Wendell Morris much more than former educator

Mar. 29—RACELAND — Wendell Morris is no stranger to breathing in sawdust when it comes to woodworking, carving and crafting.

Morris, 64, said his grandfather inspired him to get into woodworking. He began fiddling around at 6 years old and, from there, he said, it was history.

"He was a master craftsman. He built fiddles — what he calls them — grandfather clocks and Kentucky long rifles. He built a lot of furniture, but that was his specialty," Morris said.

"I started working with him, he would give me a piece to carve on and I would probably just make firewood out of it, but at 6 years old, I thought I was hot stuff. It wasn't very long until he introduced me to power tools."

Morris joined the National Guard in 1981 and retired in 2009 after serving 28 years as a combat engineer.

"It was worth it. We did everything from flood duty to forest fires, combat deployment, getting doctors and nurses in snow storms ... we did it all."

A couple years later he went into education.

Morris started teaching at the Raceland-Worthington Independent School District in the fall of 1983. He retired after 30 years of teaching technology education; he retired a second time in May of 2014.

"I never heard of Raceland. I'm from western Kentucky. I sent out resumes and letters to every school system in the state of Kentucky and Raceland called and said 'we want to interview you.' I had to look it up on a map, there was no GPS at that time. I drove up and drove back in the same day, about a five-hour drive ... That was a long day.

"After my second year, I met my wife who was from here and that was the end of that," he added.

Morris appreciated that Raceland is a small independent school system as it allows for more one-on-one time with a student.

"We did everything from miniature rockets, to miniature race cars, we had fun," Morris said. "It kinda just fell into my lap."

Morris said when it comes to woodworking he has quite a few stories to tell of trial and error. He recalled a memory when he made an amateur table for his mother, a moment he said he will never forget.

"It was a little pedestal table made out of walnut, and the walnut wasn't cured yet. After about two months, it had twisted, bent and split. It was ugly. I was so proud of that, I gave it to mom and she kept it in the living room for a long time."

Morris said he has a lot of different hobbies. "Hunting, fishing, gardening." Recently, he said, "I've gotten into working with bees woodworking."

Morris began another project this year building a farmhouse stable out of red oak wood. A mutual friend referred a woman to him and he was more than happy to accept the offer and take on the project.

"I've never met this lady, I am anxious to meet her," he said.

Sourcing material

Morris said when word comes around of a storm brewing he feels a sense of happiness because, to him, it means go time.

"All of my bowls come from standing dead trees or trees that have been blown down in a storm. I refuse to cut a living tree, it does more good for society than a bowl would," Morris said. "For the top of the bowl, I used some of the bleacher wood from the old gymnasium, people really come after that.

"It's easy to work with," he added, "but it takes probably about a week to make just one bowl," particularly because of how long it takes for the glue to dry.

He said an exciting part of the process is seeing the patterns in the wood when cut.

"Every time you make a cut, you expose a different grain pattern. An old man told me one time 'it's in there, you just have to uncover it.' At the time, being young and naive, it didn't make sense," Morris said.

"I was 18, 20 years old and stupid. This guy had been doing woodworking for 60 years and I thought I knew more than he did."

Breathing sawdust

Morris, a 1983 graduate of Morehead State University, said he doesn't have plans any time soon to stop wood crafting as a hobby.

"I gotta breathe sawdust twice a week. I certainly don't want to give it up, but I also don't want to get any bigger. Like I said, I am still trying to catch all the fish out the river. I can't do that and turn bowls at the same time. I've retired twice, some days I don't even go out to my shop."

Morris said he has made rocking chairs, bedroom suites, grandfather clocks and much more.

"I've made a few sets of kitchen cabinets, but they are boring, it's just the same thing."

His advice for others wanting to follow in the steps of wood crafting was to start small and to understand it requires patience.

"They get in over their heads and try to create a piece that doesn't work and they get disappointed and quit. You have to start small. If you can't master the process on something this big then it's not going to work on a kitchen table," Morris said.

Morris said the best place to establish a connection and get in touch with him is through his personal Facebook.