Wooden Wonders

Contributed by Charice Chambers

Dale Adler has always had a love affair with wood. In high school he took every shop class that was offered. As an adult he built his own shop. Wood was wonderful. It could be turned into strong stable lasting things. Adler was impressed, then he was introduced to the lathe, and wood took on a whole new dimension. With the help of the lathe, wood became smooth, delicate, even seductive in its infinite grains and textures. All Adler had to do was apply the proper chisel, gouge or skew to create something not only useful, but beautiful as well.

Alder grew up in Eastern Montana, got into real estate, and always yearned to come to Alaska. At the urging of a friend, Alder moved his family north to Alaska. There he worked as a realty specialist for the Bureau of Indian Affaires and later with HUD. After retirement, Adler decided to expand his wood working skills. He installed a wood lathe in his shop and began playing with his new toy. He started to experiment, hone his skills and applied a variety of new ideas.

Adler works exclusively in birch for two reasons: it is plentiful in Alaska, and it has beautiful graining. He searches for large sturdy pieces of wood that he then dries and cuts into usable slabs. Then the fun begins. Often after studying a birch piece, Adler develops drawings of what he wants to create. He is quick to add that rarely does the finished product resemble the drawing. Intrigued by the grain, color and texture of the wood, Adler lets it reveal itself to him as he works. For projects such as bowls, accepted wisdom suggests cross grain creations rather than those going with the grain as cross grain items are generally stronger and longer lasting. Adler doesn’t always follow that philosophy, as he believes the beauty of the grain dictates direction.

Adler also believes that sanding and finishing are an integral part of any wooden lathe creation. Once his project is complete, he sands it, first using an eighty grit paper, then one forty, one sixty, and finally a four to twelve hundred grit. Lastly, he polishes his art pieces with orange oil or beeswax giving them a glassy finish pleasing to both hand and eye. He uses food grade oils for any bowl destined for culinary use.

Adler does not limit himself to the creation of bowls, but has produced a line of twig vases and other, both decorative and useful, wood products.

Many of his creations are available at the Matsu Senior Center Gift Shop. The shop is open from 10 am to 2 pm, Monday through Friday. It is located at 1132 South Chugach in Palmer, across from and adjacent to Palmer Junior Middle School.