Metro-East Living

They’ll give you a chunk of wood. You’ll turn it into a piece of art.

The three people at the lathes on a Wednesday night at the School of Woodturning on Belleville’s Main Street are not rookies, but they aren’t experts yet, either.

Sondra Marston, of O’Fallon, was going for something “mostly round” as she and her fellow students worked in the basement making bowls out of a chunk of poplar.

“I’m going for kind of a round, kind of ...” as she waves her hand in an undulating motion to mimic the outside of the bowl. “That’s what I’m shooting for. That may change.”

They’re inspired by the expert work on display upstairs at Turned Treasures Gallery, which sells elegant bowls, vases and vessels created by area veteran woodworkers and turners.

The gallery and school are owned by Jon and Laura Spelbring, of Belleville. Laura runs the shop while Jon, who has a decade of experience, teaches classes. They are both members of woodturning groups, including the American Association of Woodturning.

They got into woodturning after buying and working on an old home about 12 years ago, Laura says. The couple started doing a lot of the renovation themselves, and “tools and machines just cropped up.”

The students that night were part of an intermediate class.

Sondra said it was her dad’s woodworking hobby that led her to take it up.

With her father no longer able to do the work, “we’re kind of channeling him,” she said.

Stephen Laughlin, of Pontoon Beach, was there because, while he prefers primarily making furniture, he occasionally will create something like a finial for a bookcase that needs some lathe work.

“I don’t like turning,” he admits. “But I want to learn.”

Not familiar with a lathe? It’s a machine that rotate a piece of wood at a high speed, so a hand-held tool can shave off wood into a design. The school has five lathes. Class size is limited to four students to ensure quality and safety. Jon gets the fifth lathe for demonstrating.

Paul Carlson, of Belleville, has had two wood-turning classes with Jon before, making a pen and a round lidded box. Before the class started, he was examining the tools they would be using.

“You did sharpen this up,” Paul told him.

Jon started the class by reviewing safety, including a kidding/serious reminder that wood turners don’t wear neckties. He also talked about the types of tools they’d be using, including one with a great name: bowl gouge.

Handling a piece of poplar with the bark removed, he showed them the grain. The piece was shaped roughly like a disc, about 4 inches thick.

Jon clamped the disc on the lathe, but the not-quite round piece of wood spun and thumped. Jon quickly got it into a round shape by shaving wood off with a tool. The thump died, replaced by a low whining as he worked.

“Once we start turning it, it will become round. Guaranteed,” he said.

A pile of wood shavings steadily grew at his feet.

The students started shaping the outside of their bowls first. Paul’s was soon in a familiar cereal bowl shape. Sondra’s and Stephen’s bowls both had deep lips. Stephen’s also had deep grooves on the outside, reminding him, he said, of a stone crock he had at home.

Upstairs, it was quiet as Laura manned the shop. She and Jon opened the business about two years ago in what had been Ben’s Antiques. She’d worked in radiology. Jon has a full-time job with Securboration in O’Fallon, and works as a computer architect at Scott Air Force Base.

Now, she explains to customers how the items in their shop are hand-crafted works of art. From decorative vases to elegant salad bowls, they were created by more than 30 area wood turners.

“There is not anything in here that I don’t like,” she said.

At a glance

This is what you need to know about Turned Treasures:

  • Where: 225 E. Main St., downtown Belleville
  • Retail hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
  • Information: 618-698-3627 or
  • Specialty: The Spelbrings also create Heritage Bowls out of wood taken from a family’s tree. Contact them for more information.
  • Woodturning classes: Each three-hour session costs $85; student takes home a project they made.
  • Introduction to turning: Safety gear and basic spindle techniques are shared.
  • Intermediate Turning: Introduction class or previous experience necessary. Learn techniques for projects like bowls, vases and lidded boxes.
  • Pen turning basics: No experience necessary to learn to make wood blanks become a pen and pencil set.