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The Art of Teaching Fine Crafts

DennisMargaret American Woodturner’s  June issue  tells the story of the work that Dennis has done for two years developing classes for the Bemis School of Art at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

There were quite a few hurdles to getting the classroom ready.  Bemis does not have a good ventilation system in the classroom, so in order for five people and one instructor to finish bowls, Dennis chose to use an oil finish that allows sanding with the oil to create a slurry instead of dust.

It was also a challenge for the club to select the turning tools.  With limited resources, there was quite a bit of controversy as personal preferences were often mistaken for facts.

The club is now developing more classes, in addition to the basic functional bowls class.




How we do it……..


This is one tough pumpkin, grown by Dustin for Harding Nurseries in Colorado Springs.  After a few minutes with a serrated knife, Dennis took the fellow out the wood shop and found a power tool to do the job.

It was a nice break from turning hundreds of birdhouse Christmas ornaments for a holiday show at the Broadmoor’s Christmas House November 23-25.   Dennis has broken into a stash of exotic woods to make each ornament a masterpiece.

Nick Agar teaching in Monument

English woodturner Nick Agar will offer a full-day demonstration on Saturday, June 2, followed by a class on Sunday, June 3rd, at the Dennis Liggett woodshop in Monument.   The two days of woodturning ecstasy are sponsored by the Pikes Peak Woodturners.   The class is limited in size, but the demonstration is not.

Parking is always challenging, so the club will run shuttles to the FREX parking lot on the east side of Exit 161.

Nick is well-known for pioneering color and decorating techniques on woodturnings.  Both the demonstration and the class will provide gazillions of new ideas for turners of all skill levels.  You can see some of his work at

Call Dennis to sign up for the class:  719-481-8754


Setting the table

The finishing table at the Liggetts’ is filling up with bowls for the Tri-Lakes Cares Empty Bowls fundraiser (October 2011).    This summer, Dr. Bob Gibbs is providing a steady supply of small bowl blanks cored from bigger bowls.   Dr. Bob cuts quite a bit of his wood in Wisconsin, so the little bowls have a nice variety of hardwoods:  walnut, elm, sycamore, fruit trees, and honeylocust.  In addition to his help with the fundraiser, Dr. Gibbs also volunteers as a physician at the Tri-Lakes Cares clinic.

‘Tis the season…


For 2010, Dennis has chosen a colorful roof, perch, and finial to highlight this simple bird house turned from Colorado Aspen.  A variety of colors creates a luscious mixture  in bright candy colors.

The birdhouses are a limited production run, which will be available at the LoMere coffee house in Monument, or from Dennis: 719-481-8754.

Woodturners will note that each house has 5 turned elements:  upper finial, roof, body, perch, and lower finial.

Spiral Revival


Photo:  One of Stuart Mortimer’s classes on cutting twists and spirals, September 2010

A Visit with Doc

A few months ago, Doc Thode celebrated his 90th birthday with many of his woodturning friends.  Dennis heard about the birthday party from Lee Carter, and realized that it was time to place his order for a 1/3 scale high chair for his youngest grandchild.


Doc called Dennis last week to invite us up to his house.  He has lived in  an old Victorian house a few blocks from the CSU campus in Ft. Collins for quite some time.  It suits him to keep his tools in the basement, his books all around him, and the furniture that he makes employed with the various duties of furniture.  A special delight in the house are the many lamps made from useful bits and pieces of other things–barrels, pipes, fancy clamps, ironwork, and other bits of industrial leftovers.

Each of the full size pieces of furniture appears to have it’s twin at 1/3 scale perched on top of it. It took a few minutes for me to discover the smaller piece on top.  Doc waited patiently, and then enjoyed the discovery at least as much as I did.  There is a writing desk, and there is a scaled version; there is a Victorian card table with a rotating top, and there is a scaled version.  There is an antique corner cupboard, with just one of the three scaled   copies remaining.  There is a 1/3 scale highboy chest and companion mirror made to scale.  There are cradles, desks, and pie-crust tip-top tables.  But most of all, the house has the famous Windsor chairs and the caned rocking chairs for which Doc Thode is known worldwide.

