A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

The first time Andrew McCarn turned a log into a bowl was the last time he thought about spending his life doing anything else. McCarn's path to wood turning was

Madison County Championship Rodeo

The first time Andrew McCarn turned a log into a bowl was the last time he thought about spending his life doing anything else. McCarn's path to wood turning was

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

The first time Andrew McCarn turned a log into a bowl was the last time he thought about spending his life doing anything else. McCarn's path to wood turning was

Meet the Maker: Carolina Grain Co.

Play Icon

The first time Andrew McCarn turned a log into a bowl was the last time he thought about spending his life doing anything else. McCarn’s path to wood turning was an unexpected one: An unavailable high school elective and a suggestion from his mom to try shop class landed him in front of his first piece of wood. In that moment – shaping the wood, whittling down ambiguous blocks to definable, recognizable figures – McCarn’s fate was sealed.

Today, McCarn has turned his passion project into a full-time venture through Carolina Grain Co., the woodworking company he founded in 2014. Our State sat down with McCarn to find out how a young artisan is using modern technology to learn and embrace a traditional art form.

• • •

OS: How were you first introduced to woodworking?

McCarn: I got my start in woodworking by enrolling in shop class in high school. I had a wonderful teacher named Mr. Weaver, and he’s one of the primary reasons why I still practice woodworking today; you have to learn from someone who’s passionate about the craft, and he definitely is. We started with small projects – my first furniture piece was a night table – and we worked our way up to coffee tables, dressers, and bookcases. I never thought about pursuing woodworking to make money; I just liked the idea of taking a natural product and making something usable out of it, and that’s what drew me in.

 

OS: Three years ago, you decided to expand your woodworking skills and start turning, or creating, bowls. Tell us about the first bowl you turned.

McCarn: I started with a cheap little $100 lathe, which is a mechanical tool used to shape wood, and a 5-by-5 block of maple. I didn’t know what to turn, I didn’t know what kind of wood to use, I didn’t know how to sharpen my tools; I was just winging it. When I finished, there was so much wrong with the bowl – chips missing, no consistent wall thickness – but it was my first time, and I did make a bowl, so I was happy with it and showed it off to everyone. Looking back, the biggest lesson I learned from that experience is to start by turning cheap wood. I didn’t want to mess up another $35 piece of wood, so after that first time, I started buying little 2-by-10s from Lowe’s.

 

OS: What modern technologies have allowed you to pursue this very traditional craft?

McCarn: I actually taught myself how to turn using YouTube and Google. I’m a visual learner, so I was drawn to YouTube because I could watch people doing it. Not everyone has the resources to pay for school or classes, so the Internet has opened up a whole new world for people like me. A lot of people say woodworking is a dying art, but I don’t think so. I think the Internet is going to keep woodworking alive because it opens a door to learn as much as you want about anything. With YouTube, you get a peek into the woodworking world without even purchasing your first tool. Also, power plays a huge role in what I do. About 90 percent of the tools I use, including my lathe and bandsaw, are powered by electricity. If I didn’t have power, I would be out of luck.

 

OS: What types of products do you make?

McCarn: I make a lot of kitchen utensils and tools – spoons, spatulas, cutting boards, rolling pins, and all different types of bowls. Variety is key, because I travel to a lot of festivals and art shows, and I want to have options. There are certain products I like making and specific woods I like using, but my goal is to offer a bit of everything so that if someone comes to my booth looking for a walnut spoon, or a maple cutting board, I can offer them that. However, I would love to start making more furniture. It’s where I got my start, and though I love the instant gratification that comes with turning smaller pieces, I miss watching a project come to fruition over days or weeks of work.

 

OS: How do you select and source the wood that you use in your projects?

McCarn: Ninety percent of the wood I use comes from within five minutes of my house, and a lot of people are surprised to learn that I mill my own lumber. When I explain to them that I go out with my chainsaw and cut up the wood, they’re shocked. After I cut and mill a log, I’ll use that wood for as much as I can – bowls, salad tongs, spoons – so the grain patterns across a set of products are consistent. I use a lot of maple and oak because that’s what we have the most of in the Triad, but I love experimenting with different types of wood, too. I’m always willing to give any species a try at least once.

 

OS: You’re a millennial who started his own woodworking business. How has your age played a role in your experiences with the woodworking community?

McCarn: Some people are taken aback by the fact that I’m a 26-year-old wood turner because they are so used to wood turners being older, but woodworking isn’t limited to a specific demographic. Anyone can do it. I’ve seen younger kids turning wood, and I’ve seen older people just starting out. When it comes to my customers, a lot of them don’t even see age because they’re drawn in by the quality of the work. Age isn’t a factor.

 

OS: Why do you prefer to work with wood over other media?

McCarn: I make stuff out of wood because it’s durable. Though it can crack and split, if you take care of the product, it has the ability to last a lifetime. That’s why you still see wood furniture from the 1800s, or even the 1700s. With just a little bit of love and care, my products will last a lot longer than me. Being able to pass down a wooden cutting board or a wooden bowl that your great-grandparent used allows you to keep the stories and memories around that piece alive. That adds so much meaning, and it makes what I do so fulfilling.

This story was published on Mar 29, 2018

K McKay

K McKay

K McKay was the digital content writer at Our State. She is a graduate of Elon University, and was the spring 2017 digital intern at Our State.