turned to local organizations and symposiums in St. Louis to learn the fine points of the art form.
As his knowledge and skills grew, so did his love for the process. He found that he really enjoyed the freedom of working with a lathe. As Richard puts it, “Furniture making is all about fences and jigs, but with woodturning, it’s just you and a chisel.” His early woodturning projects tended to be utilitarian, but over time, he has transitioned to producing thinner and more refined pieces simply for their beauty.
Richard says, “I always encourage people to pick up my work. If they just look at it, they miss the warmth of wood in their hands.” He hears a lot of comments about the figured pieces of wood and people are intrigued by the patterns that nature builds into trees. But, the most common reaction is to be surprised at the weight. “They have an expectation of what that large a piece should weigh,” he explained. “They have no idea how much wood I removed from the inside of the vessel, so they’re shocked at the light weight.”
A big part of Richard’s love for woodworking is his admiration for wood and trees. As he puts it, he “feels a kinship to the tree.” All of his wood is acquired locally with most of it coming from reclaimed landscaping waste. He sorts through to find pieces with unusual color or structure. Usually he can visualize the figure in the grain through the bark, but sometimes has to remove the bark to get a better look at the texture and color.
Richard’s favorite technique is to work a piece from start to finish in one session lasting two to three hours. Many times, he lets the wood guide him and tell him how to proceed. Through his years of experience, he can judge the figure and color as it emerges from beneath his chisel, and he knows when to continue and when to stop. Richard says, “I get excited about every single piece I turn – it’s a discovery for me.”
For anyone interested in learning more about the art of woodturning, Richard suggests The Association of American Woodturners as well as the local chapter, Central Illinois Woodturners. He also recommends Fine Woodworking Magazine as the best place to get quality information.
Richard’s work can be seen at Picture This Gallery & Framing in Peoria Heights. He also exhibits at The Atelier Building at 1000 S.W. Adams as part of the Central Illinois Artists Organization First Friday Studio Tours.