What began as a hobby making furniture for his home evolved into Homer woodworker Ted Heuer supplying inventory to local galleries and selling at craft shows.
Exhibiting year-round in downtown Homer at Ptarmigan Arts, seasonally at Diamond Ridge Art Studio on the Homer Spit and during the holiday season at the Nutcracker Faire, through his business, Ted’s Woodshop, Heuer provides wine bottle stoppers, boxes, fish trivets, pens, ornaments, ice cream scoops, pizza cutters, pie servers, salt and pepper grinders and mills, cheese planes, honey dippers, coffee scoops, bread knives, steak knives, razors, pool cues, toys, urns and a variety of bowls, like his Dizzy Bowls that feature numerous woods and spiral patterns.
“These bowls are really popular and take a few days to create, from laminating, turning, sawing, drawing, cutting, gluing, twisting, turning, sanding and finishing,” he said.
Turning each item by hand, without patterns or mechanically aided guides, Heuer juggles a lot of projects at once. Beth, his wife of 45 years, often works alongside him, applying the finish to the bowls he’s turned.
In addition to his functional kitchen art, he makes turned shorebirds and wall art, including clocks. His ship’s wheel clock currently hangs on the wall at Ptarmigan Arts, inspired by a clock he saw in American Wood Turner magazine and Wood Worker’s Journal.
Sourcing local wood native to Alaska, including birch, alder and yellow cedar, and purchases hardwoods online, he and Beth also enjoy shopping for wood when they are on vacation.
“We never come home without a piece or two tucked in our suitcases,” he said.
His favorite woods are black cherry and maple.
“Cherry wood machines and turns well and has a nice natural reddish color that darkens with age,” he said. “And I love maple for the variety of colors, from snow white to dark brown, the types of figure — birdseye, curly, quilted and fiddleback, and its ability to spalt (a natural coloration caused by fungi) and remain sound. Part of the fun of woodworking is using different kinds of woods to see how they machine, turn and finish.”
In his studio, a small basement shop in his house, he works with a table saw, band saw, disk belt sander, lathe, clamps, and a drill press, constantly experimenting with different designs, shapes and forms and rarely making two pieces alike.
“It’s very rewarding to come up with different ideas or create something similar to what you’ve already done, but using a different technique, so no piece is ever identical,” he said.
Heuer uses a variety of methods to create his works of art — lamination, where thin strips of wood of contrasting colors are glued together, and stave bowl construction, where individual pieces of wood are cut at precise angles and reassembled to form a cylinder blank from which items like bowls, boxes, candle holders and some pepper mills are constructed like a barrel. He has perfected a Celtic knot pattern that results in the illusion of a never-ending knot, which he incorporates on salt and pepper mills and other items. His fish trivets are pieced together like a log cabin, with each piece cut halfway through so the vertical and horizontal pieces interlock.
Heuer’s passion for woodworking began as a child when he helped his father build items around the house. Fascinated by the variety and diversity of trees and their woods, he studied forestry in college, married and moved to Louisiana to work for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and while working full time, began making furniture for their home as a hobby, with the first piece being an end table made from red oak, a local wood.
Completely self-taught, he started out reading books and buying furniture-making plans. Eventually, he created his own plans, making a dresser and filing cabinet, with other pieces to follow, including a roll-top desk, which remains the largest piece of furniture he has ever made.
In 1993, the couple moved when Heuer got a job in Fairbanks. For more than 15 years, he worked full time and did woodworking as a hobby, with his shop and tools taking up half of the garage and the winter temperatures of -40 and -50 F interrupting his ability to work, either because it was too cold to work or it was too cold for the finishes.
In 2008, Heuer retired from his 30-year career working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Wildlife Refuge System and the couple moved to Homer. Here, he designed a shop space better suited to accommodating his tools and with a separate finishing room where he applies the various types of vanishes in a more temperature-controlled environment.
Their first year in Homer, Heuer participated in the Nutcracker Faire, selling his ice cream scoops, pizza cutters, wooden boxes, fish trivets, salt and pepper grinders and mills to community members and visitors. During the Faire, he was encouraged him to put his work in a local gallery and a few months later, he juried in to Ptarmigan Arts.
He has sold his work through Northwest Fine Woodworking in Seattle, Bayberry’s Fine Gifts in Fairbanks, a store in Kansas, at craft shows and for a time, turned wine bottle stoppers from reclaimed chestnut wood for the American Chestnut Society. His focus today is maintaining inventory at the local galleries and in his online store.
If his schedule allows, he does commission work and special orders, like 15 utensil sets he created a few years ago that were given out at a wedding. One of his custom specialties is turning lidded stave bowls into pet urns.
While he works hard to keep inventory on hand, he is already looking to the winter months ahead when he can slow down and plan future projects.
“I get more creative in the winter when I have the time to start thinking about new and interesting items to make,” he said. “There’s almost no limit to what you can do with some nice wood, a lathe, finishing room and boundless patience.”
When he’s not turning wood, Heuer can be found wandering the surrounding landscape pursuing his other passion, camera trap photography using a motion-detector camera.