Canton resident creates magic with woodworking skills

Wednesday, August 18, 2004 1:59 AM EDT


By Donna Harris

Cherokee Tribune Staff Writer

In the hands of Ken Slaughter, a work of art emerges from a plain wood board and a pile of sawdust.

The 67-year-old Canton resident uses his master woodworking skills to create everything from small trinket boxes to a large bedroom suite that took a year to complete.

"To me, the fascinating part of woodworking is just taking a board and making something from that board that becomes a beautiful piece," said the LaGrange native, who moved to Cherokee County nine years ago. "It's challenging and fun and very enjoyable."


Slaughter, a member of the Woodworkers' Guild of Georgia and the Georgia Association of Woodturners, was first exposed to woodworking in his high school industrial arts class.

He didn't pursue his newfound hobby while working on his bachelor of business administration degree at the University of Georgia, but he picked it up again after he began working.

In 1994, he decided to dedicate himself to his craft to prepare for his impending retirement from Parker Brothers, an automotive distributor in Stockbridge.

"I started two years before I retired getting ready to retire," said Slaughter, who retired eight years ago. "I knew I was about to retire so I kicked it into high gear. I can't sit around. This really gives me something to do."

His wife, Gerry, a Cherokee County Master Gardener, said he disappears for hours at a time into his basement shop, which he's furnished with all kinds of woodworking tools and equipment.

"When he's working on a project, he gets up, finishes breakfast, goes down and stays until lunch, has lunch and goes back down and stays until about 4 or so," she said.

Though he's classified a master woodworker by the guild, Slaughter calls himself a hobbyist since he doesn't do it full time.


"My skill level has really gone up (since joining the guild) because I get to see other woodworkers and how they do things," he said. "It's really been a good learning experience."

For the last 10 years, Slaughter's specialty has been making a variety of wooden boxes using the complicated double dovetail joints to hold the pieces together.

"The double dovetail is about the strongest joint you can make in woodworking," he said, adding he uses the very precise Incra jig.

Slaughter, who teaches woodworkers to cut the double dovetail at a one-day class offered quarterly in Roswell, makes a variety of boxes including men's jewelry boxes ($75), women's jewelry boxes with removable trays ($95) and cigar humidors ($300). He also makes a wristwatch clock ($55) that can be hung on the wall or set on a desk.

"I do a lot of different things," he said. "I like to experiment and try to make something different out of a piece of wood."

Once he finishes building a box, Slaughter applies four coats of hand-rubbed lacquer, sanding by hand between each coat, and one coat of paste wax to add "final protection and a little shine to it," he said.

"This (6-by-9-inch) box took 20 hours to make," he said. "It takes four to five hours to finish because of the hand rubbing and hand sanding."

Slaughter also creates pieces by woodturning, the art or process of shaping wood into forms like bowls and cups on a lathe.

For turning, he glues pieces of wood together, using different kinds and shapes for color and contrast, and spins it on a lathe. As it turns, he uses various tools to shape it.

When he has the desired shape, he sands it and applies two coats of lacquer and one coat of paste wax.

Slaughter uses 15 different kinds of hardwoods for his work, mostly black walnut for boxes and zebra wood, maple, cherry and oak for turned pieces.

"The woods I use are domestic because foreign woods can be very expensive," he said. A board foot of ebony can cost $93. Oak, maple and walnut range from $3 to $5 a board foot.

Woodworking tools are another aspect of the hobby that can be "fairly expensive," Slaughter said.

"You can put $30,000 into a shop real fast," he said. "I had to do it over a period of several years to buy all my equipment up."

Slaughter has some of his work for sale at Quiltin' Time in Holly Springs, but most of it is sold by word-of-mouth. Prices range from $40 for small boxes and desk sets to $350 for a turned bowl that took 100 hours to make.

"I'm not making a lot of money, but it gives me something to do," he said.

His pieces have been sent all over the world, thanks to one of his biggest customers, a carpet manufacturer in north Georgia who buys 80 to 120 items each year as Christmas gifts for his customers.

Another customer has 22 of Slaughter's boxes scattered throughout his home.

"It was very flattering to walk through his house and see my boxes everywhere," he said.

Slaughter doesn't sell his work at arts and crafts shows, but he has displayed it at most of Cherokee County's public libraries.

"Hickory Flat called me first, and I guess they passed my name around to the other libraries," said Slaughter, who had an exhibit at R.T. Jones Memorial Library in Canton last month.

He also participates in guild competitions in which members compete against each other for first- , second- and third-place ribbons and to determine who has reached master woodworker status.

"To be a master, you have to win so many blue ribbons," he said. Slaughter has won 21 ribbons overall.

When he's not working on specific pieces, Slaughter will work on projects around the house.

"Last year, I did all the crown molding in the house," he said. "That was a project."