Bowled Over: Decatur man begins working with wood after retiring

By Catherine Godbey | Living 50 Plus

Standing in his workshop, Linton Barron ran his hand across a plank of maple and admired the grain in the wood.

“Look at this. Isn’t it just beautiful? This is all the good Lord’s work. He is the one who made this beautiful piece of wood,” Barron said. “I’ve always just been so fascinated with the grain of wood.”

That fascination led the 72-year-old Decatur man to start working with wood after he retired in 2020 from a career in construction and construction management.

“When I retired, my wife said, ‘Listen, you’ve got to have a hobby.’ I decided I was going to start turning bowls even though I had never turned a bowl in my life,” Barron said.

After building a workshop inside his garage, buying a lathe, finding scrap pieces of wood and watching dozens of how-to YouTube videos — “Where they always make everything look so easy,” Barron’s wife Carolyn Barron said — Barron turned his first bowl.

“The first bowls I tried to turn were from pine. That was a big mistake. Pine is not good to turn because it is too soft,” Barron said.

After experimenting with pine, Barron reached for a scrap of oak and created what he considers his first bowl. On the bottom of the bowl, he engraved his initials and the number “001.”

“This is a very special bowl,” Barron said, picking up the bowl from the kitchen table. “I made this out of some oak I found when Carolyn and I first started dating. I went to pick her up one day and I saw this wood.”

In the two-and-a-half years since Barron began making bowls he has worked with black locust, cedar, walnut, cherry, maple, Chinese chestnut, dogwood, white oak, sweet gum, black maple, red gum, chittam, olive, Osage orange and f.o.g.

“F.o.g. is short for found on ground,” Barron said with a laugh.

Outside of Barron’s workshop, a “Things to Do Today” sign hangs. On the sign the word “TURN” appears over the words “eat,” “sleep” and “fish.”

“Linton used to be a big crappie fisherman. He would take the boat out every other day. That boat now sits in the garage. It’s been over a year since he has taken the boat out,” Carolyn said.

Every day, Barron spends time in the workshop, cutting, turning, sanding and finishing wood.

“In the beginning, I would spend the whole day in the workshop. Carolyn would be hollering at me, ‘It’s supper time. It’s getting dark.’ I don’t do that as bad now, but if I have something pretty started, it’s hard to walk away,” Barron said.

Examples of Barron’s work fill his Southwest Decatur home — from the end tables in the living room to the bowls on the bookshelves to the plates in the kitchen.

“We used to have fancy, decorative plates there,” Carolyn said, nodding to the hanging plate rack. “Now we have wooden plates and I love it. Each piece has so much character. What I love are the little knots and holes unique to each piece. When Linton started, he wanted every piece to be perfect, but life isn’t perfect and we’re not perfect.”

Of the 123 bowls he has made, Barron estimated 20 of them remain in his possession. The others he has either sold or given away.

“I give a lot of them away to family and people I respect and admire,” Barron said. “It makes me feel so good when I am able to share them.”

Even after more than 100 bowls and attending a three-day workshop with master woodturner David Ellsworth in North Carolina, Barron considers himself new to bowl turning.

“I still watch tons of YouTube videos and am learning something new all the time,” Barron said.

As for Barron’s wood supply — he is always on the lookout.

“I always joke with him that he needs to wear a blindfold when we are in the car because he will always spot that piece of wood on the side of the road,” Carolyn said. “And when we have a big storm that knocks down trees, all of Linton’s contacts will be calling him telling him about trees that have fallen down.”

When Barron heard about a fallen tree at Smith Lake, he drove to the site, took off his boots, rolled up his britches and waded into the lake with his chainsaw. Cutting the wood is the first step in the bowl-turning process.

“It surprises most people, but when you make a bowl, you split the tree vertically. The top of the bowl is where the bark would be and the base of the bowl is the heart of the tree,” Barron said.

After cutting the wood, Barron places it on the lathe and turns it at 700 to 800 RPM. He uses a gauge, negative rake scraper and 600 grit sandpaper to finish a piece. Completing a bowl can take anywhere from three to 12 hours depending on the size of the piece.

“I am so happy Linton has found something he really enjoys. I told Linton he needed to get a hobby when he retired because I’ve seen too many people wither away and not do anything after they retired. You’ve got to find a way to fill your time with something you like,” Carolyn said.

Along with making bowls, Barron and Carolyn swim every morning, deliver Meals on Wheels, facilitate a Bible study class at Westminster Assisted Living and distribute food at JePau Outreach Ministries in Tanner.

“We have things we like to do and that keep us busy, but I love my time in the workshop,” Barron said.

Slabs of wood, including a pre-Civil War piece of poplar sit in the shop waiting to become Barron’s next creation.

“What makes these so pretty is not my bowl-turning skills. It’s the good Lord. He made this wood. I just feel very blessed that the Lord gave me the talent to work with wood,” Barron said.