Knotty and nice
Longtime instructor Steve Walter shares his love of woodworking.
Steve Walter with some of his pieces at the recently closed Tulsa Wood Arts school
Tulsa native Steve Walter’s interest in woodworking bloomed in shop class as a struggling seventh grader who was unhappy with his family’s relocation to small-town Ohio.“
My shop teacher took an interest in me and helped me through a difficult period in my life,” Walter says. “He gave me something to focus on other than my problems.”
That teacher probably never realized he would help Walter decide his career path, which included a teaching stint a few years ago at Clear Creek Abbey, near Hulbert, Okla., showing the monks there “how to use their equipment to make furniture for the abbey,” he says.
Nearly 10 years later Walter would found Tulsa Wood Arts in 2012 and begin teaching his own students the craft. In light of the school’s recent closing this past December, Walter continues to look for more opportunities to teach. In the meantime, he continues his own journey in the art of woodworking.
How did you become interested in wood arts? With the renaissance of woodworking in the ’70s and ’80s, I was inspired by the books and magazine articles published by woodworkers James Krenov, Tage Frid and Sam Maloof.
Did you train in woodworking, or are you self-taught? I am mostly self-taught, learning many basics and techniques of furniture making from the books by John G. Shea. Working with inexpensive lumberyard pine, I built many of John’s pieces for my home. I learned my skills generally by trial and error — not a method of woodworking that I would recommend to anyone today.
What types of pieces do you create? I enjoy building pieces with Shaker influence and 18th century pieces with veneering, stringing and inlays. Although I have made many pieces that I have been very pleased with, I enjoyed making the Southern Ladies’ Desk (a small piece that looks like a drop-front secretary desk) the most up to now. Yet, the piece that I am most proud of is not a piece at all. What brings me the most pride is seeing the accomplishments of the students I work with.
How long does it take to create such pieces? I have had some commissions that have taken several hundred hours to complete. For example, the Southern Ladies’ Desk ... took me 160 hours. (Some) custom-designed commission pieces ... have taken up to 400 hours. I am usually working on at least one piece for myself or as a commission.
What types of wood do you prefer? Whatever wood I happen to be working with today. More specifically, I love the subtle beauty of cherry; the wonderful workability of genuine mahogany; the warm, rich beauty of black walnut; and the complexity and distinctive characteristics of curly maple, in spite of its difficult workability.
Why did Tulsa Wood Arts close? Tulsa Wood Arts closed because we could not generate enough students to cover our cost of doing business.
What do you enjoy most about teaching? I most enjoy seeing the growth and development of thestudents.