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Hidden talent

Novice and skilled carpenters alike turn ordinary wood into works of art

Created date

February 16th, 2016
Barbara Williamson at Oak Crest woodwork shop
Barbara Williamson at Oak Crest woodwork shop

John Swope never imagined he would one day be reconstructing Memorial Stadium, the former home of the Baltimore Orioles. But like so many people living at Oak Crest, an Erickson Living community in Parkville, Md., now that John no longer spends his free time looking after a large house, he has more time to do what he loves. 

“I’ve been working with wood since I was a teenager,” says John, who at 14 helped his dad make a full-sized replica of a 22-foot Chris Craft powerboat. “After that I began volunteering at a marina and was mentored by the owner who taught me how to repair and restore wooden boats.” 

His waterfront home in Middle River had a workshop in the garage where John could tinker around and work on home improvement projects, but it wasn’t until he joined the wood and hobby shop at Oak Crest that he discovered his talents went well beyond boats. 

“I get an idea in my head and just try things out. I never even knew I could do stuff like this,” John says of the three-and-a-half-foot-tall motorcycle that he estimates took him 350 hours to build. A children’s toy glider built with five different types of wood, the motorcycle was auctioned off along with a rocking horse he also made. 

“It’s a lot of fun,” says John. “Sometimes I surprise myself.” 


The woodwork and hobby shop consists of two rooms fully equipped to handle any carpentry job. The first room features a variety of band saws, table saws, a compound miter saw, drill press, belt sanders, a router, hand tools, and a lathe for wood turning. An adjacent hobby room for assembling and painting projects doubles as a space for members who also work with stained glass.  

“I teach every tool that’s down there,” says Ron Rafferty, who oversees the woodshop. “We want to make sure nobody gets hurt so we take the time to show people how to operate the machines. We all support and help one another in any way we can. We want to see everyone succeed.”

Ron began dabbling in carpentry after moving to Oak Crest. 

“One of the first things I ever built was a table, which is now in my apartment,” says Ron.  “We build furniture by request and provide a quote if a resident has something specific they want.” 

Ron and his fellow woodworkers also perform repair work exclusively for Oak Crest residents on a first-come, first-served basis. They charge only for materials and rely on donations to help pay for repairs on woodshop machinery and for new equipment and supplies like nails, glue, and sandpaper. 

In addition to repairs, woodshop members fabricate and sell household items like bird houses, foot stools, picture frames, walking sticks, and earring holders, which are showcased in two glass display cases outside the woodshop. 

Feminine touch

Barbara Williamson is one of four women who use the wood and hobby shop. She and her husband Charles became members after receiving a model sailboat as a gift from their daughter. 

“We needed a place to put it together so we went down to the woodshop,” says Barbara. “Some of the members asked my husband if he would make some wooden school buses for a Christmas sale they were having at the community. I went down and helped him with the buses and began making a few things of my own. Now I make toys, trivets, cutting boards, bird houses, all sorts of things. I really enjoy it. I’m down there so much it’s like my second home.”

Woodwork and hobby shop members sell their creations at the community’s biannual craft show and sale, as well as the Christmas sale. Except for occasional supplies, all proceeds are donated to Oak Crest’s resident care fund and scholarship fund.   

The miniature replica of Memorial Stadium John has been working on was 90% complete in December. When finished, it will become part of the scenery for the Oak Crest model railroad.

“There are a lot of talented people down there, and we all help each other,” says John. “I enjoy it. It keeps my mind busy. I practically live down there. I just come home to eat, sleep, and see my wife,” he jokes.