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November 24, 2010   Email to Friend 

WOODEN WONDERLAND: Clarke County Woodworker Spreads Christmas Cheer
By Melissa Martin

For the better part of 47 years, Frank "Bud" Rogers has been elbows-deep in sawdust and wood shavings. But the husband and father of two wouldn't have it any other way. While the talent was there all along, his interest in woodworking was engrained during childhood.

"Growing up, my daddy worked at a sawmill and he would bring small scraps of wood home, and we'd use those in a coal-burning stove," recalled Bud, with the makings of a sheepish grin. "I'd keep out and hide the pretty scraps so I could make little boats or cars or whatever I could, using just a handsaw and a hammer. Eventually, I got to where I could make airplanes, and when I got older, I made model airplanes with the gasoline engines and flew them." Fortunately for Bud, this childhood hobby became quite the saving grace of his adult life... even though a life involving wood shavings wasn't always in his best-laid plans.

"After I graduated from Livingston College and married Julia in '63, we found ourselves in a house with no furniture," he explained. "I would try to find something we could afford, but as the search for furniture continued, I'd look around and think, 'You know, I can fix something close to that,' and so that's how I really got started."

Living on a teacher's salary in Mobile, it didn't take him long to find out a career in education wasn't what he wanted to do with his life. After the school year was over -- and at the urging of his parents -- Bud and Julia moved back up to Jackson and he took a job at the paper mill... work that would carry him for nearly four decades.

"I stayed at the mill 37 years, but it seemed like that time passed away so fast, I guess because we were so busy," said Bud. "I worked shift work most of the time, but I didn't mind it because it seemed like I had more time with my girls. Having only one weekend off a month was hard, but that one weekend was sacred to us."

Retirement has helped increase quality time with his girls -- though instead of time with Julia and his two daughters, the time is now shared with granddaughters Mary Kate (12) and Ivy (10), along with area children who are eager to get their hands dirty.

"I try to teach them basic safety steps and simple things in woodworking," said Bud. "But it does my heart good to go out there and see the enthusiasm the kids have and their want to learn."

Questioned by kids and adults alike about his techniques and tools, Bud is always happy to share his wealth of knowledge -- most gained from trial-by-error exercises and hard work. During these conversations, though, one question never fails to make an appearance.

"A lot of people ask me where I get my wood from," says Bud. "And I always tell them, 'You'd be surprised by how much wood people give me.'"

So how'd he get started with ornaments?

"I used to get one or two woodworking magazines," recalls Bud."One day, a Christmas issue came in and it had an article in there teaching you how to make your own Christmas ornaments. I looked at 'em and thought, 'I can do that.' So I made six."

While inspiration came from the article, he's made a few modi- fications. "The article showed the ornaments painted. After two failed attempts, I found out that I couldn't paint those things and knew there had to be some other way to make it work. Then one day, I saw in a magazine where they made this rolling pin with the laminated wood, and I got the idea for laminating the ornaments to get the different colors and patterns."

On average, it takes Bud about two days to glue individual pieces of wood together before they are ready to be turned into an ornament. Once turned, it takes another day to be completely finished, requiring a lacquer coating. While ornaments are a favorite of Bud's to make because they're quicker to turn out and, like snowflakes, no two are ever alike, there's an ulterior motive behind his favorite hobby.

"Believe it or not, I'm kind of a Christmas nut!" he explains. "I put a tree in the den with colored lights covered in things we've collected over the years. Julia likes white lights, but I like the colored lights because that's what I grew up with. So we put colored lights on the tree by my chair in the den, and I'll just sit here and look at it for hours. The tree in the living room will have the white lights on it and is completely decorated with . . . ornaments and a few other tidbits I've made over the years. I think we put around 125 ornaments on the tree in there... it's loaded!"

Over 47 years and countless wooden works of art, Bud's gifts have found a place in the hearts and homes of many. But it wasn't until recently that he discovered how beneficial woodworking can be for the soul. "I've realized over the last few years that the most important thing in woodworking is sharing it with somebody," he says. While his list of recipients isn't bogged down with celebrities or HGTV personalities, one of the more memorable pieces he's made belonged to a rather big name in Alabama -- Gov. George Wallace.

"I had a cousin who cut down a walnut tree, and I went over there to help him clear it away. (Former Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives) Joe McCorquodale's wife, Betty -- both of whom were from Jackson -- wanted me to do something special for George [Wallace] for a Christmas present. So I used some of that walnut to make a little newspaper stand for him, and they loved it because it was made out of local wood."

Though Bud primarily gives away ornaments to family and friends or sells them from his home in Jackson, a few of his creations can be found in Black Belt Treasures -- a non-profit organization developed to showcase and promote the arts of the Black Belt region. While his relationship with the organization originated from a familiar drive and an ad in the local newspaper, it's a relationship that Bud is certainly proud of.

"When we go to Auburn, we go through Camden," he said. "We had read about [Black Belt Treasures], so one day when we were going through there, we stopped in."

Prices for Bud's projects vary based on type and size. His most popular products are: ornaments, $10; wine stoppers, $14.95; small wooden Christmas trees, $15.95; and large Christmas trees, $19.95. Products are available from Bud directly, by visiting Black Belt Treasures in Camden or BlackBelt- Treasures.com.

For Bud, whose ties to a sawmill and his own retirement from the paper mill still echo in his pastimes, closing the door to the woodshed at the end of the day doesn't close the door to planning his next project.

"I lay awake at night thinking about a different way I could laminate that wood to where it will have a different appeal to the eye," he confesses.




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