From a distance he chose woodworking

By Chelsea Retherford | Living 50 Plus

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but Charles Spruell Old is here to prove the naysayers wrong.

At 64, Old has found a fairly lucrative hobby in woodworking, even as he readies to retire from a 20-year-long career in pipe welding.

“Oh, four or five years ago, I decided to build a shop to get ready for retirement,” Old said. “I’ve got to stay busy. I’ve always got to be doing something.”

At first, he considered continuing a small business in metalworking, but after some thought and realizing he was tired of the trade, he settled on wood.

“He had never done woodworking in his life,” Old’s wife, Camilla, said. “He taught himself, and I’m not saying this because he’s my husband. I think he’s done some very amazing work.”

Camilla is not her husband’s only fan. Charles said he’s had some success at craft shows, farmers markets, and even some juried art shows around the Southeast since he began selling some of his chopping blocks, charcuterie and decorative boards.

He’s become a frequent seller at Killen Farmers Market on Saturdays. He can be found at a booth at Florence First Fridays. He sold boards at the Helen Keller Festival, and a few times, his work was included in the Northeast Alabama Crafter’s Association (NEACA) Christmas Show, held at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville.

Next March, Charles hopes to be accepted into the Fairhope Arts and Crafts Festival in south Alabama.

“I came up with this idea when I was in Minnesota,” Charles explains when asked how he developed his small side venture.

“I travel for work, and I’m gone a lot. I spent all winter up there right outside of Minneapolis and St. Paul. My plan was to build the shop when I retired,” he said. “I’m like, ‘No. As soon as I get back home and the weather breaks, I am building the shop.’ So anyway, that’s what I did.”

In coming up with the name, because he was so far away from home when the inspiration came, Charles decided to call his designs “From a Distance Woodworks,” or FAD Woodworks.

“On my days off, I sat down and drew the plans up for that,” he said.

When the shop was built, Charles turned to Google and YouTube to learn the basics. Through trial and error, he began creating boards, trinkets, small jewelry boxes, and anything else he was commissioned or inspired to take on.

On his days off from work, he said he sets up a one-man assembly line in his shop to methodically cut, glue and finish more complicated boards made from an array of colors and tree species.

As checkered and herring bone patterns dry, he gets to work on simpler boards or other projects.

“I really like working with cedar. I like the smell, of course. It’s a soft wood. It’s not good for chop blocks or cutting boards,” Charles said.

Most of his chopping blocks are made from planks of walnut, maple or cherry that he’s sourced from a local sawmill. Occasionally, he’s gotten to work with more exotic woods, like padauk or purple heart if he’s made purchases at a woodworking shop while out of town.

“My wood is usually all natural; it’s rough sawmill lumber,” Charles said. “I never know what it’s going to look like until I get out here and plane it.”

While he is happy to take on custom projects from inquiring customers, he is still very humble about his work, and argues that anything too complicated is “out of my league, or it’s something for on down the road.”

Charles admits the new craft took some time to hone, but with a little practice, woodworking has proved to be a therapeutic escape from everyday stresses and his work life.

For anyone else hopeful of picking up a new skill or trade late in life, Charles’ advice is simple: “Don’t give up.”

“Don’t get frustrated,” he said. “You may have a pile of scrap over there as you’re trying to create something new, and it’s just not working. Just keep at it.”

Even if that new skill isn’t woodworking, Charles said it’s never too late to turn a new leaf.

“Go ahead and try it; It’ll come around,” he said.