Doc’s mother was a successful antique dealer in Denver.  He began making the 1/3 scale chairs for displays of antique dolls.  She also gave him an old chest of drawers covered in gray paint.  He cleaned it up and repaired it, discovering that it had lovely cherry casework and solid tiger maple drawer fronts.  It is upstairs in the bedroom, now, with a 1/3 version on top of it.  According to Doc, this piece of furniture started it all, and he has never looked back.

Doc is a renegade among the woodturning crowd.  He works on a metal lathe, and fabricates many of his own tools.   He never joined the AAW.  He particularly enjoyed meeting Bill Jones and Allan Batty, because they grew up in the traditional turning shop, learning to create accurate duplicates in short order.    Doc uses a story stick to create the numerous spindles that he needs for a windsor chair.  He cuts the coves with a round file so that they are all identical dimensions.  He doesn’t sand, because sanding removes the crispness of the tiny beads and coves.  He doesn’t have any interest in  turned bowls.

For Doc, the fun of creating furniture has always come from the challenge of figuring out the construction, and then finding (often making) the tool to do the job.  He has enjoyed making tools and jigs for Lee Carter.

Doc has taken great care to create historically accurate Windsor chairs.  He   maintained an extensive correspondence with John  Kassay  in order to make the scale chairs in the correct manner.  In the beginning, for example, he was wedging the tenons for all of the spindles in the back of the chair.  In fact, most historic chairs only had the center five wedged, in order to preserve the strength of the curved back rail.

Everywhere in Doc’s house the joy of disciplined creativity shines forth.  He has been making furniture for almost eighty years, and kept his standards at the very top of the craft.

–Kay Liggett

Natural Edge Bowls — where and when to get one!

Some folks have inquired about purchasing one of the natural edge bowls.   Dennis makes them in batches from freshly-cut trees, so the inventory of bowls depends upon the availability of good trees.  For this winter, bowls from cherry and ash are for sale in the M.A. Doran Gallery in Tulsa, OK, during the Holiday Sale which runs through January  2nd.

Dennis will look for  new trees during January in order to produce another batch of bowls with bark.  Generally, he is able to find cherry or ash in northwest Missouri, which has more hardwood trees than Colorado.  The winter-cut trees hold the bark better.  This is one of those works of art that takes both art and science!  When you see a natural edge bowl that you like, get it, because the grainlines will probably never be repeated in a subsequent bowl.  These are unique collaborations between the woodturner and Mother Nature.

Caring for a natural edge bowl:   It’s best to keep it out of direct sunlight, which will darken the wood.  Choose only light-weight, non-liquid contents!  If the surface needs polishing, use a high-quality paste wax, applied very thinly and delicately rubbed out.  The original finish was ‘Renaissance Wax.’  Contact Dennis if you have questions about caring for any of your woodturnings.

Merry Christmas!


For 2009, Dennis has made a traditional icycle ornament with sea urchin shells and holly.

The urchins are a delicate seashell that has been stabilized and painted with iridescent paints.  The finials are turned in three pieces  too conserve holly, which is a very white, and relatively scarce wood.  The ornaments are 6″ tall, with shells up to 2″ wide.

The urchins are sometimes used upside down by woodturners, but Dennis prefers the Victorian look of the rightside-up shell.

Merry Christmas to All, and to All a long night in the woodshop!

Corporate Gift Items

How do you commemorate an up-and-down year like 2009?   The Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals chose the yoyo as the perfect gift.  Dennis turned the yoyo’s from face-grain cocobolo, using a special jig developed by Nick Cook.  The boxes were made by Jim McCord of Excelsior Springs, MO, and laser-engraved with the organization’s logo by Dennis Voth of Colorado Springs.

Yoyo with Box