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Modern Living in the Old South

Modern Living in the Old South

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Turning Point

The beautiful shapes emerging from the spinning wood lathe in Kevin Szostak’s workshop point to bowlfuls of natural ability in one of Summerville’s own.

Standing in his woodworking shop surrounded by saws, hand-planers, and a world of other interesting tools, Kevin Szostak is at a turning point. In his professional life, the Summerville native is on a solid path as Director of Investor Services at Greater Summerville/Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce, where he has found the perfect niche for his Business Economics Degree from Wofford University: no turns necessary. But here in his woodworking shop, with his finger poised over the start switch of his brand new wood lathe, Szostak is at a literal, critical turning point: a moment that separates a tinkerer from a craftsman, and one that might send a shiver down the back of one less confident.

Though he is mainly self-educated in the craft, Szostak’s interest in woodworking began early. His grandfather enjoyed carving, and he treasures a small owl his grandfather carved for him. He grew up surrounded by an impromptu artisan village on his parents’ Quail Arbor street. One neighbor is a cabinetmaker, another is a wood hobbyist, and yet another builds items of a quality to warrant their sale at Middleton Plantation. In addition to this exposure, he learned more of the basic tenants of woodworking when he took an interim class in college that included a visit to a folk art school where he was taught woodturning. Bitten by the bug, he and fellow students returned to school to form a club called the Wofford Woodpeckers.

Woodturning, the craft of using a lathe along with hand-held tools to cut a symmetrical shape around an incredibly fast axis of rotation, is a time-honored form of woodworking used to craft spindles, bowls, and all manner of round-shaped items from wood—much like a potter’s wheel is used to shape clay, except with a vision-blurring speed. It is an often unforgiving tool that requires a steady hand and one that can be daunting to less experienced craftsmen.

Donning protective safety glasses and tying a canvas apron over his clothes, Szostak flips a switch on the state-of-the-art machine that immediately sends curled ribbons of wood flying from the spinning form he has previously locked into place. His hand is steady as a rounded edge begins to emerge from the whirling block, and a triumphant grin splits his youthful face.

As the lathe begins to slow from the revolutions per minute that produce the high whine of great speed, Szostak brushes wood shavings from his hair and points to the gentle curve he has begun to uncover in only a few brief seconds. Behind him on the worktable, dozens of wooden bowls display the range of work the craftsman has created on an older, slower lathe, using wood that ranges from Bradford Pear to red oak and everything in between. Each is as unique as the tree from which it grew. Imperfections only add to the personality and character, with the swirling grain of the wood telling the story of years of wind and weather.

The tools he has collected are hung on the wall or housed in a hand-built chest with compartments and spaces tailor-made for each piece. Most are antiques, and each is a work of art in its own right. Szostak knows the purpose and history of each tool, and he has restored each to perfect working order. He understands and appreciates them as symbolic of a time when craftsmen repaired rather than replaced the tools of their trade.

As worthy as they are, it is the hand of a craftsman that gives any tool its real value, and in Szostak, they find that value in spades. Though he has no plans to make woodworking a full-time endeavor, it is a passion that fits perfectly into the lifestyle of an up-and-coming executive. While he lives in an apartment, his workspace is currently limited to a corner of his parents’ garage, but he hopes to find a fixer-upper in town where he can create a workshop to house all the projects he currently keeps in his head.

One can only imagine the possibilities this new lathe will bring. Szostak says he would like to one day to turn woodworking into a business, but he knows that dream is down the road. For now, with a job he loves at The Chamber of Commerce offering him the opportunity to help create a vibrant and robust community, the talented woodworker couldn’t be happier to find himself here in his spare time; covered in sawdust amidst curling ribbons of fragrant wood, with the whine of the wood lathe turning and a big smile on his face.

by Susan Frampton

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