Carl Erickson Lathes Wood with Memories

Close-up photograph of Carl Erickson's hands using a lathe
Photo by Dianna Troyer

by DIANNA TROYER

Curly wood shavings cling to Carl Erickson’s forearm as he shapes a wooden bowl on his lathe, transforming a favorite tree into a cherished family keepsake.

“That’s what this is all about—making something with wood that will keep memories alive,” said Erickson, 65, while working in his shop adjacent to his home near Declo in southeastern Idaho.

“When friends give me a piece of wood that’s sentimental because it’s from a tree where they grew up, I ask them to share a memory with me,” he said. “As I’m working with the wood, I’ll think of them and what they told me. As I start cutting the wood, the bowl seems to build itself.”

He said his grandpa, Gus Erickson, would smile with approval about his latest project.

“He was sentimental about trees on his ranch,” Erickson said. “He planted three cedar trees, one for each of his children. I’m making bowls from the trees to give to my sisters.”

Cedars weren’t the only trees his grandpa cherished.

“When I was a kid, and we went on walks together, we always picked apples from a certain tree,” Erickson said.

When the decades-old tree died several years ago, Erickson harvested chunks of it. He made some bowls from it for himself and family members.

Besides bowls, Erickson makes candlestick holders, vases, platters, napkin rings, anything he can imagine. He even made delicate, life-sized hollow acorns to hold pills.

“I made those for friends who need to carry aspirin or other medication with them in their pockets,” Erickson said.

He not only makes keepsakes for family and friends but also for business owners who need gifts for employees and for nonprofits’ fundraisers.

Besides cedar and apple, Erickson uses mahogany, cottonwood, chokecherry, aspen, apricot, hickory, ash, walnut, and even mystery wood he has found but cannot identify.

To finish a piece, he sands it with fine 600-grit sandpaper, then polishes it with vegetable oil until it is velvet smooth.

Erickson’s labors of love on a lathe started about eight years ago. His wife, Joan, and son, Jared, bought him one to encourage him to develop a hobby after getting off work managing Moo Mountain Milk, a nearby dairy.

“I worried he was watching too much TV,” Joan said. “He doesn’t watch it at all anymore. If he’s looking at a screen, it’s YouTube to learn how to do something new with the lathe.”

Joan said each handcrafted piece is unique due to the wood’s grain and color.

“The grains in apricot are beautiful and look like flames,” she said.

As the wood shavings fly in the shop, Erickson’s childhood memories of his Grandpa Gus swirl around. Gus also loved woodworking.

“He raised and sold Hereford bulls and made a cedar table lamp to give to each customer,” Erickson said. “Sometimes he had me help him make the lamps. When I was a kid, I’d tag along after him when he went looking for pieces on the ranch. He really liked the trees that grew out of rock crevices and were twisted.”

Erickson said seeing a rough piece of wood reminds him of some people.

“They look rough on the outside, but there’s good and some unique beauty on the inside. You never know what’s inside until you start working it.” ISI