Drive due west — all the way west, just before you hit the Tennessee border — and you’ll find Joe and Chuck Waldroup, the father and son duo behind Waldroup Woodworks in Hayesville, North Carolina. Hayesville is a small mountain town in Clay County, which is where Joe Waldroup grew up and eventually settled down after spending 12 years in Tennessee. Joe and Chuck’s creations are made entirely out of turned and carved wood. Although they function as bowls, platters, vases, and the like, they are truly works of art. No two creations are the same, because no two pieces of wood are the same — and the Waldroups let the wood speak for itself.
Joe and Chuck Waldroup submitted their stunning “Mountain Shells,” which are carved from rhododendron root burl sourced directly from the mountains of western North Carolina. The Waldroups seek out wood with imperfections, such as burls and knots, which are undesirable to your everyday lumberjack. Luckily for the Waldroups, that is their favorite kind of wood to work with. The wood’s natural twists and curves inspire Waldroup Woodworks’ unique pieces, and the outcome is nothing short of remarkable.
Continue on for Our State’s interview with Joe Waldroup to learn about his beginnings, his woodworking process, and his love for turning — both literally and figuratively — locally scavenged wood into something spectacular.
OS: Tell me a little bit about how Waldroup Woodworks started.
Waldroup: I’ve done woodworking most of my life. I used to work in construction, and I’ve always done a little bit of woodworking as a hobby, even when I was in my twenties. I really got started with carving, sculpting, and bowl turning six or seven years ago with my son, who is also a wood-turner. He and I started working together, finding wood and learning how to make bowls from green wood, and he encouraged me to start pursuing it more. I really got hooked on it around 2009 or 2010. Before that, I had done some lathe work turning spindles and table legs, and I learned carving when I went to the folk school up here in Brasstown, North Carolina, so it all came back to me when I started wood turning. I combine both wood carving and turning now, and it has opened up a lot more possibilities of styles I can create, and it makes it more fun.
OS: Are you originally from the Brasstown area?
Waldroup: Yes, I grew up in Clay County, North Carolina. We moved to Tennessee for about 12 years, but moved back here in 1985.
OS: When it comes to the wood that you use for your creations, what is your selection process? Is it locally sourced?
Waldroup: Most of it comes from the town that I live in, and I pretty much just take whatever’s available. I’m always looking for trees, especially ones that have burls on them. When I drive around, I’m always looking — I have to keep my eyes on the road, but I look off a lot [laughs]. I’ll spot an old tree that I like, and it might be in somebody’s yard. Sometimes I’ll ask about it, and other times I’ll wait until I see somebody getting ready to cut it down. I get a lot of calls about trees that are coming down, and I usually give the homeowner a bowl out of the tree from their yard. Occasionally I’ll get the chance to go to a logging area, where I’ll have permission to go in after they’re done and scavenge for good wood.
OS: You’ve had people ask you to make something for them out of wood that has sentimental value to them. Is there anything that you’ve really enjoyed working on for someone?
Waldroup: There have been several, but there was one really nice maple tree with burls on it that was next to where I go to church. When I asked about it, it turned out it was owned by a woman who taught the first grade when I was in the first grade. She wasn’t my teacher, but she was one of two first grade teachers at my school. Her daughter owned the house, and they didn’t want the tree cut down at the time, but a couple years later she called me to tell me they had to take it down because it was dying. I got some really nice maple burls from that tree. There are a lot of similar stories like that.
OS: It sounds like a very tight-knit community that you live in.
Waldroup: It is, and I feel very fortunate to live here. We have nice people, and there’s a lot of nice wood in this area, too. A lot of my friends do construction here, and they’ll think of me, too, when they find something that looks good.
OS: What else should North Carolinians know about your company?
Waldroup: The wood I work with is North Carolina wood mostly, and I feel a connection with nature. There’s something about a lot of the wood that I get, out of the mountains especially. Things like the rhododendron, root burls, when I work with those, it always seems that there’s a connection with the ocean and the mountains. When I do sculpting with that type of wood, there’s always something that looks aquatic about it. They resemble shells to me. We live almost as far west as you can go in North Carolina, but it’s a way of connecting both ends of the state from the east to the west.